Page images
PDF
EPUB

American marched his little force to within 30 miles of Monterey, and made a camp in the vicinity of the mission of San Juan Bautista. There is small doubt that this act aroused the indignation and suspicion of the Spaniards, and very soon complaints concerning the gross misconduct of Fremont's men poured in to Castro, who doubtless gave them a willing ear. This was an excuse for the commandant to order Fremont out of his dominion; an excuse also for the defiant Yankee trespasser to fortify his little camp with earthworks and unfurl our flag to the Western wind.

The Californians accepted the challenge, and two hundred armed men occupied San Juan Bautista to oppose the Americans, who, upon seeing the stern front of the enemy, fled northward under cover of the dark to await a more auspicious time and place for their aggression. About a month later Lieutenant Gillespie was sent to Monterey to deliver despatches to Fremont. Meantime, war was declared between Mexico and the United States.

And while these things were taking place, a kind of opera bouffe was in progress amongst the Californians, themselves. Castro, the head of the military government, and Pico, the civil governor, were exchanging a series of letters couched in florid Latin phrase, replete with fine rhetoric and heroics. Pico accused Castro of meddling in civil affairs, and warned him to take no steps independently. Castro, in turn, eloquently, if irrevelantly, avowed his intention of shedding his last drop of blood in his well nourished body in defense of his beloved country, while he skirmished and maneuvered to avoid making the sacrifice by keeping well out of range of the Americans' guns. This ridiculous, long-distance verbal passage at arms reminds one of the elaborate hostilities of a pair of choleric old cocks, with ruffled feathers and huge dignity, pecking and swooping at each other, but always falling short of the mark and backing off at the crucial moment. Castro's army numbered about 200 ragged and uncertain men, and Pico, upon the pretext of needing an armed force to preserve order, assembled such material as he could muster to offset the power of Castro. When, finally, beset by the common enemy, the

Americans, the two bombastic figureheads, each standing upon his sacred dignity and suspicious of the other, crippled the cause they had sworn to uphold, by petty rivalry -and the result was farcical defeat.

While Castro was still in Santa Clara mustering the semblance of an army to put down the Bear Flag rebellion, Commodore Sloat sailed into the port of Monterey, captured the fort and raised the American flag. He reassured the anxious people by a diplomatic proclamation, promising them protection and equal justice.

Yerba Buena (San Francisco), Sonoma, Sutter's Fort, Santa Cruz and San Jose came under the power of the United States Government with little or no resistance, so it was toward the rebellious South that our forces bent their energy.

Very soon after the formal occupation of Monterey, Commodore Sloat was ordered to Washington, and Commodore Stockton took command. With the departure of Sloat, something of the peace of mind of the natives vanished, for Stockton assumed a more vindictive stand and openly denounced Castro.

The Americans were rapidly gaining strength. Even among the Californians there were some who saw the commercial and political advantage of a more stable form of Government than that which they had been under, or on top of as the case might be, during Mexican rule. Therefore, Fremont had little trouble in adding to his forces until the organization was mustered into the regular army as the Battalion of California Volunteers. Fremont was given the rank of Major, and Gillespie, the officer sent to recall him from the north, became Captain under him.

Fremont and his following were ordered to San Diego on July 26th, the plan being that the Americans should proceed north towards Los Angeles and unite with the marines and sailors under Stockton, who was then at San Pedro. By this piece of strategy they hoped to prevent the retreat and probable escape of Castro southward across the border. In this project the Americans failed, for Castro had already made his way into Mexican territory and Pico was in hiding, awaiting a chance to follow humbly in the footsteps of his

whilom rival who was suddenly, by a trick of fate, become his fellow fugitive.

Stockton and his men started from San Pedro on August the 11th, 1846, laboriously dragging their cannon. Thus encumbered, their progress was slow, and two days passed before they reached a mesa near Los Angeles, where they camped, awaiting the arrival of Fremont.

He and his battalion joined them on the 13th and the soldiers and marines marched into the pueblo and took possession.

Before the occupation by the Americans, an interesting little incident occurred. In an old home of the Spanish style lived one Dona Inocencia Reyes, of that Reyes family, no doubt, whose land grant was revoked under Fages. About the house was a garden-such a garden, let us fancy, as only the semi-tropic south brings forth

pour forth their love-burden beneath the bewitching damsel's casement in the good old-fashioned way; there also stood the guard house, and before it an antique "four pounder" cannon which had been used from time immemorial to fire salutes on gala occasions when great military dignitaries condescended to honor the pueblo with a visit.

