REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
MARIANO GUADALUPE VALLEJO
By CHAS. E. PICKETT.
Before proceeding to sketch a condensed biography of the most distinguished of living Hispano-Californians, a short allusion to his ancestry will be of interest, as well as appropriate to the subject. The Vallejo family—all claiming relationship—occupied for many generations a most honorable position in Spain; and the branches of it which immigrated to America were alike distinguished, chiefly, however, as church dignitaries of the Jesuit Order. A genealogical statement or table of these latter was filed in 1806 in the Spanish archives of California. One of the name—Don Alonzo Vallejo—commanded the troops on board the vessel in which the royal commissioner, Bobadillo, came over to take back Columbus a prisoner to Spain. Another was with Cortez in making the conquest of Mexico, and afterward became Governor of the province of Panuco. The grand-parents of the subject of our history came from the province of Burgos, near the city of Bilbao, in the northern part of Spain, sometime during the early portion of the last century, and settled permanently in Gaudalajara, Mexico, where Don Ignacio Vallejo, his father, was born. Like the most of the members of the family (including a number of the females) Don Ignacio was educated for holy orders; but taking a dislike to that sober life, and his youthful imagination being fired with the spirit of adventure, then so animating the Castilian stock, he managed to quarrel with the officiating clergyman upon the day of his ordination—threw off, in simulated anger, his sacerdotal vestments, and fled for refuge to the royal standard. The company he joined was upon the eve of departing northward upon that famous propagandizing and exploring expedition which accompanied the historically renowned Father Junipero Serro— founder of the California Missions, and discoverer of the Bay of San Francisco. Landing with him at San Diego in 1769, Don Ignacio traveled, in company with that daring and zealous missionary and other members of the party, over a large portion of the country, soon thereafter going as far north as the valley of Petaluma. As military commissioner and engineer, he was employed for a number of years in planning and superintending the building of fortifications, laying out the various towns of the territory, and in directing the construction of irrigating canals and the waterworks of the Missions.
General M. G. Vallejo was born in Monterey, upper California, July, 1808, being the eighth of thirteen children. He was educated at the college there, and entered the military service at the age of sixteen, as a cadet and private secretary to Governor Arguello. Being rapidly promoted, he reached the rank of Brigadier-General in 1840. In 1829, as Lieutenant commanding, he was placed in charge of the Northern Department, which included all the country to the north of Santa Cruz, having his headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco; in which capacity he remained until 1837, exercising, until 1835, both civil and military functions for the section north of San José, when, at his own suggestion, Governor Figueroa ordered an election of civil officers for the Partido or District of San Francisco, whose seat of government or cabeza should be at the Mission of Delores; which was duly carried into execution, and dates the foundation of the first organization of the character at such important point.
In the fall of 1829, soon after assuming command of his department, a man by the name of Solis inaugurated a revolutionary movement against Gov. Echandea, chiefly because the latter preferred to reside at San Diego, instead of at the capital, Monterey. Vallejo was importuned to join the revolutionists, and upon refusing, was confined in the calaboose at Monterey, from which he shortly managed to escape by sea; joined the Governor’s forces at San Diego, and met the insurgents near Santa Barbara, where Solis was defeated.
In 1831, he was elected a member of the Territorial Deputation. At this period, Victoria was Governor, and had rendered himself obnoxious to the Californians by his arbitrary and cruel conduct. Vallejo having been selected by his fellow-deputies to prepare and present articles of impeachment against his Excellency, the latter, during a recess of the session, strove, by tendering him a superior commission and making other friendly overtures, to quash the indictment; but finding the young Lieutenant too true to his California countrymen, to accede to his propositions, he determined to arrest him and the others engaged in the proceedings. This precipitated a revolution in which Victoria was defeated in a battle fought at the Cauenga Pass, near Los Angeles; after which, the Governor was sent out of the country in an American vessel then lying in the port of San Diego.
In 1832, he was married to Francisca Benicia Carrillos, by whom he has had seventeen children—ten now living, five of them married—General John B. Frisbie, proprietor of the City of Vallejo, etc., being his eldest son-in-law. In 1834, he was, with Bandini, elected a delegate to the Mexican Congress, but did not attend.
