Category Archives: History

International Unicorn Day

Today, April 9th, is International Unicorn Day. So, Happy Unicorn Day! Naturally this is one of my favorite holidays, because the whole-wide world is celebrating the magnificent, one-horned beast that is chased every day on my blog.

I believe unicorns are real, and they are everywhere. But that’s because I define a unicorn as anything that is unique, whether it be a unique thought, experience, life situation, or anything else. And there’s lots of uniqueness in our world. Every new day is different, with something novel and intriguing introducing itself to our lives.

The classic unicorn of mythology is also unique. It’s depicted as having a single, long, twisty horn, body of a horse, a lion’s mane and tail, and cloven hooves. That would be a unique sight to see.

This classic unicorn was thought by medieval Europeans to actually exist. They believed that their natural habitat was in India, which they fancied as a far-off land full of mystery and magic.

But they must have also imagined that these creatures sometimes strayed from India to Europe, because stories were spread about unicorn hunts, and theories abounded about the best way to capture a unicorn.

And these unicorns of yore were reputed to be nearly impossible to catch. Hunters reported that if one was chased to the edge of a precipice, it would leap off the declivity and land on its horn. The horn would absorb the shock of the fall, and so it would survive and escape.

Some claimed there was only one way to catch these wild, untamable creatures. They had a weakness for virgins. As soon as a unicorn laid eyes upon a virgin, it would lose all its fear and ferocity, gently approach the maiden, and lay its head submissively upon her lap. There it would fall asleep and be easily captured by its pursuers.

The Maiden and the Unicorn is a fresco painted by Domenichino around the year 1602. It can be found on the southeast wall of the Palazzo Farnese, in Rome.

To religious scholars, unicorns symbolized the Passion of Christ, and the virgin was the mother, Mary. And this is how unicorns found a curious, unique role to play, in the iconology of ancient Christianity.

Shakespeare told us of another way to capture a unicorn. In his play, Timon of Athens, the hunter would stand in front of a tree and goad it into charging him. At the last second he would step aside, and the unicorn’s horn would become embedded deep in the wood of the tree. The lesson from this was, “wert thou the unicorn, pride and wrath would confound thee and make thine own self the conquest of thy fury.”

Unicorn horns were called alicorn, and were considered to be medicinal. They were thought to cure many diseases, and to neutralize poison. Hence, many a chalice was carved from the horn of unicorns. Although sometimes these horns were revealed to be frauds, derived from narwhals. I wonder how many poor bastards died from cavalierly slurping poison from a narwhal chalice?

Marco Polo wrote about encounters with unicorns, while traipsing through India. He described them as having “the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead . . . They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.”

Poor Marco. What he actually saw were rhinoceros. But they were unique to his experience, so for him they really were unicorns.

Durer’s Rhinoceros is a woodcut executed by the German painter Albrecht Durer, in 1515, more than 200 years after Marco Polo’s rhinoceros-like description of a unicorn. This image is based on a written description and sketch by an unknown artist, of an Indian rhinoceros. It contains many anatomical inaccuracies, but did a good job of capturing the imagination of curious Europeans.

The unicorn is a symbol of Scotland, whereas the lion is a symbol of Scotland’s ancient enemy, England. These two rivals united in 1707, helping to form the United Kingdom. Since that time, the British have had two official coats of arms. The Royal Arms in England is depicted as a crowned lion on the left, and an uncrowned unicorn on the right, whereas the Royal Arms in Scotland is depicted as a crowned unicorn on the left, and crowned lion on the right. I guess the rivalry isn’t completely extinct.

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (English version).

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (Scottish version).

These days, unicorns are often depicted through the eyes of a little girl’s fantasy. They tend to be pink in color, with wings, farting rainbows, and surrounded by a cloud of stardust. If you want to make a little girl happy for about ten seconds, just buy her a stuffed, pink unicorn.

And if you want to make yourself happy, start chasing unicorns. Open your mind, welcome new experiences, and seek unique. If you do, you’ll discover an ever changing world, that never ceases to amuse and challenge, or inspire both fear and imagination. It’s a landscape of ups and downs, with polychromatic hues far more varied than the primary colors of the rainbow, and scored with trails, roads, and superhighways, leading toward an infinite universe of adventure.

We may celebrate unicorns today, but any day is a good day for chasing them. Unicorns are fun. So let’s get on with the chase, and I’ll see you on the hunting trail.

River of Romance

Johnny Mercer’s career was on the ropes. From the 1930s to the 1950s he wrote music for big stars like Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, and Bing Crosby. He even recorded some Big Band hits, himself.

