San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco


Mexican rule in California terminated when Commodore Sloat, on July 7 1847, landed his forces at Monterey, raised the American flag, and proclaimed California United States territory. On December 20, 1849, General Riley turned over to the newly elected state government the administration of affairs, although California was not admitted to the rights and privileges of a state of the union until September 9, 1850. During the interregnum between the last Mexican governor and the first representative American governor, the territory was ruled by military chiefs who used the right, under the law of nations, to establish a civil government within the conquered territory to secure the conquest and to protect the persons and property of the people. On the ratification of the treaty of peace, the military government, as such, came to an end, but until congress provided a government for the territory, the rule of the military chiefs, being a government de facto, was continued. Thus to the cares and responsibilities of a military commander were added all the details of civil government for which he was fitted neither by training nor experience. Among the many vexing questions to be solved were those relating to land titles and to the customs dues. The customs dues were fixed by Stockton at fifteen per cent ad valorem, with fifty cents tonnage charge on foreign ships. In October 1847 the governor received a war tariff from Washington to apply to all Mexican ports in possession of the United States officers. It imposed extraordinary specific duties as war contributions, and was intended to force the Mexican government by loss of revenue and by popular complaint to sue for peace. Both Mason and Shubrick, the naval commander, recognized the injustice and impolicy of applying such a measure to California and decided not to enforce it. Mason explained his position and defended the liberty he had taken in substituting a modified tariff for that ordered, by referring to the instructions of June 3, 1846, to General Kearny, to the effect that duties should be reduced "to such a rate as may be barely sufficient to maintain the necessary civil officers without yielding any revenue to the government," and he said that promises and assurances, based on those instructions, had been given to the people of California as a solemn pledge on the part of the government. Mason issued his modified tariff making an ad valorem rate of twenty per cent and reduced the tonnage rate on foreign bottoms to fifteen cents. The money thus collected was known as the "civil fund" and was only used to defray the expenses of civil government. Some loans were made to the military officers from this fund but they were loans only, to be returned on receipt of the treasury drafts. The great increase of trade following the gold discoveries caused this fund to reach a considerable amount and there was some controversy over the disposition of it. Just how much was collected I do not know, but between August 6, 1848, and November 12, 1849, there had been collected $1,365,000; and by the end of military rule there was in the hands of the governor nearly a million dollars.

The rule of Commodore Sloat was brief. On July 29th he transferred the command to Commodore Stockton and sailed on the Levant for home. Stockton was concerned mainly with the conquest and on January 19, 1847, he turned over the civil authority to Frémont whose commission as governor he signed on the sixteenth, though General Kearny was in California and Stockton was aware of Kearny's instructions to assume command and form a civil government in that territory. As to Frémont's administration, I have given an account of that officer in a separate note. This then brings us down to


Stephen Watts Kearny was born at Newark, New Jersey, in 1794; died at St. Louis, Missouri, October 31, 1848. He was a student at Columbia college, New York, in 1812, and would have graduated in the summer of that year. When it became apparent that war must ensue between the United States and Great Britain he applied for a commission in the army and was appointed from New York first lieutenant in the Thirteenth infantry, John E. Wool, captain. His commission was dated March 12, 1812. He was in the engagement at Queenstown Heights, October 13, 1812, and was commended by his colonel for gallantry in battle. He was made a captain April 1, 1813; major of Third infantry May 1, 1829; lieutenant-colonel of first dragoons March 4, 1833; colonel July 4, 1836; brigadier-general June 30, 1846; brevet major April 1, 1820, for ten years' faithful service in one grade, and major-general for gallant and meritorious conduct in New Mexico and California to date from the battle of San Pascual, December 6, 1846.

Kearny accompanied General Atkinson on his exploring expedition to the Yellowstone and in 1834 took part in a campaign against the Comanches. In 1842 he was given command of the Third military department with headquarters at St. Louis. With five companies of his dragoons he marched in 1845 to the South pass returning by way of Fort Bent and holding councils with various Indian tribes.

In anticipation of a war with Mexico Colonel Kearny, then in command at Fort Leavenworth, was in the spring of 1846 selected to command an expedition to be sent against the northern Mexican provinces, more particularly New Mexico and California. Kearny's instructions, dated June 3, 1846, directed him to occupy Santa Fé, and after providing a sufficient garrison from his command, with the force remaining to press forward to the conquest of Upper California whose early possession was deemed to be of the greatest importance; and he was instructed to conduct himself in such a manner as would best conciliate the inhabitants and render them friendly to the United States.

The troops of the expedition rendezvousing at Fort Leavenworth consisted of six squadrons of First dragoons under Major E. V. Sumner, two batteries of light artillery under Major Meriwether Lewis Clark, two companies of infantry under Captain W. Z. Angney, the Laclede Rangers under Captain Thomas B. Hudson, and the First regiment Missouri mounted volunteers under Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan—in all sixteen hundred and fifty-eight men and sixteen pieces of ordnance— twelve six-pounders and four twelve-pound howitzers. In addition was a corps of field and topographical engineers consisting of Lieutenant William H. Emory, Lieutenant William H. Warner, Lieutenant J. W. Abert, and Lieutenant G. W. Peck. The force was styled the "Army of the West" and began its march June 26, 1846, in detached columns, and on July 29th crossed into Mexican territory and concentrated in admirable order and precision at a camp nine miles below Bent's fort. After a brief rest at Bent's fort the march to Santa Fé was resumed and on August 18th Kearny entered the capital of New Mexico, the enemy retiring before his advance. The flag was raised on the plaza and saluted with thirteen guns by Major Clark's batteries. A few days before, at Las Vegas, an express from Fort Leavenworth reached the army bringing Kearny's commission as brigadier-general. On the nineteenth Kearny assembled the citizens and addressed them saying that the United States had taken possession of New Mexico and that he would establish a civil government for the department, assuring them of protection for person, property, and religion. In addition to the Doniphan regiment another regiment of Missouri volunteers had been raised and was marching to Santa Fé under command of Colonel Sterling Price. They were to form a part of Kearny's force and march to California, should they be needed. Kearney was also authorized to raise a battalion among the Mormons who were assembling on the Missouri river preparatory to a migration across the plains. Kearny sent Captain Allen of the First dragoons from Fort Leavenworth to enlist from among the Mormons who wished to go to California, five companies of one hundred men each, each company to elect its own officers, the battalion to be commanded by Allen with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The battalion so formed was assembled at Fort Leavenworth where Lieutenant-colonel Allen fell sick and the troops marched to Santa Fé under command of Lieutenant Andrew J. Smith of the First dragoons. They reached Santa Fé on the ninth and twelfth of October where they were received by Colonel Doniphan with a discharge of artillery, much to their delight.

