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General Mariano G. Vallejo (1808-1890)
By Zoeth Skinner Eldredge (1846-1915)

Lithograph of Gen. VallejoMariano Guadalupe Vallejo, born in Monterey July 7, 1808; died in Sonoma January 18, 1890; married in San Diego March 6, 1832, Francisca Benicia Carrillo, one of the most beautiful of the handsome daughters of Don Joaquin Carrillo and Maria Ignacía Lopez his wife.

Vallejo entered the military service as cadet of the Monterey company January 8, 1824. He was made Alférez (ensign) July 30, 1827; lieutenant June 22, 1835; captain July 9, 1838; lieutenant-colonel of cavalry May 2, 1842. In 1838 he was made comandante-general of California; and previous to that had been made comandante militar del Frontera del Norte, with headquarters at Sonoma. A commission as colonel of cavalry was sent him September 9, 1846.

The life of young Vallejo at Monterey was not different from other boys of his class. With young Castro, Alvarado, Estrada, and the rest he went to school to the soldier schoolmasters and as he grew older his desire for knowledge craved other works than the lives of the saints and the doctrina Christiana. Governor Sola took much interest in the boys and helped them to obtain a few books of a more secular nature, and as they grew older they made use of their opportunities in procuring from visiting ship-masters such books as could be had which they carefully concealed from the vigilant eyes of the padres ever on guard to confiscate and destroy books of heretical tendency.

In 1830 Vallejo was assigned to the San Francisco company of which he was made comandante in 1831. He made several campaigns against the Indians and in 1834 was sent as comisionado to secularize the mission of San Francisco Solano. He was a member of the territorial diputacion in 1827, and for several years thereafter, and in 1834 was granted the Petaluma rancho.

In 1835 Vallejo was instructed to lay out a pueblo at the Solano mission, was made director of colonization at the north and was authorized to issue grants of land to settlers; the scheme being to prevent, by Spanish colonization, further extension of the Russian establishment of Ross. Vallejo laid out the pueblo and gave it the Indian name of the valley, Sonoma—Valley of the Moon. He labored very earnestly to establish his pueblo and succeeded in attracting a number of families to it. He transferred the San Francisco company to Sonoma and also organized a company of about fifty Indians whom he drilled in the manual of arms. After the neglect of the Mexican government to pay its soldiers had caused the presidial companies to disband, Vallejo supported his military establishment for several years at his own expense. In 1834 he took the preliminary steps for establishing a civil government at San Francisco and on January 1, 1835, turned over to the ayuntamiento the control of civil affairs of that pueblo. He was untiring in his efforts to settle and develop the northern frontier and through his wise management and influence with the Indian chiefs the peace of the frontier was rarely broken. In the rising of Alvarado and Castro against Gutierrez he took no active part, though his sympathies were with his nephew, Alvarado, and he accepted office under the government formed by him. He was now (1837) the foremost man in California as he was one of the richest. Over the hills of his princely estate of Petaluma roamed ten thousand cattle, four to six thousand horses, and many thousand sheep. He occupied a baronial castle on the plaza at Sonoma, where he entertained all who came with most royal hospitality and few travelers of note came to California without visiting him. At Petaluma he had a great ranch house called La Hacienda and on his home farm, Lachryma Montis (Tear of the Mountain), he built, about 1849, a modern frame house where he spent the later years of his life.

Vallejo’s attitude towards the Russians at Fort Ross and Bodega was firm and dignified. He maintained that the Russians were on California soil and he notified the Russian manager, Rotchef, that while the use of the port of Bodega by the Russians was tolerated, if he permitted foreigners to land and enter the country in defiance of law he must not be surprised if he found Mexican troops stationed there.

Vallejo also objected to Sutter’s establishing an independent principality in the Sacramento valley and his assumption of authority to wage war upon the natives, to grant passports, and to exercise other prerogatives of sovereignty. This made Sutter very angry and he announced that if he were interfered with he would not only defend himself but would declare the independence of California from the Mexican rule.