But by the 1960s his career was at an ebb. Rock ‘n Roll had cut into his popularity. His long string of hits had snapped. He lost popularity with the young crowd, and nobody wanted to hear Mercer’s old fogey style of music anymore.

Then came the Paramount Pictures movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1961. This movie starred Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Hepburn played Holly Golightly, an outgoing, naive, socialite and wannabe show business star, with a mob connection. But she has a secret. Her real name is Lula Mae Barnes, and she came from rural Texas, escaping a childhood marriage.

Holly is looking to marry for money, even while being romanced by an aspiring writer of modest means named Paul Varjak (George Peppard).

A theme song was needed for the movie, and Henry Mancini was charged with writing a tune that captured Holly Golightly’s true, inner character.

Mancini watched a performance by Hepburn in the 1957 film, Funny Face. He felt an inspiration and within 30 minutes composed a melody. It was a simple tune, designed to conform with the limited range of Hepburn’s untrained singing voice. He now had the notes, but needed help with the lyrics. He turned to Mercer and gave him a chance to change his fortunes.

The first words Mercer wrote were, “I’m Holly, like I want to be, like Holly on a tree back home . . .”, but he quickly scrapped that. It just didn’t feel right.

Then he remembered the Back River. This was a river he grew up next to, in Savannah Georgia. He reminisced over the palmy days he enjoyed as a kid, playing by this dreamy body of water. And it suddenly occurred to him that this river captured the inner self of Holly’s true character. The Lula Mae Barnes from rural Texas.

He had already written some sentimental lyrics about this river, so he found them and incorporated the lines within Mancini’s melody. And he made sure that the last line paid tribute to his boyhood friend who liked to pick huckleberries alongside the Back River.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was to be a romance film. So instead of using the name of his hometown river, Mercer named the song Blue River. That sounded more romantic to him.

He met with Mancini, and while Henry played the melody, Johnny crooned the lyrics. It sounded great to them, so they cut a demo for the movie’s producers, and it sounded great to them, too. But then Mercer learned that the title, Blue River had already been taken. He had to change it. So he came up with something else romantic sounding. Moon River.

Hepburn was one of the first to fall in love with Moon River, and the very first star to record it. In one of the film scenes, she tries to elude a date by hiding out on a fire escape. There, she holds her guitar and reflectively voices the words with quiet, whispered passion, and softly-strummed bars, as an admirer secretly watches from above.

She did a great job, but almost for naught. Paramount Pictures president, Martin Rackin, thought the movie was too long and wanted the song and scene cut from the film. In his words, “Well, the fucking song has to go.”

Mancini went pale. The cast felt stunned. They peppered Rackin with all the reasons why it should stay, and why other cuts should be made instead. And at the suggestion of her beloved tune being cut, the normally quiet and demure Hepburn went ballistic. She declared, “Over my dead body!” while deploying colorful language to match Rackin’s.

Rackin relented, the song was saved, and Hepburn’s vocals helped the tune win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Sadly, when Mancini cut an album containing Moon River, Hepburn was left out. It was released with his chorus’s vocals only, in 1961. It was a moderate hit, rising to #11 in Billboard’s charts. I think it would have gone higher had Hepburn’s sultry voice been included. However it did win the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Amazingly, Jerry Butler also had a #11 hit with the tune, simultaneous with Mancini, in 1961.

Later, it became the theme song for Andy Williams’ 1960s television show, where Williams sang the first eight bars at the beginning of each episode. In fact, Moon River became Williams’ signature song. His version made it onto an album, but was never released as a single.

There was pressure in the 1960s to release the version with Hepburn’s voice, but studio executives quashed that idea, and it never made it to an album or single.

Audrey Hepburn came to be defined by the extroverted character, Holly Golightly. Yet she was actually an introvert, much different from the character. Even so, she always loved the song Moon River, and must have felt disappointed that her soulful rendition was never released.

In January, 1993, Audrey Hepburn passed away at age 63, from a rare appendiceal cancer. The timing was rather cruel, because only a few months after her death, her version of Moon River was finally released on an album, entitled Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn.

Moon River relaunched Johnny Mercer’s career as a songwriter. He went on to write Days of Wine and Roses, again with Mancini, which also won an Oscar for Best Song. It’s the only time in history that a songwriting team ever won back-to-back Oscars. And in 1965, Mercer wrote Summer Wind, which became a big hit by Frank Sinatra.

