History of San Diego, 1542-1908
PART TWO: CHAPTER 3: Political Life in Mexican Days
Although twenty-three Governors—ten Spanish and thirteen Mexican—ruled California before the days of American dominion, only two of these impressed themselves upon the history of San Diego. Governor Echeandía loved the place so well that he virtually made it the capital during his administration, and Governor Pico was himself a San Diegan in whom his neighbors felt considerable pride. Several of the others appeared for a moment upon the stage of picturesque local life, but few exerted any influence upon the course of events in this neighborhood. It must be remembered that for sixty-six years San Diego lived under military rule and that it was not until the establishment of the pueblo in 1835 that civil government became dominant. Less than a dozen years then remained to the Mexican power, but this brief period was crowded with interesting political episodes. As we study the record, we are strongly reminded that the men of that time were of the same race as those who have made the turbulent politics of Central and South American states, for there is the same story of mimic wars and of the rise and fall of ambitions rulers. There were but few people to govern, but relatively many who desired to govern them, and the energies which Americans have given to the development of natural resources the Mexicans preferred to spend on the stormy field of politics.
When the Spanish flag went down, and gave place to the emblem of Mexico, on April 20, 1822, the people of San Diego submitted gracefully, but without enthusiasm. Only far echoes of the revolutionary struggle had reached them during the previous decade and their sympathies clung fondly to the Spanish tradition of the country. It is related that there was no flagstaff upon which to hoist the new colors; that the soldiers grumbled because there was no distribution of money; and that the next day they cut off their queues as an expression of their disgust. In December, the imperial commissioner, charged with the change of government in Upper California, stopped in San Diego for a week on his way home, but there is nothing to show that he transacted any business at this place. He gambled with a rollicking priest, named Fernandez, quarreled with Santiago Argüello about it, and departed in an unhappy frame of mind.
It was in 1825 that General José María Echeandía, who was both political chief and military commandant of Upper and Lower California, arrived with a detachment of soldiers and a number of subordinates and established himself at the Presidio. This was after the fall of the Emperor Iturbide and at the very outset of the effort to establish republican institutions. The task he had undertaken was by no means easy. The troops were destitute and mutinous; the old Spanish population was still unfriendly to the new order of things, and the region lacked capital and population and was far from prosperous.
Late in 1826, the governor ordered the election of five representatives to meet in San Diego for the purpose of choosing deputies charged with the duty of reorganizing the territorial assembly, as well as to select a member of the national congress. These representatives met in San Diego in February, 1827. They were Francisco de Haro, for San Francisco; Estévan Munras, for Monterey; Carlos A. Carrillo, for Santa Barbara; Vicente Sanchez, for Los Angeles; and Augustin V. Zamorano, for San Diego. They chose Pablo de Sola as congressman, but doubts rose as to his eligibility and the vote was therefore reconsidered and Captain José de la Guerra y Noriega chosen, instead, with Gervasio Argüello as substitute. De la Guerra y Noriega was a Spaniard, although he had left Spain when quite small. But the Mexican prejudice against Spaniards at that time was so great that, upon his arrival in Mexico, he was not only refused admission to the national assembly, but forced to hurry home in order to avoid serious trouble. Thus ungraciously did Mexico receive the first representative to the national assembly elected in Upper California. Argüello, the substitute, then took the seat and served out the term, in 1827-8. The San Diego assembly also chose seven members and three substitutes for the assembly which later convened at Monterey.
Echeandía’s choice of San Diego as his capital was not popular with the people of the North. His attempt to hold a meeting of the assembly here in the spring of 1827 was barren of results. The members met, protested that San Diego was not conveniently situated for their purpose, and adjourned. In October of the same year they again met here, and chose four new members. Another futile session of the body was held at San Diego in January, 1829. Then the Governor issued a summons for a meeting at Monterey, but his call was ignored.
