Californians and the Military
The Vallejo Family:
A Military History of Early California
by Lieutenant Colonel Ira Lee Plummer

The Vallejos were one of the most important and respected families in early Mexican California history, and they also played an important part in the development of California as a state in the Union. General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo held the highest military post as Commanding General in Alta California where be served as watchdog of the northern California province, charged with keeping an eye upon the activities of the Russians at Fort Ross. But also, he was a delegate to the first state constitutional convention that met in 1849 at Colton Hall in Monterey. He was the partner of Robert Semple in laying out the town site of Benicia. General Vallejo welcomed the Americans in California because he believed their support would bring growth and stability to the region and that California would benefit thereby. Other Vallejo family members successfully made the transition from Mexican California to the California of the United States. The General's younger brother, Captain Salvador Vallejo who had led field operations under the Mexican flag against dissident Indian tribes, later became a Major in the Union army and saw service during the Civil War. The Vallejos realized that the ties with Mexico were too loose, that California was an isolated outpost of the Mexican government, and that the future of California lay in close association and union with the United States. Certainly, the growth and progress made in California since that time attest to the great foresight of General Mariano Vallejo.

The Vallejos were a proud family of Spanish heritage. Their ancestors included a Captain Vallejo who fought in the conquest of Mexico with Cortes and who was named Governor of the province of Paeoniaceae where he controlled silver mines and the people of a vast area. Also, an Admiral Alonzo Vallejo served Spain during the time of Christopher Columbus.

Mariano Vallejo's father was Ignacio Vallejo who was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1748. At the age of 25, Ignacio enlisted in the colonial army and volunteered for service in Alta California in 1774. During Ignacio Vallejo's 50 Years of military service he achieved the rank of Distinguished Sergeant. He served at San Diego, Monterey, Soledad, San Jose Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born on 7 July 1808 at Monterey. In 1815 he started school, and he was quick to learn. Mariano became a copyist of government documents, an exercise that schoolboys did to improve their writing ability. Because Mariano Vallejo was a good student, he was selected by Governor Sola along with two other schoolboys to learn French, Latin, and English in addition to Spanish.

In December 1823, Mariano Vallejo, then 15 years old, petitioned the Governor Luis Arguello requesting to be enrolled as a cadet in the provincial army with the Monterey presedial company. His request was granted and he was assigned to the staff of the governor as a personal secretary, a position he held until Governor Arguello was relieved of his office in November 1825. When Sergeant Mariano Vallejo was 19 years old, he was selected by Governor Echeandia to replace one of the delegates from San Diego to the Provincial Legislature which was meeting in Monterey when one of the delegates had to return home before the session had ended. Mariano Vallejo's superior education and eagerness to advance won for him at the age of 209 a promotion to "Alferez" in the Mexican army. Alferez was a rank sometimes translated as an ensign but it was between a noncommissioned and commissioned officer rank and so may be more akin to today's rank of Warrant Officer. Thus for three years Mariano Vallejo held a higher rank and gave orders to his own father, Sergeant Ignacio Vallejo. The old man grumbled about this until he died in 1831 at the age of 83.

One of the first commands Alferez Vallejo was given was to lead a force of 35 soldiers and auxiliaries across Pacheco Pass to the San Joaquin River Indian ranches to punish some horse-stealing Indians. Soon thereafter on 23 May 1829 young Vallejo led a company of 154 men to march against the renegade Indian chief, Estanislao. Mariano Vallejo went through Mission Pass, across the Livermore Valley and to the San Joaquin where after attack, pursuit, and attack, the Indians were routed.

In June 1834, Vallejo was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the Mexican army and elected as alternate delegate to the national Congress in Mexico City. After the secularization decree aimed at all mission property and ordered by the Mexican government in August 1833, Vallejo was sent to secularize Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma. Later as Administrator of the Sonoma Mission, Lieutenant Mariano Vallejo with 40 Mexican soldiers and 200 friendly mission Indians marched to put down an uprising of Indian tribes under the command of Sem Yeto, Mighty Arm. The Chief was a giant of a man standing 6 feet, 10 inches. The braves fought gallantly under his direction but Vallejo had superior manpower and it soon became apparent that defeat and death were inevitable for the Indians. The Chief approached the Mexican troops and met with Vallejo. The contrast was striking with Vallejo resplendent in his red and blue field uniform with epaulets and gold braid and the Chief wearing only a loin cloth, strings of beads, bands of vermillion paint, and a headband with black and white eagle feathers. Vallejo offered generous terms for the surrender of the tribe, and he offered to assist the Chief against the tribe's enemies. In return the Chief and his tribe became a loyal ally for the rest of his life. The Chief was baptized at the mission; he took the Christian name of Chief Solano and became also a friend and equal, and a most welcome guest at the home of the Commandant in Sonoma.