When the first wild rumor that the Americans were approaching thrilled through Los Angeles, some of the faithful dragged this canon from its place to the home of Dona Inocencia. An exciting scene it must have been! The lady herself directed the young men, and they buried the old gun safe beneath the screening palms and weeping willows, the yellow-plumed acacias and garlanded rose vines.

[graphic][merged small]

thickly grown with acacia and magnolia trees, bending palms and weeping willows and sweet with the breath of twining rose vines. I have found no record wherein Dona Inocencia is described, but we shall think of her as she must surely have been, darkly beautiful, with black eyes and hair half concealed beneath the filmy lace of a rare mantilla. However much her personal charms must be a matter of speculation, there is no doubt of her loyalty to the cause that she and her fathers loved.

Los Angeles was built about a plaza, and the plaza was the heart of the pueblo. There the bells of the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels called the reverent to prayer; there the band played evenings, and the senoritas flirted artfully over their fans with the gallant senors who would later

Later, as the uniformed Americans. strode haughtily past that bower of green and bloom, mayhap glancing admiringly at Dona Inocencia, who gazed innocently, obliviously into fathomless space, they little suspected that under the bank of leaf and flower lay hidden the enemy's gun, a gun one day to be raised from its grave and turned against them by the seemingly inconsequential little hands of Dona Inocencia that lay so still and white upon the silken folds of her gown.

But for the present our forces met with no opposition save multitudinous proclamations composed by an anaemic assembly which, having relieved its conscience, settled down into a comfortable torpor. Indeed, so listless did the natives seem, so willing to accept the new regime, that both

Stockton and Fremont believed all resistance was past. They left Captain Gillespie and fifty men in an old adobe headquarters to preserve the peace and went their several ways, Stockton and his marines back to San Pedro, Fremont and his command to the north.

But neither of these gentlemen knew that the people of the pueblo of Los Angeles had played at revolution as their fathers before them, that it was their chief pastime and diversion, and had become a fixed habit like gaming, cock fighting and drink. Moreover, they were of that mercurial, hot-blooded temperament which chafes under monotony and makes for uncertain results. Gillespie, as a precautionary measure, forbade their gathering together on the plaza to enjoy the innocent recreations, and their slightest offenses he punished with severity. So, although the little pueblo had apparently fallen into a siesta, still it had dreams. There was restlessness and discontent among the people, secret plotting and counter-plotting and a general chafing beneath galling bonds.

Amongst the natives of Los Angeles there was a coterie of young rakes led by one Serbulo Varela. Perhaps they were not so bad as they wished others to believe them to be, but they were forever planning outbreaks, indulging in lurid visions of insurrection and revolutionary glory. With mock-gravity they dubbed a youth of their circle "Governor," and harassed Gillespie by petty deviltry not quite sufficient to bring them within his martial jurisdiction. One night (the date was September 22d) this Serbulo Varela and his companions were possessed by a spirit of fun. Possibly the mescal had flowed a trifle too freely and set their flood on fire, or the magic of the warm, moon-bathed night, with its purple shade and its wildly sweet mocking-bird song, tempted them to awful play. Whatever the cause, they conceived the idea of playing a joke upon the painfully dignified Gillespie. They armed themselves with tin pans and drums and old, rusty muskets, and assembling around the adobe headquarters, began a mockfusillade and made a hideous noise. It was great sport to see the bold Americans alarmed at so slight a thing, to see the old windows flung up, and the grim, white faces peering out into the night; brave

sport, indeed, until a volley was poured into the fun-drunk crowd, and one of their number lay bleeding on the ground.

Then Gillespie made his fatal mistake. Next day he arrested the prominent men of the town and imprisoned them, though they were both innocent and ignorant of the mad prank of Serbulo Varela and his gang. At this injustice the infuriated people rose and drove the Americans out into the hills. The pueblo had awakened from its siesta, the old heritage of revolutionary lust was stirred to the point of frenzy, and the Californians swarmed from all quarters to raise an avenging hard against Gillespie and his men.

The soldiers were protected by a crude fort of sandbags, where they resisted several attacks, but the situation was desperate, for they had little food. Therefore a messenger was sent northward to bear the news of their peril to Stockton and to ask his aid.

was

The man chosen for this daring ride John Brown, nicknamed "Juan Flaco," Lean John. It is a name worth remembering, which deserves a place in the chronicles of brave deeds.

