San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


On the day following the grand battle in San Fernando Valley many of the prominent men from both armies arrived at Los Angeles, among them Captain Sutter, Dr. Marsh, Bidwell, Bell and others. Sutter and some of his friends came first to the headquarters of Don Abel Stearns, who received them kindly. They were so thickly covered with dust that one could hardly recognize them. I was glad to meet my old friend Captain Sutter, whom I had not seen for several years. That night he was the guest of Charles W. Flügge, a conspicuous German merchant of Los Angeles, who had lived at Fort New Helvetia, and been connected with Sutter in business. I spent the evening there very pleasantly, talking over old times with Captain Sutter, and sipping some fine California wine of Don Luis del Aliso’s vintage till a late hour in the night.

James McKinley was present at the battle as a spectator, not taking an active part. Towards the close of the day he volunteered to Alvarado and Castro to act as mediator between them and Micheltorena and endeavor to bring about an agreement of the two armies. He was encouraged to do so; and upon his representations the conflict was terminated.

During the settlement of the terms, before the capitulation, the insurgent Californians urged upon Micheltorena, as one of the conditions, that General Vallejo should be deposed as commander-in-chief and General Castro appointed in his place. This was agreed to; and from that time General Castro occupied that position.

The capitulation of Micheltorena was not compulsory, inasmuch as his force of skilled and disciplined soldiers, and their arms, equipments of every kind, and supply of ammunition, were altogether superior to those of Alvarado; but it was the result wholly of Micheltorena’s good feeling toward the people of California, and which led him to refrain from injuring them, as he might easily have done, and 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, during the evening, in 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 also. Sutter’s men, being sharpshooters and skillful in the use of their rifles, 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; some had intermarried with them; had become identified with them, and the natural sympathies of these men were, of course, 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 people opposed to him, who would have considered that they had been greatly injured at his hands and would finally have driven him away.

A few days after the battle, Micheltorena moved his forces to Palo Verde, about four miles from San Pedro, where our vessel, the Don Quixote, then lay. Don Pío Pico became provisional governor of the department, after the capitulation, by virtue of his holding the position of president of the junta departamental, and immediately entered into negotiations with Captain Paty and myself to charter the Don Quixote to convey Micheltorena and his forces to Monterey, and thence to San Blas, taking in the remainder of the troops at Monterey. After several days’ conference we came to an agreement. Pico chartered the vessel for that purpose for $11,000. While these negotiations were pending, Captain Paty and myself called upon Micheltorena a number of times with reference to the transportation of the troops, the room required for their accommodation, and other details. In about two weeks after the agreement was made the vessel was ready to receive the troops, and they embarked upon her.

We had a pleasant trip of seven and a half days to Monterey. Micheltorena talked freely about the late battle. He said he was a friend of the Californians that he had been sent here to protect and not to destroy them; that he thought they were a brave people, but they were ill prepared for a battlefield; their cannons were of little account, their small arms still worse, and they could not procure others from any source, the government having possession of them all; that they had done their best to defeat him, but that was an impossibility. He said his forces were drilled soldiers and well armed; his officers, educated military men; that he had eight or ten fine brass guns, four- to eight-pounders, properly mounted, an inexhaustible supply of ammunition; and that he could have made sad havoc among the opposing force; but he gave orders to the artillerymen and soldiers to shoot over the heads of the insurgents and avoid killing or wounding any; that he had been sent by the supreme government of Mexico, as a soldier, and governor of the department, and had endeavored to do his duty.

Micheltorena stood nearly six feet in height, was straight, of handsome appearance, with a military air and bearing. He spoke the French language correctly and fluently, and his own language so finely that it was a pleasure to listen to him. He was a good diplomatist as well as a good general and was 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 other ex-officials to create an agitation so they might be restored to their former positions under a new administration.

Alvarado and his party tried to arouse the sympathies of the rancheros, with whom Micheltorena was popular, and who loved order and peace, by alleging grievances suffered by the people under Micheltorena’s rule, little by little instilling dissatisfaction into the people’s mind, as pretexts for revolt against the government. The grievances were mainly imaginary, for, as before remarked, the only tangible thing that could be complained of was the stealing of some chickens by soldiers, which certainly was rather a slender basis for rebellion. Of course Alvarado must offer some reasonable excuse. Although his own ambition was doubtless the motive and propelling force in the movement, it would not have been politic for him to admit this, nor would he have met with aid and encouragement on this ground. He therefore made use of some trivial complaints against the Mexican soldiers, enlarging upon and exaggerating alleged offenses until the Mexicans were made to appear in the eyes of the people as a terrible set of scoundrels whose presence was highly dangerous to the country and whom it was necessary, for the protection of the lives and property of the people, to get rid of.

