Monthly Archives: June 2019

Conquering California, Part 4 of 17: The Instigator

This is Part 4 of a 17-part series. If you’ve already forgotten what happened in the last part, you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.

To start at the beginning, follow this link.




Army Captain John C. Fremont seemed like the perfect man for a dirty job. A dangerous and dirty job that Polk had in mind. He was raffish and reckless. Daring and arrogant. He knew the West. And most importantly, he shared President Polk’s political views on westward expansion.

Fremont was an American explorer who had already headed two successful expeditions. In 1842 and 1843, he had explored the Oregon Trail, Great Basin, and parts of California.

Bosom buddies: Kit Carson, standing on the left, and Fremont, seated on the right.

And he had friends in low places. During his expedition of 1842, he met a mountain man and guide named Kit Carson. He hired Carson, and they got along so well, and Carson proved so helpful, that Fremont wanted to use him in all future expeditions.

Fremont was also well-connected politically. He was married to Jessie Benton, the daughter of the powerful Senator Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri. Senator Benton was avidly in favor of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. Benton’s dream was for the United States to take over the entire North American continent. Yep, that included Canada, Mexico, and all the Central American countries. Benton wanted it all.

Benton had arranged Fremont’s expeditions of 1842 and 1843. But now he and President Polk had a much more intriguing expedition in mind. It involved some unscrupulous black ops for the government, that required great secrecy.

In 1845 he arranged for his son-in-law to survey the central Rockies, Great Basin, and part of the Sierra Nevada. But Fremont was secretly told that if war started with Mexico, he was to turn his scientific expedition into a military force and conquer California.

And he may have been told by his father-in-law, or maybe by the president himself, a few other things. Not specific things, but hint-hint inferred things. Things that require reading between the lines, taking initiative, and assuming all responsibility should everything go south.

The young explorer gladly accepted this assignment. He was eager to please his father-in-law, and anxious to prove himself in the line of duty.

Fremont began his 62-man expedition on June 1, 1845. But when he reached the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, near present-day Colorado Springs, where he was supposed to start surveying, he suddenly tossed away his official orders. He struck out across the vast no-man’s land of alpine, canyon, and desiccated desert, that separated the Rockies from the Pacific Ocean.

California was burning on his mind.

He split his party up. And on December 9, 1845, he arrived with just 17 men, at Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento Valley. He claimed to be conducting a scientific survey. However, he began to persuade a motley mix of American settlers to form militias and prepare for a rebellion against Mexico. He promised that if war with Mexico started, his military force would protect the settlers.

Then Fremont headed for Monterey, which was the traditional capitol of Alta California, and the heaquarters of Commandante General Jose Castro. There, he lied to the American Consul, Thomas O. Larkin, and Commandante Castro, claiming that he had merely come for supplies.

Commandante General Jose Castro.

In February 1846, Fremont reunited with his other 45 men, near Mission San Jose, about 45 miles north of Monterey. Now his forces were an alarming 62-man strong, and Commandante Castro and other Mexican officials realized they’d been duped. And they wondered what the hell this American upstart was up to.

Castro had enough of this shit and ordered him to leave California.

Well that was a big mistake, as far as Fremont was concerned. Nobody tells the Almighty Fremont to leave! So instead of going away, he and his crew of heavily armed surveyors headed south.

In early March 1846, they mounted Gavilan Peak (now Fremont Peak), to assess its military value. This peak commands the inland approach to Monterey. There, with astounding audacity, Fremont built a crude stockade and hoisted an American flag.

Castro responded to this insane provocation with a show of force, and a four-day Mexican standoff ensued. A Mexican standoff occurs when two parties square off, and neither party is able to proceed or retreat without putting itself in danger. So they must each hold their ground, while waiting for something to happen that would afford them a chance to end the confrontation.

And something finally did happen. U.S. Consul Larkin got involved, and was able to intervene. He told this crazy explorer that he supported Castro’s decision, and ordered Fremont out of the area.

Castro had a superior number of Mexican troops, so Fremont decided that maybe it was best to follow Larkin’s order.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 5: Fremont’s Return.

Conquering California, Part 3 of 17: Polk Salad

This is Part 3 of a 17-part series. If you’ve already forgotten what happened in the last part, you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.

