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Micheltorena Blocks Scheme

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:19 pm    Post subject: Micheltorena Blocks Scheme Reply with quote

WHEN to all appearances, the lands and property of Mission San Carlos (as at the other Missions already "secularized") were definitely in the hands of the comisionados, all waxing rich on the confiscated properties, Don Manuel Micheltorena arrived in California to administer the territory.

He arrived in San Diego in the Mexican ship Chato, in 1842, with a troop of soldiers to strengthen the defenses of the country, and marched to the capital.

Thus, by marching through the territory to Monterey, he was enabled to gain first-hand information of the condition of the country, and its primary needs, particularly its defensive equipment.

His arrival in the capital, as may be guessed, brought no cheers from Alvarado and his party. But the rancheros and the other non-political inhabitants, weary of revolts and the resultant instability, received the fine-appearing, cultivated Mexican with warmth. They wanted peace, and security for their lives and property. As matters stood, neither was felt to be safe. The country was in a highly nervous state, notwithstanding that social life went on uninterruptedly—bailes, fandangos, meriendas and weddings. Governors might come and governors might go, but the baile and the fandango went on as ever.

Soon Alvarado was busy at his old game. Jose Castro, unfriendly to Micheltorena—though he knew himself to be but an interregnum governor—for having displaced him, joined forces with Alvarado, and took steps to build up a case against the new gobernador. Alvarado was a persuasive fellow.

Their plans, a bit slow in formulating, were promptly rushed forward, when Micheltorena threw a bomb into their midst by issuing an order that all Mission property be returned to the padres and their neophytes—all except that which was occupied by settlers. Their titles would be determined later by the government.

That started the "revolution.' with a bang.

Of course, the Paisano Chiefs put forth their own reason, since set forth by their followers and apologists —that Micheltorena had peopled the country with an army of riff-raff—the "Scum of Mexico." A rare bit of humor, as the soldiers in Old California from the beginning had not been recruited from the grandees, as Eldridge has shown in his Beginnings of San Francisco. The fact that only one-fifth of the soldiers could read or write up to 1782 is significant. But the Alvarado-Castro contingent needed something to hang their revolt upon. Indeed, it had been put forth that the soldiers in Monterey had been caught red-handed stealing chickens!

So here we have a revolt admittedly based upon chickens.

Castro and Alvarado had succeeded in raising several hundred men from about the Bay of San Francisco, eager for adventure and "paid" pay. They advanced upon the capital, there to be met by Micheltorena at Natividad on the Salinas plain, with a force from the Monterey Presidio. A sharp encounter.

The insurgents retreated south, Alvarado enumerating the wrongs of the country under Micheltorena and his "cholos" to the rancheros on the way, who knew little or nothing of what was going on in the capital. A convincing talker, who knew what strings to play upon.

Knowledge of the newest "revolt" had already reached the south, where the garrisons were loyal. So Alvarado deferred his entrance to the Pueblo of Los Angeles until the hour before dawn, when he and his troops rushed the sleepy garrison.

They took possession of the Plaza, upon which the barracks stood. Officers who showed resistance were made prisoners, and held in the barracks under guard.

Here Pio Pico, now grown rich with plunder from the southernmost Missions, and his brother, Andres, now also a great land-owner, joined their old Monterey allies. The elder brother, eager for political honors, now that he had left poverty behind—or thought he had, for he died poor—was promised the governorship, if Micheltorena could be driven out. Excellent bait.

In the meantime, Micheltorena was not idle. From New Helvetia (Sacramento) came Captain John A. Sutter, now a Mexican citizen, with half a hundred crack riflemen to join in the defense of the government. Dr. John Marsh, a clear-headed, close-fisted American—a Harvard man—offered his services, as did P. B. Reading (founder of Redding), John Bidwell, and many other well-known settlers. They were all friendly with Micheltorena, recognizing in him an official of superior qualities—a man of culture and of unimpeachable character. But their interests were agrarian, not military—not even political. Land grants were their objective. Sutter already owned a principality near Sacramento, where he had built a fort. Others almost as much. The governor had made it plain that those who assisted the government would be rewarded. By act of the Supreme Government, he possessed the legal right to make grants, with certain limitations. A vast territory was open for settlement.

The armies met January, 1845, in the valley of the San Fernando. Alvarado commanded seven or eight hundred men, poorly armed, but well mounted—superb horses and superb horsemen. Micheltorena's force was disciplined and better equipped. A troop of regular soldiers, under command of an able officer.

Much cannonading throughout the day, and far into the night. The next day the strife terminated. Heavy firing, but no bloodshed, though a few horses fell on the field of "battle."

Micheltorena capitulated, having recognized the power of the politicians in the saddle, and agreed to leave the country, taking his regulars with him.

It is interesting here to note that James McKinley, later Montereno, then in the south, acted as mediator between the combatants.