Early in November of this year, from causes arising largely out of the prevailing destitution and discontent of the military, the Solis insurrection broke out at Monterey. Echeandía appears to have acted with vigor and moderation. He first convened a council of seven officers, whom he asked for a frank criticism of his administration. Fortified by their unanimous approval, and assured of the support of the inhabitants of San Diego, he set about his preparations for a campaign. Alfred Robinson was here at the time and gives some description of the bustle of preparation. Guns were repaired, swords sharpened, and lances manufactured. The troops departed on December 1, with the governor at their head, and it was several weeks before news of his complete success, after anopera bouffe campaign at Santa Barbara and Monterey, reached San Diego. Echeandía was disturbed no more by armed revolts, but encountered much opposition in his attempts to carry out the orders of the Mexican government directed against the Spanish population. A number of laws relative to the expulsion of all Spaniards who should refuse to take the oath of allegiance was passed, debarring them from office or employment until Spain should recognize the independence of Mexico. It was undoubtedly intended that he should enforce these regulations and expel recalcitrants from the country, but he chose to put a more liberal interpretation upon his instructions. He proclaimed the laws and published lists of resident Spaniards required to take the oath, but does not appear to have used his power to persecute those who refused. Some of the missionaries surreptitiously fled the country, and others demanded passports and left openly, rather than submit. It appears that Echeandía regarded the presence of these stubborn missionaries as undesirable, and even went so far as to ship Father Martinez, of San Luis Obispo, out of the country, after a council of war, on a charge of having given aid and comfort to the rebels in the Solis insurrection. He was also desirous of carrying out the wishes of his superiors with regard to the secularization of the missions, and discussed plans to that end, but no definite steps were taken during his administration. He did, however, issue a decree of partial emancipation of the neophytes, permitting such as had been Christians from childhood or for fifteen years, who were married or at least not minors, and who had some means of livelihood, to leave the missions.
Trade was brisk on the coast during Echeandía’s administration, for it was a time when the hide and tallow business was rapidly growing in importance. In 1828, the revenue collected at San Diego was $34,000—nearly six times that at San Francisco. In July of that year, Captain John Bradshaw, of theFranklin, anchored in San Diego Bay after doing considerable trading on the Lower California coast. A warning had come from Loreto, and he was accused of having been engaged in smuggling, and other offenses, although his supercargo, Rufus Perkins, had been allowed to travel overland from mission to mission. Bradshaw was ordered to deposit his cargo in the warehouse and await the investigation of these charges. He promised compliance, but returned to his ship and, once on board, refused to obey any orders given him and changed his anchorage to a point near the harbor entrance. The governor prepared to place a guard on the ship and applied to a French captain then in the port, Duhaut-Cilly, for the loan of a boat. The boat was loaned, but Bradshaw was also warned, and on the morning of the 16th of July he cut his cable and ran out of the harbor, passing the fort, although a shower of cannon balls was hurled after him. The Frenchman met Captain Bradshaw, later, at the Islands, where he learned that his hull had been perforated, rigging damaged, and the gallant captain himself wounded.
The Hawaiian brig Karimoko was also in trouble at San Diego, late in the fall. The records seem to make it clear that she was engaged in contraband trade, having a rendezvous on Catalina Island. Her sails were seized and Santiago Argüello was sent to the island to investigate and bring over the goods.
In the same year, an American named Lang, with two sailors and two Kanakas, was arrested in a boat near Todos Santos. The prisoners told a story about coming from the Sandwich Islands to settle in California; but as Lang’s effects included a barrel-organ and two trunks of drygoods, they were confiscated and sold. Lang had previously been at San Diego and confided to a countryman that he was engaged in smuggling. These and other irregularities led to the closing of the way ports to foreign vessels and caused considerable inconvenience to legitimate trading ships.
In December, 1830, the rule of Echeandía ended with the arrival of Colonel Manuel Victoria, the newly-appointed governor, at San Diego. Victoria, proceeded north, where the transfer of office was made. With his coming the jurisdiction of Upper and Lower California was divided and the governor’s residence again removed to Monterey. The new governor was soon embroiled with his deputies in a fierce quarrel. He refused to convene the assembly, even when petitioned to do so by the members, and a bitter wrangle ensued in which Juan Bandini of San Diego, then substitute congressman for Upper California, and Pio Pico, senior vocal of the assembly from the same place, were involved, and incurred the governor’s displeasure. It was claimed that Victoria was setting up a military dictatorship and overriding the popular will. He was severe in the administration of justice and shocked the Californians by his strict enforcement of the law’s penalties. He also quarrelled with many prominent men and sent a number of them into exile.
