California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
William Tecumseh Sherman and Early California History
From Chapter II of Memoirs of W. T. Sherman,
by William T. Sherman

In chapter II of his memoirs, Sherman describes life in Upper California, and tells of his experiences at Monterey, his visit to the newly-named San Francisco, and the last of the Mexican War fought in Lower California. Sherman’s adventures in California began in January 1847, after a long trip around the Horn to Monterey.


All the necessary supplies being renewed in Valparaiso, the voyage was resumed. For nearly forty days we had uninterrupted favorable winds, being in the “trades,” and, having settled down to sailor habits, time passed without notice. We had brought with us all the books we could find in New York about California, and had read them over and over again: Wilkes’s “Exploring Expedition”; Dana’s “Two Years before the Mast”; and Forbes’s “Account of the Missions.” It was generally understood we were bound for Monterey, then the capital of Upper California. We knew, of course, that General [Stephen Watts] Kearny was en route for the same country overland; that [John] Frémont was there with his exploring party; that the navy had already taken possession, and that a regiment of volunteers, Stevenson’s, was to follow us from New York; but nevertheless we were impatient to reach our destination. About the middle of January the ship began to approach the California coast, of which the captain was duly cautious, because the English and Spanish charts differed some fifteen miles in the longitude, and on all the charts a current of two miles an hour was indicated northward along the coast.

At last land was made one morning, and here occurred one of those accidents so provoking after a long and tedious voyage. Macomb, the master and regular navigator, had made the correct observations, but Nicholson during the night, by an observation on the north star, put the ship some twenty miles farther south than was the case by the regular reckoning, so that Captain Bailey gave directions to alter the course of the ship more to the north, and to follow the coast up, and to keep a good lookout for Point Piños that marks the location of Monterey Bay. The usual north wind slackened, so that when noon allowed Macomb to get a good observation, it was found that we were north of Año Nuevo, the northern headland of Monterey Bay. The ship was put about, but little by little arose one of those southeast storms so common on the coast in winter, and we buffeted about for several days, cursing that unfortunate observation on the north star, for, on first sighting the coast, had we turned for Monterey, instead of away to the north, we would have been snugly anchored before the storm. But the southeaster abated, and the usual northwest wind came out again, and we sailed steadily down into the roadstead of Monterey Bay. This is shaped somewhat like a fish-hook, the barb being the harbor, the point being Point Piños, the southern headland.

Slowly the land came out of the water, the high mountains about Santa Cruz, the low beach of the Salinas, and the strongly-marked ridge terminating in the sea in a point of dark pine-trees. Then the line of whitewashed houses of adobe, backed by the groves of dark oaks, resembling old apple-trees; and then we saw two vessels anchored close to the town. One was a small merchant-brig and another a large ship apparently dismasted.

At last we saw a boat coming out to meet us, and when it came alongside, we were surprised to find Lieutenant Henry Wise, master of the Independence frigate, that we had left at Valparaiso. Wise had come off to pilot us to our anchorage. While giving orders to the man at the wheel, he, in his peculiar fluent style, told to us, gathered about him, that the Independence had sailed from Valparaiso a week after us and had been in Monterey a week; that the Californians had broken out into an insurrection; that the naval fleet under Commodore Stockton was all down the coast about San Diego; that General Kearny had reached the country, but had had a severe battle at San Pascual, and had been worsted, losing several officers and men, himself and others wounded; that war was then going on at Los Angeles; that the whole country was full of guerrillas, and that recently at Yerba Buena the alcalde, Lieutenant Bartlett, United States Navy, while out after cattle, had been lassoed, etc., etc. Indeed, in the short space of time that Wise was piloting our ship in, he told us more news than we could have learned on shore in a week, and, being unfamiliar with the great distances, we imagined that we should have to debark and begin fighting at once. Swords were brought out, guns oiled and made ready, and every thing was in a bustle when the old Lexington dropped her anchor on January 26, 1847, in Monterey Bay, after a voyage of one hundred and ninety-eight days from New York.

Every thing on shore looked bright and beautiful, the hills covered with grass and flowers, the live-oaks so serene and homelike, and the low adobe houses, with red-tiled roofs and whitened walls, contrasted well with the dark pinetrees behind, making a decidedly good impression upon us who had come so far to spy out the land. Nothing could be more peaceful in its looks than Monterey in January, 1847. We had already made the acquaintance of Commodore Shubrick and the officers of the Independence in Valparaiso, so that we again met as old friends. Immediate preparations were made for landing, and, as I was quartermaster and commissary, I had plenty to do. There was a small wharf and an adobe custom-house in possession of the navy; also a barrack of two stories, occupied by some marines, commanded by Lieutenant Maddox; and on a hill to the west of the town had been built a two-story block-house of hewed logs occupied by a guard of sailors under command of Lieutenant Baldwin, United States Navy. Not a single modern wagon or cart was to be had in Monterey, nothing but the old Mexican cart with wooden wheels, drawn by two or three pairs of oxen, yoked by the horns. A man named Tom Cole had two or more of these, and he came into immediate requisition.

The United States consul, and most prominent man there at the time, was Thomas O. Larkin, who had a store and a pretty good two-story house occupied by his family. It was soon determined that our company was to land and encamp on the hill at the block-house, and we were also to have possession of the warehouse, or custom-house, for storage. The company was landed on the wharf, and we all marched in full dress with knapsacks and arms, to the hill and relieved the guard under Lieutenant Baldwin. Tents and camp equipage were hauled up, and soon the camp was established. I remained in a room at the custom-house, where I could superintend the landing of the stores and their proper distribution.