"One of the conditions," says William Heath Davis, who heard the story directly from the principals, "was that General Vallejo be deposed as commander-in-chief, and that General Castro be appointed in his place, This was agreed to, and henceforth General Castro occupied that position," (Yet Vallejo, Alvarado's uncle, had supported his aggressive relative in many tight places,) The displacement of Vallejo by Castro as the important Comandante del Norte virtually terminated Vallejo's official connection with California,

The same author asserts that Micheltorena could easily have won the conflict "with skilled and disciplined soldiers, their arms, equipment of every kind, and supply of ammunition, altogether superior to those of Alvarado; but it was the result wholly of Micheltorena's good feeling towards the people of California and which led him to refrain from injuring them, as he might have done to a serious extent.

"From my knowledge of him and my personal acquaintance with him, I regarded him as a humane man. The forbearance he showed on this occasion in the face of great provocation, proves this to have been the case, He was not only a military man, but a statesman, and took a broad and comprehensive view of the whole matter. Captain Sutter, giving me an account of the day's battle, said that Micheltorena had ordered his command not to injure the Californians in the force opposed to him, but to fire over their heads, as he had no desire to kill them. This order was given to the other captains, too, Sutter's men, being sharpshooters, might have done terrible execution, had they not been directed to the contrary. Moreover, the Americans who accompanied Sutter had lived for many years among the Californians; many had found wives among them, and had become identified with them; their natural sympathies were not against them.

"Had Micheltorena conquered the Californians in this conflict and killed a number, it might have added to his military reputation, but it would have made him very unpopular with the people, and embittered them against him, especially the families of those killed, and their friends. Thereafter, his position as governor would not have been a pleasant, or an easy one, for he would have been subjected to constant harassment from the people opposed to him; who would have considered that they had been greatly injured at his hands, and would finally have driven him away,"

Micheltorena was a philosopher as well as a soldier and a gentleman.

The governor's forces moved over to Palos Verdes, near San Pedro, and in two weeks took passage in the Don Quixote, Captain Paty, for Monterey—thence to San Bias.

Pio Pico chartered the vessel at a cost of $1,000, He could well afford to now, as he had already acquired "ownership," with his brother Andres, of vast holdings of land in what are now Los Angeles and San Diego counties, (Lands of Mission San Luis Rey, and Missions San Gabriel and San Fernando.)

And by virtue of his holding the presidency of the territorial diputacion—plus Don Alvarado's promise— operative upon Micheltorena's capitulation, Pio Pico became provisional governor of the department.

Before the departing governor sails for Mexico, let us hear William Heath Davis’ summary of him. "Micheltorena stood nearly six feet in height, was straight of bearing, handsome appearance, and with a military air. He spoke the French language correctly and fluently, and his own language so fluently that it was a pleasure to listen to him. He was a good diplomatist, as well as a good general, and was well liked by the solid men of the department. He tried to serve the people well, and to please them. Probably no trouble would have arisen, had there been no Alvarado in the department, always restless, and ambitious to rule again, and always interfering with the rightful governor, and exciting ex-officials to create an agitation, so that they might be restored to their former positions, under a new administration."

While aboard the Don Quixote on its way to Monterey, the retiring governor revealed his survey of the California situation to Mr. Davis, who writes: "Expressing his partiality for California, he said it was only a question of time when the department would become great and wealthy. He doubted the ability of his own government to keep California as a part of the domain of Mexico, on account of its geographical position; its great distance from the capital; the difficulty and expense of transporting troops so far, and maintaining them for its defense, together with the fact that the government had no navy; that the depart¬ment in its defenseless condition was a constant source of trouble and anxiety to Mexico, and he thought it inevitable that it would pass from her control."

A prophecy soon to come to pass.

After a week in Monterey, the Don Quixote sailed for Mexico with two hundred and fifty soldiers— about a third of the whole territorial command—the retiring governor and his charming wife, who, from all accounts, was greatly beloved by California women, particularly those of Monterey.

One of Alvarado's rewards was the office of collector of port. Not a bad berth, since every ship arriving in California must report its cargo at the Customs House at Monterey—the only one in the territory until the American occupation. And it must be remembered that the duty ran from fifty to one hundred per cent of the invoice. As might be supposed, smugglers there were in plenty. Indeed some of the Yankee skippers made no secret—except to the Customs officials—about running into Yerba Buena and into southern ports, to dispose of part of their cargo, reporting the rest virtuously at Monterey. However, it was the opinion among traders that they fared better at Monterey than at Mazatlan—the only other Customs House on the Pacific coast.

Another of the Paisano Chiefs to be rewarded was Manuel Castro, who became prefect of the department —the same Castro whose official courtesy to Fremont was repaid by the notorious breach of faith at Gabilan Peak, in opposition to the attitude of the government at Washington.
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