On September 25th General Kearny began the march from Santa Fé to California with three hundred dragoons and two mountain howitzers, leaving orders for the Mormon battalion to follow him. Colonel Doniphan was to await the arrival of the regiment under Colonel Price and then march his regiment into Chihuahua and report to Brigadier-general Wool, leaving Santa Fé in charge of Price. The artillery was divided, a part to accompany Doniphan and the rest to remain in Santa Fé. Proceeding down the Rio Grande Kearny met, on October 6th a few miles below Socorro, an express from California with dispatches for Washington from Commodore Stockton. This was Kit Carson with a party of fifteen men, including six Delaware Indians. Carson informed Kearny that the conquest of California had been completed and the territory was in the quiet possession of the Americans. In consequence of this information Kearny sent back to Santa Fé two hundred of his three hundred dragoons. He retained companies C and K, one hundred dragoons, under Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond, and Lieutenant John W. Davidson, the latter in charge of the two howitzers. His staff consisted of Captain Henry S. Turner, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain Abraham R. Johnston, aide-de-camp; Major Thomas Swords, quartermaster; Lieutenants William H. Emory and William H. Warner of the topographical engineers, with a dozen assistants and servants; and Assistant-surgeon John S. Griffin. Antoine Robidoux was the guide and Kearny insisted that Carson, being more familiar with the route, turn back and guide them to California. Carson was unwilling to do so saying he had pledged himself to deliver his dispatches in person, and he also desired to see his family. Kearny, however assumed the responsibility for the dispatches, and Carson consented to return. The entire force of officers and men numbered one hundred and twenty-three. The command was mounted on mules, it being thought that they would stand the hardships of the journey better than horses. After two days' march Carson told the commander that at their rate of travel it would take four months to reach California. The wagons were therefore abandoned in favor of pack-mules and on October 15th the command left the Rio Grande and turning westward reached on October 20th the head waters of the Gila, a beautiful mountain stream thirty feet wide. The march down the Gila was without particular incident; the Apaches were friendly, professing love for the Americans and hatred for all Mexicans. The Pimas and Cocomaricopas of the river pueblos received the expedition hospitably, bringing to the camp corn, beans, honey, and watermelons. At the junction of the Gila and Colorado a small party of Mexicans convoying a band of five hundred wild horses was encountered. These men gave contradictory accounts of a rising of the Californians, and from the contents of a dispatch bag, whose bearer was also captured, the commander learned that a revolt had placed that part of the territory through which he must pass in the hands of the Californians and that the Americans had been expelled from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and other places.

The Colorado was crossed ten miles below the junction on November 25th, and the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth were spent in traversing the desert. Crossing the cordillera by the Carriso creek route, a much easier road than that taken by Anza, the command, after much suffering and the loss of many animals, reached on December 2d Warner's rancho—Agua Caliente. Here was food in plenty and Lieutenant Emory notes the fact that seven of his men ate at a single meal a fat, full grown sheep. On the fourth the march was resumed, the route being southerly down the valley thirteen and a half miles to Santa Isabel, the rancho of Edward Stokes, whom Kearny had met on his arrival at Warner's, and who volunteered to carry a letter to Commodore Stockton announcing his approach. This letter was delivered to Stockton December 3d, and he dispatched Captain Archibald H. Gillespie with a force of thirty-nine men to Kearny's assistance. The march of December 5th was to the Santa Maria rancho and on the way he was met by the reinforcements under Gillespie. The dragoons had marched all day through a cold rain and it was late at night when camp was made. Here they learned that the enemy was in force a few miles below and Lieutenant Hammond was sent to reconnoitre. He reported that he was discovered and it was determined to attack the enemy and force a passage. At two o'clock on the morning of the sixth the call to horse was sounded and nine miles were covered before daybreak. As day dawned they approached the Indian village of San Pascual and came upon the enemy already in the saddle and awaiting them. Captain Johnston was in command of the advance guard of twelve dragoons, mounted on the best horses. Riding close behind was General Kearny with Lieutenants Emory and Warner of the engineers and four or five of their men; next came Captain Moore and Lieutenant Hammond with about fifty dragoons mounted, with but few exceptions, on the tired mules they had ridden from Santa Fé. These were followed by Captains Gillespie and Gibson with about twenty volunteers; Lieutenant Davidson came next with the two mountain howitzers drawn by mules with a few dragoons to manage the guns; and finally, the rest of the force between fifty and sixty men, under Major Swords, brought up the rear and protected the baggage. At the word of command Captain Johnston made a furious charge upon the enemy and was quickly supported by the dragoons under Captain Moore. The Californians stood the shock of the charge and a hand to hand conflict ensued. Captain Johnston fell, shot through the head, and after a brief struggle the Californians clapped spurs to their horses and fled the field. Captain Moore rallied his men to the pursuit and all dashed after the flying foe. The Californians retreated about half a mile to an open plain then suddenly wheeled and rushed upon the Americans, charging with their lances. The Americans stood their ground, but at a fearful loss. The conflict lasted about five minutes and then the Californians again fled. This time there was no pursuit, nor did the Californians return. The Americans remained in possession of the field and of their dead and wounded. Captain Johnston and Captain Moore were killed outright while Lieutenant Hammond, badly wounded, lived several hours. Two sergeants, two corporals, and ten privates of the dragoons, one private of the volunteers, and one man of the topographical department were killed—in all nineteen. The wounded included the general, Lieutenant Warner, Captains Gillespie and Gibson of the volunteers, Antoine Robidoux the guide, one sergeant, one bugleman, and nine privates of the dragoons—sixteen, most of whom had received from two to ten wounds each. Only one death and one wound were caused by firearms. All the other dead and wounded were lanced. Captain Moore fell early in the second encounter with a lance through his body and Hammond received the wounds that caused his death while trying to save Moore. Both Moore and Hammond were lanced by Dolores Higuera, called "the Huero" (fair-haired), a tall powerful man who resembled a German. Higuera then bore down on Gillespie, unhorsed him, wounded him severely, and would have killed him but dropped his lance in order to secure Gillespie's silver mounted saddle. {It is said that the Huero later offered to return Gillespie his saddle and bridle, but the latter refused to accept the property, saying that it had saved his life. Philip Crossthwaite, who was in the fight, a volunteer under Gillespie says that Captain Moore was lanced by Leandro Osuña.}