To start at the beginning, follow this link.




In 1845, the Californios drove out their Mexico City appointed governor, and appointed two governors of their own. This was a big event for them. But there was another big event happening in 1845, of which Californios may have only been vaguely aware. And yet it would affect them profoundly. James K. Polk had become the 11th president of the United States.

Daguerreotype of James K. Polk. This is the first surviving photo of a sitting president, taken on February 14, 1849, by Matthew Brady. Polk died just four months later, about three months after leaving office.

Polk is one of the uncelebrated presidents of U.S. history. I mean, who talks about James K. Polk? His name sounds sort of like music you’d play with an accordion. Or a funny pattern for a clown outfit. Or a poisonous weed from the South that you can turn into a salad.

And yet in my opinion, he was one of our greatest presidents. Not for his moral leadership, which is debatable, but for the magnitude of what he accomplished. He only served one four-year term. But in those four eventful years, James K. Polk increased the size of the United States by more than a third.

Polk believed he was elected with a mandate to expand the size of our nation. And he intended to do so by admitting Texas into the Union, and by acquiring the northern territories of Mexico.

Of course, this raised tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, as Mexico still claimed Texas as its own, and had threatened war if it were to become a state of the United States. And Mexico wasn’t about to let go of any of its northern territories. Not even after Polk offered to pay for them.

This tension resulted in a lot of suspicion about all the illegal immigrants pouring into Alta California from America. The xenophobic folks in Mexico City decided that maybe their open border policy wasn’t such a great idea after all. And they decided it was time for immigration reform.

They didn’t have enough money to build a big-assed wall, and America sure as hell wasn’t going to pay for one. But they did have the ability to issue edicts.

So they issued one of their infamous edicts. Edicts that Californios liked to proclaim, but never follow. This edict was to deny Mexican citizenship to any new immigrants to California, and also deny land grants, sales, or even the rental of land to non-citizen immigrants already in California.

The edict worried and infuriated new arrivals from America. They had expected to quickly become Mexican citizens, and enjoy all the rights afforded any Californio. Now they were afraid they’d be driven back out of California, and be forced to fend for themselves amongst hostile Indians in the Nevada desert.

But not all Californios supported the edict. Governor Pio Pico did, in Los Angeles. He firmly believed in keeping Alta California out of the hands of Americans. But his jurisdiction in southern Alta California didn’t have many immigrants anyway, so the edict was nothing to make a big deal over.

Commandante General Jose Castro, in Monterey, was one of those who did not support the edict. There were many American immigrants in his jurisdiction of northern Alta California. And he was feeling the heat from them, as they remonstrated against the edict. Also, Castro kind of favored being annexed by the United States, unlike his anti-American co-governor in Los Angeles.

In March 1846, Castro issued a message reassuring all who had recently arrived in Alta California that they could stay, and would not be driven out. Thus began a long history of sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, in California.

The problem for Castro was that the immigrants weren’t so sure they could trust him. Especially since there was a scent of war in the air.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 4: The Instigator.

Conquering California, Part 2 of 17: Alta California

This is Part 2 of a 17-part series. If you’ve already forgotten what happened in the last part, you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.




The Bear Flag Revolt roared through California 173 years ago, this month. But to understand why all those Bears were so revolting, it helps to go back to when the Mexicans were revolting. That began 209 years ago, in the year 1810.

They fought for 11 bloody years against Spain, and in 1821, finally won their independence. Mexico became a brand new country, stretching from the current Oregon border, all the way south to Central America.

That’s a mighty long spread. It’s about 2,700 miles, as the buzzard flies.

Their most northern territory was Alta California. Alta, by the way, means Upper. There was also a Baja California, and Baja means Lower. The separation point between the two Californias was right around where it’s at today, at the current international border, between San Diego and Tijuana.

At that time, Alta California covered a huge-assed amount of territory. It consisted of what are now the states of California, Nevada, Utah, much of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Yeah, it was even bigger than Texas. So take that, Texas.

The boundaries of Alta California and other Mexican territories, states, and claimed lands, in 1842. At this time, Mexico still had not given up on Texas, and this would help spark the Mexican-American War, that began in 1846.

