Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846

Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846

by Dale L. Walker
     
 

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Dale L. Walker, historian and author of Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West, takes on the conquest of California in this vivid portrait of America's manifest destiny.

Bear Flag Rising traces the history of California from the Indians who inhabited the land before the first Europeans saw it through the warfare that would

Overview

Dale L. Walker, historian and author of Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West, takes on the conquest of California in this vivid portrait of America's manifest destiny.

Bear Flag Rising traces the history of California from the Indians who inhabited the land before the first Europeans saw it through the warfare that would finally leave the province in American hands. The lives of the Californios in tranquil days before the advent of American trappers and the steady decline of the province under Mexico's neglectful rule are brought to life in this epic chronicle. Battles and skirmishes, such as the bitter fight on the San Gabriel River during the march to recapture Los Angeles, are meticulously re-created in all their vicious glory.

Above all, Bear Flag Rising is rich with the personalities of the conquest--from John Charles Fremont, the ambitious, enigmatic explorer, to Commodore Robert Field Stockton, a wealthy, imperious, and ruthless naval officer, and Stephen Watts Kearny, who made a 2,000-mile overland march from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, annexing New Mexico on the way, and arrived in California to face Mexican lancers in battle.

Bear Flag Rising reveals, through exacting research and masterful prose, the full story of how Mexico lost California and how this Pacific paradise went on to become "the greatest jewel in the crown of the American Empire."

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
Each state's history is full of the lively and the unexpected, but California's seems to be a little more colorful than most. A sprawling treasure house filled with fog-shrouded redwood forests, fertile plains and mineral-filled mountains, California was a gracious home to some 150,000 native persons when the Conquistadors sent their first explorer northward in 1542. It took 227 years for them to send another. Although the Spanish ultimately established a chain of coastal missions, and reduced the Indian population by two-thirds in the process, the territory was left mostly to its own devices. In 1821, Mexico threw off Spanish rule and claimed California as a province, but had no serious interest in developing, or even ruling, the huge territory. It was unquestionably a rural area, far from the delights of Mexico City, and anyway there was no tradition or encouragement of private enterprise. Better to let the bucolic Californios sell their hides and tallow to bustling Yankee traders and then purchase them back in the form of shoes and candles. The problem with this cozy arrangement, of course, was that the bustling New Englanders saw enormous potential in the huge, laxly governed territory. Into that vacuum moved a trio of outsized personalities: John Charles Fremont, Robert Field Stockton, and Stephen Watts Kearny. Intelligent and energetic, goal-driven, and ultimately flawed, each proved to be a latter-day Conquistador in his own right, and each played a vital part in breaking Mexico's tepid control of the coastal region. Author Dale Walker has produced a convincing account of the swashbucklers, their rapacious era, and the colorful stage upon which they acted out their historicalroles. Bear Flag Rising is what popular history is all about. It provides interesting scenarios, trustworthy facts, and a straightforward story line, but leaves the subtle nuances and balanced interpretations to the textbooks. This will make good casual reading for history fans, and a useful classroom supplement for YAs. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Tor/Forge, 320p, 22cm, 99-21742, $13.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Raymond L. Puffer, Ph.D.; Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
Kirkus Reviews
An expertly written, well-documented history of the American seizure of California from Mexico. Popular Western history writer Walker (Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West, 1997, etc.) avoids the two chief pitfalls of the region's historiography: imagining its Anglo-American actors to be heroes one and all and, conversely, imagining every last one of them to be villains. Building his narrative on a series of biographical sketches, Walker sorts out good and bad and shows how a man generous and noble one day could behave very poorly indeed the next. One of his recurring characters is John Augustus Sutter, who built a considerable fortune as a trader through any number of questionable tactics: he paid his Indian workers in coins redeemable only at his stores, and he betrayed his Mexican sponsors by supporting an early revolt against Governor Manual Micheltorena, for which treason he received only a minor rebuke from the Mexican government. Another of Walker's major actors is the somewhat feckless explorer John Charles Frémont, whom history has not remembered kindly but for whom Walker shows an admirable understanding: He was an essential adventurer and man of action, Walker writes, and inaction confused and braked his racing mind and turned it toward ruinous matters, such as politics and ambition. Frémont's exploring party, heavily armed and uniformed, led the buckskin-clad Americans who were then living in California with Mexico's indulgence to imagine that an invasion was near at hand, and they jumped the gun somewhat by raising a militia against faraway garrisons in San Francisco and Los Angeles; when the US finally declared war on Mexico,the Californios, as they were called, were well prepared to do their part, and wresting the huge area away from its earlier owners was a fairly easy matter—despite, as Walker demonstrates, the troublesome quarrels that broke out among the various American leaders. A fine addition to California history and that of the American West generally.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466814493
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
05/01/2000
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
892,130
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Bear Flag Rising