The fight at San Pascual was the most famous and deadly of the war in California. The force encounted by Kearny was a body of about eighty Californians under Andrés Pico {Accounts of the number of Pico's force differ. John Forster (Pioneer Data, p. 37-40) says: "Pico had seventy-two men. Captain Johnston (Journal, Dec. 4) says: "We heard of a party of Californians—eighty men—encamped at a distance from this;" (Santa Isabel). Emory (Ex. Doc. 41, p. 112) says: "The navy took a prisoner at this house (Alvarado's). He stated that Pico's force consisted of one hundred and sixty-men." This is the number given by Kearny in his report, he being satisfied with the prisoner's statement.} who had entered the hills to cut off the retreat of Gillespie who, it was thought, was out on a raid for cattle and horses—Kearny's approach being unknown. The Indians had reported on the fifth the advance of a large force, but little attention was paid to them. It was a cold rainy night and between eleven and twelve o'clock the barking of a dog aroused the sentry. A party sent out to reconnoitre found a blanket marked "U. S." and the trail of the enemy's scouts. The horses were brought in and preparations for defence made and at daybreak the advance guard of the Americans bore down at full speed upon them. The slight loss among the volunteers is due to the fact that but few of them got into the fight. The two howitzers were brought up but did not get into action, though the mules attached to one of them took fright and dashed after the enemy who took the gun and killed the man in charge of it. The Americans fought with desperate courage against heavy odds. Their animals were either wild, unbroken horses, or mules worn out with the long journey from which the men themselves were not yet rested; they had had little or no sleep the preceding night, their clothing was soaked by the drizzling rain and they were numb with the intense cold. Kearny had about one hundred and sixty men, all told, but not one half of them were engaged; while the Californians, superbly mounted and the finest horsemen in the world, were fresh and were fighting in their own country, and with a weapon most deadly in their hands, the lance. The Californians had eleven wounded, none killed.

In consequence of Kearny's wound Captain Turner assumed command. Messengers were sent to San Diego for wheeled conveyances to carry the wounded and Emory was sent back with a force to bring up Major Swords and the rear guard which was about a mile behind; the surgeon was busy dressing the wounded, while the rest of the men were engaged in making ambulances for their transportation. Their provisions were gone, their horses were dead, their mules were on their last legs; and the men, having lost one third of their number, were ragged, worn down by fatigue, and emaciated. When night closed in the dead were buried under a willow tree to the east of the camp with no other accompaniment than the howling of myriads of wolves. Their position was defensible but the ground was so covered with rocks and cacti that it was difficult to find a smooth place to rest, even for the wounded. The night was cold and damp and sleep was impossible. The Californians hovered near and Pico reported to Captain Flores, commander of the forces, that none of the Americans could get away and that he would attack them when the rest of his division—eighty men under Captain Cota—should come up. On the seventh Kearny resumed command and the troops were moved down the valley to San Bernardo, having a slight skirmish with the enemy during the march. The suffering of the wounded was very great and it was apparent to the general that to advance, encumbered as he was, would almost certainly result in the loss of his wounded and of the baggage. He therefore remained in camp defending himself from the assaults of the enemy. On the night of the eighth, Kit Carson and Lieutenant E. F. Beale of the navy, a volunteer of Gillespie's force, offered to make their way through the enemy's lines to San Diego, twenty-nine miles distant, and make known to Stockton Kearny's condition. This was done and Stockton sent Lieutenant Gray of the Congress with two hundred marines and sailors, and food and clothing for Kearny's naked and hungry men. The reinforcements reached Kearny's camp before dawn on the eleventh. The march was then resumed and they reached San Diego on the afternoon of the twelfth, unmolested by Pico, who had withdrawn on the arrival of Gray with the reinforcements.

Sergeant Cox and Private Kennedy of the dragoons died from their wounds, one on the march and the other in San Diego. The bodies buried under the tree on the battlefield were subsequently removed to San Diego with the exception of Captain Johnston, whose remains, sent to his father, were buried at Piqua, Ohio, while those of Moore and Hammond, who were brothers-in-law and strongly attached to each other, lie side by side, at Point Loma.