We have seen... the ineffectual attempts of Vallejo to revive the military establishment of California. He had cause to be dissatisfied with the administration of Alvarado, who, giving himself up to luxurious ease and dissipation had largely left the management of affairs to the politicians that surrounded him. Juan Bautista Alvarado was a young man of excellent ability, fairly well educated for his time, of handsome person and courteous manners, and of great popularity and influence with all classes. He was born in Monterey February 14, 1809, and was son of José Francisco Alvarado and María Josefa Vallejo, and his grandfather, Juan Bautista Alvarado, was a soldier of Portolá’s expedition, 1769. Alvarado’s marriage to Doña Martina Castro, daughter of Francisco María Castro, at the mission of Santa Clara August 24, 1839, was a notable event and was attended by all the great in social and political life. Alvarado, who was then governor, was ill at Monterey and was represented by his half-brother, José Antonio Estrada, who as his proxy, stood at the altar with the bride. The governor was at this time thirty years of age, and of most distinguished appearance; but already the habit of excessive drinking was upon him and it soon became so confirmed that he was frequently unable, through “illness,” to perform his official duties.

Disappointed in his expectation of reform in the government and in ’the failure of what he considered necessary measures for the national defence, Vallejo wrote the supreme government in 1841 giving his opinion of Alvarado’s rule, stating his belief that the country was going to ruin, and asking to be relieved of his command. He recommended that the offices of governor and comandante-general be united in one person. Later in December of that year he pointed out to the minister of war the illness of California and suggested the remedy that should be applied. California as a country was nowhere excelled in natural advantages of climate, soil, and harbors, and it had all the elements of a grand prosperity, needing only an energetic population and wise regulations. The land was capable of every product for the welfare of a happy and prosperous people yet they imported most of the articles they consumed. A man free from ties of relationship with the people should be placed at the head of affairs and invested with both civil and military authority; a force of at least two hundred men should be sent in charge of competent officers; the fort at San Francisco should be rebuilt and, a custom-house established there; a colony of Mexican artisans and farmers should be sent to the country to counterbalance the influx of foreigners; and many other recommendations were made.

Governor MicheltorenaThe result of Vallejo’s dispatches was the appointment of Micheltorena to the offices of governor and comandante-general. Having been instrumental in bringing Micheltorena into California Vallejo stood his friend and fed his army, and also loaned him several thousand dollars in money. For this assistance Micheltorena, having no funds with which to pay Vallejo, granted him, in June 1844, the Rancho Nacional Soscol, in what is now part of Solano County.

In the rising against Micheltorena Vallejo took no part, but he made an indignant protest against Sutter’s arming foreigners and Indians against his country. He advised Micheltorena that he was well esteemed by the Californians and would be still more highly thought of if he would send his cholos away. He would not take an active part against the governor, but to avoid sending him reinforcements and defend a band of convicts whose presence he deemed a curse to California, he disbanded his Sonoma forces November 28, 1844, and so notified the governor, saying he could no longer support them at his own expense as he had been doing.

Always friendly to the immigrants Vallejo exceeded his authority in protecting them, and in this and in openly advocating the cause of the United States, his great influence was always used for the American cause notwithstanding the treatment he received. One can hardly conceive a more ungrateful return for the kindness to immigrants and help to Americans than to be seized and confined in a dismal prison by these same immigrants and kept there long after the United States authorities had taken possession and the United States flag was flying over his prison house. On September 15, 1846, he wrote Larkin: “I left the Sacramento half dead and arrived here (Sonoma) almost without life, but am now much better. *** The political change has cost a great deal to my person and mind and likewise to my property. I have lost more than one thousand live horned cattle, six hundred tame horses, and many other things of value which were taken from my house here and at Petaluma., My wheat crops are entirely lost for the cattle ate them up in the field and I assure you that two hundred fanegas [about 25,000 bushels] of sowing, in good condition as mine was is a considerable loss. All is lost and the a only hope for making it up is to work again.”

That Vallejo’s services to the American cause were appreciated by some of the officers is shown by a letter from Captain Montgomery of the Portsmouth dated, September 25, 1846.
The Captain sends hearty thanks for the service you have rendered as well as for the prompt and sincere manner in which you were pleased to tender your assistance to the government of the United States in the recent emergency, and to your associates whose ready obedience to your call has done much towards allaying natural prejudices and unfriendly suspicions among the various classes comprising the society of California, and for hastening arrangements for the establishment of peace, order, and good government in the country.

