BEING ever willing to contribute to the pleasure of those with whom I am associated, I am persuaded, although somewhat reluctantly, to comply with your request, by furnishing a detailed account of what is called the "Bear Flag Enterprise" or Revolution--embracing a copy or rehearsal of what was then written, or may still be among my papers; and in such manner as truly to represent any matter or circumstance that may have led to its origin, unexampled success, sudden overthrow, and-- total eclipse.
It will be with much diffidence that I engage in giving an account of the past; which at best can serve but little other good than to awaken curiosity in the mind of some, with scarce the hope of its gratification; while in the mind of others it will not fail to renew the memory of those scenes, and sharpen regret, that time has blunted and robbed of power to sting: but if duty require, I will sacrifice the happiness I choose and enjoy in hidden retirement; and, regardless of consequences, frankly relate occurrences that may lead to a just estimate of the motives and designs of those concerned as actors; being aware that if in aught I am mistaken, the means of correction are at hand.
Then permit me, Sir, to call in requisition your general knowledge of the situation of the two parties in their relation to each other, who were immediately concerned in, and affected by the "Independent Bear Flag Nation"--for in fact it was nothing short of National Independence to which it aspired--I say the two parties, native Mexican citizens and natives of other countries--including, more particularly, recent American emigrants.
Being, on one side, excited to jealousy by the then recent events in relation to Texas, and a manifest disposition of certain American gentlemen to re-enact the like scheme in California; and by a determined resolution on the part of the other side, to assert and maintain the unalienable right of all men to the enjoyment of life, liberty and personal security, and to attain the right of honorable acquisition, use and enjoyment of the comforts of life ;--there were, apparently, two parties; but, in truth and in verity they were one people. They were made enemies by their prejudices and jealousies; but it was as apparent as the face of day that they could be bound in the bonds of mutual friendship by their common interest and common consent and fellowship.
Let us appeal to your own heart, dear Sir: Is it not the interest of all men, everywhere, to be protected by an honorable, just and liberal government?
And again: Do not all men desire for themselves exemption from oppression, and the liberty of justly acquiring, enjoying, possessing, appropriating and bestowing the honest avails of their labor, according to their own pleasure? If so, then men are made enemies by oppression, injustice, jealousies or ignorance. But those who love true Liberty, and abide by the unchanging law of justice, will subdue enemies without protracted violence.
The above granted, it will be more easy, (or less painful), to proceed through the tame and lifeless narrative of simple matters of fact necessary to the formation of an opinion in relation to a matter now no longer of the smallest moment, only as the everlasting, self-evident principles of self-government were concerned, whereby universal peace can only prevail; although the rehearsal can awaken to recollection and measurable endurance, the cares and sleepless solicitude, the far distant hope that promises peace and glory to a Nation as extended as the race of man, because built amid the foundations of that liberty that delighteth itself in the Balance of Truth.
I would, Dear Sir, that another pen than mine might gratify the curiosity, and subserve the interest that has been awakened: but thus to desire is but to shrink from the task your favorable consideration has imposed upon me.
Then be pleased to bear in mind, that prior to the year 1846 the peace, prosperity and quiet of the good citizens of California had been deranged by eight successive Military Revolutions, which had devastated almost entirely the whole country, from San Diego to its northern extremity.
It will be unnecessary to describe in particular this general ruin. It was everywhere apparent--presenting itself sorrowfully, and forcing its consideration upon the minds of all who were capable of perceiving the extent of that cruelty--of that depraved spirit of injustice, tyranny and theft, which had tempted a portion of its most enterprising citizens to abandon the path of common honesty--to listen to the suggestions of the deceptive policy of foreign artifice, and to seek wealth and distinction by seizing, diverting and changing the fatherly, care of government to an engine of rapacious piracy.
Thus, on an occasion like the one I am called on to describe, it was easy to imagine that all good, honest and intelligent citizens of California were tired of this state of continued violence, injustice and misrule.
But, dear Sir, before we bring ourselves to the consideration of the events which gave birth, unexpectedly, to the "Independent Bear Flag Nation", it will be well that we consider the situation, origin and character of the few that were destined to be crushed and annihilated by the fears and jealousies of an apparently well appointed, overwhelming military despotism.--Then, Sir, let us remember that the then recently arrived American emigrants were no Cuban volunteers! They were not enlisted from the lounges of dissipation, nor drilled in the school of political intrigue and dishonesty. They came not to provoke the Mexican authorities to "strike the first blow", in a war sought for the acquirement of that fair and shining land to which they journeyed. They came not equipped and provided with military stores. In short, they came not as enemies but AS FRIENDS CAME THEY, with hearts burning with love of liberty--of that liberty that is founded on the immutable principle of equal justice; that gives an equivalent for what it receives.
