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California Once Was Part of Mexico

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When Mexico attained its Independence from Spain in 1822 all Americans were excited. It was nearly the Fiftieth Anniversity of American Independence and now Independence was raging through Latin America like a prairie fire. Americans rightly looked at this as following its example. And Americans expected great things of these newly Independent countries. It would be a new New World.

Americans expected great things of Mexico. At the time of Independence Mexico had a larger population in an even larger land area. Mexico had more resources, the wealth of large silver mines, a more organized government and what seemed like unlimited potential.

Even by 1840 many European countries expected the U.S. to lose any war with Mexico. So it was a surprise when in 1846 the U.S. invaded Mexico, defeated its army and took what is now the American Southwest. England and France may have known of Mexico's weakness, both their ships patrolled the west coast to take advantage of any opportunity to grab California for themselves.

Mexico did not follow the US Model. Instead began a series of Dictatorships lasting to today. Violence was the key to change of power. Corruption was the purpose of power.

Simon Bolivar had said, "Creating revolution in Latin America is like plowing the Ocean." He was right and he has been right ever since.

Jed Smith's trip, despite the difficulties, showed that overland travel was possible to California. He also showed how weak the control of the central government was. The authorities were afraid of a few dozen Americans because they were tough, they were superb marksmen and they were fearless. Further, the Mexicans did not venture too far North or even into the San Juaquin Valley because of their fear of the Indians. Smith's men had good reason to fear Indians, having fought the Sioux, Crow, Snake and the Blackfeet, but they took risks and did not let their fear stop them. Many of the Mountain Men saw how good the farmland was and how the Mexicans saw no reason to use it.

The local Mexicans called the mountains the "Chalk Mountains" leading Smith and his men to believe they had never visited the mountains to learn the white color was due to snow. Their reports were important.

Ashley was the head of the Beaver Trapping Company who sent Smith and his men. Ashley was an important figure. A former Governor of Missouri, Ashley knew important people. Ashley's interest was the money to be made from trapping beaver. But he told others of the opportunities offered in California.

Richard Henry Dana arrived in California as a Seaman in the 1830s. His Father had signed him on as and ordinary Seaman for two years to get him to pay more attention to his studies. His ship sailed to California. He was one of the first educated men to visit California and write about his experiences. He thought his book would be an indictment of the rigors of sailing. It has become a classic story and the first source of information on life in California. He wrote about how pleasant but backward California was. "Imagine what it would be like if populated by intelligent and energetic people," he wrote.

Smith and then Dana showed Mexico's weakness to Americans who believed they were destined to head west. Americans were settling the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. They were fighting the Indians for the land and were winning. They viewed the Indians as being stronger than the Mexicans.

The Texas War of Independence set a model for the Californians to follow. Texans were mostly Americans and European immigrants accepted Mexican Citizenship and Catholicism as a small price to pay for the fine land available. They expected to become a State of Mexico but the Mexicans wanted to rule them from the Capitol as they did California. The Texans tired of the corrupt dictators who ruled Mexico and them.

This approach to Government annoyed the immigrants in general but it was especially galling to the American settlers. They knew a better governnment was possible.

The central Government placed greater restrictions on the Texans increasing the disatisfaction. In the mid 1830s immigration from the U.S. into Texas was increasing. Many tried to follow the severe restrictions set by the central Government. Finally, in Goliad, Mexican troups tried to arrest immigrants and they resisited. There was a fierce fight but the immigrants could not win. Hundreds of American's surrendered with the understanding that they would be imprisoned and tried. Instead the Mexican soldiers took them from jail for execution. Hundreds of the American prisoners were killed. The few who escaped, often with the help of Mexicans, told of the massacre arousing Texans and Americans. This was the most barbaric event in Texas history and set the stage for the War for Texas Independence and later the war of the U.S. with Mexico.

General Santa Ana was the dictator of Mexico at the time. He led the Mexican troups fighting the rebels in Texas. It was he who ordered that no prisoners be taken at the Alamo. He lost the Battle of San Jacinto where he was forced to agree to Texas independence. He was deposed after he lost Texas and also because he raised taxes mostly to support his corrupt rule.

Texas began as a Republic and grew while Santa Ana was out of power. Santa Ana was returned to power because no one else could rule in Mexico. He began to threaten Texas forcing the U.S. to warn Mexico that any attack on Texas would be war. In 1846 This war began.

Texas was the model envisioned for California by both those who were loyal to Mexico and those who were for independence. General Vallejo understood Mexico couldn't keep California. He had requested the government send more settlers because he knew California was under-populated. Mexicans would not go to the wilds of California. Only prisoners were sent and they were offered pardons if they went to California. The Californians told the Mexican Government to stop sending criminals. So immigration from Mexico stopped.

But the Californians needed someone to come. The Americans were able to do what the Californians could not do. They could run stores, set up credit and operate ships. More and more Americans arrived by land and by sea. "No matter where they settle, Americans create a little bit of heaven," said General Vallejo.

Mexico had no control over California. The Rancheros were ruled through governors from southern California. The central government had not been able to send an able Governor so the Rancheros selected their own and Mexico let them rule themselves.

The local rulers were mildly corrupt, there not being much tax money to squander. But there was money from foreign governments interested in taking over California. Governor Pico in Los Angeles favored France while the local Commandant, Castro, favored England.

The increasing numbers of Americans, still outnumbered by Mexicans, favored annexation to the U.S. as did many Mexicans in California.

The Californians did not wait for war between the U.S. and Mexico. They were forced to take action not knowing whether there was war or not. The Bear Flag Republic was proclaimed about two months before news of the declaration of War arrived.