This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Fremont Declares California Independent of Mexico.
At the beginning of 1846 the population of California included, with about two hundred thousand Indians, six thousand Mexicans and perhaps two hundred Americans. War against Mexico had been declared in May, 1845, and already General Taylor had won the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, and had compelled the surrender of Monterey. While these operations were leading the United States forces to the rapid accomplishment of their work in Mexico proper, other movements were undertaken, the execution and outcome of which form the subject of Mr. Dawson’s narrative. These events concluded with California and New Mexico ceded to the United States in 848
This selection is from Battles of the United States by Sea and Land by Henry B. Dawson published in 1858.
Henry B. Dawson was an American historian whose book cited above was his principal accomplishment.
Immediately after the opening of hostilities in the valley of the Rio Grande (March, 1846), among the expeditions which were organized by the Federal authorities was one to move against and take possession of California and New Mexico, two provinces in the northern part of the enemy’s country. The command of this expedition had been vested in General Stephen W. Kearney, and the force under his command had rendezvoused at Fort Leavenworth; and the most energetic measures had been adopted to insure its early departure and its ultimate success.
Having completed all the arrangements, on June 26th. the main body of this expedition had moved from the fort; and after a rapid but interesting march of eight hundred seventy-three miles, on August 18th. it entered and took possession of Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, the Mexican forces, numbering four thousand, which had been collected to defend the town, having dispersed, without offering the least opposition, as it approached.
While these operations in New Mexico and on the western frontier of the United States were taking place, Brevet-Captain John C. Fremont, who had been engaged in explorations on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, had also revolutionized the Province of California, and, to some extent at least, had anticipated the movements of the expedition commanded by General Kearney. The character of his mission being scientific and peaceful rather than warlike, he had not had an officer or soldier of the regular army in his company; and his whole force had consisted of sixty-two men employed by himself for security against the Indians and for procuring subsistence in the wilderness and desert country through which he had passed. For the purpose of obtaining game for his men and grass for his horses, in an uninhabited part of California, he had, during the winter of 1845-1846, solicited and obtained permission from the Mexican authorities to winter in the Valley of San Joaquin; but he had scarcely established himself before he received advices that the Mexican commander was preparing to attack him under the pretext that under the cover of a scientific mission he was exciting the American settlers in that vicinity to revolt.
In view of this threatened attack, and for the purpose of repelling it, Lieutenant Fremont immediately occupied a mountain which overlooked Monterey — although it was thirty miles from that city — and having entrenched it and raised the flag of the United States he waited the approach of the enemy. After remaining there until March 10, 1846, he retired to the northward, intending to march, by way of Oregon, to the United States; but about the middle of May, after he had quietly passed into Oregon, he had received information through Samuel Neal and Levi Sigler, two hunters who had been sent after him from Lassen’s rancho, that the Mexican Governor of California was pursuing him, while the Indians, by whom he was surrounded, instigated by the enemy, had shown signs of hostility, and had killed or wounded five of his men.
Under these circumstances, on June 6, 1846, Lieutenant Fremont had resolved to turn on his pursuers with the little party under his command, and to seek safety, not merely in the overthrow of his pursuers, but in that of the entire Government of Mexico in the Province of California. Accordingly, on June 11th, Lieutenant Fremont, assisted by Captain Merritt and fourteen of the settlers, had attacked and captured an escort of horses destined for General Castro’s troops — Lieutenant Arce, fourteen men, and two hundred horses remaining in his hands as the trophies of his victory. On the 15th. the military post of Sonoma was surprised, and General Vallejo, Captain Vallejo, Colonel Greuxdon and several other officers, nine pieces of brass cannon, two hundred fifty stands of muskets, and other stores and arms were taken; and on the 25th. the military commandant of the Province, who had moved toward the post with a heavy force to retake it, was attacked by Lieutenant Fremont and twenty men, and completely routed. Having thus cleared that part of the Province north of the Bay of San Francisco of the enemy, it is said that on July 5th. Captain Fremont had assembled the American settlers at Sonoma, addressed them upon the dangers of their situation, and recommended a declaration of independence and war on Mexico as the only remedy; and that the hardy frontiersmen promptly accepted the proposal and raised the flag of independent California — a bear and a star on a red ground.
While these revolutionary movements were destroying the power of Mexico in the interior of the Province of California, and the expedition under General Kearney — ignorant of the fact that the work had been done already–was approaching its eastern borders for the same purpose, the naval force of the United States in the Pacific, under Commodore Sloat, had been assisting in the work of conquest. Having heard of the opening of hostilities on the Rio Grande, the Commodore — then at Mazatlan — hastened with the Savannah to Monterey in California, where he arrived on July 2d, and on the 7th he took possession of the town without opposition; the custom-house was seized, the American flag raised, and California declared to be “henceforward a part of the United States.”