Yet Moon River remains the song he is most known for. And I understand why. It’s my favorite love song. No other song does better at capturing the romance of life, love, and long-term relationship, than this soul child of Mercer and Mancini, in my view.

To me, its words symbolize the imposing challenge of love (wider than a mile), the thrill of meeting that challenge (I’m crossing you in style), and the rewards and risks at stake (dream maker, heart breaker).

Call me a romantic, but the two drifters off to see the world would be my wife and me. Over the decades we’ve definitely seen a lot of this world, both figuratively and literally. She’s been my huckleberry friend as we’ve drifted down Moon River, chasing so many rainbows together.

I especially like the original version of this song, and I think you might enjoy it too. So for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is Moon River, by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly:

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way.

Two drifters, off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ’round the bend,
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me.

Conquering California, Part 17 of 17: The Conquerors After Conquest

This is the final part of a 17-part series. At last, it’s over. What’s over? Well shit, 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, and read this entire series like a history book, follow this link.


 

President James K. Polk

 

President James K. Polka.

James K. Polk had promised he would only be a one-term president, when he was elected in 1844. Sound familiar? Every presidential candidate seems to promise this. Yet he’s one of the few who kept that promise, opting not to run for re-election in 1848.

He’d entered office full of energy, and eager to fulfill his mandate of Western expansion. But apparently, expanding the size of the United States is not as easy as it may seem. Those four grueling years in office exhausted his health, and he left weak and frail.

He contracted cholera just three months after leaving office, and died on June 15, 1849, at the age of 53.

 

 

U.S. Consul Thomas O. Larkin

Thomas O. Larkin had been the first, and only, U.S. Consul to Alta California. After the war ended he was free to buy land in California. And buy he did. Real estate was glowing hot in the Golden State at that time, and Larkin made a fortune from his land speculations. By the late 1850’s he was possibly the richest man in America.

But he didn’t have long to enjoy his good fortune. On October 27, 1858, he contracted typhoid fever, and died at age 56.

 

Major Archibald H. Gillespie

 

Archibald H. Gillespie survived his lance wounds suffered at the Battle of San Pasqual. But he remained a major asshole, and thus never rose beyond the rank of major. He resigned from the Marine Corps in 1854, at age 42. He died on August 16, 1873, at the age of 60, in San Francisco.

 

Commodore Robert F. Stockton

 

Robert F. Stockton

In 1849, Charles Weber laid out a town located at a supply point for gold miners, on the San Joaquin River. He named it Stockton, after Commodore Stockton. Today, with a population of around 300,000, Stockton is California’s 13th largest city.

Commodore Stockton resigned from the Navy in May 1850. In 1851, he was elected U.S. Senator from New Jersey, and as a senator he sponsored a bill to abolish flogging as a Navy punishment. He was a delegate to the Peace Conference of 1861, that unsuccessfully attempted to avert Civil War. He died in 1866, at age 71.

 

 

 

General Stephen W. Kearny

 

Stephen W. Kearny. He does look a little yellow, doesn’t he?

Kearny was welcomed back to Washington D.C. as a hero of the Mexican-American War. He was appointed military governor of Veracruz and Mexico City, during the post-war occupation of Mexico.

In September 1848, President Polk promoted him to Major General, over the angry objections of John Fremont’s powerful father-in-law, Senator Thomas Benton. But Benton had no need to feel upset. The month after Kearny’s promotion, in October 1848, Kearny contracted yellow fever and died at the age of 54.

 

 

 

 

 

Kit Carson

 

This 1874 dime novel depicts Carson heroically stabbing one Indian in the front, while cowardly stabbing another in the back.

Kit Carson was romanticized and popularized by John Fremont, in Fremont’s writings of his Western exploits. Mentions of massacres and murders were glossed over, or spun to make Carson look like a great Western hero.

During the Civil War, Carson led a regiment of Hispanic volunteers on the side of the Union, in the Battle of Valverde. This battle took place in Confederate Arizona (now part of New Mexico). His regiment performed well, but the Union general in charge employed poor tactics, and the Confederates won.

After the Confederate threat to New Mexico was finally eliminated, Carson led forces that suppressed the Navajo, Mescalero Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche peoples, by destroying their food sources.

Kit Carson died in Fort Lyon, Colorado from an aortic aneurysm, on May 23, 1868. He was 58.

 

 

 

 

John C. Fremont

 

After the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga, Commodore Stockton quickly appointed Fremont military governor of California. But then orders came from Washington that gave General Kearny the authority to appoint a governor, rather than Stockton.