But most of this humongous territory was unoccupied, except by Native Americans. The Mexican inhabitants were known as Californios. And almost all the Californios lived west of the Sierra Nevadas and Colorado River, in what is now the state of California.

Did Mexico appreciate owning this vast amount of real estate? Not hardly. Mexico’s capitol, Mexico City, was over 1,800 miles away from Alta California’s traditional capitol of Monterey. And the Mexican government was bogged down in all kinds of political intrigue. They didn’t have the time, attention span, or political will to bother themselves much with their faraway land up north.

Alta California was like a latchkey kid that had to fend for itself and survive independently, the best it could. This allowed it to evolve into a semi-autonomous region, where local rule prevailed over federal rule. Californios became frustrated with Mexico City. They even debated as to whether they should remain with Mexico, seek independence, or allow Great Britain, France, or the United States to annex them.

Oh sure, sometimes the politicians down south would pay token attention to their lonely child up north. Like a parent who hollers from another room, the central government in Mexico City would issue edicts to Alta California. And like a passive-aggressive child who hollers back reassurances of cooperation, these edicts were acknowledged by Californios and supported with public proclamations.

But they only enforced the edicts they liked.

Finally, in 1842, the central government decided that Alta California was becoming too upstart and independent. So they appointed a tin god named Manuel Micheltorena to be the new governor. And they recruited a small army of thugs to go up there with him, and show those recalcitrant Californios a thing or two.

This army consisted of men who’d been convicted of crimes and given a choice of going to jail, or going up north to help the new governor. They were derisively referred to as cholos.

The cholos enabled Micheltorena to travel to Alto California with all the swagger and pride of a gangster. When he arrived and assumed the governorship, the only pay he gave the cholos was what they could rob from the citizens.

And so a reign of terror descended upon the Californios, as the cholos raped and pillaged and ravaged the countryside, all under the approval and supervision of the new governor.

By 1845, the Californios had enough. They formed a militia and fought back, and in the Battle of Providencia, forced Micheltorena and his thugs to flee back to Mexico City.

The victorious militia decided they weren’t going to accept anymore governors appointed by Mexico City. Instead, they replaced Micheltorena with two Californio governors they appointed themselves.

Pio Pico was to govern southern Alta California. He made his capitol The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciuncula River. And if that sounds like a mouthful to you, then just call it Los Angeles. Or, even better, call it L.A.

Commandante General Jose Castro was to govern northern Alta California, with headquarters near Alta California’s traditional capitol of Monterey.

The naming of their own governors was a big event in Alta California. And Mexico City wisely gave in, shrugged their shoulders, and decided to support it.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 3: Polk Salad.

Conquering California, Part 1 of 17: Introduction


“When America sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing guns. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some of them, I assume, are good people.” ~ Mexican El Presidente Don Juan Trompeta, 1845.

Okay, maybe there really wasn’t a Don Juan Trompeta. But if there had been, I’m sure he would have said something like that, about Mexico’s illegal immigrant problem.

It happened during the first half of the 19th century. Illegal immigrants from America were pouring into Mexico.

At first Mexico welcomed us with open arms. They made it easy for us to become Mexican citizens. And they allowed us to work, and buy land, and participate in the growing economy.

How did we thank this country? In Texas we banded together and rebelled. And in 1836, we took Texas away from Mexico and made it an independent republic.

Mexico sensed that California was next, and began clamping down on illegal immigration. This is a story about how that worked out for Mexico. It’s a tale about how a ragtag band of illegal immigrants from the United States took up arms against their host.

Today, America goes to great lengths to keep Mexicans out. But at one time, it was the other way around. (This photo depicts the beach at the U.S.-Mexico border, from the side of Tijuana, Mexico. Photo from Wikipedia, created by James Reyes on 10/22/06.)

It won’t be a pretty story. Because what you read here won’t bear much resemblance to what you may have read in public school history books, that tend to glorify our country and gloss over our atrocities and bumbling.

But it’s a true tale, as best as I could glean from multiple sources on the internet. And also from what I can remember from a California History course I completed many years ago, in college.