The Conquest of California, 1846


By Dale L. Walker

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2000 Dale L. Walker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-1449-3


Bear Flag Rising
PART IThe Coast of CathayCHAPTER ONEThe Spaniards1Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo had commanded a company of crossbowmen in the march by Hernán Cortés to the Aztec capital of Tenochitlán in 1519, and for these and other military labors, he had earned the confidence of the viceroyalty of Mexico. After two decades of service to Spain in the New World, the Portuguese-born officer was given his first command--an odd assignment for a soldier, but an important one. In June, 1542, he sailed north from the port of La Natividad, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, his flagship the caravel San Salvador accompanied by a smaller vessel, the Victoria.Cabrillo's mission, assigned him by the viceroy, was to explore the uncharted "coast of Cathay," believed to be a large island somewhere in the north, and perhaps discover any number of fabled places: the Strait of Anian, a northwest passage between the two great oceans; or the seaport of Quivira, a land said to contain Seven Cities of Gold ruled by El Dorado, a king whose subjects dusted him with gold every morning and washed it off every night.He might even find the island mentioned in a popular work by the Spaniard Ordóñez de Montalvo titled Las sergas de Esplandián ("The Deeds of Esplandián"), published in Madrid in 1510. Thistale told how the Christians in Constantinople had fought a force of black Amazons led by Queen Califía of the island of California. The island was said to be located "at the right hand of the Indies" and close to the Terrestrial Paradise, a place bounteous in gold and guarded by griffins that carried unwary intruders high into the sky and dropped them to their deaths.Whatever he was searching for, the record of Cabrillo's voyage, written about thirteen years later, states that on "Sunday, July 2 [1542], they sighted California."He sailed up the unknown coast, charting islands, bays, inlets, reefs and rocks, among the latter a dangerous group he named the Habre Ojos--"Watch Out." In September, he visited a "good harbor" that he named San Miguel (soon called San Diego), found ways to talk with coastal Indians, and sailed on, often far to seaward to avoid fierce winds and the terrifying crash of the ocean on the cliffs and rock-girded beaches. He sighted but did not visit a widemouthed harbor 450 miles north of San Miguel and named it Baia de los Pinos (probably Monterey Bay), and in mid-November, after sailing past a great fog-shrouded place that would become known in three hundred years as the Golden Gate, the San Salvador and Victoria anchored in a large bay about six hundred miles north of San Miguel. This anchorage was visited thirty-five years later by the English freebooter, Sir Francis Drake, and given his name.On the return voyage, somewhere in the islands off Santa Barbara Channel on January 3, 1543, Cabrillo died of an infection caused by having broken his arm and shoulder in a shipboard fall, but he had made his mark: this Portuguese-Spaniard soldier-mariner found the land that had been named before it had been seen. 
 