Kearny changed the governorship appointment to Colonel Richard B. Mason. But Fremont hated Mason, and got into a pissing match with him, refusing to obey his orders, and challenging him to a duel.

Kearny responded to Fremont’s contumacious behavior by ordering him to accompany him on Kearny’s return march back east.

On August 22, 1847, Kearny and Fremont arrived at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There Kearny had Fremont arrested and court-martialed for a variety of military offenses, including mutiny and disobeying orders.

On January 31, 1848, Fremont was acquitted of mutiny. But he was convicted of disobedience toward a superior officer, and of military misconduct. He was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge.

But by this time, Fremont was very popular in the United States. The press and public hailed him as a hero of the American West. The press followed his court-martial closely, and news of the verdict made headlines everywhere.

The verdict sparked popular outrage. President Polk approved of the verdict, but he feared the public sentiment. So he quickly commuted Fremont’s sentence and reinstated him into the Army. But he did not give Fremont a full pardon.

Fremont felt incensed that he had not received a full pardon and soon after, resigned from the Army in protest and returned to California.

There, Fremont became a multimillionaire in the Gold Rush, and also became one of California’s first two U.S. Senators.

1856 election poster, hyping Fremont for votes.

His hero status continued, and it propelled him to the Republican Party’s nomination to president of the United States, in 1856. This made him the first Republican nominee for president, as the Republican Party had only recently been formed, in 1854. But he lost to Democrat James Buchanan.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed Fremont to command the Department of the West, which was headquartered in Missouri. Fremont became the first in the American command to recognize and promote the fighting abilities of Ulysses S. Grant. But the headstrong Fremont got into a dispute with Lincoln and defied orders from the Commander-in-Chief, by trying to emancipate Missouri’s slaves. Lincoln fired him on November 2, 1861.

Fremont went on to dabble in speculative investments, and went broke during the financial Panic of 1873.

John C. Fremont, 1813-1890.

He was appointed Governor of the Arizona Territory in 1878, but showed little interest in the job, and resigned in 1881. He ended up living with his wife as a poor pensioner in Staten Island, New York. At age 77 he contracted peritonitis, dying on July 13, 1890.

Fremont was the instigator behind California’s Bear Flag Revolt, and made the conquest of California easier than it would have otherwise been, for the U.S. military.

He was a man of contradictions:

He was audacious, aristocratic, and charismatic. But he was also a cruel man, of low cunning, and capable of double-crossing his friends.

He murdered Native Americans, but treated surrendering Californios with generosity. He lived a life of celebrated adventure, but secretly colored it with deception, blood, and terror.

And he died on the East coast, a hero of the American West.


Congratulations! You made it to the end of this marathon 17-part series. I think I might do more series like this on other subjects. Unless this has been torture for you. If so, please say, “Ouch” in the comments. Otherwise, keep your running shoes on for more marathon unicorn chases, in the future.

Conquering California, Part 16 of 17: The Conquered After Conquest

This is Part 16 of a 17-part series. Have you bumped your head since the last part, and developed amnesia? Then you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.

To start at the beginning, follow this link.


 

General Mariano Vallejo

Mariano Vallejo

 

While in prison in Sutter’s Fort, Vallejo contracted malaria and his weight dropped to 96 lbs. He was released on August 2, 1846, and returned to his Casa Grande home in Sonoma, where he recovered.

Vallejo had long believed that California would be better off under United States rule, and believed the Bear Flaggers had made a mistake by declaring an independent republic. He felt embittered toward the Bear Flaggers for taking him prisoner. But after the United States defeated Mexico, he persuaded wealthy Californios to accept American rule.

He became an influential delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention in 1849, and was elected as a State Senator in 1850. He also donated land for the construction of a new capitol building, which was built in the eponymously named city of Vallejo. The state capitol was later moved three more times, to Sacramento, then Benicia (which neighbors Vallejo and is named after Vallejo’s wife), and then permanently back to Sacramento.

Mariano Vallejo died on January 18, 1890, at age 82.

 

Commandante General Jose Castro

Commandante General Jose Castro

 

Jose Castro returned briefly to California, where he sold his adobe house at Mission San Juan Bautista to a surviving member of the Donner Party. In 1853 he left for Mexico again, and was appointed governor and military commander of Baja California.

In February 1860, Castro was assassinated by a bandit. He was 52 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Governor Pio Pico

 

Pio Pico. His name should not be confused with Pico Pica hot sauce.

Pio Pico returned to California as a full-fledged American citizen, after the end of the Mexican-American War. He became one of the wealthiest cattlemen in California. But he had a bad addiction to gambling, and this and other factors led him to lose most of his wealth. Pio Pico died in 1894, at the age of 93.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General Andres Pico

 

Andres Pico

General Andres Pico, the brother of Pio Pico, was pardoned by the Treaty of Cahuenga. He later became a California Assemblyman and State Senator.

As an Assemblyman, he authored a bill to partition California into two states, north and south. In 1859, the bill passed both houses of the state legislature and was signed by the governor.

However the U.S. Congress never voted on the bill. The majority in Congress feared that a state of Southern California would be a slave state, and might secede, should Civil War break out. This was due to a strong presence of settlers from the South in southern California, who favored slavery and secession. And there were many discontented Californios in southern California, who also favored secession.

There have been dozens of subsequent attempts to partition the state, but Pico’s was the closest any came to succeeding.

Andres Pico died in 1876, at age 65.


Come on back in a few days for the final part of this 17-part series, Part 17: The Conquerors After Conquest.

Conquering California, Part 15 of 17: California After Conquest

This is Part 15 of a 17-part series. Now let’s see here, what the hell happened in the last part? Well shit, let’s just cheat and follow this link, to get up-to-date.

To start at the beginning, follow this link.


 

Alta California

 

On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, and wouldn’t you know? A bunch of damned migrants and immigrants wanted it. Migrants from eastern states, and immigrants from all over the world, poured into California during the ‘49er Gold Rush.

The 300,000 new, gold-grubbing arrivals to this U.S. possession allowed California to skip territorial status and directly become a state. So once again, newcomers changed the course of California history. And just like that, even before we became a state, we were getting too friggin’ crowded.

A constitutional convention took place in Monterey, in 1849, in order to establish the boundaries, laws, and government structure of the proposed state. And in order to wear funny hats, go to strip joints, and do other things delegates don’t talk about after returning home.

A debate ensued over the boundaries. Big Staters were greedy. They argued for keeping the boundaries of California as they were under Mexican rule. They hated to hear Texans brag all the time, and wanted a state big enough to shut them up.

If Big Staters had their way, California would have been larger than Texas.

But Small Staters were practical. They argued that a state this enormous would be too difficult to administer. They sought an eastern boundary at the 116th meridian, which would have included two-thirds of current-day Nevada, and would have sliced due south to the Mexican border, near San Diego, but would have cut off most of the southern deserts.

A weird “compromise” was hammered out that made California even smaller, and created the state’s current boundaries. These boundaries exclude Nevada, but encompass the southern deserts west of the Colorado River. And, most importantly, they provide access to the abundant waters of the Colorado. Californians wanted lawns.

The remainder of Alta California became the lands of the Utah and New Mexico Territories. These territories were later subdivided into smaller territories and states.

The California constitution also banned slavery, and sadly, this led to another weird compromise. The Compromise of 1850.

U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay, as he appeared in 1848.

The proposed admission of California as a free state prompted fiery debate in Congress between abolitionists and pro-slavery Southerners. This debate became so heated it nearly devolved into civil war. But Senator Henry Clay came to the rescue, and proposed a compromise that averted war. At least for the time being.

The Compromise of 1850 allowed California’s admission into the Union as a free state. It also allowed any new state, whether north or south of the Mason-Dixon line, to decide for itself if it would permit slavery. It included the highly controversial Fugitive Slave Act. And it cut the borders of Texas down to its current boundaries.

The Compromise of 1850 was the last major achievement of Henry Clay, before he died in 1852. And it allowed California to become our 31st state, on September 9, 1850.

 

 

The Bear Flag

 

The original Bear Flag, fabricated in Sonoma, was destroyed in the fires that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But a replica had been created in 1896 for the 50th anniversary of the Bear Flag Revolt, and today it’s displayed in the museum at the Sonoma Mission State Historic Park.

This photograph of William Todd’s original Bear Flag, was taken in 1890. 16 years later, the flag was destroyed in the fiery aftermath of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

In 1911, the Bear Flag was adopted as California’s official state flag. Only this time a better artist was employed. The bear looked much more like a bear than a pig. And it was bigger and more centered on the flag.

And the interesting words, California Republic still appeared below the ursine symbol. Today California sports the fifth largest economy in the world, so it could really be its own republic. And I’m sure there are many red states that wouldn’t mind if we seceded.

Maybe with just a little more illegal immigration, we can pull it off.

California’s state flag, as it appears today. Now I see the bear. It’s walking across someone’s well watered lawn.


Come on back in a few days, for Part 16: The Conquered After Conquest.

Conquering California, Part 14 of 17: The Battle of Rio San Gabriel

This is Part 14 of a 17-part series. There’s no need for embarrassment. Everyone has dementia to some degree. So If you’ve 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.


 

The Battle of Rio San Gabriel

 

After the Battle of San Pasqual, General Kearny spent several weeks in San Diego, licking his wounds.

Then he decided it was time to retake Los Angeles. But could he? General Jose Maria Flores seemed invincible. Against all odds, he had defeated a force much larger than his, at the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun. There’s no doubt Americans felt a little apprehensive about facing Flores again.

But on December 28, Kearny and Commodore Stockton decided to give it a try. However, unlike in the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun, this time they brought along horses, wagons, and most importantly, six cannons, to take care of that gun. They led a 600-man force on a 120-mile march toward Los Angeles.

General Flores awaited with 300 men and two cannons, while dug in on a 50-foot high bluff above the San Gabriel River. His position was at a key ford of the river, with the intent to block an approach on Los Angeles from the south. It was about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, in the current-day city of Pico Rivera.

On January 8, 1847, they clashed in the Battle of Rio San Gabriel. And Flores proved to be not quite so invincible after all. The six American cannons quickly silenced the two Californio cannons. Flores’ men bravely charged the Americans, but they only had makeshift ammunition, and little gunpowder. They were easily repulsed.

The Battle of Rio San Gabriel.

Then Kearny’s men charged, with overwhelming numbers. Flores’ men could not hold out, and withdrew in retreat. The battle lasted just 90 minutes.

Stockton and Kearny’s forces pursued, and on January 10, 1847, encountered Flores’ Californio militia at a place called La Mesa. This is near where the city of Vernon now stands, and is about 4 miles south of Los Angeles.

Here, the Battle of La Mesa, the last battle of the California Campaign, was fought. Within 15 minutes, Flores’ forces were defeated by the overwhelming firepower of American artillery.

Most of his men had had enough. They deserted the battlefield and went home. Flores held a final council, where he transferred command to General Andres Pico. He released all his prisoners, and then fled to Mexico.

The Siege of Los Angeles was over, and within a few days the pueblo was reoccupied.

 

The Treaty of Cahuenga

 

Three days after the Battle of La Mesa, on January 13, 1847, General Andres Pico and Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont approached each other alone, in the Cahuenga Pass. This is the present day site of Universal City, and Universal Studios, in the Hollywood Hills. And this was a very apt place, because the scene could have been straight out of a Hollywood movie.

John C. Fremont

A few weeks earlier, in Santa Barbara, a Californio woman named Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez had all the audacity to ask for ten minutes of Fremont’s time. He went ahead and granted it.

Those ten minutes stretched to two hours. She used every diplomatic skill at her disposal, and urged Fremont to negotiate a generous peace. She held his hand and asked that he agree to pardon Pico, release prisoners, guarantee equal rights for all Californians, and respect property rights.

Fremont felt moved. He was initially suspicious, but finally concluded that her intentions were good. He agreed to keep her wishes in mind, should the opportunity for a peace treaty arise.

Bernarda accompanied Fremont as he continued his march south toward Los Angeles, while reclaiming territory for the United States. On January 12 they came near the camp of General Andres Pico and his formidable lancers, at the Cahuenga Pass. Tensions rose. It seemed a new battle was looming.

Bernarda then left Fremont and traveled alone to Pico’s camp. She told him of the peace agreement that she and Fremont had been discussing. It sounded interesting to Pico, and he agreed to meet with his adversary.

The next day, January 13, 1847, Pico and Fremont approached each other alone, man-to-man. And without firing a shot, they agreed to the peace treaty that Bernarda had been pushing.

The treaty was put to paper, with the first seven articles written almost exactly the way Bernarda had suggested. Fremont and Pico signed it, ending all hostilities and bringing a lasting peace to Alta California.

The Treaty of Cahuenga was also influential in the drafting of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 12, 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War.

A generous peace was guaranteed for both sides. Everyone could return to business as usual. Except that now, Alta California belonged to the United States.

For the U.S. government, the conquest of California was finally complete.


Come on back in a few days, for Part 15: California After Conquest.

Conquering California, Part 13 of 17: The Battle of San Pasqual

This is Part 13 of a 17-part series. If your photographic memory has failed you, and you’ve forgotten the last part, you can follow this link and get yourself up-to-date.

To start at the beginning, follow this link.


 

Kearny’s Journey

 

U.S. Army General Stephen Watts Kearny.

After losing the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun, things were looking bleak for the U.S. military. But that’s okay, the cavalry was coming. U.S. Army General Stephen Kearny had recently conquered New Mexico, and was now on his way to California with a mighty force of 300 dragoons.

Kearny was in charge of the Army of the West. In June, 1846, he led this army out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and down the Santa Fe trail. In August and September, he entered Las Vegas and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and took this territory for the United States. He then headed west for Alta California.

On October 6, 1846, in Socorro, New Mexico, Kearny met Kit Carson. Carson had been tasked with carrying messages to Washington about the state of hostilities in California. Carson assured Kearny that California had been secured and the situation was well under control. And a very fine officer whom he knew personally, named Captain Gillespie, was keeping the peace in Los Angeles.

I guess Carson failed to watch CNN at any of the motels he stayed at, after leaving California. Instead he must have watched FOX.

With this reassuring fake news, Kearny sent 200 of his precious dragoons back to Santa Fe to aid with the occupation there. He also sent Carson’s message east with a different courier, and asked Kit to guide him to California.

Now Kearny only had 100 dragoons. And their mounts were worn out after having already traveled over a thousand miles. But Kearny encountered a herd of mules being driven to Santa Fe, and he seized on the opportunity by purchasing 100 of them. These new mules replaced the worn-out mounts. The only downside to this transaction was that these mules were untrained, and kind of difficult for his dragoons to handle. And we can assume they were rather stubborn.

Finally, in late-November 1846, Kearny and his tired men crossed the Colorado River. They headed toward San Diego, over the Colorado desert, and over the coastal range of mountains. And that’s when he encountered the deposed tyrant from Los Angeles, Major Archibald Gillespie, with a force of 30 men.

Yes, “Major” Gillespie, now. Apparently in the Marine Corps, this is the rank they promote you to when you’re a major asshole.

Major Gillespie had been tasked with the hangdog duty of informing General Kearny about the Siege of Los Angeles, and how he had lost control of the southern California occupation. On top of that, Gillespie also informed the dismayed general that a large fighting force of Mexicans was just a few miles away.

 

The Battle of San Pasqual

 

General Flores had found out about this General Kearny. So he had sent Governor Pio Pico’s brother, Mexican Army General Andres Pico, out to find him. And General Pico commanded a force of 150 highly skilled Californio lancers.

Andres Pico, in 1850, proudly sits in full fiesta regalia.

These lancers were now camped in the San Pasqual valley, just six miles away from Kearny and Gillespie, and just 30 miles northeast of Kearny’s final destination. Which was the pueblo of San Diego.

It was December 6, 1846, and a terrific battle was brewing.

Pico was unaware of Kearny’s presence, and vulnerable to surprise attack. But Kearny wanted to assess Pico’s strength, so he sent out a scouting party. The scouting party approached close to Pico’s camp, and then stupidly stirred up some noise. This alerted some of Pico’s lancers. They gave chase, and during this pursuit some fool within the scouting party lost his blanket marked “U.S.”, along with his dragoon jacket.

From this blanket and jacket, Pico was able to surmise that the scouting party was part of a much larger force that was coming against him. In other words, the scouts sent by Kearny did more to inform Pico, than to inform Kearny.

Pico felt worried. He did not know that Kearny had left most of his dragoons in New Mexico. And it seemed foolhardy to face a force as large as he imagined Kearny’s to be. He decided it would be best to vamoose. Escape. Get the hell out of there.

The day had faded, and the tenebrous fingers of twilight were creeping over the San Pasqual valley. It had been raining, and a cold dampness that felt like death, filled the air.

As Pico’s lancers were pulling up stakes to decamp, the scouting party returned in the dark of night to Kearny, and sheepishly issued their report. Well, goddamn, fuck-it-all-to-hell, Kearny must have thought. Now he’d lost the element of surprise.

But Kit Carson and Gillespie had been reassuring Kearny that the Californios were cowards. And like many white Americans, they all thought of themselves as superior to the Spanish-blooded race. So Kearny figured that his seasoned veterans could easily whip Pico’s forces anyway, surprise or no surprise.

Kearny worried that Pico was going to try to block him from reaching San Diego. Which wasn’t true. At that moment, Pico was actually trying to get the hell out of Kearny’s way.

With this worriment, combined with racial hubris, Kearny made one of the stupidest decisions in U.S. military history. He impulsively decided upon an immediate attack.

It had been pouring rain all day. Their firarms and gunpowder had been drenched. Worse than that, nobody bothered to check their firearms, in their haste to prepare for battle. Had they done so, the attack would have undoubtedly been called off. But instead, Kearny sent his men into battle virtually unarmed.

An oval-shaped moon hung halfway up the sky, and the midnight air was cold and wet. Pico’s men were still in camp, in the process of leaving. Kearny’s men rode their mules up a ridge, about a mile or so from their camp, below. The general boldly pointed his saber, and ordered his men to surround the camp and take as many prisoners as possible.

They descended in a column down a rocky path, and were soon immersed in low clouds and fog. Things started to get confusing, in the misty moonlight. It was a literal fog of war. Kearny ordered a trot. But one of his officers at the front, whose name was Captain Johnston, misheard. He raised his saber and shouted “Charge!”

Kearny is quoted as having exclaimed, “Oh heavens! I did not mean that!” Yeah, right. I’ll bet it was more like, “Holy shit! I didn’t say ‘charge’, goddamnit!”

The men on mules were more than a thousand yards away from Pico’s camp when they began galloping helter-skelter toward the lancers. Captain Johnston rode straight up on some of Pico’s men, and they opened fire, killing him instantly. The Californios had few guns, but they had apparently taken better care of their gunpowder than had Kearny’s dragoons.

Pico’s men grabbed their lances and horses and fled down the San Pasqual valley. An officer named Captain Moore ordered another charge, and off the unarmed dragoons galloped, pursuing the armed, retreating lancers.

The mules under Captain Moore’s dragoons were untrained, and some in poor condition. They all galloped at a different pace. Soon Moore’s men were stretched out in a thin, scraggly line, in their pursuit.

Battle of San Pasqual, by W. Francis.

Suddenly the lancers wheeled about. They realized how separated from each other their pursuers had become. And in the gray moonlight, they noticed how ungainly they rode, upon their untrained mules. And besides, they had pride. They weren’t about to allow men on mules chase them down.

They were highly skilled horsemen, these lancers. And now was time to put their skills to use. They began surrounding isolated soldiers. They swung their reatas, and lassoed them off their mules. And then they stabbed them to death with their willow lances.

Among those killed was Captain Moore.

Whenever dragoons tried to defend themselves using their firearms, all they heard was a click. They realized that with their wet gunpowder they were defenseless, and could do nothing but attempt to flee. And so the pursuers became the pursued, while being systematically hunted down in the glimmering fog, lassoed, and skewered.

Pico’s lancers surrounding Gillespie, at the Battle of San Pasqual.

Some of the lancers recognized the hated Gillespie, and they enveloped him and stabbed him repeatedly. They drove a lance into his chest, just above his heart, piercing his lung.

General Kearny was not immune. He took a lance wound to his back.

This desperate fray lasted just 15 minutes. But during that time, the lancers slaughtered 17 to 30 of Kearny’s men (accounts vary), with many others wounded.

Kearny and his soldiers fought back hard with all they had. Which was just rifle butts and sabers. But it was enough to allow Kearny, Gillespie, and the remaining survivors to retreat to a low hill, now known as Mule Hill.

Pico promptly surrounded them. And in the ensuing hours before dawn, he could have moved in and massacred them before they had a chance to dry their gunpowder. To this day it’s unclear why he did not. But it could be that he sensed the overall cause of the Californios was lost, and he was pondering the possibility of amnesty.

Kearny was blocked for several days by Pico’s lancers, and could not break through. But Kit Carson managed to slip through Pico’s lines, and headed to San Diego to alert Commodore Stockton.

Stockton quickly dispatched a force of 200 marines and sailors, who dispersed the Californios in short order. They then gave Kearny escort, helping him to finally limp into San Diego on December 12, 1846.

The Battle of San Pasqual was the bloodiest battle of the California Campaign. Both sides have claimed victory in this clash, and historians still haven’t agreed as to which side actually won.

An American historian might assert that Kearny won, in that he managed to reach San Diego with most of his men. Even if some resembled pincushions.

But a Mexican historian might argue that Pico won, in that he put Kearny at his mercy, and could have wiped him out. And he managed to stall Kearny’s advance, and inflict significant casualties on Kearny’s dragoons. And most importantly, he demonstrated to racists like Kearny, Gillespie, and Kit Carson, that Californios were neither inferior, nor cowards, and were not to be trifled with.

Hell, they beat the U.S. Cavalry. And with sticks for weapons.


The fighting hasn’t stopped. Come on back in a few days, for Part 14: The Battle of Rio San Gabriel.

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