In November, 1831, Abel Stearns, a naturalized Mexican citizen, and José Antonio Carrillo, both of whom were among the men banished by Victoria, but neither of whom had gone farther than the frontier, secretly met in San Diego with Juan Bandini and Pio Pico, and laid plans for a revolt. Pico, Bandini, and Carrillo set out with fourteen men besides themselves, seventeen in all, to seize the post. Bandini went to the house of Captain Arg&uulm;ello, where he found that officer and Lieutenant Valle playing cards. He presented first an apology and then a pair of pistols, and marched the two officers off to prison, where they found Commandant Portilla had preceded them. The troops gave no trouble, Echeandía was persuaded to head the movement, and soon all San Diego parties were agreed to make it unanimous. A long pronunciamento was drawn up, which Juan Bandini is credited with having written. Portilla was appointed commander, a force was mustered and marched northward and soon took possession of Los Angeles. Victoria had placed implicit confidence in Portilla, who had given him notice of the movement and promised to aid in its suppression.
The governor had left Monterey before learning of the revolt, and even upon his arrival at Santa Barbara seems to have received no accurate information of the nature and extent of the trouble. He started for Los Angeles with about thirty men, full of confidence in his ability to restore order without delay, and spent the night at San Fernando Mission. Next day, the 6th of December, Portilla moved out toward Cahuenga with about two hundred men, and was met by Victoria with his little band of thirty. A war of words ensued, followed by a brief conflict in which two men were killed, and then Echeandía’s men fled. But Victoria, who had shown great personal bravery, was badly wounded and a few days later he surrendered to Echeandía and agreed to leave the country. This promise he kept, arriving in San Diego on the 27th and going at once on board the Pocahontas, with the Captain of which vessel Juan Bandini had made a contract to transport the exile to Mazatlan for $1,600, silver, in advance.
On the way down the coast, Victoria had spent some days at San Luis Rey, and the venerable founder of that Mission, Father Antonio Peyri, decided to leave the country with him. He was among the Spanish friars who had suffered persecution under Echeandía, and now quit the country rather than submit further. The ship sailed on the 17th of January, 1832, and Echeandía remained acting governor until the meeting of the assembly at Los Angeles. Pio Pico was then chosen governor, in accordance with the plan drawn up at San Diego, but the officials of the pueblo of Los Angeles refused to recognize him and Echeandía, having paid no attention to the notice of his election, now thought it opportune to repudiate it and declared Pico incompetent and his election illegal. Pico was governor twenty days, and then the matter was referred to the national government, and in the meantime Echeandía continued to act.
A new rebellion now broke out at Monterey, headed by Captain Zamorano, in which quite a number of foreign residents were involved. After a wordy warfare, the deputies met at San Diego in March at Echeandía’s call, to consider the state of the country. The net result of this meeting seems to have been a circular letter to the governing bodies of the pueblos asking them to preserve order, to recognize the assembly, and to disregard the junta of the north. The disaffection continued to spread, however, and in a short time the hostile parties were arming and drilling recruits for war. The neophytes at San Luis Rey were adherents of Echeandía, and came into camp in large numbers. In April he marched north with about a thousand Indians, but a truce was arranged by which the political jurisdiction was divided between the two leaders and the assembly left with no power whatever.
On May 15, 1832, the assembly again met at San Diego and reviewed the exciting events of the year in an address to the president of the republic, especially condemning Zamorano. In the spring of 1832, General José Figueroa was appointed governor, but he had an adventurous trip up the coast and did not reach Monterey until the middle of January, 1833. With his assumption of office, San Diego ceased to figure as the political headquarters of Upper California. Echeandía welcomed the new governor and laid down the cares of office, with joy. He gave Figueroa valuable aid in the early days of his administration, but was required to report to Mexico, and sailed from San Diego May 14, 1833, and never returned. He lived for nearly forty years longer in Mexico, supporting himself by his profession of civil engineer.
The estimates of his public services as well as of his character, vary with the point of view of the writers. As an administrator he was inefficient, but personally he was both dignified and affable. The early American traders regarded him as a man of undecided character, who tried to please everybody; but he seems to have had strong republican views which he stubbornly strove to carry out in his administration. He is described as a tall, gaunt personage, full of true Spanish dignity.
San Diego was never the capital of Upper California in the proper sense of the term. The political events here during the thirties were due simply to the fact that Governor Echeandía preferred it as a residence and chose to order the assembly to meet here. It was, however, for a few years during and following Echeandía’s administration, a hotbed of political activity.
