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Fremont Struts

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Joined: 27 Nov 2007
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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:16 pm    Post subject: Fremont Struts Reply with quote

WHEN John C, Fremont won the sobriquet "The Pathfinder” the geography of California was pretty much of a muddle to the outside world, even to the government at Washington.

The explorations of the Spanish pioneers throughout the west and southwest, and north to Alaska (Perez and Crespi) were unknown to the people of the United States, They still are. And when Fremont's reports of his marches over the mountains into settled country—albeit sparsely—reached the United States, and were most ardently broadcasted by his father-in-law, U. S, Senator Benton, it was naturally concluded that the young engineer had "opened up" a great country, which he proudly proceeded to present to the United States.

His first appearance in Monterey was in January, 1846, when, with William A. Leidesdorff, U. S. Sub-Consul at San Francisco to Mexico, he paid a visit to Consul Larkin. Almost at once, Larkin received a note from Prefect Manuel Castro, asking the meaning of the presence of United States troops in the department, and the visit of their leader in the capital. Fremont explained, through Consul Larkin, that he had come by order of his government to survey a practical road to the Pacific, and that his company was composed, not of soldiers, but of men hired to carry out the survey. Also that he had left them on the frontier of the department to rest, and that he himself had come to Monterey to obtain funds with which to purchase animals and supplies. Later, Fremont orally related the foregoing facts to the prefect, Don Manuel, in the presence of Alcalde de la Torre, Consul Larkin, Captain Juan Bautista Alvarado, and General Jose Castro. The letter was sent to Governor Pio Pico, and thence to the Supreme Government. As no remonstrance came from Mexico, the arrangement was seemingly satisfactory. A "gentleman's agreement" that Fremont and his men might remain in the San Joaquin country for the winter, to rest and trap. On this point there was no difference of opinion between General Castro and Consul Larkin. The famous interview over, the next move of the "armed engineer" was to reassemble his forces at Santa Clara, and to march them south, halting in the Salinas Valley, on the Alisal ranch (March 3rd). He was now less than twenty miles from the capital. A gratuitous insult to the department, calculated to provoke the resentment of General Jose Castro, who was responsible to the Government for the protection of California, as Comandante del Norte. (Succeeding General Vailejo by appointment of Governor Alvarado.)

Meantime, numerous Californians had complained to Fremont that many of the horses in his command had belonged to them—run off by the Indians. His attitude was rather to put the rancheros on the spot than to afford relief, as in the case of Don Sebastian Peralta. Altogether his conduct was the antithesis of that of Consul Larkin, who was following out the well-defined policy of the United States in keeping on good terms with the people of the territory.

On March 5th, came an order from General Castro to Fremont at the Alisal camp. It read: "This morning information reached this office that you and your party have entered the settlements of this department; and this being prohibited by our laws, I find myself obliged to notify you that on receipt of this you must immediately retire beyond the limits of the department, such being the orders of the Supreme Government, which the undersigned is under the obligation of enforcing." This order was re-affirmed by Prefect Castro, who made clear that steps would be taken to enforce it, if the order were not respected at once.

Larkin, alarmed, wrote mediatory notes to both Fremont and Castro, telling the warrior-engineer that Castro had a force of two hundred men, and would fight. Manifestly, no other course was open to the comandante. His country was invaded by an armed force of a foreign power, obviously hostile in its attitude. As yet, the republics were technically at peace.

Fremont's answer was to march his men across the valley, and to the top of Gabilan Peak, where he erected fortifications and raised the Stars and Stripes. A dramatic stunt, but merely a stunt, as we shall see. And one to embitter the Californians, with nothing to be gained, but an avalanche of ill-will.

Now, Larkin, gasping at the engineer's temerity, believed that Fremont must surely have had secret advices from Washington that would explain his conduct—so senseless and purposeless—as an isolated episode. Then, suddenly, Fremont grew nervous, made a right about face, hauled down his flag, abandoned his cannon, and, under cover of darkness, marched down the mountain, and headed east at double quick. Now, Larkin shook his head—always level—and wondered what it was all about. The heroics at Gabilan Peak had accomplished nothing for the United States, but much against the "peaceful penetration" that had been ardently hoped for at Washington. Not only was the episode regarded by the Californians as an instance of gross national affront, but a violation of official hospitality—an unforgivable offense in the eyes of the Californians.

Came the Bear Flag revolt (June 14th), in which Fremont was, or was not, the leader. When it was a nebulous group of bewildered frontiersmen, he was not. When it seemed to him to have some purpose and might win through, he was. But definitely was he one with them in spirit, if not in body, when General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, his brother Salvador, and Victor Prudon, their brother-in-law, were arrested in Sonoma by the hairy coon-capped frontiersman and taken to Sutter's Fort. The Americans' conduct was based, it was claimed, upon a plot of the Californians to attack all foreigners, and drive them out of the country.

John Bidwell and many other stabilized men, rooted in the territory, were not, however, affrighted at the prospect. But when it became noised about that Fremont was behind the filibuster, some of the rooted class joined up.

Among the latter was Dr. Robert Semple, a tall, raw-boned Kentuckian, who in '49, became president of the Constitutional Convention at Monterey. And the same Semple who joined with Alcalde Walter Colton in Monterey in establishing the first newspaper in California—the Californian—August 15, 1846.

The events that followed need not here be set down, until Fremont again made his appearance in Monterey on July 19th (Colton has it on the 20th), twelve (or thirteen) days after Commodore Sloat had raised the Stars and Stripes over the Old Capital.

Fremont's entry into Monterey is thus pictured by Lieutenant Walpole of Admiral Seymour's Collingwood, in the harbor in time to witness the dramatic entry: "Fremont's party naturally excited curiosity. Here were true trappers. These men had passed years in the wilds, living on their own resources. They were a curious set. A vast cloud of dust appeared first, and thence in a long file emerged this wildest-looking party. Fremont rode ahead, a spare, active-looking man, with such an eye! He was dressed in blouse and leggings, and wore a felt hat. After him came five Delaware Indians, who were his body-guard. The rest, many of them blacker than the Indians, rode two and two, the rifle held in one hand across the pommel of the saddle. Thirty-nine are his regular men, the rest are loafers picked up lately. His original men are principally backwoodsmen from Tennessee and Missouri .... The dress of these men was principally a long, loose coat of deer-skin, tied with thongs in front, and trousers of the same … The saddles were of various fashions, and looked as though these, and a large drove of horses, and a brass field gun were things picked up in California. [The gun a trade, perhaps, for the one left on the brown shoulder of Gabilan Peak. ]

"The rest of the gang were a rough set ... They are allowed no liquor and … the discipline is very strict. They were marched up to an open space on the hills near the town, under some large firs, and there took up their quarters, in messes of six or seven, in the open air. The Indians lay beside their leader.”

Was it at this time that Fremont connected himself with the adobe known as "Fremont's Headquarters” on Hartnell Street? As he was camped at that end of town, it is possible that he did maintain a headquarters there, in preference to his rough camp, as he was known to enjoy "side." But only for a very brief period, if at all.
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