After Cabrillo's expedition, 227 years passed before the Spaniards made their first settlement there, but in the waiting, California was rediscovered many times.Galleons from the Philippine Islands, a Spanish possession from 1564 and governed by a viceroyalty of New Spain, built a profitable trade between Manila and Mexico and skirted the California coast laden with cargoes of silks, damasks, spices, chinaware, wax, and other exotic goods of the Far East. The rules of the trade called for the galleons, outward-bound from Manila, to follow the Great Circle. This route took them northeast toward Japan, then due east along the forty-first parallel to the vicinity of Cape Mendocino, westernmost point of the California coast, then south past Baja California to Acapulco. There were at least two hundred Manila galleon voyages to Mexico and many of them, perhaps most, touched on the California shore to fill water casks, cut wood, and search for game.2Then Drake came. He and his corsairs sailed from Plymouth in November, 1577, with a fleet of six vessels led by the hundred-ton Golden Hind. They ran south to the Cape Verdes and into the Strait of Magellan, took seventeen days to thread the hellish Horn, and, as they entered the Pacific, endured a storm that lasted fifty-two days, destroyed some of their ships and sent others scurrying back to England. Now alone, a speck on the measureless ocean, Drake worried the battered Hind north along the gale-swept western coast of South America, his cutthroat crew sacking Spanish towns from Chile north to Mexico and filling the hold of the flagship with gold and silver bullion and plate, pearls and emeralds, and all manner of plunder. The Hind captured and looted many Spanish ships as well. One of them, bound for Panama, had the memorable name Cacafuego ("Shitfire") and was grappled to the Hind off Lima. It was found to contain so much booty--twenty-six tons of silver bullion, eighty pounds of gold, plus weapons, gunpowder, clothing, and religious artifacts--that it took three days for Drake's pinnaces to transfer the cargo to his flagship.The master mariner sailed on and spent a month in the summerof 1579 on the California coast, careening, refitting and provisioning the Golden Hind, and claiming the land, which he named Nova Albion, for his patron, Elizabeth I. Drake may have entered the Golden Gate, though he made no mention of the spectacular bay that lay inside the headlands. He did trade with the Miwok Indians of the northern coast and may have journeyed as far north as the future Bodega Bay before sailing west for Mindanao, Java, the Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope, and home to Plymouth in September, 1580, completing his circumnavigation of the globe in two years and nine months. 
 