In 1831, the first revolution, which ended in the expulsion of Victoria, began here, as related. One cause of this political activity seems to have been a local jealousy between the northern and southern establishments. The people of San Diego naturally desired a continuance of the arrangement by which their town served as the capital, and many of the disturbances of the time arose over such questions as the maintenance of a custom house at the port. Monterey was offended by Echeandía’s action, as well as by the choice of congressional representatives from the south. San Diego was gratified by the selection of Pio Pico as Governor in 1832 and again in 1845.
On the 1st of September, 1834, the brig Natalie arrived at San Diego, having on board Juan Bandini and Señor Híjar, with a portion of the political colony sent by the Vice-President of the Mexican republic, Gomez Farias. Bandini had gone south in May, in time to fall in with the plans of Farias and Híjar. The failure of the enterprise is a matter of history, but does not belong peculiarly to San Diego; our interest in it relates to the brief entertainment of the party here, and to the disappointment of Bandini at the outcome. None of his larger political ambitions, of which he had many, were ever realized.
The Natalie is said to have been the vessel in which Napoleon made his escape from the island of Elba. She was afterward wrecked by being driven on the beach at Monterey in a storm, December 21, 1831, and went to pieces. The passengers in Híjar’s colony numbered between 130 and 140. For two days the families were sheltered in the hide houses at La Playa, and fed by the owners of the hide houses. They were detained in quarantine for fear of measles, and a number died and were buried at the Mission. Híjar and his friends were entertained by Bandini, and the others were scattered among the residents of the town and entertained free of cost.
The colonists were of nearly every occupation except those which the country needed. There were goldsmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, painters, printers, musicians, and other artists and mechanics, but not a single agriculturist. Most of them were finally shipped back to Mexico, but a few settled and remained at San Luis Rey and places farther north.
The annals of the Presidio throughout these years are scanty, and merely a story of progressive decay. In 1826 a military commission reported the presidial buildings in a “deplorably ruinous condition,” and estimated the cost of repairs at $10,000. Fort Guijarros, also, needed repairs to the value of $10,000. It does not appear that anything was done at this time, but in 1828 the battery was repaired.
In October of this year, the soldiers sent a committee of five to the commandant to complain of hunger and lack of clothing and demand a payment on account of back pay. The commandant began to put them in irons, but the threats of their comrades compelled him to desist. They appealed to the General, who promised them justice, which he soon after administered—by distributing the five soldiers among other presidios. In May, 1830, a civilian cut a soldier with a knife and took sanctuary in the church, raising an interesting question of the right of asylum. He was sentenced to eight years’ labor on the chain-gang.
The ranks of the presidial company were not kept full, and by 1830 the total force had dwindled to 120 men. In this year the armament consisted of 13 cannon, 8 of which were brass and 5 of iron; 3 eight-pounders, 7 six-pounders, and 3 four-pounders. The fort and powder magazines were of stone, situated close under the hill at Ballast Point. A reservoir of stone and mortar was constructed near the fort, but the water soon broke it. The ruins were visible for many years after. Nothing whatever now remains of the Spanish works on Ballast Point. The last traces were obliterated in the construction of the modern fortifications on the spot, in recent years.
A petty uprising of the local military force in 1833 is of some interest. A private of the presidial company of Loreto, named Antonio Alipás, was placed under arrest and confined in the guard-house. On the 26th day of March, Corporal Inocensio Arballo, a comrade of Alipás’s, assembled a squad of seven soldiers and, all armed and mounted, rode up and demanded the release of the prisoner. The sergeant of the guard refusing this demand, the soldiers broke into the guard-house, released Alipás, and carried him off. This was an exceptional occurrence. and anything resembling vigilante proceedings was rare, among either the civil or military population. The soldiers were harshly treated, but obedience was thoroughly taught.
The Spanish military system was continued under Mexican rule. One of its admirable features was a provision for retiring veterans and invalids on pensions. Privates who had served for thirty years could retire on half pay with the honorary rank of sub-lieutenant, and those who had served forty years, with the rank of full lieutenant, with the privilege of wearing a uniform. The conditions seem hard, but many of the men, including some of the early company of Catalonian volunteers, fulfilled them and lived to end their days in peaceful industry. Some of the invalids remained at the Presidio, performing such service as they were able, and were also permitted to settle outside the Presidio walls. Mention has been made of the fact that all soldiers had a little time of their own; and thus, with the pressure of slowly increasing numbers and hard-won knowledge of correct methods of agriculture, the Spanish soldiers began to cultivate successfully their little garden plots at the foot of Presidio Hill.