"Juan Flaco" was commissioned to ride, ride for the life of the garrison. Four hundred and sixty-two miles of doubtful country lay ahead; to the east were barrier-mountains, to the west flowed the

He rode light and swift, but the Californians spied him in his flight. They fired on him and his horse dropped under him-dead. Getting a fresh mount he plunged ahead, and on he rode, never sleeping, never stopping save to exchange the jaded beast that had borne him for others mettled to speed, until after a journey of fifty-two hours in the saddle, he plunged into Monterey and bore the tidings to Stockton.

In spite of this heroic ride, Stockton could not reach Gillespie in less than a fortnight. The little party sent out by the unfortunate garrison to locate the militia company which had pursued Castro without success and thus baffled, returned to the San Bernardino mountains to hunt hear, was arrested by the Californians at the Chino ranch, where a skirmish took place, of interest chiefly because the attack was led by Serbulo Varela. There must have been a graver, finer side to his

nature, for now that he was leader in earnest instead of play, and the little handful of Americans were in his power, he was both soldierly and generous. After three Americans had been wounded and a favorite among the Californians killed, Varela approached the American leader, Wilson, and told him that if he would surrender, neither he nor his party should be harmed. The Americans acceded right willingly, but a tempest of anger and hatred awaited them in Los Angeles, where a mob threatened their lives. Again we may picture Varela as the moderator, the calm, dispassionate barrier between these helpless few within his keep and the ungoverned violence of the rabble.

these same pieces of artillery being turned upon those whom they had defended in the past. He therefore spiked them, broke

tide off their breech knobs, and at low dragged them as far as the strength of his soldiers would permit into the keep of the sea.

They were recovered long afterwards and may be seen in the city of Los Angeles preserved as historical relics. Routed and discouraged, Gillespie made ready to sail on made ready to sail on a merchant ship, which put into the harbor, when providentially the frigate Savannah hove in view. What a thrice blessed sight the old vessel with the stars and stripes floating from her mast, must have been to the ex

[graphic][merged small]

Matters were desperate with Gillespie, and when General Flores, the new military commander of the natives, offered to permit him and his men to leave the pueblo "with all the honors of war," he eagerly availed himself of the opportunity and hurried on to San Pedro. A part of the covenant between Gillespie and Flores was that the former should take his field pieces to the ocean, but there they should become the property of the enemy. But Gillespie, chagrined and humiliated, sought revenge.

He determined to take no chances upon

hausted, disheartened band of Americans who had seen no recourse but ignominious flight!

The captain of the Savannah came gallantly to the rescue. He and his marines joined Gillespie's jaded force, who retraced their steps toward the pueblo from which they had so recently retreated, vanquished.

Meantime the broad acres of Dominguez lying in the wedge of the letter Y dividing the Los Angeles road into two branches, as we have already seen, rolled away in a tide of green. There the wind

mill wheeled right merrily in the ocean wind; there the shadeful pepper trees, bright with coral-colored berries, cast their green streamers about the ancient walls, and then, even as now the meadow lark sang joyously in the sun. No more peaceful spot could be imagined. The adobes seemed to be in a perpetual slumber, broken occasionally by the shout of a vaquero or the snatch of an old love song.

But Dominguez lay on the Los Angeles road, and Gillespie and his men, reinforced by fresh blood, must pass it on their way. News of the Americans' return spread quick as a thought. Excite

assembled on the slopes of Dominguez, and the adobes likely served in the capacity of a fort, concealing the natives from the column whose approach was marked by a moving dust cloud on the San Pedro road.

Towards the evening of October the seventh the Americans came within range. A skirmish followed, then the impartial truce of darkness silenced the scattered fire. Next morning the battle began afresh. The natives clung to Dominguez as to life itself. The opposing force was equally determined, and made a determined charge. But the little band of Californians, mounted on swift horses,

[graphic][merged small]

ment quivered through every nerve of the pueblo. The The Californians determined to take no chances. They would forestall the freshly gathered forces. Dona Inocencia, within her garden, peered out from amongst the trees and vines with eager eyes and throbbing heart. The Californians were preparing for a desperate stand. There were not many to respond to the call to battle, and their arms were meagre and old, but those few full of courage and mounted on the best horses that the range could yield. They

maneuvered skillfully, dragging about with them by means of reatas an ancient four pounder gun! With this single piece of artillery they galloped to a place of vantage and fired with terrible effect into the ranks of the Americans. And whence came the gun? It had remained for Dona Inocencia in the hour of direst extremity, when hope seemed lost to her people, to exhume that antique relic of former glory, and deliver it into their hands! they, in the fulness of gratitude after the time-honored custom of giving titles to

And

« PreviousContinue »