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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mid-1800s were a roller coaster for Vallejo

Jerry Bowen


Public service, family tragedy marked the general’s life

Life for Mariano Vallejo and his family after the Bear Flag Revolt was to be filled with many ups and downs and in the final days of his life not exactly a fitting end for such a loyal American patriot.

To begin with, when he returned to pursue a peaceful life as a ranchero, he was on parole and consequently took no part in public affairs at that time. At Sonoma, everything was quiet under the leadership of Lieutenant Joseph W. Revere and the garrison consisting of Company B of the California Battalion, under Capt. John Grigsby.

Apparently, Vallejo was released from parole by early 1847. The conquest of California appeared to be assured by the victory of Commodore Stockton and Gen. Kearny at Los Angeles. Fremont was appointed as governor by Commodore Stockton on Jan. 16, 1847, and a legislative council of seven members was appointed consisting of M. G. Vallejo, David Spence, J. B. Alvarado, Thomas O. Larkin, Eliab Grimes, Santiago Arguello, and Juan Bandini and the council was to convene at Los Angeles on March 1.

Unfortunately Vallejo was mourning the loss of his 3-year-old son, Guadalupe, who had died on Jan. 11, 1847. This was the third son he had lost and his grief was so great that Vallejo delayed his departure. In the meantime, Stockton and Kearny had become involved in a heated controversy over the question of supremacy of command, and as a result several of the council members declined to serve. Consequently, no meetings ever were held.

Vallejo continued to serve the public interest. Early in March 1847, he and Capt. Joseph B. Hull, of the United States Navy, organized a public meeting to assist with the relief of the snowbound Donner party. Vallejo donated several hundred dollars, and within a short time $1,500 was raised.

Problems with Indians continued and on April 14, 1847, Gen. Kearny appointed Vallejo as Indian sub-agent for the Sonoma district, which extended from Cache Creek on the east, to Clear Lake on the north, and to the ocean on the west. Vallejo handled the situation promptly and soon restored order. In April, 1848, he offered his resignation, but Gov. Mason refused to accept it, and he continued to serve until the end of the year.

At the same time, Vallejo and Robert Semple began to develop plans for founding the city of Francisca in honor of Vallejo’s wife, Dona Francisca Benicia Carrillo Vallejo. They hoped it would rival Yerba Buena and eventually grow to be not only the chief seaport but also the capital of California. But the citizens of Yerba Buena adopted the name San Francisco for their town, so Semple changed the name to Benicia, Senora Vallejo’s middle name.

On Nov. 13, 1847, a son was born to Senora Vallejo, and was given the name of Plutarco, the second son to hold that name. The first Plutarco, who was born in 1839, lived only two years. Unfortunately, the second Plutarco lived only a few months, dying Feb. 3, 1848 - the Vallejos’ 11th child and the fourth in the family to die.

Gold was discovered Jan. 24, 1848, at Coloma. Vallejo had long dreamed that Sonoma would become the metropolis of the northern frontier, and with the gold rush it was hoped that people heading from San Francisco toward the diggings would go overland by the north side of the Bay and use Sonoma as a base for supplies.

But the northern route to the mines proved too roundabout for the impatient gold-seekers. They preferred the more direct water route, or the overland by way of Contra Costa and Solano County to Sacramento.

Then, as with Sutter, Vallejo’s fortunes would eventually decline with the arrival of the new breed of settlers disappointed with the gold rush.

Political matters were in a state of chaos. The United States Congress had failed to provide California with any definite type of local government or laws. Basically, the military commanders carried on government duties. Due to the resulting confusion, Vallejo and all the great landholders of California began to experience increasing difficulties with squatters. The ever-increasing flood of settlers spread everywhere. Squatters settled on Vallejo’s land and it was almost impossible to evict them. There were no definite laws and no competent authority to enforce them. Growing public sentiment even sanctioned the acts of the trespassers.

Even then, Vallejo, who had always been generous with his wealth, was generous in his treatment of the new arrivals.

He often gave them permission to occupy land to be farmed on shares, without a written agreement, only later to be taken advantage of and defrauded of his property. It was partly to remedy this political chaos that Brig. Gen. Bennet Riley, who had arrived in California in 1849, as governor, called for a general election on Aug. 1 to choose delegates to a constitutional convention.

Thirty-seven delegates were chosen, four of them from the Sonoma district, including M. G. Vallejo, Robert Semple, and Joel P. Walker. They assembled in Monterey for the first session on Sept. 3, 1849. Robert Semple was elected as chairman of the convention, and Vallejo became the spokesman for the Spanish- speaking Californians, consisting of Pedro Sainsevain, Jos M. Covarrubias, Antonio M. Pico, Jacinto Rodriguez, Pablo de la Guerra, Jos Antonio Carrillo, Manuel Dominguez, and Miguel de Pedrorena. These men, though forced to speak through an interpreter, took a considerable part in the debates and proceedings.

They produced a constitution and adjourned on Oct. 13, 1849. The committee chosen to present the finished document to Governor Riley was composed of Robert Semple, Johann August Sutter and Mariano G. Vallejo.

Gov. Riley issued a proclamation calling for a general election on Nov. 13, 1849, to ratify the constitution and to choose officials for the new state government. The constitution was approved and the members of the state legislature, with Peter Burnett as governor, met at the new capital, San Jose, in December 1849.

Vallejo was elected state senator for the Sonoma District. During the first session the State was divided into 27 counties. Pablo de la Guerra was the chairman of the committee on counties, and Vallejo one of its members.

During the years that the General had spent as an official of the state government, his family continued to grow. On Jan. 21, 1849, a baby daughter was born and named Benicia, for her mother. She was the 12th child, and the fifth girl. The following year, on Dec. 8, 1850, a boy was born. This son was named Napoleon P. Vallejo.

At the beginning of his last session in the legislature, Vallejo was called back to Sonoma by the illness of his 4-year-old daughter, Benicia, who passed away on Jan. 31, 1853. Then Senora Vallejo gave birth to another girl baby, on April 30, 1853. This child was named Benicia Ysabel, to take the place of the one just lost.

Vallejo decided to build a new home about a half-mile to the north of the old home at the Sonoma Plaza. It was at the base of a hill from which bubbled a spring of clear, fresh, cold water. An Indian legend was connected with this spring, which concerned an Indian maiden who had lost her lover in one of the tribal wars. At the foot of the mountain she had waited in vain for her lost lover, and there had wept out her sorrow. Her tears now bubbled and gushed out from among the rocks. In keeping with this tale, Vallejo named his homesite “Lachryma Montis” (tear of the mountain).

Despite these happy occasions, squatters continued encroaching upon his lands. Some of his land grants had been questioned and he was involved in expensive and long litigations to establish their validity. In spite of this Vallejo continued to help the needy settlers who often arrived in California with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Not infrequently, those very persons most benefited by his generosity repaid him with nothing but ingratitude.

Early in March 1854, his eldest son, Andronico II, then 20 years of age, died. On Jan. 27, 1856, a new infant daughter who was named Luisa was born. She was the 15th child and seventh daughter. Seventeen months later, the last member of the Vallejo family, Maria Ygnacia, was born at Lachryma Montis, on May 11, 1857. She was the eighth girl and the 16th child of this large and gifted family. On Jan. 13, 1859, death cast its shadow over the Vallejo mansion once again. This time it was 6-year-old Benicia Ysabel who became sick and died.

I had hoped to finish this series with this column but there is more to be said about this great man and a few of the Bear Flaggers. So, I’ll continue in the next session.