The pueblo of San Diego was organized by an election of the necessary officials on December 21, 1834. These officials consisted of an alcalde, or mayor, for which the successful candidate was Juan María Osuña, who was elected over Pio Pico; a first regidor, or alderman, Juan Bautista Alvarado ; a second regidor. Juan María Marron ; and a syradico procurador, or tower attorney, Henry D. Fitch. Thirteen votes in all were cast, and the officers entered upon the discharge of their duties on the first day of January, 1835, which marks the beginning of civil rule. They constituted the first ayuntamiento, or town council.
The new town was governed by its own council for only three years. The country was not prosperous and population decreased until, in 1838, there were not enough people to entitle it to a council, the number required being five hundred. Accordingly, from the 1st of January, 1838, until the Mexican War, San Diego was part of the sub-prefecture of Los Angeles and governed by judges appointed annually by the governor. José Antonio Estudillo was the first judge, or juez de paz.
In 1836 a tax was imposed on the hide-salting establishments of foreigners, as had been done before in 1834.
In this year, soon after a revolution at Monterey, as a result of which Governor Guiterrez had been banished and Juan B. Alvarado selected as governor in his place, San Diego was again drawn actively into the political affairs of the time. There was considerable local dissatisfaction with the course of events, and Juan Bandini and Santiago E. Argüello were sent to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara as commissioners to consult with the councils of those towns upon the situation. It was decided to insist upon the carrying out of a law already upon the books making Los Angeles the capital, to invite the co-operation of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and a provisional political chief was to be selected to act until the national laws should be again in force. Provision for the military support of the movement was also anticipated. The report of the commissioners was approved upon their return, but obstacles to the program soon began to appear. The soldiers showed a disposition to make the occasion a pretext for demanding their arrears of pay. The Santa Barbara council, too, failed to endorse the plan in its entirety, and proposed one of its own. It therefore appeared that nothing could be done, and at the end of the year as the net result, the Los Angeles council awarded the San Diegans a vote of thanks. Early in 1837, new town councils were elected, and that of Los Angeles evolved a new plan which was indorsed by the restless San Diego politicians.
Governor Alvarado left Monterey with an army of eighty-five Californians and foreigners, about Christmas. At Santa Barbara he was kindly received, and entered Los Angeles without opposition about the 22nd of January. Andrés Pico was present with a body of twenty soldiers, and Pio Pico and Francisco M. Alvarado, also of San Diego, were said to be on the way, but did not arrive until all was over. Alvarado succeeded in temporarily pacifying the Los Angeles town council, and everything was quiet in the southern district during February and March. On account of disquieting rumors, however, Alvarado thought it necessary to send General José Castro southward, with orders, in case these rumors should prove well founded, to remove or spike all the guns, carry off the horses, and distribute the supplies in such a manner as to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. A new assembly was gotten together at Santa Barbara on April 10, 1837, and submitted a new series of propositions for the pacification of the country. Los Angeles promptly rejected these proposals, and San Diego, while more politic, pleaded for delay.
During all this time Juan Bandini was acting upon the advice of a friend who, on a former occasion, had suggested that he should “go home and keep quiet,” and appears to have taken little part in the turmoils of the time, although the Picos and other San Diegans were deeply implicated. The matters about which the different factions were quarreling were such as would form proper subjects of discussion in political campaigns – mainly about the form of the civil and political code after which the government of the country should be patterned. The southerners were restless and irreconcilable, and Alvarado seems to have had cause, for his suspicions.
On May 21, 1837, Bandini, who had been for some time living quietly upon his ranch, came into San Diego with an armed force, proclaiming their purpose to engage in hostilities. Again he and Argüello were sent as commissioners to Los Angeles, with a ready-made plan for the cure of all the country’s woes. The Los Angeles town council approved, but feared to act, and Bandini therefore proceeded to inaugurate the revolution himself, by seizing the Los Angeles garrison and glens. There was doubtless an understanding with the commandant of the guard, as the coup was accomplished without resistance, including the capture of a gun which Pico had carried off from San Diego. Three commissioners were appointed to treat with Alvarado, and Bandini was then obliged to hurry home to San Diego, whence alarming reports of Indian hostilities had been received.