I had brought out from New York twenty thousand dollars commissary funds, and eight thousand dollars quartermaster funds, and as the ship contained about six months’ supply of provisions, also a saw-mill, grist-mill, and almost every thing needed, we were soon established comfortably. We found the people of Monterey a mixed set of Americans, native Mexicans, and Indians, about one thousand all told. They were kind and pleasant, and seemed to have nothing to do, except such as owned ranches in the country for the rearing of horses and cattle. Horses could be bought at any price from four dollars up to sixteen, but no horse was ever valued above a doubloon or Mexican ounce (sixteen dollars). Cattle cost eight dollars fifty cents for the best, and this made beef net about two cents a pound, but at that time nobody bought beef by the pound, but by the carcass.

Game of all kinds–elk, deer, wild geese, and ducks–was abundant; but coffee, sugar, and small stores, were rare and costly.

There were some half-dozen shops or stores, but their shelves were empty. The people were very fond of riding, dancing, and of shows of any kind. The young fellows took great delight in showing off their horsemanship, and would dash along, picking up a half-dollar from the ground, stop their horses in full career and turn about on the space of a bullock’s hide, and their skill with the lasso was certainly wonderful. At full speed they could cast their lasso about the horns of a bull, or so throw it as to catch any particular foot. These fellows would work all day on horseback in driving cattle or catching wild-horses for a mere nothing, but all the money offered would not have hired one of them to walk a mile. The girls were very fond of dancing, and they did dance gracefully and well. Every Sunday, regularly, we had a baile, or dance, and sometimes interspersed through the week.

I remember very well, soon after our arrival, that we were all invited to witness a play called “Adam and Eve.” Eve was personated by a pretty young girl known as Dolores Gomez, who, however, was dressed very unlike Eve, for she was covered with a petticoat and spangles. Adam was personated by her brother–, the same who has since become somewhat famous as the person on whom is founded the McGarrahan claim. God Almighty was personated, and heaven’s occupants seemed very human. Yet the play was pretty, interesting, and elicited universal applause. All the month of February we were by day preparing for our long stay in the country, and at night making the most of the balls and parties of the most primitive kind, picking up a smattering of Spanish, and extending our acquaintance with the people and the costumbres del pais. I can well recall that [Lt. Edward Otho Cresap] Ord and I, impatient to look inland, got permission and started for the Mission of San Juan Bautista. Mounted on horses, and with our carbines, we took the road by El Toro, quite a prominent hill, around which passes the road to the south, following the Salinas or Monterey River.

After about twenty miles over a sandy country covered with oak-bushes and scrub, we entered quite a pretty valley in which there was a ranch at the foot of the Toro. Resting there a while and getting some information, we again started in the direction of a mountain to the north of the Salinas, called the Gavillano. It was quite dark when we reached the Salinas River, which we attempted to pass at several points, but found it full of water, and the quicksands were bad. Hearing the bark of a dog, we changed our course in that direction, and, on hailing, we were answered by voices which directed us where to cross. Our knowledge of the language was limited, but we managed to understand, and to flounder through the sand and water, and reached a small adobe house on the banks of the Salinas, where we spent the night. The house was a single room, without floor or glass; only a rude door, and window with bars. Not a particle of food but meat, yet the man and woman entertained us with the language of lords, put themselves, their house, and every thing, at our “disposition,” and made little barefoot children dance for our entertainment. We made our supper of beef, and slept on a bullock’s hide on the dirt-floor. In the morning we crossed the Salinas Plain, about fifteen miles of level ground, taking a shot occasionally at wild-geese, which abounded there, and entering the well-wooded valley that comes out from the foot of the Gavillano. We had cruised about all day, and it was almost dark when we reached the house of a Señor Gomez, father of those who at Monterey had performed the parts of Adam and Eve. His house was a two-story adobe, and had a fence in front. It was situated well up among the foot-hills of the Gavillano, and could not be seen until within a few yards. We hitched our horses to the fence and went in just as Gomez was about to sit down to a tempting supper of stewed hare and tortillas. We were officers and caballeros and could not be ignored. After turning our horses to grass, at his invitation we joined him at supper. The allowance, though ample for one, was rather short for three, and I thought the Spanish grandiloquent politeness of Gomez, who was fat and old, was not over-cordial. However, down we sat, and I was helped to a dish of rabbit, with what I thought to be an abundant sauce of tomato. Taking a good mouthful, I felt as though I had taken liquid fire; the tomato was chile colorado, or red pepper, of the purest kind. It nearly killed me, and I saw Gomez’s eyes twinkle, for he saw that his share of supper was increased. I contented myself with bits of the meat, and an abundant supply of tortillas. Ord was better case-hardened, and stood it better.

We staid at Gomez’s that night, sleeping, as all did, on the ground, and the next morning we crossed the hill by the bridle-path to the old Mission of San Juan Bautista. The Mission was in a beautiful valley, very level, and bounded on all sides by hills. The plain was covered with wild-grasses and mustard, and had abundant water. Cattle and horses were seen in all directions, and it was manifest that the priests who first occupied the country were good judges of land. It was Sunday, and all the people, about a hundred, had come to church from the country round about. Ord was somewhat of a Catholic, and entered the church with his clanking spurs and kneeled down, attracting the attention of all, for he had on the uniform of an American officer. As soon as church was out, all rushed to the various sports. I saw the priest, with his gray robes tucked up, playing at billiards, others were cock-fighting, and some at horse-racing.