I found a lot of information, and couldn’t resist writing a 10,000 word post. But no one wants to read a 10,000 word post. Not even me. So I’ve decided to break this down into a 17-part series of posts, to serve more easily digestible portions. Chasing Unicorns will be stringing out this series over the summer.

Yep, I’ve done written a mini-book. But I’ve tried to make it an interesting and fun read. And coherent. One thing I’ve noticed about this subject is that there is little coherence. Not even in Wikipedia. Instead, there’s a lot of conflicting information and confusing segues that leave you with more questions than answers.

You can’t get a clear picture of how California became a state unless you take snippets of information from multiple sources, look for a pattern, and then arrange them the way you’d put a jigsaw puzzle together.

But I warn you, this jigsaw puzzle may leave you wincing at times. I love my country. And what I love most about my country is that I can shine an honest light on it without fear of going to jail. So I will present to you the raw, unvarnished truth. All the ugliness and glory combined. The true tale you never read in public school.

This is how the West was really won. This is the true story about illegal immigrants from America, and the conquering of California.

Come on back tomorrow, for Part 2: Alta California.


Piano Dad

He was given no choice. My grandparents forced him to take piano lessons. And my dad hated it.

But then something clicked. His spirit and soul connected with the spirit and soul of that giant stringed instrument. His fingers figured out how to tickle the ivories, and his ears learned how steal any tune he heard, and send it through his heart and onto the keyboard. And he went from piano pouter to piano child prodigy.

My dad had a happy-go-lucky, jocular personality. And he could charm anyone. His motto all his life was, “Make someone smile at least once a day.”

And he could do that with a piano. Whenever he would spot a lonely old upright or grand, sitting dusty and forgotten in some corner, whether it be in a bar, a restaurant, or somebody’s home, he’d meander over inconspicuously, casually wipe the dust off with his hands, then sit down and start tapping out a slow, hesitant tune.

And then gradually, as his fingers found their rhythm, and as his soul resonated with the great musical beast before him, that tune would build. Before long he’d be in full form, pounding out old standbys, with improvised riffs and harmonies lifting the atmosphere.

A crowd would draw near, and he’d take requests. If he couldn’t remember the tune, he’d ask the requester to hum or sing a few lines. Then his ear would catch it and transform it to the ivories, and you’d swear he’d been playing that song all his life.

A few years before I was born, he was laid off from his job as a machinist. He had kids to clothe, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. So he walked into a bar in Los Angeles and asked what they’d pay him to play their piano.

They allowed him to play for tips.

Night after night the tip jar overflowed, as large crowds were drawn to the bar. He became so popular, it seemed perhaps my dad had discovered a new profession.

But one wassailing evening, after he’d finished burning up the keys, a couple of goons paid him a visit. They asked to see his union card. But he didn’t belong to the local musician’s union. So they gave him the unmistakable message that if he did not join quickly, his fingers would be fixed so that he’d never play a piano again.

Dad said, “to hell with it.” Aerojet was hiring machinists, and they wanted him. He refused to join that damned musician’s union. Instead his fingers returned to metal, and let the ivories be.

My mom and dad divorced when I was two. So when I grew up, he was that charming, funny guy who showed up once-in-awhile and took me to fun places like Disneyland. I loved him, and always felt glad to see him come, and sad to see him go.

When I was eleven years old I attended Cottonwood Elementary school. It was way out in the sticks, and was the last one-room school in Riverside County, California. This old schoolhouse, built in 1897, had a lonely, dusty old piano languishing in the corner. Our schoolteacher didn’t know how to play it, so our music lessons consisted of singing songs A Cappella.

Cottonwood Elementary, where I attended Sixth Grade.

Every morning our 27 little lungs, from first to sixth grade, belted out tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, such as The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, and Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.

One day I stepped inside the schoolhouse while on recess, and there was my dad, paying me a surprise visit. And with him were my brother and sisters, whom he’d pulled out of classes at their high school. He had to do this on the sly, as a surprise visit, because he was behind in child support. My mother had no idea he was in town.

After a few minutes of hugs and jokes, Dad spotted the piano. And true to form, he quietly gravitated toward it, casually wiped the dust with his hands, and started to play, sitting all alone at the keyboard. And his smile quota for the whole year must have been satisfied in that moment, with the beaming look that appeared on my schoolteacher’s face.