Bandini and his men carried the captured gun with them and were received with shouts of triumph by a procession of their townsmen. The Indian troubles soon came to an end, and then, the military spirit running high, the “Army of the Supreme Government,” numbering over a hundred men, was recruited and left for the north on the 10th of June. Captain Portilla was in command of this expedition, which occupied Los Angeles, hastily evacuated by Castro’s forces on the 16th.
In the meantime Captain Andrés Castillero, representing himself to be a commissioner of the general government, arrived at San Diego with the new laws of December 29, 1836, which were to replace the federal constitution of 1824. The oath of allegiance was administered to the San Diego council and citizens on June 12th, and then Castillero joined the revolutionary army at San Luis Rey. Arrived at Los Angeles he summoned the council, as well as the officials, soldiers, and citizens, and they took the oath on June 18th amidst festivities and great rejoicing. He then proceeded to Santa Barbara, where he met Alvarado in July, and induced him to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitutional laws. This the southern contingent regarded as an act of treachery, but being left without a cause to fight for, the army and the San Diego plan alike melted into thin air. Alvarado remained governor under the new laws, until in October, when Carlos Carrillo succeeded him.
In January, 1838, Governor Carrillo closed the ports of San Francisco and Monterey and established the custom house at San Diego. He was no more fortunate than his predecessors in maintaining peace, and was soon involved in a war which culminated in the battle of San Buenaventura, the latter part of March. Being defeated, Carrillo with a few friends and the remnant of his army fled to San Diego. Here he endeavored to raise a force to renew the war, and was aided by Bandini and others. A force of about a hundred men and three cannon was collected and met the enemy at Las Flores, on April 21st. A long negotiation followed which ended in a compromise—the enemy carried off the cannon and Alvarado again became Governor.
The result of all this political anarchy was a distressing condition for the military at the Presidio. For instance, in April, 1834, Lieutenant Salazar cannot go to Monterey for want of a shirt and jacket! He has only a poor cloak to cover “the frightful condition of his trousers.” There is no food for prisoners and they are farmed out to any citizen who will feed them. In February, 1837, fourteen prisoners were engaged on public works—three in repairing the plaza, road, and several more at work on the courthouse and jail, which were deemed more urgent than the church. The Presidio building was abandoned about 1835 and by 1840 was in ruins. A few half-starved soldiers lingered as a melancholy reminder of former glory.
There is a tradition that in 1839 the garrison consisted of one soldier at the Presidio and eight at San Luis Rey, and that they disbanded in September of that year, in order to escape death by starvation. Much of the building material on the hill had by this time been carried down and used in the erection of the new town at the foot of the hill. At Christmas, 1838, earthworks were thrown up on the hill above the Presidio, for protection of the town at the time when an attack was expected by José Castro, and two cannon were dragged up to it from the fort, but nothing came of these labors. Fort Guijarros had no garrison after 1835. In 1839 it was reported that there were nine cannon, two of which were serviceable, and fifty canisters of grape and three hundred balls. An effort to have a ward provided for this property failed, and on January 17, 1840, the contents of the fort were sold to Juan Machado for $40.
The secularization of the missions and the political disturbances of the time had impoverished the country. The church and other remaining buildings were unroofed by the commandant and the tiles sold to satisfy demands which he had against the government. Robinson says that in April, 1840, he found everything prostrated, the mission depopulated, the town almost deserted, and its few remaining inhabitants miserably poor.
In June, 1842, there was a rising of the Indians and it was reported that there were only five men at San Diego, three of whom were foreigners, while all the rest were absent on ranchos. Early in the year, the French traveler, de Mofras, says he found a few soldiers and one officer at the pueblo, and that there were a few cannon and balls lying in the sand at the Presidio and castillo. In October, José A. Estudillo was directed to carry away in carts all the useful guns and ball at the fort. The Alert, Captain Phelps, was lying at La Playa at this time, however. Phelps heard of the capture of Monterey by Commodore Jones of the United States Navy, and also that Governor Micheltorena had sent a force to seize all property at San Diego and, anticipating trouble, he decided to act promptly. He put his men at work night and day to hasten their departure, and in the meantime sent a party to old Fort Guijarros which spiked all the guns and threw the copper shot into the sea. Estudillo was therefore saved any trouble in the matter. An investigation in the following month showed that there was one officer at San Diego, with fourteen men under him, but no arms or ammunition.