This is my opinion of the matter, though I am aware that it differs from that of a few others. It is based upon my own observation and that of many others and my knowledge of Alvarado and his supporters.

During the voyage to Monterey I observed the soldiers closely. Some of them were rather hard-looking, but the main body of them was quite the contrary, and whenever I passed near any of them they politely raised their hats and saluted me with “Buenos días.” Their conduct during the voyage was creditable to themselves and to the commanding general and his officers. It was a common remark among those belonging to our vessel, how well the troops behaved. Confined as they were for several days, had they been the villains represented, it would have come out in some way during the voyage. General Micheltorena and Captain Paty were brother Masons, and they played chess every night until two or three o’clock in the morning. The former drank wine at meals, was an inveterate cigarito smoker, fond of talking, a graceful, entertaining conversationalist. He went to bed late, and took chocolate in bed in the morning.

Captain Sutter spoke of Micheltorena as a soldier and gentleman of high character and had great respect for him. He referred to his conduct and treatment of the Californians, and thought they were fortunate to be opposed by so kindhearted and humane a commander as Micheltorena.

At Monterey the Don Quixote received the portion of the army, one-quarter of his entire force of six hundred, which was stationed there during the campaign, and the families of the officers, as well as Mrs. General Micheltorena. She was a lady of refinement and was much beloved by the California ladies.

The vessel sailed for San Blas after stopping a week at Monterey. Captain Paty spoke in praise of the conduct of all on board and particularly of his respect and liking for Mrs. Micheltorena. The governor said to Paty that he regretted that the captain was not amongst the many grantees to whom he had given land during his administration, and would have been glad to have known that the captain was provided for in this way. Expressing a 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 department in its defenseless condition was a constant source of trouble and anxiety to Mexico, and he thought it was inevitably destined to pass out of her control.

Captain Sutter and a number of men under his command in the battle with Alvarado were granted large tracts of land in the Sacramento Valley by Micheltorena, among them Bidwell, Job Dye, Thomes, Toomes, Reading, Knight and Dr. John Marsh (the latter receiving a grant from Alvarado). After Micheltorena went away, Alvarado was made collector of the port under Governor Pico, and Don Manuel Castro was made prefect.

Alvarado had shown his ambitious spirit in 1836, and desire to rule, by creating, for imaginary grievances, a revolution against Governor Chico, who had been sent here by the supreme government of Mexico to take charge of department affairs and had administered the office of governor for a year or two. He succeeded in his designs and sent Chico out of the country. As usual on such occasions, no blood was shed. Alvarado so directed the movements of his generals and maneuvered with so much tact that he succeeded in his efforts without sacrificing any lives. Strange to say, upon this success of Alvarado in revolutionizing the government, instead of an army being sent from Mexico by that government to capture him and take him there as a rebel against his country, he received from President Bustamante an appointment as governor of California, upon his representing the matter in a letter of marked ability to that dignitary.

When Micheltorena first arrived in the department in 1842, with his troops from Mexico, he landed at San Diego, where he was welcomed by the people from all the surrounding country. He had a reception lasting several days. As he was about leaving, he was waited upon by a deputation of citizens of Los Angeles who brought him an invitation from the prefect, Don Santiago Argüello, brother of ex-Governor Argüello, to attend the celebration of the anniversary of the Independence of Mexico at this place on the 16th of September. He accepted the invitation and subsequently participated in the exercises of the day. On leaving San Diego to proceed north, he was accompanied by a private party going in the same direction, consisting of Don José Joaquín Estudillo and his daughter who after became my wife, and his brother and family. The journey occupied several days. The troops seemed well disciplined and orderly, and were apparently well-bred men, quiet, polite and respectful in behavior. On reaching the mission of San Juan Capistrano, the general halted with his forces for a rest of a day or two, during which he gave a grand outdoor entertainment, or picnic, in a beautiful valley back of the mission, to which all the people of the neighborhood were invited. He prevailed upon the Estudillo party to stop and participate in the festivities. Among other diversions for the entertainment of the guests, the troops were drawn up in military order and went through their evolutions, the band played, and dancing was enjoyed. From there they continued on to Los Angeles, where the general was received with all the honors becoming his position and rank. The town was alive with enthusiasm. The day of the anniversary was a gala day. Horse racing and bullfighting were a part of the performance. The Californians were dressed in their most costly habiliments, and their horses were superbly equipped.