In 1836, Governor Chico got by the ears with the leading Californians; was deposed by them, and sent from the country in an American vessel. Just before leaving, he appointed Gutierez his provisional successor, which arrangement was acceded to be the revolutionists. But Gutierez, proceeding to carry into execution the objectionable measures of Chico, the whole country arose in opposition, proclaimed Vallejo, General-in-Chief and revolutionary Governor ad interim, who immediately convened the Territorial Deputation and turned over the reins of civil government to Alvarado, President of that body; retaining, however, the military and, de facto, all power in his own hands. In 1838, the supreme government of Mexico confirmed these revolutionary acts of the jealous, belligerent, and semi-independent Californians; and sent out as Governor, Micheltoreno, clothed with extraordinary prerogatives—being invested with the full powers of the central government. In the exercise of these, he appointed Vallejo military commander of all the territory lying north of the Santa Inez mountain, who now had fixed his headquarters at Sonoma, where he has ever since resided.
In 1844-45, occurred the last revolution of the Californians among themselves, which ended in expelling Governor Micheltoreno from the country. Vallejo was the leading person in secretly planning the programme and having the pronunciamentos issued to this affect. Foreseeing the result, he wrote to Capt. John A. Sutter, who was organizing the foreign residents in the northern section and a body of Sacramento Indians, to go to the assistance of the Governor, strongly advising him not to take any part in the affair. At the same time, he addressed a communication to Micheltoreno, adjuring him to send back immediately the obnoxious troops and officers and offices he had brought from Mexico with him, and whose characters and conduct solely had arrayed the Californians against him. But his advice was unheeded by both; and upon the surrender of Micheltoreno, Sutter came near losing his life, which was only saved by the joint interposition of the foreigners enlisted upon either side. Vallejo, during the preparation for the conflict, was placed in a very delicate and dangerous position. Being ordered by the Governor to join him with the forces under his command, he refused; alleging as a reason, that he did not wish to make war upon his friends and relations—Alvarado and Castro, the two chief leaders of the revolutionists, being his nephews. The troops stationed at Sonoma and San Francisco were, through the agency of Lieut. Pico, Don Jasper O’Farrell, Capt. Sutter, and others, induced to desert and join the contingent forces of Sutter, then upon the march to coöperate with those of Micheltoreno. Not wishing to take issue with his American and other foreign-born neighbors, Vallejo remained quietly at home, awaiting the termination of the contest. And here, appropriately, may be related the real or paramount inducement for such conduct upon his part.
After the raising of the American flag at Monterey in 1842, by Commodore Jones, Vallejo became impressed with the conviction that the time was near at hand for when he deemed to be the inevitable destiny of California—annexation to the United States; and thence-forward was shaping his actions so as to conform to that which he was willing should come to pass as soon as possible. In evidence of this, during the month of March, 1846, at the call of Pio Pico—who, as President of the Assembly, had assumed the Governorship upon the expulsion of Micheltoreno— a convention of the leading citizens assembled at Santa Barbara, to take into consideration the future of California. The impression prevailed generally that its loose connection with Mexico was about to be severed; and the important question arose, “What will then become of us?” There were three parties in this body: one (and the strongest) favoring an English Protectorate. The next strongest advocated the erection of an independent Republic, to be maintained under all contingencies; whilst the third—at the head of which was Vallejo—favored the latter project only as far as a temporary arrangement for the purpose of negotiating their transfer into the American Union. Through his machinations, the meeting at Santa Barbara, where the English party prevailed, was unable to obtain a quorum, and so adjourned to Monterey. Here the friends of the various projects met and earnestly discussed this weighty question—the French Consul also approaching various members to propose a French Protectorate, provided they would call upon his government so to act. The leading part in the discussion was taken by Vallejo. He warmly, logically, and ably laid before the body his views upon the subject. He said they all agreed that Mexico must part with California; and it was impossible for them to maintain an independent status, since both the United States and Great Britain had fully manifested the intent to seize upon the country at a very early period. The only question, therefore, for them to decide and act upon was, into the arms of which of these two powerful nations they should conclude to throw themselves. For his part, laying aside his individual predilection—which had been often expressed—he advised them to make a virtue of necessity, by at once taking steps towards opening negotiations with a view to transferring themselves to the former. He stated that Commodore Jones had assured him in 1842 that is was a foregone conclusion of his country to have California soon at all hazards; and that his action in then so hastily raising the stars and stripes upon their soil, under the impression that war was waging between the two countries, was in accordance with secret orders to checkmate any such movement that might be made upon the part of the British naval commander. Thomas O. Larkin, the American Consul, residing then at Monterey, backed up these views of Vallejo, by assuring the members of the convention that so firmly resolved was his government to possess