On August 25, 1842, San Diego had a last glimpse of Mexican military glory in the arrival of Governor Micheltorena in the brig Chato, who remained about a month drilling and outfitting his “battalion of cholos,” as they have been justly called. This invasion was the last of the convict colonies sent from Mexico. Fortunately, they did not remain long here, but moved on to devastate the rest of the country. They showed themselves very poor soldiers, but exceedingly expert night prowlers and pilferers. Alfred Robinson, who was here at the time and saw a part of them land, says:
“They presented a state of wretchedness and misery unequalled. Not one individual among them possessed a jacket or pantaloons; but naked, and like the savage Indians, they concealed their nudity with dirty, miserable blankets. The females were not much better off; for the scantiness of their mean apparel was too apparent for modest observers. They appeared like convicts; and, indeed, the greater portion of them had been charged with the crime either of murder or of theft . . . . The remainder of the “convict army” arrived in course of time, and I had an opportunity of seeing them all, afterwards . . . . They mustered about three hundred and fifty men, and their general had given them, since their arrival, a neat uniform of white linen . . . . Day after day the place resounded with the noise of the trumpet and the drums; and a level spot, on the river’s margin, was the scene of military manoeuvers. At night, the gardens and vineyards were plundered, and the neighboring farms suffered greatly, from the frequency of the soldiers’ visits.”
He also says there was no ammunition with which to salute the new governor, and that a salute from the Yankee ship in which Robinson had arrived, was the only welcome of the kind he received.
The new governor was received with social honors and was given a reception lasting several days. For a week there was a succession of balls and other amusements, and Micheltorena made a speech. There were troubles, too, as well as rejoicing. Twenty-five of the men deserted and tried to escape into Mexico, but were overtaken and brought back. It was found that a large part of the balls did not fit the guns, and had to be remelted. There were also financial difficulties, but the battalion finally departed, spreading desolation and terror. There is no episode of the days of the Mexican rule which caused more heart-burnings than the coming of this band of desperados.
De Mofras estimated the population at one hundred in this year. Three years later the town had grown somewhat and was made a subdivision of the Los Angeles district and Captain Santiago E. Argüello was appointed the first sub-prefect.
The political life sketched in this chapter ended with the Mexican War, when an entirely different set of men and influences took the stage of local history. The soldiers and statesmen of Mexico, in their rule of a quarter of a century, had added practically nothing to the accomplishment of their Spanish predecessors. To a very large extent, they had squandered their time and energies in petty squabbles over personal rivalries. They had virtually destroyed the economic structure evolved by the Mission Fathers and dissipated the strength of the military establishment. If commerce prospered to some extent under their rule, the fact was chiefly due to the enterprise of outsiders rather than to that of the Mexicans. Their policy of dividing the mission lands into private grants undoubtedly gave some impulse to settlement, but even this development was conducted in the most extravagant and wasteful way.
Before turning to the brighter days which dawned with American occupation, we must consider several other aspects of San Diego life in the early time.
Return to Books.
HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO
PART ONE: Period of Discovery and Mission Rule
- The Spanish Explorers
- Beginning of the Mission Epoch
- The Taming of the Indian
- The Day of Mission Greatness
- The End of Franciscan Rule
Priests of San Diego Mission
PART TWO: When Old Town Was San Diego
- Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
- Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
List of Ranchos in San Diego County
- Political Life in Mexican Days
- Early Homes, Visitors and Families
- Pleasant Memories of Social Life
- Prominent Spanish Families
- The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
List of Mission Indian Lands
- San Diego in the Mexican War
- Public Affairs After the War
- Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
- Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
- American Families of the Early Time
- The Journalism of Old San Diego
- Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego
PART THREE: The Horton Period
- The Founder of the Modern City
- Horton’s Own Story
- Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
- San Diego’s First Boom
- Some Aspects of Social Life
PART FOUR: Period of “The Great Boom”
PART FIVE: The Last Two Decades
- Local Annals, After the Boom
- Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
- Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
- The Disaster to the Bennington
- The Twentieth Century Days
- John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem
PART SIX: Institutions of Civic Life
- Churches and Religious Life
- Schools and Education
- Records of the Bench and Bar
- Growth of the Medical Profession
- The Public Library
- Story of the City Parks
- The Chamber of Commerce
- Banks and Banking
- Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
- Account of the Fire Department
PART SEVEN: Miscellaneous Topics
- History of the San Diego Climate
- San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
- Governmental Activities
- The Suburbs of San Diego