General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo had as many as twenty-five thousand head of cattle on his two ranchos. One of these ranchos was called the Petaluma, and the other the Temblec, between Sonoma and Petaluma. At one time he owned another rancho at Santa Rosa, which afterward became the property of Doña María Ygnacia López de Carrillo. He had, besides, about two thousand head of horses and about twenty-four thousand head of sheep.

The general maintained very friendly relations with the Indians, toward whom he always acted in a most humane manner. His right-hand ally in all his intercourse with the neighboring tribes was the high chief, Francisco Solano, who stood over six feet and who possessed a very good intellect. This chief had received some education from the mission padres and appreciated the advantages of civilization. He was companionable and pleasant in his manner and department and was much respected by everyone who knew him. At his death he was buried on a small island in Petaluma Creek. The burial took place with all the honors under the direction of another chief named Camilo.

I knew this chief, who was a fine, intelligent and shrewd man. He often came over to San Francisco to purchase goods from Nathan Spear, whose agent I then was. He owned 600 cattle, numerous horses and sheep, and was quite a noted breeder. He was punctual in meeting his obligations, and, owing to this and to his affability and intelligence, was highly esteemed by us all. He could read and write and keep accounts, having been educated by the old missionaries. Camilo was the grantee of a rancho of about two leagues of land known as “Olompali,” bordering on the bay of San Francisco between the ranchos Petaluma and Novato. He was likewise a wheat raiser, and sold his crops to the Russians.

As a proof of General Vallejo’s clearheadedness I will state that he always treated both Solano and Camilo with high consideration, because it was through these men that he conquered and controlled the numerous tribes of Indians without shedding blood. It was also by their assistance that he had command of all the laborers he needed for the vast improvements he introduced in Sonoma and Petaluma.

The general was a large grower of wheat at his hacienda, Petaluma. He employed several hundred men to plow, sow and harrow the vast fields he had under cultivation. These laborers were trained in the art of plowing and sowing at the missions with the padres as instructors. The general also employed uncivilized Indians, known as “gentiles,” as assistant plowmen and harvesters. Plowing the soil was done wholly by oxen, a pair to a plow. Thus the primitive cultivator penetrated the earth but a few inches. The soil being virgin and rich in quality, however, produced fabulous crops.

The measurement of the production of a wheatfield was by the quantity of seed sown. The California fanega weighed 133 pounds. It has been known that crops of wheat raised on the lands of the mission of San Jose returned 100 fanegas for every fanega sown. Thus was the yield estimated. Acres were not known in early California among the labradores who tilled the ground. Their smallest land measurement was the square league.

The general was very fond of superintending the work as it progressed. Among the crops he planted were wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, garvanzos and lantejas. He raised great quantities of these articles of food on his haciendas. I have watched his management as a farmer with interest, particularly at harvest time, and he always appeared to take pride in the title of “labrador.” Vallejo found a market for his wheat with the Russians who came regularly every year with two, and sometimes four, vessels to transport to Alaska their purchases from Vallejo; Salvador, his brother; Nicolás Higuera; Cayetano Juárez; the missions of San Jose and Santa Clara and others, for the support of their settlements throughout that vast territory.

The general’s home consumption of wheat was considerable; it was made into flour for the maintenance of his soldiers at Sonoma, and to feed the workers at his several haciendas. At his principal rancho, Petaluma, he had to house and feed six hundred vaqueros and laborers. The grand old structure of two stories in height with piazzas, and courtyard in the rear, stood upon a commanding eminence. It was a rule generally among the hacendados to select an elevated site for the home of the family.

At the Petaluma mansion the general entertained captains, supercargoes and other visitors of distinction and did it sumptuously.

Nathan Spear had a gristmill which, as related elsewhere in these pages, was imported from Baltimore via Callao and put up in San Francisco on the north side of Clay Street on the middle fifty-vara lot between Montgomery and Kearny streets. This mill was run by a six-mule power, of which there were four changes, and turned out from twenty-five to fifty barrels of good flour a day. Besides milling for himself, he ground for the wheat growers bordering on the bay. I have known Vallejo to have had five or six hundred fanegas of wheat at the mill at one time to be ground into flour. He divided the result; in other words, he gave one-half for milling, free of cost of the sacks and transportation of the grain from Petaluma and the freight of the flour back to Petaluma or Sonoma.