Before long my entire class, and my brother and sisters, were all singing songs from Oklahoma!, as Dad hammered out the tunes on the keyboard. He didn’t know all the songs, but we’d just start singing and he’d catch on quick. His fingers danced. The harmonies were lively and full. And our glee at finally being able to sing with that old piano, gave our faces ear-to-ear smiles.

The walls of that old schoolhouse were in danger of being shaken down, with the music we made that day, and I had never felt more proud of my dad than at that moment.

When Dad got into his late sixties, he realized that arthritis was robbing him of his ability to play. And he knew how much his kids loved to hear his music.

So he paid a professional studio to record him, playing his favorite tunes on their grand piano. He was only allowed one long take, from first tune to last. If his arthritic fingers caused him to screw up, too bad. He had to improvise a riff to cover for the error, and move on.

Fortunately, he could still force his stiff old digits to manipulate the keyboard for the duration. And soon, each of us kids got a CD of 30 piano tunes, courtesy of our maestro father.

My dad has been gone for seven years now. But sometimes when I miss him I play that CD. Thanks Dad, for such a wonderful gift.

And now I have a gift for him, on this Father’s Day. I want to help him fill his daily quota of making at least one person smile.

So for your listening pleasure (on the chance that you may like it), here is my dad’s rendition of Home on the Range:

The Mission to End All Missions

Mission San Francisco Solano (aka Mission Sonoma, aka Mission Solano)

Mission San Francisco Solano has one damned confusing name. Don’t confuse it with Mission San Francisco de Asis. The latter is in the city of San Francisco, and is more commonly known as Mission Dolores. But you know that, because I posted about it a few weeks ago. Remember? Probably not. I hardly remember, myself.

The former is in Sonoma, California. So you can also call it Mission Sonoma. And many call it Mission Solano. Are you getting as mixed up as me?

It seems the Catholics were good at building missions, but confusing as hell at naming them.

Solano is the Spanish word for Sonoma. And Sonoma is a Native American Miwok word that means, “Valley of the Moon”. Miwok legend has it that the moon rose from Sonoma valley. But I suspect those Miwoks just sampled a little too much Pinot Noir one evening.

Sonoma, California is a quiet, wine country town, with a current population of about 11,000 winos. Well it’s quiet now, but at one time it was the place to go if you were looking for trouble. That’s because it was once the site of Catholic in-fighting. And the Mexicans and Russians rattled their sabres here. And not to be left out, the Native Americans got in on the action, and raised some holy hell in these parts. And most famously, this is the site of the Bear Flag Revolt.

This prickly pear cactus outside the mission might symbolize the prickly situations often encountered during the early days of Sonoma. Or perhaps it symbolizes the prick who founded the mission.

Finally the citizens had enough of all the tumult going on in their town. They turned their troubled waters into wine, and mellowed out. Hic. The world-renowned California wine industry was born in Sonoma in 1857, with the establishment of the state’s first commercial winery. Hic. And California has continued to grow mellower and mellower ever since. Hic.

But that’s boring. Let’s go back to this town’s exciting and controversial beginning.

Mission Sonoma was the mission to end all missions. It was the last to be established, of California’s 21 centers for brainwashing Native Americans. And it’s the only mission to be established under Mexican rule. It came to be on July 4th, 1823, our Independence Day holiday, and nearly two years after Mexico achieved its own independence from Spain.

This bell in front of the mission is rang annoyingly and incessantly during the Christmas season, by someone from the Salvation Army.

It was kind of a red-headed stepchild. The Catholic Church didn’t want this mission. But Father Jose Altamira did. The rule was that if you wanted to establish a new mission, you must ask permission from the Padre-Presidente. At the time, this was Father Sarria, the founder of nearby Mission San Rafael Arcangel (which I posted about, a week ago).

But Father Altamira must have guessed that Father Sarria would say no. So he said to hell with him, broke this rule, and instead asked permission from Luis Antonio Arguello. Who? Why, he was California’s first governor, under Mexican rule.

And the governor liked the idea. He wanted to close Mission San Francisco de Asis and Mission San Rafael Arcangel, and have a new mission further north for countering the Russians at Fort Ross.

Yep, the Russians.