California, that in the event Great Britain should forestall them by first seizing it, or by their voluntarily transferring themselves in such direction, the United States would eventually obtain the territory, even though at the cost of a war with that mighty power. The convention came to no definite conclusion, resolving to adjourn for a season and observe the turn of affairs. But the complicated and important events so suddenly precipitated upon the land a few weeks subsequently, prevented any further consultation. The long existing jealousy between the northern and the southern sections of the territory had just then bred anew enough bad blood to induce General Castro Pico in the latter, to settle the feud by an appeal to arms. The two armies were marching to the scene of conflict, and about meeting near San Luis Obispo, when the startling news arrived that the foreigners had raised an independent banner (the “Bear Flag”) north of the bay of San Francisco; taken Vallejo and other chief citizens prisoners; fought a battle, defeating the natives, and threatened to carry fire and sword throughout the length and breadth of California, in retaliation for alleged threats made by Castro to drive them all from the country. This at once brought about a reconciliation between the opposing parties, and a resolve to join their forces in order to proceed against the common enemy. But very soon came the still more startling announcement that war existed between the United States and Mexico; that the fleet of the former had arrived in the bay of Monterey and raised the American flag over the town; that Col. Fremont had got back from the mountains in Oregon, whither Castro had but recently compelled him to flee; that the “Bear Party” had hauled down their flag, joined their recruits with Fremont, and that the command (rapidly augmenting) was on the march to coöperate with the navy in effecting a conquest of the country. Castro— now at the head of the Californians, though in sympathy with the British party—was aware of the hopelessness of further opposition, and admitted that the position taken by Vallejo was correct. Encamping in the vicinity of Monterey, he sent word to the Commodore that he was prepared to enter into negotiations for laying down his arms and surrendering the country. But being somewhat cavalierly and most impolitely repulsed, and the near approach of Fremont preventing a renewal of any overtures, by driving him further southward, then followed the two wars of the conquest—so wholly and entirely uncalled for, so expensive, and resulting in the loss of a number of lives upon both sides, and the engendering of much bitter feeling, all of which could easily have been avoided, but for the extreme ignorance of the American commanders as to the proper deference and conciliation to be extended to Castilian pride and punctilio. Vallejo remained a prisoner for a number of weeks at Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento valley, when he was set at liberty upon parole by the new naval commander.
Under the new régime, and especially after the beginning of the great influx of gold-seekers to the Pacific shore, in 1849, Vallejo assumed a very prominent position. He was appointed by Commodore Stockton, in January, 1847, a member of a civil body titled the Assembly, designed to frame a code of laws for the temporary governance of the territory. But the grand imbroglio between Stockton and Shubrick, General Kearney, and Colonels Mason and Fremont, happening about this period, prevented the meeting of such body. As an illustration of the complicated state of affairs brought about by their jealousies and conflict of authority, that even the famous Fremont court martial, which afterwards sat in Washington, was unable to unravel, Vallejo received three communications dated upon the same day, from Stockton, Kearny, and Fremont, respectively, each signing himself “Governor and Commander-in-Chief of California.”
Vallejo, however, acted for a time as Indian Agent north of the Bay, by appointment of General Kearney.
Early in the year 1849 were inaugurated those “District Legislatures” for affording some sort of temporary civil governments for the country. Ex-Governor Boggs from Missouri and General Vallejo took the leading part in organizing this movement for the Sonoma section, when, on motion of the Governor, and to save the labor and expense of framing a new code, the Missouri statutes were adopted entire, so far as applicable—Boggs, we believe, then possessing the only copy of them in California. But Governor-General Riley’s proclamation soon upset these independent movements, and called a general convention for the territory. Vallejo was elected a member of the body, which, upon assembling, resolved to form a State Constitution. The following year, he was elected a State Senator, and whilst a member, his magnificently liberal proposition with references to locating the permanent seat of government upon his Suscol Rancho, at the site of the present city of Vallejo, were accepted by the Legislature and confirmed by a vote of the people. In compliance with the terms of the agreement, he erected a State House or Capitol and various other public buildings, as well as expending large sums otherwise in connection therewith; expecting, besides the great honor of the business (his chief incentive) to reimburses himself from the sale of lots in the new city, and the rise in value of the adjacent lands. The Legislature twice met there, but the hotel accommodations not being esteemed sufficient, and certain very strong influences being brought to bear to induce adjournment to Sacramento, the place was finally abandoned as a capital, and Vallejo induced to cancel, upon his part, the contract made with the State, at a loss, as he alleges, of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. And to this heavy damage and the unexpected rejection by the Supreme Court of the United States of his title to that most valuable rancho, may be chiefly ascribed the downfall of his fortunes.