General Kearny found Commodore Stockton actively engaged in organizing his forces for an expedition against the enemy who were in possession of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Stockton's force consisted of about four hundred and forty sailors and marines, ninety volunteers of the California battalion under Captain Gillespie, including twenty-five Californians and Indians, six pieces of artillery, and a wagon train of one four-wheel carriage and ten ox carts, under charge of Lieutenant George Minor of the Savannah. In addition to this force Frémont was approaching Los Angeles from the north with four hundred mounted men and six pieces of artillery.

Kearny was in a delicate position. He had reached San Diego with but a remnant of his command, his best officers had been killed, and he and many of his men were wounded. He was indebted to the commodore for rescue from a dangerous situation and he found that officer organizing a vigorous campaign against the revolted Californians. Stockton offered Kearny the chief command but the general's courtesy prompted him to decline, saying that the force was Stockton's and that he would accompany him as his aide-de-camp. Kearny however showed Stockton his orders and, according to his testimony before Frémont's court-martial, announced that as soon as his command was increased he would take charge in California as instructed.

The army marched out of San Diego December 29th with the force given above, to which had been added fifty-five dragoons under command of Captain Turner: Lieutenant Davidson assisting. General Kearny acted as commander of the troops, Commodore Stockton accompanying as governor and commander-in-chief. The entire force, including sappers and miners, numbered six hundred and seven.

At the crossing of the San Gabriel river, January 8th, their passage was disputed by about five hundred Californians under José María Flores, with José Antonio Carrillo second in command, and Andrés Pico, comandante de escuadron. The Californians had two nine-pounders which they placed in position to command the ford but their powder was home-made and had barely force enough to expel the projectiles from the guns without doing very much damage to the Americans. The engagement lasted two hours when the Californians were driven back. The American loss was two men killed and eight wounded—one of whom died the following day. The loss of the Californians was about the same.

On the ninth the march was resumed and the enemy was again encountered about four miles below Los Angeles, the action resulting in one Californian being killed and several wounded while Stockton had five men wounded. This ended the war in California. The passage of the Rio San Gabriel and the battle of La Mesa, as the action below Los Angeles is called, have been somewhat overdrawn. There is no question that both sides displayed courage, but the Californians fought in a half hearted way. They were only half armed, they had no powder but the poor stuff they made themselves, and they had no hope of success. Most of them went home after the fight, leaving Pico only about one hundred men. Stockton entered Los Angeles on the morning of the tenth. Flores transferred the command to Pico on the eleventh and returned to Mexico. On the thirteenth the peace of Cahuenga was signed by Frémont and Pico.

It appears that Kearny was aware that Stockton intended to ignore his authority and on the fourteenth he wrote to the war department that upon the arrival of the troops which were en route by land and sea he would, according to the instructions, have the management of affairs in California. On the sixteenth he ordered Stockton to show his authority from the government or to take no further action in relation to a civil organization. Stockton declined to recognize Kearny's authority and on the same day delivered to Frémont his commission as governor and suspended Kearny from the command conferred on him at San Diego. Kearny also ordered Frémont to make no changes in the organization of the California battalion, sending him a copy of his instructions from the secretary of war of June 18, 1846, pointing out the sentence: "These troops and such as may be organized in California will be under your command." This order was delivered to Frémont in the evening of the sixteenth. Frémont after a consultation with Stockton, during which each exhibited to the other the order he had received from Kearny, replied to the general declining to obey his order on the ground that he had received his commission from Stockton and that on his arrival at Los Angeles he had found the commodore still recognized as commander, and with great deference, etc., he felt constrained to say that until the two commanders adjusted the difference of rank between themselves he would "have to report and receive orders as heretofore from the commodore."

Finding his authority ignored and having no troops to enforce obedience, Kearny announced to Stockton his intention to withdraw his dragoons and report the state of affairs to the war department at Washington, leaving with the commodore the responsibility of doing that for which he had no authority, and preventing him from carrying out his instructions. He retired to San Diego and on the 21st of January sailed on the Cyane for Monterey. The troops en route were the Mormon battalion, an artillery company sent by sea, and the First regiment New York volunteers, also by sea. The Mormon battalion, three hundred and fourteen strong, reached San Diego January 29th.

Company F. Third United States artillery reached Monterey January 28, 1847, on the transport Lexington, six months and fourteen days from New York. The company was commanded by Captain Christopher Q. Tompkins; the first lieutenants were Edward O. C. Ord and William T. Sherman; second lieutenants Lucien Loeser and Colville J. Minor. Doctor James L. Ord was contract surgeon, and Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck of the engineers accompanied the detachment. Three of these men became general officers and two of them, Halleck and Sherman, commanded the armies of the United States. The rank and file numbered one hundred and thirteen men. The first detachment of the New York regiment arrived March 6th and the rest of the regiment came during the month.