Spear owned several vessels which he used in his business. These carried grain and flour to and from the different embarcaderos around the bay. Salvador Vallejo and other tillers of the soil were patronizers of the Spear gristmill, which was founded at the village of Yerba Buena in the winter of 1839-40. Nathan Spear was not only an enterprising merchant originally from Boston, but a true American, who loved his country far above the temptation of a grant of eleven square leagues of the best land in the department of California, which he could have had by denouncing his mother country to become a naturalized citizen of Mexico.

Spear’s mill was in full operation from the day it began grinding until 1845. This mill was considered of great benefit to California because it supplied a great part of the flour used in the department for half a decade. Nathan Spear after many years of labor as a merchant became a sick man from heart trouble, and in 1845 moved from San Francisco to Dr. Edward T. Bale’s hacienda, a grant of several leagues of land, upon a part of which the town of St. Helena is now located. Spear was an American and Bale was a Britisher. There was a mutual love between these early argonauts which lasted to the end of their existence. Bale was considered a scientific and talented man in his profession as physician and surgeon by the early men of California. I have heard Spear speak of him most highly, praising his skill.

General Vallejo had several gristmills at Petaluma, of the most primitive pattern. These were run by one horse with an Indian boy by the side of the animal wielding a cowhide whip to keep him going for the grist. Throughout the department these one-horsepower gristmills were attached to each household, giving a daily supply of flour for the hacienda’s kitchen. Elsewhere in this volume I have given an account of the primitive gristmills used in California.

General Vallejo would never tolerate injustice or brutality toward the natives. Notwithstanding his friendship for Solano, he once had the chief arrested for an alleged complicity in the sale of Indian children, and cleared him only when satisfied that the charge was unfounded.

The Rancho Nacional at Suscol had about fourteen thousand head of cattle and a large number of horses. These cattle used to stray to a long distance along the margin of Suisun Bay. This rancho was under the control of General Vallejo from the time he founded the military headquarters at Sonoma. He was virtually the owner of all the cattle on the north side of San Francisco Bay. They were originally reputed to be mission or government property, but eventually he became the acknowledged proprietor of all these animals.

Including Petaluma, Temblec and another rancho, the total of cattle on all these estates reached the enormous number of fifty thousand head. This made the general the largest cattle owner in early California. Don Guadalupe, as he was generally called by his countrymen and the merchants, castrated, earmarked and branded about the 1st of March each year some ten thousand calves, or one-fifth of his great herds. An increase of one to every five head on the hacienda was the basis of the yearly estimate among the hacendados. This mode of counting had been tested and proven as you would the balance sheets of a commercial house. To verify the rule, they counted the cattle as they went out of the corral, before the number became too great on a hacienda.

Hacendado Vallejo during the matanza season slaughtered eight thousand steers of three years of age or over, for their hides, tallow and manteca. It was a rule among the hacendados to slaughter as a yearly income about four-fifths of the yearly increase of the herds. The novillos or steers averaged to each animal about six arrobas (twenty-five pounds to the arroba) of tallow and manteca, four arrobas of the former to each steer at one and one-half dollars the arroba, and two arrobas of the latter at two dollars the arroba—a total of $80,000. Add to this $16,000 for the hides and some notion of the general’s income from only one product of his haciendas is obtained.

Petaluma was the matanza ground for the novillos from the other ranchos. with the exception of Suscol. The matanza steers were killed at that rancho separately from the rest. During the killing season at the home rancho I have observed the numerous try-pots bubbling with the melted tallow and manteca, the latter being the delicate fat that lies between the hide and the ribs of the animal. Of course, the improvements and management of this extensive estate were patterned after the early missions. Under General Vallejo’s rule everything was neat, and everything was in its right place. Among these early raisers of stock enough of the novillos were carried over from one season to another for their own consumption.

The Californians were fond of frolicking and having good times out of doors in the open country of their domains. Such entertainments were called meriendas. These commenced in the spring of the year after the work of branding and earmarking the calves was over, a task that signalized the hacienda’s new accession of wealth, and continued to the months of Indian summer, which were considered the best of the year. The atmosphere then is tempered, it is soft and balmy, and you feel that you are all the time rubbing against silk of the highest finish in texture. Such is my observation of the climate of California during my many years here. I have been repeatedly asked if the climate of the state has changed since the year 1831. Of course, my replies were always in the negative. There is no difference between the climate of old California and new California.

The meats relished most on these playful excursions in the open air were from terneras or yearling heifers. The tender and nutritious morsels were broiled over a bed of coals, prepared from a branch of some ancient live oak, by means of an iron spit which an expert asador, a servant of the household, watched over. This functionary also prepared other choice tidbits such as tripas de leche and mollejas or sweetbreads. At these meriendas I have participated with the other guests from neighboring ranchos in the good things prepared under the direct supervision of la señora de la casa. While the guests were seated on the ground relishing the good food spread before them on snow-white linen, the ladies found time to gather and arrange miniature bouquets of the flowers within their reach. These nosegays were called by the gentlemen souvenirs de la merienda.