My horse had become lame, and I resolved to buy another. As soon as it was known that I wanted a horse, several came for me, and displayed their horses by dashing past and hauling them up short. There was a fine black stallion that attracted my notice, and, after trying him myself, I concluded a purchase. I left with the seller my own lame horse, which he was to bring to me at Monterey, when I was to pay him ten dollars for the other. The Mission of San Juan bore the marks of high prosperity at a former period, and had a good pear-orchard just under the plateau where stood the church.

After spending the day, Ord and I returned to Monterey, about thirty-five miles, by a shorter route. Thus passed the month of February, and, though there were no mails or regular express, we heard occasionally from Yerba Buena and Sutter’s Fort to the north, and from the army and navy about Los Angeles at the south. We also knew that a quarrel had grown up at Los Angeles, between General Kearny, Colonel Frémont, and Commodore Stockton, as to the right to control affairs in California. Kearny had with him only the fragments of the two companies of dragoons, which had come across from New Mexico with him, and had been handled very roughly by Don Andreas Pico, at San Pascual, in which engagement Captains Moore and Johnson, and Lieutenant Hammond, were killed, and Kearny himself wounded. There remained with him Colonel Swords, quartermaster; Captain H. S. Turner, First Dragoons; Captains Emory and Warner, Topographical Engineers; Assistant Surgeon Griffin, and Lieutenant J. W. Davidson. Frémont had marched down from the north with a battalion of volunteers; Commodore Stockton had marched up from San Diego to Los Angeles, with General Kearny, his dragoons, and a battalion of sailors and marines, and was soon joined there by Frémont, and they jointly received thewas soon joined there by Frémont, and they jointly received the surrender of the insurgents under Andreas Pico. We also knew that General R. B. Mason had been ordered to California; that Colonel John D. Stevenson was coming out to California with a regiment of New York Volunteers; that Commodore Shubrick had orders also from the Navy Department to control matters afloat; that General Kearny, by virtue of his rank, had the right to control all the land-forces in the service of the United States; and that Frémont claimed the same right by virtue of a letter he had received from Colonel Benton, then a Senator, and a man of great influence with Polk’s Administration. So that among the younger officers the query was very natural, “Who the devil is Governor of California?”

One day I was on board the Independence frigate, dining with the ward-room officers, when a war-vessel was reported in the offing, which in due time was made out to be the Cyane, Captain DuPont. After dinner, we were all on deck, to watch the new arrival, the ships meanwhile exchanging signals, which were interpreted that General Kearny was on board. As the Cyane approached, a boat was sent to meet her, with Commodore Shubrick’s flag-officer, Lieutenant Lewis, to carry the usual messages, and to invite General Kearny to come on board the Independence as the guest of Commodore Shubrick. Quite a number of officers were on deck, among them Lieutenants Wise, Montgomery Lewis, William Chapman, and others, noted wits and wags of the navy. In due time the Cyane anchored close by, and our boat was seen returning with a stranger in the stern-sheets, clothed in army-blue. As the boat came nearer, we saw that it was General Kearny with an old dragoon coat on, and an army-cap, to which the general had added the broad visor, cut from a full-dress hat, to shade his face and eyes against the glaring sun of the Gila region. Chapman exclaimed: “Fellows, the problem is solved; there is the grand-vizier (visor) by G–d! He is Governor of California."

All hands received the general with great heartiness, and he soon passed out of our sight into the commodore’s cabin. Between Commodore Shubrick and General Kearny existed from that time forward the greatest harmony and good feeling, and no further trouble existed as to the controlling power on the Pacific coast. General Kearny had dispatched from San Diego his quartermaster, Colonel Swords, to the Sandwich Islands, to purchase clothing and stores for his men, and had come up to Monterey, bringing with him Turner and Warner, leaving Emory and the company of dragoons below. He was delighted to find a full strong company of artillery, subject to his orders, well supplied with clothing and money in all respects, and, much to the disgust of our Captain Tompkins, he took half of his company clothing and part of the money held by me for the relief of his worn-out and almost naked dragoons left behind at Los Angeles. In a few days he moved on shore, took up his quarters at Larkin’s house, and established his head-quarters, with Captain Turner as his adjutant-general. One day Turner and Warner were at my tent, and, seeing a store-box full of socks, drawers, and calico shirts, of which I had laid in a three years’ supply, and of which they had none, made known to me their wants, and I told them to help themselves, which Turner and Warner did. The latter, however, insisted on paying me the cost, and from that date to this Turner and I have been close friends. Warner, poor fellow, was afterward killed by Indians. Things gradually came into shape, a semi-monthly courier line was established from Yerba Buena to San Diego, and we were thus enabled to keep pace with events throughout the country. In March Stevenson’s regiment arrived. Colonel Mason also arrived by sea from Callao in the store-ship Erie, and P. St. George Cooke’s battalion of Mormons reached San Luis Rey. A. J. Smith and George Stoneman were with him, and were assigned to the company of dragoons at Los Angeles. All these troops and the navy regarded General Kearny as the rightful commander, though Frémont still remained at Los Angeles, styling himself as Governor, issuing orders and holding his battalion of California Volunteers in apparent defiance of General Kearny. Colonel Mason and Major Turner were sent down by sea with a pay-master, with muster-rolls and orders to muster this battalion into the service of the United States, to pay and then to muster them out; but on their reaching Los Angeles Frémont would not consent to it, and the controversy became so angry that a challenge was believed to have passed between Mason and Frémont, but the duel never came about. Turner rode up by land in four or five days, and Frémont, becoming alarmed, followed him, as we supposed, to over-take him, but he did not succeed. On Frémont’s arrival at Monterey, he camped in a tent about a mile out of town and called on General Kearny, and it was reported that the latter threatened him very severely and ordered him back to Los Angeles immediately, to disband his volunteers, and to cease the exercise of authority of any kind in the country. Feeling a natural curiosity to see Frémont, who was then quite famous by reason of his recent explorations and the still more recent conflicts with Kearny and Mason, I rode out to his camp, and found him in a conical tent with one Captain Owens, who was a mountaineer, trapper, etc., but originally from Zanesville, Ohio.