In 1834 Governor Figueroa had appointed Vallejo to the position of Military Commander and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier. Accordingly, Vallejo transferred his army headquarters from Yerba Buena (present day San Francisco)to Sonoma. Chief Solano supported this move with 3,000 friendly Indians opposing some hostile Indian groups. While Mariano Vallejo organized a headquarters command structure, field operations were directed by his younger brother, Salvador, and strongly supported by Chief Solano and his Indian braves. Salvador Vallejo often took to the field in hard, hand-to-hand fighting against the hostile northern California Indian tribes. Salvador was the most successful field commander in California. For his service to the Mexican cause, the younger Vallejo was given thousands of acres of land in Sonoma and Napa.

Because of the isolation of California, Mariano Vallejo learned to make his own decisions, finance his own army garrison, serve as foreign minister in matters relating to the Russians to the north, and monitor and control the American immigrants and foreign traders. Governor Figueroa died shortly after Vallejo completed the organization of the colony and the military outpost at Sonoma. The new governor was Colonel Mariano Chico. He was temperamental, stubborn, and arrogant. Governor Chico soon turned the inhabitants of Alta California against him and fled back to Mexico City after three months. After Chico had departed the local Californians led by Juan Alvarado, Jose Castro, and Isaac Graham declared themselves in charge in Alta California. Alvarado, Castro, and Vallejo had been boys together and were close friends. Alvarado and Castro believed that Vallejo would join them in a revolt against Mexico; but Captain Vallejo, a man of property at Sonoma did not wish, at this point, to risk his career in a revolt against Mexican authority and in the establishment of home rule in Monterey. However, Castro and Alvarado were successful in seizing the northern capital of Monterey with less than 100 men. Alvardo pronounced himself governor and Mariano Vallejo was immediately named Military Commandant of the new state of California.

On 29 November 1836, Mariano Vallejo came to Monterey to accept the rank of Colonel of the Cavalry and to take the oath of allegiance to the new government. He organized a California militia to take the place of the regular Mexican troops. Thereafter as Commanding General, Vallejo organized militia companies at Sonoma, San Jose, Yerba Buena, San Juan, and Santa Clara.

The prominent families of southern California; the Picos, Carrillos, de la Guerras, and Bandinis among others; refused to recognize Alvarado as governor and they set up a rival government in Los Angeles under Carlos Carrillo. Consequently, Alvarado and Vallejo formed a company of troops under the command of Salvador Vallejo, and they marched against and fought the Carrillo forces near Los Angeles. The northerners were victorious. In August 1838 a ship arrived in Monterey from Mexico City bringing the news that the central government recognized the authority of Alvardo and confirming the appointment of Mariano Vallejo as Commanding General.
General Vallejo became the most powerful military man in California, and he ruled from Sonoma with complete authority.

Governor Juan Alvarado was in charge of the legislative and administrative branches of government between 1836 and 1842, but during this period General Mariano Vallejo, as head of the military forces in California, answered directly to authorities in Mexico City. To keep his force intact, the General had to spend more than $10,000. of his own money mostly on the presidio and for the troops of the northern frontier. General Vallejo quarreled with Governor Alvardo in an attempt to obtain reimbursement for these expenses. To put pressure on the government, General Vallejo sent Chief Solano and his special troop of 80 well-armed Indians from Sonoma to Monterey. Vallejo hoped that this display of a well-trained militia would impress Governor Alvardo and cause him to appreciate the expenditures he had made to protect the frontier against the Russians and the American and Canadian trappers.

As the Chief and his Indian troops passed through San Jose, the inhabitants were terrified by the long column of elaborately dressed savages wearing feathers and fully armed with lances, bows and arrows, riding on fine mounts. Solano, Mighty Arm, rode to the center of Monterey and asked directions in Spanish to the Governor's house. An observer, Dorotea Valdez, writing many years later noted:

I took particular notice of the tall figure of that dark colored savage who was dressed like the people of my race; his many followers, however were dressed like Indians and wore feathers around their heads. Many of them were tattooed around their wrists, arms, and legs.

Their presence was disliked very much because their conduct was really overbearing. Solano and his Indians were all mounted on fine horses, all had adimas, but few of them had saddles.

They wore long hair, carried their bows and arrows at the ready, and their appearance was such as to inspire fear. I really believed them to be devils let loose from hell. I heard my mistress say that the arrival of these savages in Monterey was a plague sent by God for the purpose of punishing us for our sins.

General Vallejo arrived in the capital shortly after the appearance of Solano, and he forced Governor Alvardo to send commissioners to Mexico City to present his claims for the $10,000. to the Mexican government.