Kearny arrived at Monterey February 8th where he found Commodore William Branford Shubrick who had arrived in the man-of-war Independence to succeed Commodore Stockton. Shubrick recognized Kearny as the senior officer of the army in California, and the two officers agreed to await more explicit instructions from Washington before taking action. Kearny started for San Francisco on the Cyane, February 11th, and there found Colonel Richard B. Mason of the First dragoons and Lieutenant Henry B. Watson of the navy, who had arrived from Washington February 12th, bringing instructions dated November 3d and 5th, for both general and commodore, to the effect that the senior officer of the land forces was to be civil governor. Kearny returned to Monterey accompanied by Mason and Watson and after consultation with Commodore Shubrick a joint circular was issued in which was announced the orders of the president regarding the position and authority of the commander-in-chief of the naval forces and that of the commanding military officer. On the same day, March 1, 1847, Kearny issued a proclamation assuming charge of the civil government of California and naming Monterey as the capital. Also on the same day the general issued "Orders No. 2" requiring Frémont to muster the volunteers into United States service and put Captain Cooke in command. He sent this by Captain Turner and at the same time he wrote to Frémont ordering him to report at Monterey and bring with him all archives, public documents, and papers in his control, appertaining to the government of California. Turner reached Los Angeles March 11th and delivered his orders and the joint circular to Frémont. All volunteers declining to enter the service were to be discharged. Frémont submitted the order to the California battalion and they declined to be mustered in. William H. Russell "secretary of state" wrote to Captain Cooke, March 16th that the "governor" considered it unsafe to discharge the battalion "at this time when rumor is rife with threatened insurrection," and would decline to do so. On the twenty-second Frémont started for Monterey to see Kearny, reaching the capital at nightfall of the twenty-fifth. He made a call of ceremony that evening and had an interview with the general the next morning. He started on his return on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth and reached the pueblo on the twenty-ninth. It is said in regard to the interview, that Frémont objected to the presence of Colonel Mason and was offensive in his remarks when he was informed by the general that Mason was properly in the room. The result of the interview was Frémont's promise to obey orders. To insure this Kearny sent Mason south on an inspection tour, giving him full authority in both civil and military matters. From Mason's report of April 26th it appears that Frémont had authorized the collector at San Pedro to receive "government payment" in payment of customs dues and that the masters or supercargoes of certain ships were buying this paper at thirty per cent discount and using it to pay duties. The "government payment," he explained, consisted of certificates or due bills given by the paymaster and quartermaster of the California battalion. The order to the collector was dated March 21st and signed "J. C. Frémont, Governor of California, by Wm. H. Russell, Secretary of State." Mason also enclosed an original order from Lieutenant-colonel Frémont of the 15th of March, to Captain Richard Owens of the California battalion, directing him not to obey the order of any officer that did not emanate from him (Frémont) nor to turn over the public arms, etc., to any corps without his special order.

From various reports of the interview between Mason and Frémont we learn that it was anything but an harmonious one. Stephen C. Foster, who was present, says that Mason sent an orderly to Frémont with a request to report to headquarters. The man returned with the statement that Frémont' s sentry would not admit him. Mason sent him back with the same order; the man returned with the same report. The third time Mason sent the orderly, when Frémont came. Mason was very angry and addressed Frémont in harsh terms, saying he had been waiting all the morning to arrange for Frémont to turn over the government artillery and other property. Frémont's reply was insolent in tone and Mason threatened to put him in irons. Frémont returned to his quarters and sent Major Reading with a demand for an apology. This being refused, a challenge followed and was accepted, but Kearny intervened and the meeting did not take place.

General Kearny proceeded to organize a civil government by appointing alcaldes, collectors, Indian agents, etc., and endeavored to settle the vexing questions relating to civil affairs as best he could. On March 22d he announced to the various claimants to the property of the missions of San José, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Juan, that until a proper tribunal was established to decide upon the claims, the missions and the property belonging to them would remain in possession of the priests, as they were when the United States flag was first raised in the territory, and the alcaldes of the various jurisdictions were instructed to enforce this order. Kearny's last military order was to send Lieutenant-colonel Burton of the New York volunteers to Lower California with two companies of the regiment to take and hold possession of the country for the United States. On May 13th the general notified the adjutant-general that he was closing his affairs in California and would leave for St. Louis via the South pass, and that the conduct of Lieutenant-colonel Frémont was such that he would be compelled, on arriving in Missouri, to arrest him and send him under charges to Washington.

On the 31st of May, 1847, General Kearny turned over to Colonel Mason the command, civil and military, and started for the Missouri. Accompanying him were Edwin Bryant, Major Swords, Captains Cooke and Turner, Doctor Sanderson of the Mormon battalion, Lieutenant Radford of the navy, Willard P. Hall, William O. Fallon as guide, a Mormon escort of thirteen men and a few men of the topographical service, a number of servants, and Lieutenant-colonel Frémont with William N. Loker of the California battalion and nineteen men of his original party. At Sutter's fort several days were consumed in preparation for the journey, and on June 22d Kearny was at the Donner camp burying such remains of the unfortunates as he could find. He passed Fort Hall in the middle of July and reached Fort Leavenworth August 22d. Here he ordered Frémont to consider himself under arrest and report to the adjutant-general at Washington. Frémont was charged with mutiny, disobedience of the lawful commands of his superior officer, and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. The court-martial was convened November 2, 1847, and the trial lasted two weeks. Frémont was defended by Thomas H. Benton and William Carey Jones, and after three days of deliberation was found guilty on all of the specifications and sentenced to dismissal from the service. Seven members of the court signed a recommendation of clemency on account of previous services. President Polk approved the verdict, except on the charge of mutiny, but remitted the penalty and ordered Frémont to report for duty. In its findings the court stated: "The attempt to assail the leading witness for the prosecution (General Kearny) has involved points not in issue, and to which the prosecution has brought no evidence. In the judgment of the court his honor and character are unimpeached."

Frémont declined to accept the president's clemency and sent in his resignation, which was accepted March 14th.

General Kearny was nominated in July 1848, for brevet major-general for gallant conduct at San Pascual and for meritorious services in New Mexico and California. Thomas H. Benton spoke for thirteen days against the confirmation and then announced that he had but begun his theme—the conspiracy against Frémont.

In person Kearny was five feet, ten or eleven inches in height, of fine figure and soldierly bearing; features regular; eyes blue; and in ordinary social intercourse the expression of his countenance was mild and pleasing and his manners and conversation unaffected, urbane, and conciliatory, without any sign of vanity or egotism. A strict disciplinarian, he brooked no delinquency and was stern and uncompromising towards those who failed or were neglectful of duty. Upright, brave, and energetic, he was true to himself and to the interests and honor of his country.