I spent an hour or so with Frémont in his tent, took some tea with him, and left, without being much impressed with him. In due time Colonel Swords returned from the Sandwich Islands and relieved me as quartermaster. Captain William G. Marcy, son of the Secretary of War, had also come out in one of Stevenson’s ships as an assistant commissary of subsistence, and was stationed at Monterey and relieved me as commissary, so that I reverted to the condition of a company-officer. While acting as a staff-officer I had lived at the custom-house in Monterey, but when relieved I took a tent in line with the other company-officers on the hill, where we had a mess.

Stevenson’s regiment reached San Francisco Bay early in March, 1847. Three companies were stationed at the Presidio under Major James A. Hardie; one company (Brackett’s) at Sonoma; three, under Colonel Stevenson, at Monterey; and three, under Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, at Santa Barbara. One day I was down at the headquarters at Larkin’s house, when General Kearny remarked to me that he was going down to Los Angeles in the ship Lexington, and wanted me to go along as his aide. Of course this was most agreeable to me. Two of Stevenson’s companies, with the headquarters and the colonel, were to go also. They embarked, and early in May we sailed for San Pedro. Before embarking, the United States line-of-battle-ship Columbus had reached the coast from China with Commodore Biddle, whose rank gave him the supreme command of the navy on the coast. He was busy in calling in–“lassooing”–from the land-service the various naval officers who under Stockton had been doing all sorts of military and civil service on shore. Knowing that I was to go down the coast with General Kearny, he sent for me and handed me two unsealed parcels addressed to Lieutenant Wilson, United States Navy, and Major Gillespie, United States Marines, at Los Angeles. These were written orders pretty much in these words: “On receipt of this order you will repair at once on board the United States ship Lexington at San Pedro, and on reaching Monterey you will report to the undersigned.–JAMES BIDDLE.” Of course, I executed my part to the letter, and these officers were duly “lassooed.” We sailed down the coast with a fair wind, and anchored inside the kelp, abreast of Johnson’s house. Messages were forthwith dispatched up to Los Angeles, twenty miles off, and preparations for horses made for us to ride up. We landed, and, as Kearny held to my arm in ascending the steep path up the bluff, he remarked to himself, rather than to me, that it was strange that Frémont did not want to return north by the Lexington on account of sea-sickness, but preferred to go by land over five hundred miles. The younger officers had been discussing what the general would do with Frémont, who was supposed to be in a state of mutiny. Some thought he would be tried and shot, some that he would be carried back in irons; and all agreed that if any one else than Frémont had put on such airs, and had acted as he had done, Kearny would have shown him no mercy, for he was regarded as the strictest sort of a disciplinarian. We had a pleasant ride across the plain which lies between the sea-shore and Los Angeles, which we reached in about three hours, the infantry following on foot. We found Colonel P. St. George Cooke living at the house of a Mr. Pryor, and the company of dragoons, with A. J. Smith, Davidson, Stoneman, and Dr. Griffin, quartered in an adobe-house close by. Frémont held his court in the only two-story frame-house in the place. After some time spent at Pryor’s house, General Kearny ordered me to call on Frémont to notify him of his arrival, and that he desired to see him. I walked round to the house which had been pointed out to me as his, inquired of a man at the door if the colonel was in, was answered “Yes,” and was conducted to a large room on the second floor, where very soon Frémont came in, and I delivered my message. As I was on the point of leaving, he inquired where I was going to, and I answered that I was going back to Pryor’s house, where the general was, when he remarked that if I would wait a moment he would go along. Of course I waited, and he soon joined me, dressed much as a Californian, with the peculiar high, broad-brimmed hat, with a fancy cord, and we walked together back to Pryor’s, where I left him with General Kearny. We spent several days very pleasantly at Los Angeles, then, as now, the chief pueblo of the south, famous for its grapes, fruits, and wines. There was a hill close to the town, from which we had a perfect view of the place. The surrounding country is level, utterly devoid of trees, except the willows and cotton-woods that line the Los Angeles Creek and the acequias, or ditches, which lead from it. The space of ground cultivated in vineyards seemed about five miles by one, embracing the town. Every house had its inclosure of vineyard, which resembled a miniature orchard, the vines being very old, ranged in rows, trimmed very close, with irrigating ditches so arranged that a stream of water could be diverted between each row of vines. The Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers are fed by melting snows from a range of mountains to the east, and the quantity of cultivated lands depends upon the amount of water. This did not seem to be very large; but the San Gabriel River, close by, was represented to contain a larger volume of water, affording the means of greatly enlarging the space for cultivation. The climate was so moderate that oranges, figs, pomegranates, etc., were generally to be found in every yard or inclosure.

At the time of our visit, General Kearny was making his preparations to return overland to the United States, and he arranged to secure a volunteer escort out of the battalion of Mormons that was then stationed at San Luis Rey, under Colonel Cooke and a Major Hunt. This battalion was only enlisted for one year, and the time for their discharge was approaching, and it was generally understood that the majority of the men wanted to be discharged so as to join the Mormons who had halted at Salt Lake, but a lieutenant and about forty men volunteered to return to Missouri as the escort of General Kearny. These were mounted on mules and horses, and I was appointed to conduct them to Monterey by land.