Fort Ross had been established by the Ruskies in 1812, on Bodega Bay, just 50 miles north of San Francisco Bay. Those greedy bastards were trying to take over California. Yes, even before Donald Trump, those dirty commies were meddling with us.

The governor hated communists, and so gave his permission. And soon construction began.

But when Father Sarria found out about this, his face turned florid, his eyes bulged out, and he nearly leapt out of his frock. He ordered an immediate halt to the construction. A big argument broke out. And it was a tough argument to win for the enraged Father, because he was going up against the governor himself. But it wasn’t easy for the governor either, as he was going up against a highly respected leader of the Catholic Church.

Finally a compromise was reached. The new mission would go forward, which pleased the governor. And all other missions would remain open, including the missions in San Francisco and San Rafael. And that pleased Father Sarria.

But the Catholic establishment never got over it. They were still fuckin’ pissed. Bad feelings lingered, and the other missions did not give this new mission much support.

The interior of the mission church is the most simple and basic we’ve seen. By the way, the children at the front of the church are not missionary Indians. They were on a field trip from a nearby school. Poor kids. Imagine the disappointment of getting out of school, only to have to go to church.

Mission Sonoma was established about 46 miles southeast from Fort Ross. And it was effective for the governor’s purpose, because after all, Californians these days do not speak Russian. On the other hand, we have been accused of being communists, so I’m really not sure if the governor succeeded.

It was far enough from San Francisco Bay that the climate was warm and sunny. And it was quickly discovered that vineyards did well at this mission. And Father Altimira had no problem attracting Native Americans to help out. Like typical Californians, they knew how to appreciate a mild climate.

But what they didn’t appreciate was Father Altimira himself, who was not so mild. He exacted cruel punishments, and treated the natives harshly. He was a real prick. Conditions got so bad that in 1826, the natives grew restless and revolted. They looted and burned the buildings and supplies, and sent Father Altimira running for his life.

Now this outcast needed a new place to work. But he’d already burned all his bridges with the church, so none of the other missions would take him in. And so the cruel son-of-a-bitch had to return to Spain, never to bother Native Americans, or his fellow missionaries, again.

Father Buenaventura Fortuni, from Mission San Jose, took over the helm. He was a kind and loving man, and was able to regain the confidence of the natives. They soon rebuilt the mission and made it a prosperous success. At its peak, it encompassed 10,000 acres of vineyards, other crops, sheep, and cattle.

The altar at the front of the church contains a pornographic image of a partially disrobed man. I wonder if he’s a priest?

In 1834, all of the California missions were secularized. The stated goal of secularization was to distribute the mission lands to the Native Americans who had worked so hard to make them successful. Yeah, right. That goal was good for PR, but in practice most of the missions were confiscated by rich and powerful Mexicans, and the natives were left to fend for themselves.

Some of that happened at Mission Sonoma. In 1834, General Mariano Vallejo took the lands of this mission for himself, and made them part of his huge rancho. It was a raunchy thing to do, but at least he promised the natives protection, provided room and board, and put them to work on his raunchy rancho.

The general built an imposing home very close to the mission church, and named it La Casa Grande. And he was blessed by the Lord’s bounty, as he scavenged the roof tiles from the church, to use for his home.

Without a roof, the adobe chapel quickly deteriorated, then collapsed from neglect. But Vallejo wasn’t the only vulturine builder. Other settlers descended upon the site, and scavenged supplies from the remaining buildings. Thus, by the 1880s, the entire mission had been picked apart, and had fallen into ruins.

An outdoor pastry shop. Here, early missionaries baked holy foods, such as communion crackers and donuts.

In 1903, the California Landmarks League purchased the ruins of the original adobe mission. They used state funds to restore the chapel, and in 1926 they sold it to William Randolph Hearst. He then generously deeded it over to the state. Sounds sort of like a tax write-off scheme, to me.

Now it’s known as the Sonoma Mission State Historic Park, and is one of three missions that are part of California’s state park system.

Today you can visit the restored mission. And you can visit the restored presidio that housed soldiers, across the street from the mission. You know, those guys who kept the red tide of Russians away. A museum displays artifacts from the early mission, soldiering, and ranching days.

