The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

Don Pio Pico’s Historical Narrative. Translated by Arthur Botello. Edited with introduction by Martin Cole and Henry Welcome. Glendale, Ca.: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1973. Illustrations. Index. Notes. 171 pages. $9.50.

Reviewed by Iris Wilson Engstrand, Associate Professor of History at the University of San Diego, who has written a number of works on early California and is the co-author of “Rancho Guajome: A California Legacy Preserved” in this issue of the Journal of San Diego History.

Pio Pico-ranchero, revolutionary, and some time governor of Mexican Californiadictated his reminiscences to Thomas Savage in 1877. The manuscript became one of the narratives in Spanish collected by Hubert Howe Bancroft for his famous History of California and has been used principally by scholars as a reference source. Now translated for the first time in its entirety by the late Arthur Botello, this valuable historical account is at last available to the general public in a handsomely printed volume. The numerous biographical notes by Martin Cole and Henry Welcome, taken mainly from Bancroft’s history, are very helpful in identifying the many people mentioned. Readers must keep in mind, however, that Pico’s memoirs are the recollections of a 76-year-old man and, as such, suffer from certain omissions, distortions, and chronological confusions. Neither Savage nor the present editors changed the original organization.

Pico’s narrative, which covers primarily the years from his birth in 1801 to 1845, sheds light not only on the political turmoil of the Mexican period in California, but gives special insight into the daily life of pueblo and rancho residents. One of ten children and descended on both parental sides from local families, Pio Pico could claim kinship with the Carrillos, Osunas, Vallejos, Alvarados, and other Hispanic Californians. Although Pico spent most of his early life in San Diego, became civilian administrator of Mission San Luis Rey, and was grantee of the 133,400 acre Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores near present-day Oceanside, his name is generally identified with places in or near Los Angeles-Pico Boulevard, Pico Canyon, and Pico Rivera. He spent the years until his death in 1894 in what became known as the Pico Mansion near the San Gabriel River.

Pio Pico is probably best remembered for his encouragement of numerous revolts against conservatives from Mexico and against Northern Californians who wished to ignore the influence of those south of Santa Barbara. Less well known, but of considerable interest to persons wishing to understand the character of the Mexican Californian, is Pico’s relatively quiet and religious upbringing. For example, he writes, “As a young child, I was quite advanced in praying” and explains that “my mother… never allowed me to be away from home after 8 o’clock at night, and until I was twenty-five I observed this rule.” (p. 28) Pico also talks about the people and customs in San Diego, his early participation in affairs of government in Monterey and Los Angeles, and daily life at the San Luis Rey mission after its secularization.

The majority of the narrative concerns Pico’s individual role in the political and revolutionary activities of the 1830s and early 1840s under the administrations of governors Echeandia, Victoria, Figueroa, Alvarado, and Micheltorena. Also described in some detail are Pico’s short terms as governor, his part in the American invasion, and his subsequent retreat into Mexico. Unfortunately the account ends in 1845. A short sketch of Pico’s life during the American period is given by Martin Cole in the foreword.

Published material on the Mexican period is limited. Arthur Botello’s painstaking and smooth-flowing translation of Pio Pico’s own story makes this book a welcome addition to the literature of early California.