I quote these letters because they represent the character of the man far better than any words of mine can, and how did the United States requite the services of this man? By passing laws which by their action deprived him of all his property and changed his condition from that of the richest man in California to one of comparative poverty. The land commission confirmed his grant of Rancho Nacional Soscol. The government carried it to the district-court which confirmed the action of the land commission. The government appealed the case to the supreme court which rejected the claim on the ground that the Mexican government gave away its land in California but could not sell government land for food furnished its soldiers. A most astounding decision. In 1863 Congress by special act permitted the holders of Vallejo titles to buy their land at a dollar and a quarter an acre. His great rancho of Petaluma, ten leagues, to which he added five leagues more by purchase—sixty-six thousand acres—nothing remains but the little home farm and residence, Lachryma Montis. This is the possession and home of his two youngest daughters and the spring which gives it its name supplies the town of Sonoma with water, and the daughters with a small income. The claim to the Petaluma rancho was not confirmed until 1875, after General Vallejo tired of fighting squatters and lawyers had given up his right to the land.

On December 22, 1846, Vallejo deeded to Robert Semple an undivided half of a tract of five square miles of the Soscol rancho, on the straits of Carquines, for a new city to be built which was to be the great seaport and commercial city of the bay of San Francisco. The town was to be, named Francisca, in honor of Vallejo’s wife, Doña Francisca Benicia Carrillo. Thomas O. Larkin became interested in the venture and took over the greater part of Vallejo’s interest. The attempt to appropriate the name as well as the commercial supremacy of San Francisco was frustrated by an order of Alcalde Washington A. Bartlett requiring the name San Francisco substituted for Yerba Buena on all public documents. Doctor Semple was very indignant at this action and spluttered over it in the Californian which he had removed from Monterey to San Francisco. To prevent confusion the name of Francisca was changed to Benicia, the second name of Señora Vallejo. The site for the city was a beautiful one, but trade did not leave San Francisco, though General Persifer F. Smith removed the army headquarters to the city on the strait. The attempt was made to have Benicia named capital of California and General Vallejo made most generous offers to the legislature of land and money if they would move the capital thither.

Vallejo was a member of the constitutional convention and he applied himself to the work of creating a state with energy and diligence. In common with the other Californians in the convention he endeavored to protect the interests of the natives of the country. The seal of California caused much discussion. Major R. S. Garnett made a design which was accepted, but the members insisted upon the addition of various features. At last when all was agreed the bear emblem was brought forward. Some of the California members were very angry and protested against the bear being used. General Vallejo said that if the bear was put on the seal it should be represented as under the control of a vaquero with a lasso around its neck.

Bayard Taylor says, writing of the convention:

“One of the most intelligent and influential of the Californians is General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, whom I had the pleasure of meeting several times during my stay in Monterey. As military commandant during the governorship of Alvarado, he exercised almost supreme sway over the country. He is a man of forty-five years of age, tall and of a commanding presence; his head is large, forehead high and ample, and eyes dark, with a grave, dignified expression. He is better acquainted with our institutions and laws than any other native Californian."
Thomes says: (1843) “The next morning, when all hands were called I was again dispatched to Señora Abarono’s (Briones) rancho for milk, as General M. G. Vallejo was on board and it was necessary to give him a feast, he owning half a million acres of land, and fifty thousand head of cattle, so it was reported. He was a very gentlemanly Mexican, and quite affable to us boys, often giving us a silver dollar for pulling him on board the ship and on shore.” William Kelly says: I waited on the general, (at his Sonoma house in 1850) who is an enormously rich man, and was received with the greatest courtesy and hospitality. He is a fine, handsome man, in the prime of life, of superior attainments and great natural talent: the only native Californian in the senate. His lady is also possessed of unusual personal attractions and of that easy dignity and cordiality of manner so peculiarly characteristic of Spanish ladies. His house is a fine one superbly furnished and wanting in nothing that comfort or luxury requires.

In common with most Californians General Vallejo was most careless and improvident when money was plenty, and while he realized large sums from the sale of lands and cattle, his later years were passed in comparative poverty. The town of Vallejo was named for him and a street in San Francisco bears his name. He, had sixteen children, of whom ten lived to maturity. One daughter married John B. Frisbie, captain of company H, Stevenson’s regiment, and another married his brother Levi. One married Arpad Harasthy and the two younger daughters married Don Ricardo de Empáron and James H. Cutter.
In: The Beginnings of San Francisco : From the Expedition of Anza, 1774, to the City Charter of April 15, 1850 : with Biographical and Other Notes, by Zoeth Skinner Eldredge. San Francisco : Z.S. Eldredge, 1912. pp. 348-357

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