Leaving the party at Los Angeles to follow by sea in the Lexington, I started with the Mormon detachment and traveled by land. We averaged about thirty miles a day, stopped one day at Santa Barbara, where I saw Colonel Burton, and so on by the usually traveled road to Monterey, reaching it in about fifteen days, arriving some days in advance of the Lexington. This gave me the best kind of an opportunity for seeing the country, which was very sparsely populated indeed, except by a few families at the various Missions. We had no wheeled vehicles, but packed our food and clothing on mules driven ahead, and we slept on the ground in the open air, the rainy season having passed. Frémont followed me by land in a few days, and, by the end of May, General Kearny was all ready at Monterey to take his departure, leaving to succeed him in command Colonel R. B. Mason, First Dragoons. Our Captain (Tompkins), too, had become discontented at his separation from his family, tendered his resignation to General Kearny, and availed himself of a sailing-vessel bound for Callao to reach the East. Colonel Mason selected me as his adjutant-general; and on the very last day of May General Kearny, with his Mormon escort, with Colonel Cooke, Colonel Swords (quartermaster), Captain Turner, and a naval officer, Captain Radford, took his departure for the East overland, leaving us in full possession of California and its fate. Frémont also left California with General Kearny, and with him departed all cause of confusion and disorder in the country. from that time forth no one could dispute the authority of Colonel Mason as in command of all the United States forces on shore, while the senior naval officer had a like control afloat. This was Commodore James Biddle, who had reached the station from China in the Columbus, and he in turn was succeeded by Commodore T. Ap Catesby Jones in the line-of-battle-ship Ohio. At that time Monterey was our headquarters, and the naval commander for a time remained there, but subsequently San Francisco Bay became the chief naval rendezvous.

Colonel R. B. Mason, First Dragoons, was an officer of great experience, of stern character, deemed by some harsh and severe, but in all my intercourse with him he was kind and agreeable. He had a large fund of good sense, and, during our long period of service together, I enjoyed his unlimited confidence. He had been in his day a splendid shot and hunter, and often entertained me with characteristic anecdotes of Taylor, Twiggs, Worth, Harney, Martin Scott, etc., etc., who were then in Mexico, gaining a national fame. California had settled down to a condition of absolute repose, and we naturally repined at our fate in being so remote from the war in Mexico, where our comrades were reaping large honors. Mason dwelt in a house not far from the Custom-House, with Captain Lanman, United States Navy; I had a small adobe-house back of Larkin’s. Halleck and Dr. Murray had a small log-house not far off. The company of artillery was still on the hill, under the command of Lieutenant Ord, engaged in building a fort whereon to mount the guns we had brought out in the Lexington, and also in constructing quarters out of hewn pine-logs for the men. Lieutenant Minor, a very clever young officer, had taken violently sick and died about the time I got back from Los Angeles, leaving Lieutenants Ord and Lesser alone with the company, with Assistant-Surgeon Robert Murray. Captain William G. Marcy was the quartermaster and commissary. Naglee’s company of Stevenson’s regiment had been mounted and was sent out against the Indians in the San Joaquin Valley, and Shannon’s company occupied the barracks. Shortly after General Kearny had gone East, we found an order of his on record, removing one Mr. Nash, the Alcalde of Sonoma, and appointing to his place ex-Governor L. W. Boggs. A letter came to Colonel and Governor Mason from Boggs, whom he had personally known in Missouri, complaining that, though he had been appointed alcalde, the then incumbent (Nash) utterly denied Kearny’s right to remove him, because he had been elected by the people under the proclamation of Commodore Sloat, and refused to surrender his office or to account for his acts as alcalde. Such a proclamation had been made by Commodore Sloat shortly after the first occupation of California, announcing that the people were free and enlightened American citizens, entitled to all the rights and privileges as such, and among them the right to elect their own officers, etc. The people of Sonoma town and valley, some forty or fifty immigrants from the United States, and very few native Californians, had elected Mr. Nash, and, as stated, he refused to recognize the right of a mere military commander to eject him and to appoint another to his place. Neither General Kearny nor Mason had much respect for this kind of “buncombe,” but assumed the true doctrine that California was yet a Mexican province, held by right of conquest, that the military commander was held responsible to the country, and that the province should be held in statu quo until a treaty of peace. This letter of Boggs was therefore referred to Captain Brackett, whose company was stationed at Sonoma, with orders to notify Nash that Boggs was the rightful alcalde; that he must quietly surrender his office, with the books and records thereof, and that he must account for any moneys received from the sale of town-lots, etc., etc.; and in the event of refusal he (Captain Brackett) must compel him by the use of force. In due time we got Brackett’s answer, saying that the little community of Sonoma was in a dangerous state of effervescence caused by his orders; that Nash was backed by most of the Americans there who had come across from Missouri with American ideas; that as he (Brackett) was a volunteer officer, likely to be soon discharged, and as he designed to settle there, he asked in consequence to be excused from the execution of this (to him) unpleasant duty. Such a request, coming to an old soldier like Colonel Mason, aroused his wrath, and he would have proceeded rough-shod against Brackett, who, by-the-way, was a West Point graduate, and ought to have known better; but I suggested to the colonel that, the case being a test one, he had better send me up to Sonoma, and I would settle it quick enough. He then gave me an order to go to Sonoma to carry out the instructions already given to Brackett.

