REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
ANTONIO MARIA PICO
The little romance that attaches to the name of California is connected with the days prior to American intrusion, when the scattered missions and presidios held the aborigines in bodily and spiritual thrall, and a few descendants of the heroes of the Spanish conquest lorded it over broad leagues of territory, and maintained an estate of patriarchal independence. Afterwards came the coarse, brutal days of the gold-digger; nor have we in the history any other epoch to which we can look back with something of that romantic feeling which clings around the older days of chivalry in the lives of older countries, except the epoch of the Spanish rule. One of the few remaining lives which connected us, as by a palpable link, with the past, was that of Antonio Maria Pico. Like the Castros, Vallejos, and other familiar Spanish names, that of Pico is united with the early history of the Californias. Don Antonio Maria was born at Monterey, California, in 1808, when our own nation had barely attained its majority, while our revolutionary fathers still directed the career of the Republic; when the Regent held a brilliant court at St. James', and nearly twenty years before the American colonies of Spain asserted their independence. Then the Californias were to the world at large as much terra incognita as the shores of Tanganyika are to us to-day. Their very name savored of the age of fable. It seems now almost wonderful that the changes of these sixty years—the growth of one great nation from feeble infancy to vigorous maturity, the decadence of others, the overthrow of monarchies, the extinction of dynasties— should have transpired within the span of one human life; and yet they were all crowded within the experience and ken of Señor Pico. The same thought might be expressed upon the death of any man of equal age, but they are not so naturally suggested as in the case of this old Californian, whose own youth reaching back to the romantic period of our history, naturally connects itself with the contemporaneous scenes which have been enacting in the world's greater drama.
When but sixteen years of age, Pico was called from his home at Monterey to San Juan Capistrano, by Padre Ramon, to take charge of the books and business of that Mission. He afterwards removed to San José, where he held for many years the office of Alcalde; while discharging the duties of that position, he induced the people of San José to commence the erection of the old Mission Church.
He was residing at that place, and in the prime of life, holding office under the Mexican Government, when the Americans under Fremont broke over the mountains and on to the plains of California, and the Federal Navy scoured the coast and seized the ports of California. Pico was a Colonel in the Mexican service, but was unable, with the means at his disposal, and the equipment at his command, to successfully oppose the progress of the American troops. The Mexican forces retreated towards Los Angeles, and soon afterwards the war in California was closed by capitulation and a surrender to the United States. Col. Pico soon came to appreciate the heroic qualities of the American soldiers, and formed that strong attachment for Gen. Fremont which he ever afterwards manifested.
Upon the calling of the Convention at Monterey to form the Constitution of California, in 1849, Col. Pico was elected a delegate from Santa Clara county, and took his seat in that body, and was a useful member in its deliberations: was appointed Prefect by Gov. Burnett, and in 1850 was elected a member of the General Assembly from Santa Clara county. In 1856, upon the organization of the Republican party, and the nomination of Col. Fremont for the Presidency, Col. Pico united with that party, and did much to secure the California Spanish vote to the support of the Republican ticket. On the first nomination of Mr. Lincoln for the Presidency, the California Republican State Convention selected Col. Pico as one of the Republican candidates for Presidential Elector, to which office he was chosen by the people at the subsequent election. Mr. Lincoln, after entering upon the duties of his office, appointed Mr. Pico Receivor of public moneys at the land office in Los Angeles; but as the duties of the office required him to be much absent from his family, he soon resigned it.
Col. Pico died at his residence at San José on Sunday morning, May 23d, 1869. Four months thereafter, his mother died at Castroville—having attained the great age of ninety-eight years. The old lady left more than a hundred descendants and probably a thousand relatives to mourn her death.
Like so many of the race to which he belonged, Señor Pico was physically an extremely handsome man. Of commanding presence and courtly address, he impressed the stranger as one of the finest samples of that noble Spanish type which is yearly becoming more rare. Upon the more intimate acquaintance which was enjoyed with his generous hospitalities, one was impressed by the goodness of heart, simplicity of character, fine sense of honor, and that sweetness of disposition which is the perfection of manliness, rather then by the dignity of exterior which first commanded attention. These very virtues and excellences in Señor Pico contributed to cast a shadow over the closing years of his life. In the early American days, by abuse of his confidence, and betrayal of his trustfulness, he was stripped of his princely possessions, and was subjected thereafter to feel the mortifications and bitterness of one who had been despoiled through the means of all which he knew to be best and noblest in his being. He held aloof, as far as his strong human feelings and nature would permit, from Americans, to whom his misfortunes were due, never learning their language nor associating upon a basis of intimacy save with a proved and chosen few. Although he opposed them patriotically upon their invasion of his country, he was one of the first of prominent and influential Californians to come forward, upon the conclusion of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, to accommodate himself and those of his countrymen who looked to him for example and counsel, to the new order of things. It is believed that his many troubles aggravated the heart disease to which he finally succumbed. he left a reputation unsullied, a name which has been honored in his life, a wide circle of deeply attached friends, nor—as we believe—an enemy on the face of the earth.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 631-634.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
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