The Englishman's claim of New Albion does not seem to have greatly disturbed the Spanish crown or its viceregal authorities in the New World, but since a port was needed for the Manila galleon trade, Spain did send several expeditions to the California coast in the years following Drake's foray.The most significant of these explorations was that of the adelantado (merchant-adventurer) Sebastian Vizcaíno, who set out from Acapulco with two ships in the spring of 1602. In December, he arrived off Cabrillo's Bay of San Miguel, which he renamed for his flagship San Diego, then moved north, bestowing names, most of them holy names, on the islands, points, and inlets he spied--Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, Punta Concepción. At Santa Catalina, he saw many Indian canoes made of cedar and pine, their seams caulked with brea from seepages along the coast, some of them carrying fifteen men who rowed like galley slaves.The prize discovery of Vizcaíno's expedition was the sighting of a magnificent harbor. It was, he said, "the best port that could be desired, for besides being sheltered from all the winds, it has many pines for masts and yards, and live oaks, and white oaks, and water in great quantity, all near the shore." He spoke of the bay being "excellent for shipping," sheltered from the winds, ideal to provide securityand protection for ships from Manila, and a climate resembling that of Castile.He named it for the viceroy of Mexico, the Conde de Monterey.3By the time the Spaniards made their first mission foothold there in 1769, the immense and still unmapped land they called California was inhabited by native peoples, perhaps 150,000 in all, in at least a hundred tribes and clans. In the north were people such as the Shasta, Modoc, Northern Paiute, the coastal Pomo, Miwok, Costanoan, and others; in the midlands were the Washo, Paiute, Shoshone, Salinan, and Yukot; in the south, the Chumash, Serrano, Diegueño, Gabrielino, Mojave, and Yuma.They knew little of the vastness and diversity of their land for they were not nomadic and for twelve thousand years had subsisted on whatever their small domains provided.Among many tribes, acorns provided the staple food. These were pounded and ground by mortar and pestle into a fatty, nutritious flour, winnowed by tossing in a basket, washed free of their bitter tannic acid, and rolled into a mush or unleavened cakes, seasoned with wood ashes, bits of meat or fish, and baked in earthen ovens. In the deserts, mesquite beans were a staple; in forested areas, piñon nuts. Hunters, using snares, pit traps, and arrows with obsidian points, killed deer and other small game; coastal tribes fished with nets and hooks and harpoon-like spears, gathered shellfish, and caught small fish by using buckeyes to poison pools and eddies. Mojaves and Yumas and the people of the Colorado River region grew corn, beans, and pumpkins; the more primitive tribes ate insects and grubbed for roots.Many of the mid- and southern-California Indians lived in conical or domed huts made of poles and brush and banked with dirt; in the north, there were solid frame dwellings of redwood planks.There were basket-makers among some of these people, cleverweavers using sedge, bulrush, willow, bracken, or tule reeds, who often decorated their works with stained bird feathers. The baskets were used for gathering and winnowing, and those of finest weave were filled with water and hot stones, for cooking.Along the coast, boats were made of tule balsa, and rafts of rushes; in the far northwest, dugout canoes were fashioned from redwood trunks.Artisans made arrow points of obsidian, stones, and shells; made awls and pots, charms, pendants, dentalium or clamshell beads (used for money); others made music from clap-sticks, deer hooves, turtle shells, gourds, bone whistles, and animal-skin drums.In some places, the natives were naked; in others, they wore skirts of plant fibers or animal skins, and slept on furs and deer-hides.Most of these disparate people were exogamous, mixing and marrying among one another; the men were polygamous, the marriages made by agreement or purchase.Religion and medicine were guided by a shaman; sometimes drugs were a part of the religion, as in the northern San Joaquin Valley and among certain southern tribes that developed a toloache, or jimsonweed cult.The Spaniards, including the missionaries, who invaded their lands were contemptuous of the Indians, describing them as lazy, filthy, immoral savages.4In May, 1769, a Spanish officer named Gaspar de Portolá led an expedition of fifty soldiers, servants, Christianized Indians (called "neophytes"), and missionaries from northern Baja California to the bay founded by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo 227 years earlier.At the head of the brown-robed Franciscan fathers in Portolá's party was a Spanish farmer's son, born on Majorca in 1713, Fray (Friar) Junípero Serra, father-president of the missions in Baja.Portolá took possession of San Diego on July 1, established it asa presidio, and on July 16, Serra proclaimed the first mission of Alta California and named it San Diego de Alcala.San Diego was the earliest of twenty-one missions founded in California, each a day's journey apart and connected by a rude wagon trail called El Camino Real (the Royal Road). The northernmost of the missions, San Francisco Solano de Sonoma (Sonoma a Miwok word meaning "earth village"), was founded by Franciscans in 1823, two years after Mexico won its independence from Spain. For all its isolation from the governance of California, Sonoma became among the most prosperous of the missions. It had rich pasturage around it for herds of cattle, horses, and sheep; the grainfields were irrigated by water piped from springs; there were grapes for wine-making, and orchards of pears and apples, pomegranates, figs, and olives.During California's "pastoral" era (1769-1833), eighty-two thousand Indians lived, worked, and died in a feudal peonage in the missions. These neophytes were the church's slaves, given instruction in Christianity, working throughout their lives as menials in the mission fields as planters and harvesters, adobe brick-makers, and butchers of cattle for the growing hide-and-tallow industry.In the sixty-four years that followed the founding of the San Diego mission, two-thirds of the native peoples died, most of them from the diseases brought by their conquerors: cholera, dysentery, smallpox, tuberculosis, syphilis, diphtheria, typhoid, and scarlet fever.Copyright © 1999 by Dale L. Walker
(Continues...)

Excerpted from Bear Flag Rising by Dale L. Walker. Copyright © 2000 Dale L. Walker. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Dale L. Walker, an award-winning historical writer, is the author of fifteen books, the most recent of which are Legends and Lies and The Boys of '98. He lives in El Paso, Texas.


Born in Illinois, the son of a career army sergeant, Dale L. Walker is a journalism graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso whose 20 books reflect his varied historical interests: military and Western history, 19th century "Golden Age" journalism, biography, and Jack London studies. Among his books are Januarius Macgahan: The Life and Times of an American War Correspondent; Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West; The Boys of '98; Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders; Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California; Pacific Destiny; and Eldorado: The California Gold Rush. He is a four-time winner of the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, the Owen Wister Award for life achievement in the history and literature of the American West, and many other awards, and is a member of the prestigious Texas Institute of Letters.

Walker, who lives in El Paso, Texas, with his wife of 43 years, Alice McCord, has been involved in virtually every aspect of the book business. He has served as a university press director, newspaper book page editor, magazine editor, fiction editor for Forge Books, book columnist and reviewer, and has written historical books, magazine work, and fiction.

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