The government in Mexico responded by sending Manuel Micheltorena to replace Alvarado as governor. The governor also discharged Vallejo at his own request as Commanding General of the Army of Alta California. As the government did not have any funds in its treasury to pay Vallejo for his claim, Governor Michaeltorena granted him land from the public domain. In March 1843, Mariano Vallejo was granted 80,000 acres of land on the shores of Suisun and San Pablo Bay. This area is now occupied by the cities of Vallejo and Benicia. In addition, the Governor officially confirmed Vallejo's grants to Petaluma Ranch and the Temblec Ranch in Sonoma. In addition Governor Michaeltorena granted further holdings in the Santa Rosa valley bringing Mariano Vallejo's total acreage to more than 150,000

Jose Manuel Salvador Vallejo received his commission in the Mexican army in 1835 when he was 20 years old. He participated in the Indian campaigns that year with his brother Mariano Vallejo. Thereafter, Salvador served as field commander in California for many years. Despite the hardships of the many campaigns, Salvador reveled in the life of a soldier, especially in the field. He held the respects, devotion, and loyalty of his men; he did not spare himself in battle or would he ask his men to endure privations that he did not share as well. His army hunted for food killing deer, elk, and bear. Army life was rough and dangerous as the company fought and existed in a rugged unexplored area that extended from the Sacramento Valley to the sea. Orders published in 1841 acknowledged Captain Salvador Vallejo as military commander of the Sonoma center.

Soldiers were often injured in those days in falls from their horses. Salvador Vallejo with his daredevil courage had broken two ribs, fractured both thighs and injured his neck during his career as a soldier. The lack of medical facilities and proper treatment resulted in injuries that had a crippling effect on him in later years.

As Salvador excelled in his job as a field commander, General Mariano Vallejo on the other hand became more of the strategist than the soldier. General Vallejo was well aware of the importance of California and of the political sparring among the major powers to gain control of this rich territory. He knew the Mexican government could not maintain decisive control of California; he liked the Americans and became convinced that American political ideals and the enterprising character of the people would bring prosperity and security to California.

However, by the time of the Bear Flag Revolt in June 1846, both Vallejo brothers had settled down to ranching, Mariano on his vast holdings at Sonoma and Salvador on his ranch at Napa. The Vallejo brothers were very kind to American immigrants often giving them food and sometimes land to settle upon. In the zeal of the period of the Bear Flag Revolt championed by Captain Fremont, the Vallejo Brothers were arrested. General Vallejo had no objection to being arrested because as an advocate of American annexation, he was thereby relieved of his trust as a retired Mexican Officer. However he did become bitter against Fremont and the Bear Flag zealots as he was held in privation for two months at Sacramento. General Vallejo, however, did think highly of other American soldiers such as General Stephen W. Kearny.

After California became part of the United States, the Americans turned to General Vallejo for assistance against the Walla Walla Indians who were thought to be on the warpath. Mariano did not feel strong enough to campaign, but he arranged for the appointment of Salvador to lead this Indian campaign. However, the Indians did not attack. They only came to Sutter's Fort with unarmed warriors and their women and children, and military confrontation was unnecessary.

Chief Solano visited Mariano Vallejo in 1853 at his ranch in Sonoma, and they talked of the old times; shortly thereafter the old Chief died.

When the Civil War broke out, Salvador Vallejo could not resist the call to arms. In 1863 he was commissioned a Major by Governor Stanford. Major Vallejo successfully organized the First Battalion of Native Cavalry, and he served as far east as Arizona. Major Salvador Vallejo was disappointed that he did not have a battlefield role in the Civil War. He resigned in 1865 after the war and returned to his ranch in Napa. Thereafter, he made many trips for his brother such as for selling horses and on other ranching duties.

One of General Mariano Vallejo's sons, Platon Vallejo, was sent east to school to study medicine at Mount Saint Mary's College in Maryland. Platon served as a doctor on the front lines during the Civil War. After the war had ended, General Mariano Vallejo was invited to the White House where he met President Lincoln. This visit was arranged by United States Generals Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant who were acquaintances of General Vallejo. Mariano Vallejo remained in the political sphere for the remainder of his life; he was a candidate for presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1876.

The Vallejo brothers made important military and political contributions to California. They were instrumental in the initial development of the area and in the protection of the settlements as military leaders. General Mariano Vallejo served as a delegate in making the first state constitution, and he also was a leader in the laying out of the town of Benicia. Salvador Vallejo was an effective military field commander who culminated his military career as a Major in the United States Army during the Civil War. Both of the brothers were California ranchers. Though the Vallejo name is immortalized by the California city of that name, California still owes a great debt of gratitude for the accomplishments of these men whose lives bridged the periods of Mexican California and the beginnings of American California. Certainly, Mariano and Salvador Vallejo deserve to be among those listed as the founding fathers of California.

Mariano Guadelupe Vallejo
Portrait of Pablo de la Guerra, Salvador Vallejo, and Andrés Pico


NOTE: The writer is deeply indebted to the historian and writer, John Sandoval; the scholarship of Hubert Howe Bancroft; and the works of Myrtle M. McKittrick for source material for this article.

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Updated 8 February 2016