They were not, like your modern gold-hunters and squatters, prepared for "fight or flight"; but bearing with them their wives, their children, their flocks and herds--their home, their all at stake; prompted by no groveling desire to obtain something for nothing--to rob, to plunder those they might find possessed of wealth, happiness and peace.
They were collected and banded together, not by any preconcerted scheme of any kind, but by individual enterprise,--by long cherished love of that pure, unadulterated freedom, known only to the just and the brave; to those who, for the sake of peace, plant their foot and build their habitation beyond the reach of political oppression, where nature smiles in holiest loveliness--where there is naught to entice those vile miscreants who prey upon the rights of others.
Then, kind Sir, please imagine the disappointment of those brave men, who, having conquered the difficulties of the untrodden, pathless Sierra Nevada; after having maintained their peace, unstained even by the blood of the untaught savage; and having with toil, privation and watchfulness, known only to those who have endured similar privations--who, having pierced the trackless wilderness, had arrived within sight of the ever shining vales they had thus sought; when, by the intervention of a self-constituted government, heated to madness by jealousies excited by designing emissaries, we were forbidden the usual hospitalities of the country, and ordered to return"!
It is in vain to trouble you further to consider the situation of the newly arrived emigrants, when you remember that 13,000,000 of dollars had been offered and refused for the possession of the Bay of San Francisco, and that the acquisition of the same had been unsuccessfully sought by negotiation for more than fourteen years.
But there was another class of citizens concerned, who were principally of American origin, and constituted about one-tenth of the citizen population of California. They had, in many instances, intermarried and become associated with the native citizens, and enjoyed their common advantages. Indeed, a portion of them had become the merchants and financiers of the country; and thus failed not, in the genuine spirit of Yankeedom, to direct and profit by those political impositions, change of administration, and continued increase of tariff duties, by which, during ten years of increasing distress and ruin, the main body of the people were made miserably poor.
But of this class the mass had fallen among the oppressed; and it appeared to be the pleasure of the more successful, to set the whole community at variance--to increase public expenditure and tariff duties, which constituted their principal stock in trade. Whatever scheme the merchants proposed became the rule of action, for it was claimed they "paid all the people's taxes" !
You cannot fail to remember the preconcerted seizure and ironing of every American, except T. 0. Larkin and a very few others--the plot to scuttle the vessel and throw them all, while in irons, into the Bay of San Diego--the failure of the plot by the humane interposition of the better disposed portion of the native citizens--their subsequent five months' imprisonment at Mexico; and, withal, that those favored merchants, (at least their leader), improved this favorable opportunity to collect inflated demands against these prisoners. It is quite impossible to trace, in written characters, the reflections that crowd the mind, in view of their hypocritical and murderous acts.
While the aforementioned causes, and numerous others of like character, were producing their legitimate fruits--fruits which were prolific of seeds of new dissensions--Captain Fremont came among us; who, after having provoked the assumed authorities of the country, left us to experience the wrath and retaliatory vengeance his acts had engendered.
Immediately after, (about the first day of April, 1846,) Gen. José Castro, naturally humane and generous, caused to be issued and posted up at Sonoma and various other places-- the temporary residences of the newly arrived emigrants--a proclamation, ordering "All foreigners, whose residence in the country was less than one year, to leave the country, and their property and beasts of burden, without taking arms," on pain of death.
It may well be supposed that this proclamation produced no little consternation among the recent emigrants. But the prudence and sagacity of some of the resident (American) citizens prevented much alarm, by proposing to the authorities to call the said emigrants together, and to instruct them orally. This was agreed to, and the citizen Americans were visited, and persuaded their new neighbors to dress themselves decently in California fashion, as far as possible, without loaned articles of clothing, and to attend respectfully and submissively the meeting. Thus cautiously was a meeting and separation effected at Sonoma, without producing a general rupture. But notwithstanding every effort, a large party of young men and two or three women, to escape the much expected scene of blood, left the country for Oregon.
Next came Lieut. Gillespie, who failed not to give cautionary advice in relation to a state of preparedness, on the part of all of U. States origin, but dissuaded from any kind of organization; no, not even in the externals of an "Agricultural Society"; "for such", he said, "is the watchful jealousy of the Spaniards towards the last emigration, that the slightest attempt at organization in any shape, or by any name, would be but the signal for the massacre of the whole of the last emigration." He made known that he should, as soon as possible, recall Capt. Fremont; and suggested that his camp would be the means of temporary protection: or, if matters came to the worst, to effect a retreat to the States.