Elsewhere I have spoken of the arrest of the foreigners in California. While these arrests were being made, General Vallejo, with his staff and about seventy soldiers, all mounted on fine horses and well equipped with carbines, sabers and pistols, arrived in San Francisco from Sonoma on their way to Monterey. The general was attired in undress uniform, mounted on a spirited dapple gray, and was attended by Colonel Victor Prudon, Major José de los Santos Berreyesa, and Lieutenant Lázaro Piña, who composed his staff. This body of troops was transported from Sausalito by Captain William A. Richardson in several of his undecked barges which had been built and owned by the missions bordering the bay long years before.

They were landed at Thompson’s Cove between Clark and Buckelew points. It was no small undertaking on the part of Richardson to ferry the horses across the bay, because at Sausalito there was no convenience, no wharf at that time for embarking animals on board a launch. The same difficulty existed at Yerba Buena. General Vallejo with his staff, followed by the cavalry two abreast, rode along what is now Montgomery Street to the residence of his brother-in-law, Jacob P. Leese, between Clay and Sacramento streets. The military made a fine appearance with their large handsome horses. Sonoma had the reputation of raising the best and largest animals in the department.

General Vallejo placed the settlement of Yerba Buena, Mission Dolores and the presidio under martial law. Yerba Buena contained at that time about fifty inhabitants, all told—men, women and children. Mission Dolores and the presidio housed several hundred. During his sojourn of several days. the general was visited at his headquarters, the home of Jacob P. Leese, by the dignitaries, the inhabitants, the captains and supercargoes of the vessels in port in order to pay their respects to the commanding general of the department. On his departure the civil authorities resumed their duties as usual. Alvarado evidently was worried and unsettled in his mind regarding the course to pursue relative to the expulsion of the Americans. He needed the presence of his uncle to consult and counsel with at this critical period of his rule as governor of California, for Mariano G. Vallejo was always considered a most conservative man in the management of public affairs while he held office in the government.


At a meeting held at the home in Monterey of United States consul Thomas O. Larkin toward the end of March 1846 of the civil and military officers of the department of California to treat on the future of California, some of the persons present expressed their feelings in favor of independence of Mexico pure and simple; others favored a French protectorate; still others preferred English protection.

Several, among them Rafael González, Victor Prudon and Mariano G. Vallejo, favored annexation to the United States. Lieutenant Colonel Prudon made a warm speech in favor of the last proposition. Vallejo could not coincide in opinion with those who favored a European protectorate, although he felt convinced that California could not maintain her independence if left entirely to her own resources.

Referring to the proposed plan of asking for the protection of England or France, he said that public men in Europe could not take the vivid interest in California’s future that she needed. He thought it would be neither honorable nor worthy of the Californians to go to far-off Europe for a master. There was no bond of sympathy between her and those nations separated from her by two broad oceans. Superadded to that was the fact that Californians were republicans, and they would undergo the utmost suffering, even death, rather than assent to become the subjects of a monarch. Ill-treated as the Californians had been by the so-called republican rulers of Mexico, they had never thought of giving up their birthrights as republican citizens; they had ever cherished republican equality. He, for one, would certainly oppose every attempt to present to the world the sad spectacle of a free American people begging for vassalage, asking for a European crowned head to become their master. He was not afraid of Mexico, who possessed neither navy or army, nor resources to support any sufficient force to land and hold California in subjection. He then argued in favor of accepting annexation to the United States. He contradicted those who said that by annexation to the United States California would lose her political status. Vallejo explained the Constitution of the United States and how under it California would have representation in Congress as well as any other state of the Republic. He counseled that no ill feeling should be shown toward the immigrants who had come overland; they had come to farm ranches, and to establish industries; and California with them would prosper beyond her wildest dreams. He concluded by saying that California ought to detach herself from Mexico and ask for admission “to form a part of the great confederation known as the United States of North America.”

Prudon, having noticed that several of the persons present approved Vallejo’s proposal, asked Comandante Castro to put it to a vote. General Castro did not assent, and the discussion continued. The meeting finally adjourned to reconvene at a later hour.

Vallejo thought that the partisans of monarchy had it all cut and dried, and prevailed on the friends of the United States to leave Monterey. They did so, and when the hour of voting came, there was no quorum, and no definite result could be arrived at.

Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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