I took one soldier with me, Private Barnes, with four horses, two of which we rode, and the other two we drove ahead. The first day we reached Gilroy’s and camped by a stream near three or four adobe-huts known as Gilroy’s ranch. The next day we passed Murphy’s, San Jose´, and Santa Clara Mission, camping some four miles beyond, where a kind of hole had been dug in the ground for water. The whole of this distance, now so beautifully improved and settled, was then scarcely occupied, except by poor ranches producing horses and cattle. The pueblo of San Jose´ was a string of low adobe-houses festooned with red peppers and garlic; and the Mission of Santa Clara was a dilapidated concern, with its church and orchard. The long line of poplar-trees lining the road from San Jose´ to Santa Clara bespoke a former period when the priests had ruled the land. Just about dark I was lying on the ground near the well, and my soldier Barnes had watered our horses and picketed them to grass, when we heard a horse crushing his way through the big mustard-bushes which filled the plain, and soon a man came to us to inquire if we had seen a saddle-horse pass up the road. We explained to him what we had heard, and he went off in pursuit of his horse. Before dark he came back unsuccessful, and gave his name as Bidwell, the same gentleman who has since been a member of Congress, who is married to Miss Kennedy, of Washington City, and now lives in princely style at Chico, California.

 

He explained that he was a surveyor, and had been in the lower country engaged in surveying land; that the horse had escaped him with his saddle-bags containing all his notes and papers, and some six hundred dollars in money, all the money he had earned. He spent the night with us on the ground, and the next morning we left him there to continue the search for his horse, and I afterward heard that he had found his saddle-bags all right, but never recovered the horse. The next day toward night we approached the Mission of San Francisco, and the village of Yerba Buena, tired and weary–the wind as usual blowing a perfect hurricane, and a more desolate region it was impossible to conceive of. Leaving Barnes to work his way into the town as best he could with the tired animals, I took the freshest horse and rode forward. I fell in with Lieutenant Fabius Stanley, United States Navy, and we rode into Yerba Buena together about an hour before sundown, there being nothing but a path from the Mission into the town, deep and heavy with drift-sand. My horse could hardly drag one foot after the other when we reached the old Hudson Bay Company’s house, which was then the store of Howard and Mellus. There I learned where Captain Folsom, the quartermaster, was to be found. He was staying with a family of the name of Grimes, who had a small house back of Howard’s store, which must have been near where Sacramento Street now crosses Kearny. Folsom was a classmate of mine, had come out with Stevenson’s regiment as quartermaster, and was at the time the chief-quartermaster of the department. His office was in the old custom-house standing at the northwest corner of the Plaza. He had hired two warehouses, the only ones there at the time, of one Liedesdorff, the principal man of Yerba Buena, who also owned the only public house, or tavern, called the City Hotel, on Kearny Street, at the southeast corner of the Plaza. I stopped with Folsom at Mrs. Grimes’s, and he sent my horse, as also the other three when Barnes got in after dark, to a corral where he had a little barley, but no hay. At that time nobody fed a horse, but he was usually turned out to pick such scanty grass as he could find on the side-hills. The few government horses used in town were usually sent out to the Presidio, where the grass was somewhat better. At that time (July, 1847), what is now called San Francisco was called Yerba Buena. A naval officer, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, its first alcalde, had caused it to be surveyed and laid out into blocks and lots, which were being sold at sixteen dollars a lot of fifty varas square; the understanding being that no single person could purchase of the alcalde more than one in-lot of fifty varas, and one out-lot of a hundred varas. Folsom, however, had got his clerks orderlies, etc., to buy lots, and they, for a small consideration, conveyed them to him, so that he was nominally the owner of a good many lots. Lieutenant Halleck had bought one of each kind, and so had Warner. Many naval officers had also invested, and Captain Folsom advised me to buy some, but I felt actually insulted that he should think me such a fool as to pay money for property in such a horrid place as Yerba Buena, especially ridiculing his quarter of the city, then called Happy Valley. At that day Montgomery Street was, as now, the business street, extending from Jackson to Sacramento, the water of the bay leaving barely room for a few houses on its east side, and the public warehouses were on a sandy beach about where the Bank of California now stands, viz., near the intersection of Sansome and California Streets. Along Montgomery Street were the stores of Howard & Mellus, Frank Ward, Sherman & Ruckel, Ross & Co., and it may be one or two others. Around the Plaza were a few houses, among them the City Hotel and the Custom-House, single-story adobes with tiled roofs, and they were by far the most substantial and best houses in the place. The population was estimated at about four hundred, of whom Kanakas (natives of the Sandwich Islands) formed the bulk. At the foot of Clay Street was a small wharf which small boats could reach at high tide; but the principal landing-place was where some stones had fallen into the water, about where Broadway now intersects Battery Street. On the steep bluff above had been excavated, by the navy, during the year before, a bench, wherein were mounted a couple of navy-guns, styled the battery, which, I suppose, gave name to the street. I explained to Folsom the object of my visit, and learned from him that he had no boat in which to send me to Sonoma, and that the only chance to get there was to borrow a boat from the navy. The line-of-battle-ship Columbus was then lying at anchor off the town, and he said if I would get up early the next morning I could go off to her in one of the market-boats.