The museum is the long building to the right, which adjoins the mission at the far end. It costs three bucks per adult, to get in and gawk at all the goods. It’s two bucks per child, aged 6-17. And it’s free for those wee little ones who don’t give a damn.

At this museum you can also learn about the Bear Flag Revolt. It happened here in 1846, and led to California’s independence from Mexico. Which is another reason why Mission Sonoma was the mission to end all missions. It was here that Spanish and Mexican expansion came to an end, in North America, and they had to pack up and move south.

I’ll be boring you with some posts about the Bear Flag Revolt, soon.

Monument to the Bear Flag Revolt, that launched California’s independence movement from Mexico. Stay tuned for a series of posts, where I will tear down this overglorified monument, and give this revolt a reality check.

The Obliterated Mission

This restoration of the original Mission San Rafael Arcangel church was constructed in 1949.

The most obliterated of all California’s historic missions is Mission San Rafael Arcangel. It was established in 1817 as a medical asistencia, or sub-mission, of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. It achieved full mission status in 1822. And it’s located across the Golden Gate, about 15 miles north of Mission Dolores, in a sunnier, drier, and healthier climate.

It’s named after the archangel Saint Raphael, who is venerated by Roman Catholics as an angel responsible for miraculous healing.

Saint Raphael, the Archangel. Often associated with the unnamed angel in the Gospel of John 5:4, who stirs the water at the healing pool of Bethesda. Raphael is also mentioned in the Book of Tobit, from the Catholic scriptures. And besides the Catholic religion, Raphael is venerated by the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran faiths.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel was California’s first sanitarium. The warmer climate at this mission helped the Native Americans at Mission Dolores recover from European diseases, such as measles. As word spread of its success, other missions also began sending their sick to this sanitarium.

Father Vicente Francisco de Sarria established the mission. He was very dedicated and benevolent toward the welfare of the natives, especially their physical health. And he knew his stuff when it came to medicine. He’s credited with the first original contribution by a resident of California in the field of medicine, for an 1830 paper on the use of the caesarian section as a method of childbirth.

But Father Sarria was fighting an uphill battle. The new Mexican government was determined to secularize all the California missions. And in 1833, Mission San Rafael became one of the first missions to fall into secular hands.

Mission San Rafael keeps odd hours, and was closed when my wife and I arrived. We were unable to enter the large, restored church and take photos, so I did what any non-God-fearing atheist would do, and ripped this photo off from Wikipedia.

By 1844, the mission was completely abandoned, and in 1846 the empty buildings were sold for $8,000.

It briefly came back to life in June, 1846, when Captain John C. Fremont occupied the mission during California’s Bear Flag Revolt.

On June 28, 1846, an event began here that would affect the course of American history. Fremont ordered his scout, Kit Carson, and two others, to kill three prominent Californios who were passing through San Rafael.

This triple-murder was used against Fremont when he ran as the Republican party’s first nominee for president, in 1856. It helped turned public sentiment against him, and he lost the election to James Buchanan.

In 1861, the old mission church was razed, and a new church was built beside the ruins of the old church. Unfortunately, no one had ever sketched or painted the old church, so to this day nobody knows how it looked. All that was left of the original mission was one lone pear tree. For this reason, San Rafael is considered the most obliterated of all the California missions.

The building to the right is the parish church that was built in 1861, beside the demolished ruins of the original church.

Nonetheless, in 1949, the old church was rebuilt. It was restored on the site of the original hospital, by Monsignor Thomas Kennedy. Kennedy had to rely mainly upon his imagination for the design, because of course, he had never seen the original.

These three ding-a-lings hang out in front of the parish church that was built in 1861.

The parish church built in 1861 remains beside the 1949 restoration.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel keeps unpredictable hours. If you want to visit, take my advise and call ahead to see if it will be open. We didn’t do that, and found ourselves locked out of the restored old mission church. However, the church that was built in 1861 was open, and we were able to enter and snap a few photos.

Interior of the parish church, built in 1861.

We also got some great photos of the exterior of the restored church. We loved the architecture and pink color, and enjoyed admiring this restoration from the imaginative mind of Monsignor Kennedy.

We felt impressed with the beauty and architectural design of the restored church, even if it might not resemble the original.