Richard Barnes Mason, son of George Mason of Lexington, Fairfax county, Virginia, was born on the family estate in Fairfax county in 1797. He came of a family distinguished in the annals of his state and his grandfather, George Mason, was the author of the Virginia bill of rights and the friend of Washington and Jefferson. On the 2d of September 1817, Mason was appointed second lieutenant of the Eighth infantry. He was made first lieutenant September 25, 1817, and Captain July 31, 1819. On the formation of the First dragoons in 1833, Mason was commissioned major March 4th. He was made lieutenant-colonel July 4, 1836, and colonel June 30, 1846, on Kearny's promotion. On July 31, 1829, he was made brevet major for ten years faithful service in one grade and on May 30, 1848, brevet brigadier-general for meritorious service in California.

In 1824 Mason accompanied the expedition of General Atkinson to the Yellowstone, served through the Black Hawk war in 1832, and his whole service was spent on the northern and western frontiers. In November 1846 Colonel Mason was ordered to California to relieve General Kearny and he sailed for Chagres on November 10th reaching San Francisco February 12, 1849. The war in California was over and on May 31st he received from General Kearny the command, both civil and military. One of Mason's earliest appointments was that of Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck of the engineers, as secretary of state: a most fortunate selection. Halleck was not only the great soldier he afterwards proved himself to be, but was a wise and able lawyer, well educated, with a mind of high intellectual development. Perhaps the most troublesome question the government of California had to deal with was that relating to land titles. Halleck, at Colonel Mason's request, made a careful study of the subject and his report of March 1, 1849, on the laws and regulations governing the granting and holding of lands is an exhaustive review of the matter. Halleck resigned in 1854 and was a member of the law firm of Halleck, Peachy, and Billings, taking part in many great land suits and acquiring a large fortune. He reëntered the army in 1861, became major-general, and was commander-in-chief, 1862 to 1864. He died at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1872, at the age of fifty-six. Halleck was considered a cold blooded, unpopular man by those persons who only wanted a share of the property belonging to some one else, but his fame does not rest upon them.

The great event during Colonel Mason's administration was the discovery of gold at Sutter's mill on the American river, and it was Mason's report of August 17, 1848, incorporated in the president's message at the opening of congress in December, that caused the great excitement. Leaving Monterey on June 17th accompanied by Lieutenant W. T. Sherman, Mason reached San Francisco on the twentieth and found that all, or nearly all the male population had gone to the mines. Crossing with their horses to Sausalito they proceeded by way of Bodega and Sonoma to Sutter's fort where they arrived July 2d. Along the whole route mills were idle, fields of wheat were open to cattle, houses vacant, and farms were going to waste. At Sutter's all was life and business. Launches were discharging their cargoes and carts were hauling goods to the fort where were already established several stores and a hotel. Mechanics were getting ten dollars a day and merchants were paying a hundred dollars a month per room. Proceeding to Mormon island Mason found some two hundred men working in the intensely hot sun, washing for gold, some with tin pans, some with Indian baskets, but the greater part with a rude machine on rockers called a cradle. Four men, thus employed, averaged a hundred dollars a day. The gold was in fine bright scales and he secured a sample. From these diggings he went to the mill, about twenty-five miles above, or fifty miles from Sutter's fort. Under guidance of Marshall, Mason visited the various diggings in that vicinity, obtained samples of coarse gold and nuggets and listened to the tale of the discovery at first hand. Returning to Sutter's fort he was preparing to visit the placers on the Feather, Bear, and Yuba rivers when dispatches recalled him to Monterey where he arrived July 17th. On his return trip he visited the quicksilver mines at New Almaden. Before leaving Sutter's fort he satisfied himself that gold existed in the beds of the Feather, Yuba, and Bear rivers, and in many of the smaller streams that lie between the Bear and the American Fork, and that it had been found in the Cosumnes. He not only heard the marvellous tales but was shown great quantities of clean washed gold. The most moderate estimate he could obtain from men acquainted with the subject was, that upwards of four thousand men were working in the gold district, of whom more than half were Indians, and that from thirty to fifty thousand dollars worth of gold, if not more, was daily obtained. He reported that the entire gold district was government land; and he thinks the government should receive rents or fees for the privilege of procuring the gold; but considering the large extent of country, the character of the people engaged, and the small scattered force at his command, he resolved not to interfere, but to permit all to work freely. He was surprised to learn that crime of any kind was very infrequent and that no thefts or robberies had been committed in the gold district, though all lived in tents, in brush houses, or in the open air; and men had frequently about their persons thousands of dollars' worth of gold; and he marveled that such peace and quiet should continue. He says that the discovery of gold has entirely changed the character of Upper California. Farmers, mechanics, laborers, and tradesmen have left everything and have gone to the mines. Sailors desert their ships as fast as they arrive, and soldiers their garrisons.

The events of Mason's administration have been fairly epitomized in the various chapters of the historical narrative preceding. He was the one man power, everything had to be put up to him and from his decision there was no appeal. Walter Colton tells of two murderers convicted in his court and sentenced to be hanged. At the execution the knots slipped and down they came. The priest who confessed them was in the crowd that witnessed the execution and he at once declared that the penalty was paid and the criminals absolved. Hastening to the governor he demanded his mandate to that effect. Colonel Mason gravely informed the priest that the prisoners had been sentenced by the court to be hanged by the neck until they were dead, and that when this sentence had been executed the knot slipping business might perhaps be considered.

Mason was relieved at his own request by Bennet Riley on April 13, 1849, and sailed for the east in May. He was placed in command at Jefferson Barracks where he died July 25, 1850.

Colonel Mason was a large fine looking man with the bearing of a soldier and the breeding of a gentleman. General Sherman testifies: "He possessed a strong native intelligence and far more knowledge of the principles of civil government and law than he got credit for." Mason was not popular with a certain class of Americans. He stood in their way; but as General Sherman says, "he was the very embodiment of the principle of fidelity to the interests of the general government," and he might have added, to the people of California also.