Accordingly, I was up bright and early, down at the wharf, found a boat, and went off to the Columbus to see Commodore Biddle. On reaching the ship and stating to the officer of the deck my business, I was shown into the commodore’s cabin, and soon made known to him my object. Biddle was a small-sized man, but vivacious in the extreme. He had a perfect contempt for all humbug, and at once entered into the business with extreme alacrity. I was somewhat amused at the importance he attached to the step. He had a chaplain, and a private secretary, in a small room latticed off from his cabin, and he first called on them to go out, and, when we were alone, he enlarged on the folly of Sloat’s proclamation, giving the people the right to elect their own officers, and commended Kearny and Mason for nipping that idea in the bud, and keeping the power in their own hands. He then sent for the first lieutenant (Drayton), and inquired if there were among the officers on board any who had ever been in the Upper Bay, and learning that there was a midshipman (Whittaker) he was sent for. It so happened that this midshipman had been on a frolic on shore a few nights before, and was accordingly much frightened when summoned into the commodore’s presence, but as soon as he was questioned as to his knowledge of the bay, he was sensibly relieved, and professed to know everything about it.

Accordingly, the long-boat was ordered with this midshipman and eight sailors, prepared with water and provisions for several days’ absence. Biddle then asked me if I knew any of his own officers, and which one of them I would prefer to accompany me. I knew most of them, and we settled down on Louis McLane. He was sent for, and it was settled that McLane and I were to conduct this important mission, and the commodore enjoined on us complete secrecy, so as to insure success, and he especially cautioned us against being pumped by his ward-room officers, Chapman, Lewis, Wise, etc., while on board his ship. With this injunction, I was dismissed to the ward-room, where I found Chapman, Lewis, and Wise, dreadfully exercised at our profound secrecy. The fact that McLane and I had been closeted with the commodore for an hour, that orders for the boat and stores had been made, that the chaplain and clerk had been sent out of the cabin, etc., etc., all excited their curiosity; but McLane and I kept our secret well. The general impression was, that we had some knowledge about the fate of Captain Montgomery’s two sons and the crew that had been lost the year before. In 1846 Captain Montgomery commanded at Yerba Buena, on board the St. Mary sloop-of-war, and he had a detachment of men stationed up at Sonoma. Occasionally a boat was sent up with provisions or intelligence to them. Montgomery had two sons on board his ship, one a midshipman, the other his secretary. Having occasion to send some money up to Sonoma, he sent his two sons with a good boat and crew. The boat started with a strong breeze and a very large sail, was watched from the deck until she was out of sight, and has never been heard of since. There was, of course, much speculation as to their fate, some contending that the boat must have been capsized in San Pablo Bay, and that all were lost; others contending that the crew had murdered the officers for the money, and then escaped; but, so far as I know, not a man of that crew has ever been seen or heard of since. When at last the boat was ready for us, we started, leaving all hands, save the commodore, impressed with the belief that we were going on some errand connected with the loss of the missing boat and crew of the St. Mary. We sailed directly north, up the bay and across San Pablo, reached the mouth of Sonoma Creek about dark, and during the night worked up the creek some twelve miles by means of the tide, to a landing called the Embarcadero. To maintain the secrecy which the commodore had enjoined on us, McLane and I agreed to keep up the delusion by pretending to be on a marketing expedition to pick up chickens, pigs, etc., for the mess of the Columbus, soon to depart for home.

Leaving the midshipman and four sailors to guard the boat, we started on foot with the other four for Sonoma Town, which we soon reached. It was a simple open square, around which were some adobe-houses, that of General Vallejo occupying one side. On another was an unfinished two-story adobe building, occupied as a barrack by Brackett’s company. We soon found Captain Brackett, and I told him that I intended to take Nash a prisoner and convey him back to Monterey to answer for his mutinous behavior. I got an old sergeant of his company, whom I had known in the Third Artillery, quietly to ascertain the whereabouts of Nash, who was a bachelor, stopping with the family of a lawyer named Green. The sergeant soon returned, saying that Nash had gone over to Napa, but would be back that evening; so McLane and I went up to a farm of some pretensions, occupied by one Andreas Hoepner, with a pretty Sitka wife, who lived a couple of miles above Sonoma, and we bought of him some chickens, pigs, etc. We then visited Governor Boggs’s family and that of General Vallejo, who was then, as now, one of the most prominent and influential natives of California. About dark I learned that Nash had come back, and then, giving Brackett orders to have a cart ready at the corner of the plaza, McLane and I went to the house of Green. Posting an armed sailor on each side of the house, we knocked at the door and walked in. We found Green, Nash, and two women, at supper. I inquired if Nash were in, and was first answered “No,” but one of the women soon pointed to him, and he rose. We were armed with pistols, and the family was evidently alarmed. I walked up to him and took his arm, and told him to come along with me. He asked me, “Where?” and I said, “Monterey.” “Why?” I would explain that more at leisure. Green put himself between me and the door, and demanded, in theatrical style, why I dared arrest a peaceable citizen in his house. I simply pointed to my pistol, and told him to get out of the way, which he did. Nash asked to get some clothing, but I told him he should want for nothing. We passed out, Green following us with loud words, which brought the four sailors to the front-door, when I told him to hush up or I would take him prisoner also. About that time one of the sailors, handling his pistol carelessly, discharged it, and Green disappeared very suddenly. We took Nash to the cart, put him in, and proceeded back to our boat. The next morning we were gone.

Nash being out of the way, Boggs entered on his office, and the right to appoint or remove from civic office was never again questioned in California during the régime.

