NATIONS, like individuals, in the course of their history, pass through certain great crises or epochs, which have an important bearing on their future character. These epochs are not regular, but intermittent; and are often the result of what looks like accident; though doubtless, as in the phenomena of vegetation, they have their hidden laws of growth and development.
Hence, on perusing the history of a people you will find periods of expansion which have their origin, to some extent, in the restless, impulsive life of society, and the thirst for acquisition.
An epoch of this character largely affecting the industries, the wealth and the commerce of the American people, occurred in the year 1848, on the discovery of gold in California. Previous to that time emigration to the Far West had been going on, but confined to comparatively small limits; not assuming a general character stimulating large bodies of men. But the marvellous stories spread abroad by the accidental discovery of gold on the American Fork, as it was called, of the Sacramento River, caused the wildest excitement throughout the country. People everywhere, of all classes and conditions of society--artisans, agriculturalists, mechanics, merchants, doctors, lawyers, and even ministers of religion,--were suddenly aroused by dreams of untold wealth. Vessels, crowded with enthusiastic adventurers, sailed from every port in the United States for the newly discovered Eldorado; and hundreds who registered their names for the voyage full of hopeful and cheerful anticipations of the future, went forth only to encounter hardship, disappointment, disease and death.
The course of history takes us back to the local conflicts of the two or three years preceding this period of excitement, which was no doubt hastened in its development by the occurrence of events which form the topic of discussion in this and in several of our succeeding chapters. And, for the better understanding of what is to follow, it may be well for us to take a hasty glance at the civil and political condition of California, at the time when these events occurred. It is well known, that from its first settlement by Spanish adventurers from Mexico, no well-ordered system of national or provincial government had been established. Aristocratic "Dons," originally from Spain, formed a self-constructed oligarchy, by which the few emigrant and native laboring population were oppressed. This lordly race owned, or laid claim to, almost the entire domain of arable land--parcelled out as it was to them in 3-miles-square sections, known among the inhabitants, then and now, as ranchos. The laboring people there were in a condition but little better than that of the serfs of Russia, or the slaves of Virginia, in by-gone times. Common schools and the higher institutions of learning, and houses of public worship (unless there were here and there found at a Romanist "Mission",) were unknown to them.
One of the peculiar grievances to which the emigrants from the States were subjected, was the inhuman and arbitrary exaction by their "Alcaldes,", or sole civil magistrates, of a capita tax, from said emigrants, on taking up their residence among them: and a correspondent of high standing in California, who took a conspicuous part in the troubles of '45, writes the Editor, that Gen. Castro's threatened raid upon them was to compel the payment of this tax.
Hence it will be seen that a state of anarchy and misrule confronted them at every step, and that they could do no less than rise as they did, for self-preservation, and attempt a "Revolution", by which they could "establish law and order where none had existed before."
In the historical course of events, it is now in order to invite the reader's attention to "the large manuscript volume" seen and partially examined by Mr. BOGGS-referred to on page 57. This was probably written during the winter of '46-7; as, during the "gold excitement" of '47-8, Mr. IDE'S time was too much occupied at "the diggings" to admit of his attention to such matters. When it was written is immaterial. After it had lain over 30 years in obscurity--until nearly all the preceding pages of this work were in type--and after the recent decease of his eldest son, James M. Ide, it was found among his (J. M.'s) effects, in a good state of preservation, and a correct copy of it has been placed in the hand of the Editor, and nearly all of it will be found in the succeeding pages.
We have a reasonable guaranty, in the reputation of its writer for honest integrity in all his dealings, of its truthfulness of statement: and it is confidently believed that those of his personal acquaintance who are still alive, and who may be favored with its perusal, will do his memory the justice to disabuse it of any sinister or unworthy motive, in taking the part he and his compeers deemed it necessary to take in their "Revolutionary" movements of '46. We entertain the opinion, furthermore, that when the general reader, unbiased by class, sect, or pre-national prejudice or attachment, shall have thoroughly perused this document, and will take into consideration the situation of the country--the state of anarchy then existing--he will cheerfully admit, that however unmilitary, in the eye of gentlemen skilled in warlike movements, their modus operandi for the accomplishment of the object in view--he will admit, I repeat, that they did accomplish it. And we beg leave to make a further suggestion--viz: that it might have been a problem of difficult solution, for the wisest adept in military science, or even in "path-finding", to inaugurate a different line of proceeding, by which that heterogeneous population of Spanish, Mexican, Indian and Yankee origin could, in less than one Month's time, by the well-directed labors of a handful of men under the direction of an experienced military leader, even, have been brought from a state of bitter antagonism, into that of peaceful subjection to the United States' authority --and that, too, at so trifling a "sacrifice of blood and treasure."
Suppose, for instance, there had been no organized resistance to Castro--that, as would naturally in that case have been the result, had not Mr. IDE, or some one else, promptly moved "among the emigrants," and got up the celebrated, justly "celebrated, BEAR FLAG PARTY" organization, setting at defiance the exterminating Proclamation of Gen. José Castro; and that there had been a cowardly shrinking from self-defence--a "fleeing to the mountains for safety" by some, and a sort of gorilla, hand-to-hand warfare between pioneers and Castro's scouts by others, until they knew of the war between Mexico and the United States; what would then have been the condition of the contending parties?