Bennet Riley was born in St. Mary's county, Maryland, about the year 1790. He entered the service as ensign of Forsyth's regiment of rifles January 19, 1813, and joined the army at Sacketts Harbor in the spring of that year. He served throughout the war with credit and was favorably mentioned on several occasions by his commanding officers. He was already distinguished for heroic courage, coolness in battle, and great natural sagacity.

At the conclusion of peace Riley served with his regiment on the Mississippi frontier. In 1821 the rifles were disbanded and Riley was transferred to the infantry. He had been made third lieutenant March 12, 1813; second lieutenant April 15, 1814; first lieutenant March 31, 1817, and captain August 6, 1818. While stationed on the frontier he was frequently called on to engage the Indians, and in 1823 distinguished himself to such a degree, in a battle with the Anickorees, that he received the brevet of major. In 1829 he was ordered to guard the caravan to Santa Fé with directions to await on the Mexican line the return of the traders. During their absence he defeated the Indians in two pitched battles; and subsequently convoyed the merchants safely to St. Louis. For his conduct in this expedition the legislature of Missouri voted him a sword.

Riley served through the Black Hawk war and took part in the final struggle, the battle of Bad-axe. On September 26, 1837, he was made a major and ordered to Fort Gibson. On December 1, 1839, he was made a lieutenant-colonel and ordered to Florida where he served until 1842 and distinguished himself by his energy, promptitude, and courage, receiving the brevet of colonel for gallantry in the action of Chokachatta; being made colonel January 31, 1850.

In July 1846 Riley was ordered to Mexico. For gallant and meritorious conduct at the pass of Cerro Gordo, April 17-18, 1846, he was brevetted brigadier-general. On August 7th the army moved on the City of Mexico and Colonel Riley was assigned to command of the Second brigade of the Second division. Arriving in front of Contreras on the afternoon of August 19th he proved the coolness and discipline of his brigade. Charged by the enemy's lancers in overwhelming numbers, he remained unmoved. He formed his brigade into a square and received the enemy with a rolling volley, repulsing them in disorder. Three times they reformed and charged; but the third time after delivering his volley, Riley ordered his men to follow with the bayonet, on which the Mexicans fled in confusion and did not renew the attempt. For his skill and daring on this occasion Riley received the commendations of the commander-in-chief in his official report. On the succeeding morning an attack was planned on the entrenched camp of the enemy and its execution was entrusted to Riley. After a laconic harangue to his men, {S. C. Foster says: "In the morning of the battle Riley said to his men: 'Boys, we must all do our duty to-day. Ben Riley gets hell or the orange scarf before night.' " Angeles From '47 to '49.} he led them into a ravine by which the heights above the entrenchments were reached and then with a wild yell the Americans rushed down upon the enemy. In consternation they broke and fled with scarcely any show of resistance and in a few minutes the action was over. The commander-in-chief, General Scott, said in his report: "The opportunity afforded to Colonel Riley by his position was seized by that gallant veteran with all the skill and energy for which he is distinguished. The charge of this noble brigade down the slope, in full view of friend and foe, unchecked even for a moment, until he had planted all his colors upon their furthest works, was a spectacle that animated the army to the boldest deeds." For his gallant conduct in this battle Riley was brevetted major-general, dating from August 20, 1846.

At Churubusco, on this same day, Riley engaged in the assault of the hacienda and for his behavior in this action was again commended by Scott as well as by the commanding officer of his division, Twiggs.

Bennet Riley was another of the strong individualities that ruled California during the interregnum; a man of courage and of strong convictions, he could not be moved from the line of duty as he saw it. He was intelligent and was direct and soldier-like in all his dealings. His period was that of the great immigration of 1849, and his qualities were put to the severest test by the inrush of peoples from every quarter of the globe, riotous, and freed from the restraints that had hitherto held them in check. Riley was ever ready to help when help was needed and he was as ready with the strong arm when the help of that arm was required to protect the weak. That his courage was not alone that of the battlefield the following letter (in part) to the assistant adjutant-general of the Pacific Division will show. It appears that the commanding general of the division (Persifer F. Smith) had made an order on August 12, 1849, that the moneys of the "civil fund" be turned over to military authorities and that disbursing officers of the army be permitted to draw on that deposit for all expenses allowed by law. The civil fund at that time amounted to some six hundred thousand dollars, was in possession of Major Robert Allen, treasurer of California, and was disbursed only on the order of the governor.

"Executive Department of California.
"Monterey, August 30, 1849.


"I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 12th instant communicating the views of General Smith respecting my acts and duties as governor of California.

* * * "On assuming command in this country as civil governor, I was directed to receive from Governor Mason all his instructions and communications, and take them for my guidance in the administration of civil affairs. Upon an examination of these instructions, and a full consultation with Governor Mason, I determined to continue the collection of the revenue till the general government should assume that power and to add the proceeds to the 'civil fund'—using that fund for the necessary expenses of the civil government.

* * * "This 'civil fund' was commenced in the early part of 1847, and has been formed and used in the manner pointed out in the early instructions to the governor of this territory. The money has been collected and disbursed by the 'governor of California,' and by those appointed by him in virtue of his office. He is, therefore, the person responsible for this money, both to the government and the parties from whom it was collected; and it can be expended only on his order. Not a cent of this money has been collected under the authority of any department of the army; nor can any such department, or any officer of the army, simply in virtue of his military commission, have any control, direct or indirect, over it.