In January, 1847, Vallejo and Dr. Robert Semple (subsequently taking in T. O. Larkin as a co-proprietor) laid out upon the same rancho the town site of Benicia, which was first christened Francisca, after the first name of Señora Vallejo; but the title of Yerba Buena being soon thereafter officially changed to that of San Francisco, the similarity of the two induced the proprietors—after an angry protest by Semple, through the columns of his paper, the Californian, against such action upon the part of the Alcalde at Yerba Buena—to adopt Benicia (Venitia) instead; being the second or middle name of Mrs. Vallejo.
The General possesses a handsome residence—“Lachrymæ Montis”—situated in the edge of the town of Sonoma, built after the plan of Bonaparte’s villa at Bordentown, N. J., but is unable to preserve it in proper repair for the lack of sufficient income. Sonoma being selected as the headquarters of the United States army in the fall of 1849, his commodious mansion upon the Plaza, fashioned in the old Hispano-Mexican style, was long the almost homelike resort of all its officers, and where many, besides, met with that open-hearted and frank entertainment characteristic of its hospitable proprietor. Being, during that period, a gentleman of ample fortune—possessing near thirty leagues of choice land lying immediately around the northern border of the bay of San Francisco, and many thousands of horses and horned cattle—he dispensed his hospitality, as well as rendered much assistance to the newcomers, with a prodigal and generous hand. In 1865, he made his first visit to the East, and was received with great consideration in Washington by his old army and navy acquaintances, whom he met there, as also by the leading officials of the government.
As Mayor and also a Councilman of his home-town, he sought to have its public grounds properly ornamented and improved, proffering to bear the larger portion of the expense; but such not being responded to by the new citizens, his plan was only partially carried out. He expended, however, large sums in setting out vineyards and fruit-trees in the immediate vicinity, being the first to start vine-culture and wine-making on the north side of the bay. For several years, his wines and brandies took the first premium of the State Fairs, and at the Mechanic’s Fairs in San Francisco.
Notwithstanding his vicissitudes of life—loss of fortune, inability to keep pace with the progressive ideas and practices of Young America, and the many harassing cares besides—the General (now over sixty) preserves in a remarkable manner his youthful appearance and activity. This may be attributed, in part, to a well-developed physique, and active, outdoor exercise all his days, and to the strictly temperate habits he has constantly adhered to, rarely partaking of wine or spirits, and being a moderate and fastidious eater. In character he is not alone a pure-blooded Spaniard of the Hidalgo class, but true to many of the leading traits and likenesses of that grandly historic race; being generous, hospitable, high-spirited, of courtly address and distinguished presence, and possessed with a happy admixture of dignified pride and condescending affability. Like them, in general, his mind dwells much in the regions of romance; is somewhat addicted to idealistic fancies—air-castle building, or the concoction of magnificence schemes and projects, difficult of being, or never to be, realized. He is likewise addicted, at times to that hyperbolical style of phraseology so common to the Spanish character, and which causes many, unacquainted with such peculiar modes of expression, to impute intentional want of veracity. And to these amiable qualities, and the more materialistic natures of that throng of “practically-minded,” greedy, grabbing gold-seekers flocking to the Pacific shore, who have so greatly wronged the larger portion of the unsophisticated stock found here, by despoiling them of their heritage, may be attributed the passing away from his possession of that vast estate once held by him. Proud of the past glories and still prominent position of the Spanish race, the General—who is a fine scholar, especially as an historian—loves to dwell upon their close relationship with ancient Rome, and the undeniable fact that Spain, more than any nation of Europe, transmitted the wisdom and the virtues of that August civilization down to and connects herself with the modern. Excluded from taking any official or other influential part in American affairs, (with which government he has become much disenchanted of late years,) he takes a deep interest in observing the revolutionary progress of events in Spain; and is somewhat more than a mere beholder of those transpiring in Mexico, being the trusted counselor and assistant of certain military aspirants and Pronunciadores of this latter perpetually revolutionized and revolutionizing land.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 225-235.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.