That such a state of warfare between the natives and emigrants then existed, we respectfully refer the reader to ante-pages 65 and 66*18* for ample proof--where Mr. BOGGS tells us of the barbarous murder of two young Americans; and that Americans, (not of the Bear Flag party), by way of retaliation, killed three peaceful Californians, "who had not taken up arms against them, neither had they taken part in the massacre of the two young Americans." And what is added seems unaccountable: this act of "retaliation" was performed by Kit Carson, with Capt. Fremont's approval.
Had Gen. Castro remained month or two longer than he did, in the undisturbed posession of his fort, arms and military supplies, is it to be doubted that he would not have used them somewhat successfully in his threatened exterminating process? and thus have aroused the retaliatory energies of the U. S. government; so that, when the actual state of war between it and Mexico arrived, much "blood and treasure" would have been expended on both sides in California, before the return of peace. Had there been the Bear Flag movement, or an organized opposition to Castro, and no formal state of war between the U. S. and Mexico, is there any reason to doubt the eventual erection of an Independent Republic on the Pacific Coast? That war existed between the two nations was not known in California, until, by comparatively peaceful measures, this province had been prepared, without the "loss of blood or treasure", to become an "Independent Nation". The "Bear Flag Proclamation", (every word of which, Mr. IDE remarks in his Letter to SENATOR WAMBOUGH, was penned by him on the 15th of June, 1846, between the hours of 1 and 4, A. M.) was the entering wedge, so to speak, that separated a down-trodden people from allegiance to an oppressive oligarchy under which they had groaned from time immemorial. It annunciated principles of government new and attractive. It contained no vindictive or coercive threat; but, on the contrary, was persuasive and conciliatory.
It approached the people as brethren, rather than as enemies. It was sought for, circulated among and read by them so earnestly, that copies of it could not be written fast enough to supply the demands. Its circulation in Castro's camp, it is stated, had the effect to withdraw from it one half (300) of his followers, and convert and transform them into peacable citizens, under the new order of things.
After due consideration of these and other circumstances connected with "the conquest of California", it is submitted to an honest, dispassionate and appreciative posterity to pass upon the validity of William B. Ide's claim to the merit of upright intention, at least, in doing what he did do, towards the "Conquest of California", and the "wisdom or unwisdom" of the measures he adopted to accomplish that object. If he had been an aspirant for fame and high place in governmental affairs, would he have quietly yielded to the adroit manœuvreing and contriving of his "successor, in that General Assembly" he refers to, at the close of his narrative?--by which a "change of Administration" was effected, and "We, who are out of office, may have a chance to get in."
It is deeply regreted that his narrative of those proceedings ends so abruptly. Mrs. Healy thinks her Father gathered the main facts and dates it treats of from a memorandum he kept of events as they occurred, which he carried in his pocket. This memorandum-book, (she says), her brother JAMES was robbed of, --together with a sum of money--on his way to Utah, several years before his decease, and does not doubt that it contained an account of his experience in Fremont's expedition "down the coast", in July, August, September, October and November, 1846: allusion to which by one of his brothers will have been noticed in our preceding pages. And this suggests the idea, that inasmuch as that that "brother's" statement of what Mr. Ide told him about the occurrences under the "Bear Flag Government", during its brief existence, does not essentially differ from the version of the same transactions in his SENATOR WAMBOUGH LETTER, we may conclude that said brother's account of said "expedition" is substantially correct.
Therefore we may give credence, also, to his statement that Commodore STOCKTON, as an authorized officer of his government, formally received the transfer of the Californias to the United States, aboard his ship, by the only governmental authority he then found there; and, in recognition of Mr.Ide's authority as Governor and Commander-in-chief, the Commodore gave him the compliment of a reception, collation, etc., as before stated. And we cite this circumstance as evidence that his services in the cause of order and good government were duly appreciated by that noble officer.
The Compiler of this memorial sketch of an unpretending citizen and early pioneer of California has deemed it due his memory, that his "Letter to Senator Wambough," giving a minute account of the "Bear Flag enterprise," should be placed before the American people, that they may be able to decide the question, whether he, or Capt. Fremont, originated and conducted this 'enterprise' to its successful issue.
We believe the generally received opinion is, that the credit of it is due to Fremont.
This theory we recollect to have heard very unreservedly, advanced by a distinguished public speaker, the Hon. JAMES WILSON, an ex-member of Congress from New Hampshire. He had just returned to resume his residence in his native town, (Keene, N. H.), after an absence of four or five years during the war of the great rebellion, in California, where he no doubt imbibed his views on this question. He gave, in several towns in N. H., very interesting lectures on California--geographical, mineralogical and historical--soon after his return; and, while on the latter named branch of his subject, he stated distinctly before a large audience among whom this writer was an interested listener, that John C. Fremont was the originator and leader of the "Bear Flag Party", and conqueror of California.
After having attentively read the circumstantial statement of the moral, industrial and political aspect of affairs, and the account of that short-lived "embrio Republic", from the pen of Mr. IDE--written, as it undoubtedly was, within a year of its "rise and fall"--the unprejudiced and candid reader will find little ground on which to base said lecturer's theory, except on the presumption that Mr. IDE intentionally misrepresents the whole concern. And we leave it to the dispassionate judgment of posterity to settle the question, as to which of the two most conspicuous "Heroes", the unpretending mechanic, or the renowned "Pathfinder", did the country the most valuable service in the "Conquest of California"?