* * * "No collectors in California now hold, or have ever held, any appointments, commissions, or authority from any military department; nor have they ever received any orders or instructions from such sources. All their powers have been derived from the governor of California and they have been subject to his orders only. ** * And I am both surprised and mortified to learn that, at this late hour, an attempt is to be made to remove this money from my control, and to place it at the disposition of officers who have had no responsibility in its collection, and who of right can exercise no authority over it. * * * If, however, it now be the general's wish to assume a military control of the collection of duties on imports into California, I will immediately discharge the collectors appointed by the governors of California, and surrender the entire direction of the matter to such military department or military officers as he may direct. But for the money which has already been collected by the civil officers under my authority, I alone am responsible; and until further instructions from Washington, I shall continue to hold it, subject to my orders only, and to expend, as heretofore, such portions of it as may be required for the support of the existing civil government. No military officer or military department will be allowed to exercise any control over it.

* * * "I beg leave to remark, in conclusion, that while I shall always be most happy to receive the advice and suggestions of the commanding general of the division respecting my duties as civil governor of California, I must nevertheless be permitted to decide upon the measures of my own government; for as no military officer can be held accountable for my civil acts, so no such officer can exercise any control whatever over those acts.

"Very respectfully, your obedient servant
"Brevet Brig. Gen. U. S. Army
and Governor of California.
"Brevet Lieutenant Colonel J. HOOKER,
"Assistant Adj. General, Pacific Division."

The concluding sentence was called out by some remarks concerning his course with Indian affairs and the public lands. General Smith made several mistakes in California and one of them was when he attempted to interfere with the civil government of B. Riley.

Riley notified the war department of this demand for the civil fund and forwarded copies of the correspondence, together with a full history of the fund. He expressed his opinion that the civil fund belonged to the people of California and recommended that such portions of the moneys so collected as should be left after defraying the expenses of the existing civil government, be given to California as a school fund, to be exclusively devoted to purposes of education. In his letter of October 1, 1849, he stated that the convention called by him to frame a constitution had nearly completed its labors and that it had determined by unanimous vote that the new government organized under this constitution should go into operation as soon as convenient after its ratification by the people, without waiting for the approval of congress and the admission of California into the Union. He said that while doubting the legality of such a course, he should consider it his duty to comply with the wishes of the people and surrender his civil powers into the hands of the new executive, unless he received special orders from Washington to the contrary. The secretary of war wrote him, November 28th, that as the arrangement contemplated by him might already have been made any instructions from the department contrary to his views on the subject might militate against the peace and quiet of the community and be productive of evil; that the first consideration was the due observance of law and order, and this, it was hoped and believed, would be attained under the new order of things. The civil fund remaining in his hands he was directed to place in the safe keeping of the proper officers of the treasury department, to be held subject to the final disposition of congress.

Riley was not a little criticised by the Americans for his strict adherence to what he considered his duty. They could not see it as he did and there was much loud talk about "military interference." This bluster affected him not at all. It was all a matter of course. Later, when they realized what he was doing for them, the tide began to turn. On October 13th the constitution adopted by the convention called by General Riley was signed by the members. As they met for the last time they were called to order by William M. Steuart of San Francisco, the president, Dr. Semple, being sick. Steuart called John A. Sutter to the chair and taking the floor read the address to the people. As the last name was signed to the document the flag was run up the staff in front of the government building while the guns on the redout boomed thirty-zone times. Three times three cheers were given for the new star added to the constellation, and then the convention proceeded in a body to the governor, headed by Captain Sutter, who, in an address to his excellency, conveyed to him the thanks of the convention for the great and important services he had rendered to their common country and especially to the people of California; and the members of the convention he said, entertained the confident belief that when the governor returned from his official duties in California he would receive from the whole people of the United States that verdict so grateful to the heart of the patriot, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

The bluff soldier was somewhat taken aback by this unexpected mark of respect. The tears in his eyes and the plain sincerity of his voice and manner went to the heart of every one present. "Gentlemen" said he, "I never made a speech in my life. I am a soldier—but I can feel; and I do feel deeply the honor you have this day conferred upon me. Gentlemen, this is a prouder day to me than that on which my soldiers cheered me on the field of Contreras. I thank you from my heart. I am satisfied now that the people have done right in selecting delegates to frame a constitution. They have chosen a body of men upon whom our country may look with pride; you have framed a constitution worthy of California, and I have no fear for California while her people choose their representatives so wisely. Gentlemen, I congratulate you upon the successful conclusion of your arduous labors, and I wish you all happiness and prosperity. Whatever success my administration has attained is mainly owing to the efficient aid rendered by Captain Henry W. Halleck, the secretary of state. To him should be the  applause. He has never failed me."

In accord with his letter of October 1, 1849, to the war department, General Riley turned over to the constitutional governor, Peter F. Burnett, the civil power, and confined himself to his duties as commander of the Tenth military department.

In person Riley was tall and rather slim. His iron grey whiskers were trimmed up to his eyes, while a scar upon his countenance added to his military aspect. His soldiers adored him and felt competent for anything if "old Riley," as they called him, was with them. He died June 6, 1853. {31st Cong. 1st. Ses. Ex. Doc. 17 Ho. of  Rep.; Sen. Doc. 52; Bayard Taylor: El Dorado; Heitman's Register; C. J. Peterson: Military Heroes of the War with Mexico; S. C. Foster: Angeles '47 to '49, MS.}

Fortunate it was for California that at so critical a period in her history she was ruled by such men as Kearny, Mason, and Riley. High-minded, intelligent, able, they stood like a stone wall against which the waves of anarchy, greed, and covetousness dashed in vain. They held the reins of government with firm hands, and in honesty, courage, and knightly character they represent the best traditions of the American army. California has not appreciated these men. Deceived by a loud clamor she has wandered away after strange gods and has bowed down in worship of unworthy and fustian heroes. {The late James Lick left in his will the sum of one hundred thousand dollars for a monument to be erected to the Pioneers of California. This monument was unveiled Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1894. It is a group of bronze statuary in Marshall square, on Market street, San Francisco. It records the names of thirteen navigators, explorers, commanders, etc., but one looks in vain for the names of Anza, Kearny, Mason, or Riley.}


Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.

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