We took a ride to Sonoma on a hot Saturday in August. We walked across the plaza to where our state began. There's a monument there now, a man in front of a flag. We took a look and remembered our fourth-grade history lesson.

California, under the flag of Mexico, was a political mess in 1846. The Mexican government wasn't paying its soldiers in California. In response to worries that Americans were taking up good land in the territory, the Mexicans issued an order that all Americans leave the country.

Pio Pico, the California governor at that time, said that since Mexico wasn't doing anything to protect its citizens, California should invite either England or France to annex it. Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a highly respected Californian, opposed this idea vehemently. He supported annexation to the United States.

Add to this turmoil the activity of John Charles Fremont, an ambitious U.S. Army officer. Fremont, supposedly on a scientific exploratory expedition, was traversing the territory with a howitzer and 60 soldiers.

The Mexican authorities in California ordered Fremont to get out.

All of this made the American settlers nervous. Rumors spread that it wasn't only Fremont who was going to be forced to go. While Fremont didn't say he would join in efforts to oust the Mexican rulers, he encouraged settlers to take matters into their own hands.

Vallejo had funded the Sonoma garrison for years because there was no money coming from Mexico. Tired of footing the bill, he disbanded the force in October 1845, and the soldiers left Sonoma.


Advertisement

A small group of Americans decided to follow Fremont's advice. Before dawn June 14, 1846, they surrounded Vallejo's home in Sonoma and declared the general and the other men in the home to be prisoners of war.

Vallejo did not put up a fight. He told his captors that he supported California becoming part of the United States. Vallejo even provided them with horses to take his party to Sutter's Fort.

"They carried us as prisoners to Sacramento and kept us in a calaboose for 60 days or more until the authority of the United States made itself respected and the honorable and humane Commodore Stockton returned us to our hearths," Vallejo recalled in a speech at a Fourth of July gathering in Santa Rosa on July 4, 1876.

After the capture of the Vallejo party, the Americans held a meeting in the Sonoma soldiers barracks and elected William B. Ide as president and Robert Semple as secretary. The group then came up with a treaty, in both English and Spanish, written on paper provided by Vallejo.

On June 24, 1846, the Mexicans tried to retake Sonoma, and there was a skirmish near San Rafael. The casualties of the Bear Flag Revolt amounted to two dead Americans and five or six Mexican supporters. The Republic of California lasted less than a month. On July 9, 1846, the Sonoma garrison was occupied by the U.S. military.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.