Nash was an old man, and was very much alarmed for his personal safety. He had come across the Plains, and had never yet seen the sea. While on our way down the bay, I explained fully to him the state of things in California, and he admitted he had never looked on it in that light before, and professed a willingness to surrender his office; but, having gone so far, I thought it best to take him to Monterey. On our way down the bay the wind was so strong, as we approached the Columbus, that we had to take refuge behind Yerba Buena Island, then called Goat Island, where we landed, and I killed a gray seal. The next morning, the wind being comparatively light, we got out and worked our way up to the Columbus, where I left my prisoner on board, and went on shore to find Commodore Biddle, who had gone to dine with Frank Ward. I found him there, and committed Nash to his charge, with the request that he would send him down to Monterey, which he did in the sloop-of-war Dale, Captain Selfridge commanding. I then returned to Monterey by land, and, when the Dale arrived, Colonel Mason and I went on board, found poor old Mr. Nash half dead with sea-sickness and fear, lest Colonel Mason would treat him with extreme military rigor. But, on the contrary, the colonel spoke to him kindly, released him as a prisoner on his promise to go back to Sonoma, surrender his office to Boggs, and account to him for his acts while in office. He afterward came on shore, was provided with clothing and a horse, returned to Sonoma, and I never have seen him since.

Matters and things settled down in Upper California, and all moved along with peace and harmony. The war still continued in Mexico, and the navy authorities resolved to employ their time with the capture of Mazatlan and Guaymas. Lower California had already been occupied by two companies of Stevenson’s regiment, under Lieutenant- Colonel Burton, who had taken post at La Paz, and a small party of sailors was on shore at San Josef, near Cape San Lucas, detached from the Lexington, Lieutenant-Commander Bailey. The orders for this occupation were made by General Kearny before he left, in pursuance of instructions from the War Department, merely to subserve a political end, for there were few or no people in Lower California, which is a miserable, wretched, dried-up peninsula. I remember the proclamation made by Burton and Captain Bailey, in taking possession, which was in the usual florid style. Bailey signed his name as the senior naval officer at the station, but, as it was necessary to put it into Spanish to reach the inhabitants of the newly-acquired country, it was interpreted, “El mas antiguo de todos los oficiales de la marina,” etc., which, literally, is “the most ancient of all the naval officers,” etc., a translation at which we made some fun.

The expedition to Mazatlan was, however, for a different purpose, viz., to get possession of the ports of Mazatlan and Guaymas, as a part of the war against Mexico, and not for permanent conquest.

Commodore Shubrick commanded this expedition, and took Halleck along as his engineer-officer. They captured Mazatlan and Guaymas, and then called on Colonel Mason to send soldiers down to hold possession, but he had none to spare, and it was found impossible to raise other volunteers either in California or Oregon, and the navy held these places by detachments of sailors and marines till the end of the war. Burton also called for ree¨nforcements, and Naglee’s company was sent to him from Monterey, and these three companies occupied Lower California at the end of the Mexican War. Major Hardie still commanded at San Francisco and above; Company F, Third Artillery, and Shannon’s company of volunteers, were at Monterey; Lippett’s company at Santa Barbara; Colonel Stevenson, with one company of his regiment, and the company of the First Dragoons, was at Los Angeles; and a company of Mormons, ree¨enlisted out of the Mormon Battalion, garrisoned at San Diego–and thus matters went along throughout 1847 and 1848. I had occasion to make several trips to Yerba Buena and back; and in the spring of 1848 Colonel Mason and I went down to Santa Barbara in the sloop-of-war Dale.

I spent much time in hunting deer and bear in the mountains back of the Carmel Mission, and ducks and geese in the plains of the Salinas, As soon as the fall rains set in, the young oats would sprout up, and myriads of ducks, brant, and geese, made their appearance. In a single day, or rather in the evening of one day and the morning of the next, I could load a pack-mule with geese and ducks. They had grown somewhat wild from the increased number of hunters, yet, by marking well the place where a flock lighted, I could, by taking advantage of gullies or the shape of the ground, creep up within range; and, giving one barrel on the ground, and the other as they rose, I have secured as many as nine at one discharge. Colonel Mason on one occasion killed eleven geese by one discharge of small shot. The seasons in California are well marked. About October and November the rains begin, and the whole country, plains and mountains, becomes covered with a bright-green grass, with endless flowers. The intervals between the rains give the finest weather possible. These rains are less frequent in March, and cease altogether in April and May, when gradually the grass dies and the whole aspect of things changes, first to yellow, then to brown, and by midsummer all is burnt up and dry as an ash-heap.

When General Kearny first departed we took his office at Larkin’s; but shortly afterward we had a broad stairway constructed to lead from the outside to the upper front porch of the barracks. By cutting a large door through the adobe-wall, we made the supper room in the centre our office; and another side-room, connected with it by a door, was Colonel Mason’s private office.

I had a single clerk, a soldier named Baden; and William E. P. Hartnell, citizen, also had a table in the same room. He was the government interpreter, and had charge of the civil archives. After Halleck’s return from Mazatlan, he was, by Colonel Mason, made Secretary of State; and he then had charge of the civil archives, including the land-titles, of which Frémont first had possession, but which had reverted to us when he left the country.


[WELCOME] [LOCATION AND HOURS] [CURRENT EXHIBITS] [MG WALTER P. STORY LIBRARY] [SATELLITE AND PARTNER MUSEUMS]
[HOW CAN I HELP?] [WHAT'S NEW?] [UPCOMING EVENTS] [CALIFORNIA MILITARY HISTORY] [HERALDRY & INSIGNIA] [ONLINE BOOKSTORE]
[CALIFORNIA CENTER FOR MILITARY HISTORY] [LINKS]

FastCounter by LinkExchange
Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster