Category: Conquering California

17-part series about how the United States took California from Mexico.

Conquering California, Part 7 of 17: The Immigrants Are Revolting

This is Part 7 of a 17-part series. So, you were goofing off and have already forgotten what happened in the last part? No problem. Just follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.

And if you really want to get serious, and start at the beginning, follow this link.

Plaza at Sonoma, sketched in 1851.


The Immigrants Are Revolting

Mariano Vallejo


In June, 1846, Army Captain John C. Fremont instigated 34 illegal American immigrants into attacking the pueblo of Sonoma. Mission Sonoma had been built 25 years earlier to counter the Russians at nearby Fort Ross. But now it was not the Russians who posed a threat, but the Americans.

Sonoma was now occupied by retired Mexican General Mariano Vallejo. He maintained an armory of military weapons and materiel at the Sonoma Barracks. The immigrants wanted that shit, and they came to get it.

Vallejo had built a large mansion on the mission grounds, and named it Casa Grande. He was a proud man, and a rich man, but also a very amiable man.

The servant’s quarters are all that remain of General Vallejo’s Casa Grande.

On the morning of June 14, 1846, the 34 settlers under the leadership of Ezekial “Stuttering Zeke” Merritt and William Ide, surrounded Casa Grande. Zeke and a few others went to the door and knocked. The General, who was probably still in his bathrobe and holding a cup of coffee, answered.

There are many conflicting eyewitness accounts about what exactly transpired, but I imagine the conversation went something like this:

“G-g-g-ooood m-m-morning G-G-G-General. I-I-I-I-m S-s-s-s-Stut-tut-tut-ering Z-Z-Zeke. Y-you-you-you are-are-are un-un-underrr ar-ar-rest. W-W-W-We are-are-are re-re-re-volting.”

“Que?! Que paso? No aspeaka ingles mucho good.” Vallejo seemed puzzled and concerned.

Vallejo’s brother-in-law, an American immigrant named Jacob P. Leese, came to the door.

“Que paso, hermano?” asked Leese in Spanish. Luckily, Leese was bilingual.

After awhile, with Leese’s help and a lot of patience, the message Stuttering Zeke was trying to convey was comprehended by Vallejo, as well as the intent of the gringos who were surrounding his home.

Vallejo cordially invited the stutterer and a few others inside for a drink, and to discuss the matter further.

They spent a few hours pleasantly talking things over in three languages (English, Spanish, and Stutterish) and getting drunk. Vallejo had no objection to the inchoate revolt, because he favored the annexation of California by the United States. And with good cheer, they negotiated a parole with Vallejo, whereby he would be allowed to remain free if he pledged not to interfere with the revolt.

But when word of this agreement reached the settlers outside, the hothead Ide rejected it as bullshit. Soon Ide barged into the mansion and spoiled the drunken chinwag, by placing Vallejo and his family under arrest.

Most of the settlers agreed with Ide, and Stuttering Zeke had a difficult time articulating a counterargument. Besides, he was drunk. So there was no helping it. Vallejo, Leese, and the rest of the general’s family were taken prisoner.

The settlers were winging it at this point. They had never participated in a revolution before, so they just came up with ideas as they went along.

Their next big idea was to create a flag. William Todd, a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln, designed it and did the art work. For cloth, the ladies at the garrison gave the rebels a new cotton sheet and some old red flannel from a petticoat. Todd painted a bear and star with linseed oil, red paint, and blackberry juice. Beneath the bear and star, he limned the words, “California Republic”, and a strip of red flannel was sown to the bottom.

Bear or pig? What do you see? This replica of the original Bear Flag is on display at the Sonoma State Historic Park. It was constructed in 1896, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bear Flag Revolt. The original Bear Flag, constructed by Todd, was destroyed in the fire that followed the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

The paintings were crude, as Todd was not the greatest artist in the world. In fact the grizzly bear was so poorly drawn, some mistook it for a pig. And had that perception prevailed, this would have become known as the Pig Flag Revolt.

The bear symbolized strength and resistance. The lone star was in reference to the Lone Star Republic of Texas, and the Texan rebellion against the Mexican government 10 years earlier.

They raised this flag for the first time, on June 17, 1846.

Monument to the Bear Flag Revolt, at the Sonoma State Historic Park, Sonoma, California.

The rebels made the Sonoma Barracks their headquarters. And they changed the name of their revolt from the Popular Movement to the Bear Flag Revolt. They also elected military officers.

Henry L. Ford (no relation to the automobile magnate) was elected First Lieutenant of the company. Samuel Kelsey was elected Second Lieutenant. Grandville P. Swift and Samuel Gibson were elected Sergeants. These were the only elected officials of the new California Republic. No civil structure was ever established.

Ide then wrote and issued a proclamation to be distributed throughout northern California, declaring the establishment of this new republic, justifying the revolt, and inviting good citizens to join.

After the takeover of Sonoma on June 14, 1846, 70 more volunteers joined the rebels. By early-July, nearly 300 had joined the Bear Flag Revolt. The game was on. Alta California was going down.

These Mexican Army barracks at Sonoma became the headquarters of the Bear Flag Revolt.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 8: The Battle of Olumpali.

Conquering California, Part 6 of 17: The Instigation

This is Part 6 of a 17-part series. What? Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten what happened in the last part. Okay, okay, you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.

And to get really updated, you can start at the beginning, by following this link.


The Instigation


If you want to foment discord, look for the fomentable and discordable. To find them, try posting a canard on Facebook. Before you know it, you’ll have all kinds of nuts coming out of the woodwork, foaming at the mouth and supporting your lies.

But Fremont didn’t have a Facebook account. Or perhaps he’d lost his password. So he had to improvise.

One early-June day, mysterious unsigned letters were found in various public places frequented by illegal immigrants.

William B. Ide was an American settler who had just arrived in Alta California in October, 1845. He was a cantankerous dude, a bit unstable, and consumed with anxiety over Mexico’s new, draconian anti-immigration policy. This man was teetering right on the edge, and was a prime target of Fremont’s propaganda campaign.

William B. Ide

On June 8, 1846, Ide came into possession of one of the unsigned written messages. It’s the only copy still in existence today, and reads: “Notice is hereby given, that a large body of armed Spaniards on horseback, amounting to 250 men, have been seen on their way to the Sacramento Valley, destroying crops and burning houses, and driving off the cattle. Capt. Fremont invites every freeman in the valley to come to his camp at the Butts [sic], immediately; and he hopes to stay the enemy and put a stop . . .” The bottom of the message was torn off, probably by the trembling hands of Ide.

Ide and 33 other settlers felt alarmed. They quickly galloped to Fremont’s camp, at Sutter Buttes, expecting he might be their Lord and Savior with a plan to save their asses. But they felt disappointed when they found that Fremont had no specific plan. And they weren’t able to secure from him any definite promise of aid. Instead, Fremont behaved in a guarded manner. He seemed to be inciting them to revolt, but would not come out directly and say so.

Fremont had to be careful, because he risked court-martial for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794, that made it illegal for an American to wage war against another country at peace with the United States. News had not yet reached California that war had been declared a month earlier, so he was unsure about the legal ground he stood on. He wanted to avoid a court-martial.

However, he did stick his neck out far enough to conspire with the settlers to conduct a horse-thieving raid. Nothing beats the fun of stealing horses (I know, I’ve done it. Perhaps the subject of a future post.), so the settlers were all ears. Fremont told them about a herd of equines that were being moved by some Californios.

He also spoke of a vague rumor of unknown origin, and spread by hearsay, that Commandante General Castro intended to use the horses in a campaign to drive foreigners from California. This rumor left Ide and the other settlers feeling extremely alarmed.

They immediately decamped and went on the hunt, and on June 10 they found the horses. It was a herd of 170 Mexican government-owned caballos that were being moved from San Rafael and Sonoma to the Commandante General Jose Castro, in Santa Clara.

They captured the horses and delivered them to Fremont’s camp.

Now things were heating up. The settlers were in deep, having stolen the Commandante General’s horses. They were committed. They had crossed the Rubicon, and there was now no turning back.

Sutter’s Fort in the 1840’s.

And now that Fremont had a force of committed settlers on his side, who were not likely to desert, he decided it was time to strike. He decided to move south and take Sutter’s Fort. And while thanking the horse thieves for the fresh mounts, he might have implanted another idea into their heads.

But who knows whose idea it was at first? It certainly wasn’t anything Fremont was in a position to own up to. But somehow, someone came up with this plan:

Someone came up with the brilliant plan to seize the pueblo of Sonoma. Perhaps somebody with military experience coached them, and helped them reason that this would deny the Californios a rallying point north of San Fancisco Bay. And by capturing the arms and military materiel stored at that garrison, they would delay any military response from the Californios, to the seizing of Sutter’s Fort.

Fremont was thick on flattery, and generously bestowed the title of Field Lieutenant to one of the settlers, named Ezekiel “Stuttering Zeke” Merritt. He praised this man as someone who never questioned him. And based on this, he appointed him leader of the settlers. But hell, how could ol’ Stuttering Zeke question him? He was never allowed enough speaking time to question anyone.

William Ide might have gently pointed out that Zeke’s speech impediment could make communication and coordination a little tricky. And Fremont might have acknowledged that that was downright smart of Ide to recognize such a thing. Because Fremont appointed Ide the co-leader.

Soon these 34 illegal immigrants, led by Stuttering Zeke and hothead Ide, set off for Sonoma.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 7: The Immigrants Are Revolting.

Conquering California, Part 5 of 17: Fremont’s Return


This is Part 5 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.


Drive-by Massacres


He may have fumed about it, but he did as he was told by U.S. Consul Larkin. Fremont headed north for Oregon. But that was a long journey by horseback, and lots of things can happen on long journeys.

On March 30, 1846, his expedition reached the Lassen Ranch, in the upper Sacramento Valley. There, some American immigrants claimed that an encampment of Indians was preparing to attack white settlers.

This news offered just the kind of action Fremont and his men had been craving. They eagerly searched for the encampment. And on April 5, they encountered a large gathering of the Wintu tribe, near the current-day city of Redding, California.

Fremont ordered an advance on the camp.

The Wintu were pinned against the Sacramento River, and were unable to flee. They consisted mostly of women and children. They fought back as best as possible, but were no match for the well-armed advancing force.

Kit Carson was one of the attackers, and he described it as “perfect butchery”. Bucks, squaws, and papooses were cut down en masse by rifle fire. Many natives fled for the hills, or jumped in the river and tried to swim away. But they were chased down by Fremont’s men and tomahawked to death. Other members of the expedition stood on the river bank and took potshots at natives trying to swim to safety.

Up to 700 natives were killed on land, and 200 in the water, making the Sacramento River Massacre one of the bloodiest massacres of the West.

Fremont’s expedition continued into Oregon, killing Native Americans on sight, as they went. It was sort of like a modern-day, drive-by shooting rampage.

In the Oregon Territory, his forces met and murdered some of the Klamath people. But on May 9, 1846, they retaliated against Fremont, by killing several members of his expedition. Three days later Fremont conducted the Klamath Lake Massacre to “set things square”, killing 14 members of a nearby village.

But that’s how massacre math was done in those days. You set things square by taking the number of deaths on your side, then squaring it, and squaring it again. And that’s how many you kill on their side.


Fremont’s Return


In the middle of all this excitement, a U.S. Marine appeared. Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie had been sent from Washington with a secret message for both U.S. Consul Larkin, and Captain Fremont. On May 9, the same day the Klamath tribe killed members of Fremont’s party, Gillespie finally caught up with the man he was pursuing, and delivered the message. This message conveyed to the explorer that war with Mexico was inevitable.

Fremont’s eyes lit up when he read this missive. He saw an opportunity to realize his father-in-law’s Manifest Destiny ambitions, and get in really good with his wife’s side of the family. He and Gillespie immediately returned to California.

Meanwhile, more winds of war were blowing. U.S. Consul Larkin had sent a request to Commodore John D. Sloat of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Squadron, for a warship to protect U.S. citizens and interests in Alta California. Sloat responded by sending the USS Portsmouth, which arrived in Monterey on April 22, 1846.

USS Portsmouth, sailing to the rescue.

Larkin and the Portsmouth captain, John Berrien Montgomery, learned of Fremont’s return to California. They figured the army Captain might need some support, so the Portsmouth was moved into San Francisco Bay in late-May, where it moored at Sausalito.

On May 24, 1846, Fremont arrived back at Lassen Ranch, in the upper Sacramento Valley, ready and hoping for war. There he learned about the presence of the USS Portsmouth.

He sent Lieutenant Gillespie to Sausalito to request supplies, including 8,000 percussion caps, 300 pounds of lead, one keg of powder, money, and food. His official reason for making this request was the pretext of supplying his expedition for the trip back to St. Louis. Yeah, right.

On May 30, 1846, Fremont arrived near Sutter Buttes, about 45 miles north of Sutter’s Fort, and set up camp. He decided his first move should be to take Sutter’s Fort and raise the American flag. Sutter’s Fort was in New Helvetia, which is now known as Sacramento.

Near the site of Fremont’s encampment, at Sutter Buttes. (Photo by Isaac Crumm, 1/6/07, from Wikipedia)

But first, there was more slaughtering to do. Local Native American groups were on the move, preparing for a harvest. But the paranoid Fremont imagined they were actually preparing for an imminent attack. So on May 31, he preemptively attacked the natives and killed several, in the Sutter Buttes Massacre.

Lieutenant Gillespie found the Portsmouth on June 7, and delivered Fremont’s request for supplies. These supplies were then taken by the ship’s launch, up the Sacramento River, to a site near Fremont’s camp at Sutter Buttes.

Come on back in a few days, for Part 6: The Instigation.

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.