Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo


The rugged coast, sun-drenched hills, and fertile valleys of the Sonoma region were enjoyed by Pomo and Coastal Miwok Indians for many relatively quiet, little-known centuries before European explorers first visited the area. In the nineteenth century, however, the colonial ambitions of several world powers - notably Spain, Russia, and the United States - began to converge in the Sonoma region and to bring about changes that would permanently alter the course of human affairs in this gentle landscape. Spanish interest in the New World had begun with the voyages of Columbus. Spanish colonial development of both North and South America progressed rapidly after the landing of Hernan Cortez in Mexico in 1519, and by the 1830s, after more than 300 years of continual expansion, the northern frontier of "New Spain" had reached the perimeter of San Francisco Bay and pushed beyond it to a frontier headquarters at Sonoma.

Russian interest in the New World was focused primarily on the far north, on the Aleutian Islands, and the Russian colony at Sitka, Alaska. (n 1812, however, the lucrative California sea otter trade and certain agricultural possibilities induced the Russians to establish outposts at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross on the California Coast not far from Sonoma. These outposts were the cause of widespread and continual speculation about future Russian intentions in California.

United States interest in California was first sharpened during the 1820s and '30s by the reports of whalers, merchants, and mountain men. Then in the late 1830s and early '40s United States interest grew suddenly stronger as overland migration began to make a reality of the American dream of "Manifest Destiny" - the vision of a great republic, one nation composed of many states, that would span the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

During the 1830s and '40s one man stood at the focal point where these international forces came together. For a time this man - a brilliant, young Mexican army officer - managed to control the situation and was carried upward to great wealth and power. Then, rather suddenly, the wheel of fortune turned still further and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo found himself left behind by the turbulent flow of events and faced with increasing personal obscurity and gradual financial disaster.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born in Monterey, California on July 4, 1807. He attended school in Monterey and was considered an outstanding student. At the age of 16 he was accepted as a military cadet in the Presidial Company of Monterey. He rose rapidly through the ranks, and in 1829 became a military hero when an expedition under his command defeated a clever and highly determined band of runaway mission lndians who had set up a stronghold in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1831 Vallejo was named Commander of the Presidio at San Francisco.

In 1833 Governor Jose Figueroa sent Vallejo north to visit the Russian outposts at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross, and establish Mexican settlements In the fertile valleys north of San Francisco Bay. Vallejo got on well with the Russians and managed to learn a great deal about their operations, but his attempt to place settlers at either Petaluma or Santa Rosa was bloc~ed by Father Gutierrez of Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma.

In 1834, Governor Figueroa gave Vallejo vastly increased powers and sent him north once again. His title was Military Commander and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier, and he was specifically requested to take charge of the mission at Sonoma, reduce it to the status of a parish church, free the lndian workers, and distribute the mission lands and other assets among the population at large. To reward and encourage the bright young army officer, Governor Figueroa gave Vallejo ten leagues of land (44,000 acres) in the Petaluma Valley to develop as a private rancho. This highly productive agrlcultural empire, combined with Vallejo's far-reaching civil and military powers soon made him one of the wealthiest and most influential men in California.

In 1836, a new governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, named Vallejo Commandante General of all Mexican military forces in California, and though this title was later changed, Vallejo remained the undisputed ruler north of San Francisco Bay as long as California remained a Mexican Province. He surveyed and established the Pueblo of Sonoma, gave land grants to private citizens, and directed military affairs. His adobe home on the plaza at Sonoma, La Casa Grande, attracted visitors from throughout the world, and was one of the largest and best furnished private homes in California. Petaluma Rancho prospered greatly, and was increased in size in 1844. Vallejo also accluired the 80,000-acre Rancho Soscol and other lands that brought his total land holdings in 1846 to more than 175,000 acres.

The Turning Point

In 1841 the Russians decided to abandon their outposts at Bodega and Fort Ross. Vallejo looked on this as a personal triumph. At the same time, however, an increasing number of U.S. citizens were beginning to arrive in the weakly held, poorly administered province of California and many people, including Vallejo, began to feel that in the long run U.S. takeover was inevitable. On June 14, 1846, a group of 30 to 40 American frontiersmen took into their own hands. They "captured" the and unresisting Pueblo of Sonoma, "arrested" Vallejo, and had him imprisoned at Sutter's Fort. They announced the establishment of a free and independent Republic of California and raised a new, homemade flag the Bear Flag - over Sonoma. Less than a month later the U.S. flag was raised over California, and in August U.S. officials freed Vallejo and allowed him to return home. To his dismay, however, he found that his rancho had been stripped of its horses, cattle, and other commodities by the Bear Flaggers, and by the free-wheeling American captain, John C. Fremont. Although Vallejo attempted to restructure his affairs to fit the new era, this political and economic setback was only the first of many that haunted his life after the decisive year of 1846.

In 1848 Vallejo was a delegate to California's constitutional convention, and he was elected to the State Senate in 1850. In that same year he offered to donate a 150-acre site and $370,000 worth of buildings to establish a permanent state capitol in a new city he proposed to call "Eureka," but which soon came to be known as "Vallejo." His grandiose plans for the capitol and the new city around it ran into gold-rush-era labor troubles and fell through entirely in 1854 when the legislature grew tired of waiting and decided to establish permanent quarters in Sacramento. This was a serious blow to Vallejo's personal prestige, and to his long-range economic dreams and ambitions. Afterward he limited his political activities to the local level. He was elected Mayor of Sonoma in 1852 arˇld again in 1860. In later years, as his fortune continued to decline, he lived quietly at his home, Lachryma Montis, reading a great deal, writing a five-volume history of Californla's Mexican period, and corresponding with his large family and many friends. He died in 1890 at the age of 82 and was buried in the little cemetery on the hill above Sonoma.