JUST about sunrise on the 11th of June, '46, thirteen mounted men, armed with rifles and pistols, crossed the Sacramento River, a little below, or at the mouth of Feather River. Much time was spent in procuring fresh horses, and no accessions were made to our forces that day. We supped at Gordon's, on Coche Creek, who gave us a bullock; but was too deeply interested in our enterprise to join our party just then. At night we groped our way over the mountain pass, and ere the sun had become oppressive, we were safely at the Rancho of Major Barnard. He, also, allowed us to kill and eat a fat bullock, but like the other dear friends, was too fond of the goods of this life, seriously to think of dying in defence of others.
Here or hereabouts were a considerable number of newly arrived emigrants, and the day was spent in obtaining recruits. Much time was spent in procuring as many as swelled our number to thirty-two; and on the 13th, at 11, P. M., sleep and drowsiness were on the point of delaying, if not defeating our enterprise. We were 36 miles from Sonoma. The sleepless energy of some arroused their companions by representing the danger of delay, and half an hour's debate turned the scale in favor of immediate action, and all put for Sonoma for dear life, as fast as our jaded horses could carry us, so, if possible, to arrive there by a rough path away from the traveled road, before the day-light gave notice of our approach.
And now, dear Sir, as it will be some little time before we get there, I will improve the time to state the views of the party as to the object of their intended visit.
It will be borne in mind that none of this party, save myself, were present when the sentiment of INDEPENDENCE was so heartily cheered in the camp under the Nevada mountains; nor was it reasonable to suppose that any of them were informed by any of Capt. Fremont's men, that his plan was to provoke an attack on Castro's camp, before he left for the States, to take along with him the offenders, to save them from certain destruction. It was known that Capt. F. possessed the unbounded confidence of those twelve men, and also that most of them desired to avail themselves of the opportunity for a safe return to the States, in the service of the United States, at $60 per month for the trip. The subject of Independence was only talked of as an event that might occur; and no one of them seemed to understand that the taking of Sonoma formed any part of our errand there.
And, moreover, Capt. Fremont, who is allowed to be proverbially cautious and prudent, gave his directions--or rather "advice",--in such manner as to avoid legal testimony in any matter of interference in California politics, (which he invariably and solemnly disavowed) that it was impossible to prove, authoritatively from him responsibility for any line of conduct by our party; but every one, (especially those of the "twelve"), seemed, as if by intuition, to understand that our only business was to capture and convey to Fremont's camp Gen. M. G. Vallejo, Don Salvadore Vallejo, Col. Prudshon and Capt. Jacob P. Leese, if practicable, and if not, to drive off another band of horses, or commit any other act of violence, in its nature calculated to provoke pursuit and attack in the proper quarter.
Fully impressed with the importance of this mission of benevolence and good will towards the sleeping and unsuspecting gentlemen to whom we were about to pay our respects, we took timely precaution to swear certain of our number against the commission of violence against either of those gentlemen. This step was considered proper, as we were aware there were certain breathings of vengeance against some of them, in the minds of a few of our party.
It was known that Doct. Semple, who was an active and conspicuous leading man of the host, was in favor of Independence, instanter; but we knew of none willing to push the measure.
Under these circumstances it was thought prudent not to broach the subject generally, until some crisis should call the principle into immediate action.
Thus circumstanced, we arrived at Sonoma; and, after reconnoitering the place, and notifying our friends of our object in seizing the aforesaid gentlemen, and having secured the captain of the guard whom we found a little way out of town, we surrounded the house of Gen. M. G. Vallejo just at daybreak, on the 14th. William Merritt, Doct. Semple and Mr. Knight, (who took wise care to have it understood on all hands that he was forced into the scrape as an interpreter), entered the house to secure their prisoners.
Jacob P. Leese, an American by birth, and brother-in-law of Gen. Vallejo, who lived near by, was soon there, to soothe the fears, and otherwise as far as possible assist his friends. Doct Salvadore was also found there, and Col. Prudshon was also soon arrested and brought there. After the first surprise had a little subsided, as no immediate violence was offered, the General's generous spirits gave proof of his usual hospitality--as the richest wines and brandies sparkled in the glasses, and those who had thus unceremoniously met soon became merry companions; more especially--the weary visitors.
While matters were going on thus happily in the house, the main force sat patiently guarding it without. They appeared to understand that they had performed all the duty required of them, and only waited, that the said prisoners might be prepared and brought forth for their journey, and---waited still. The sun was climbing up the heavens an hour or more, and yet no man, nor voice, nor sound of violence came from the house to tell us of events within: patience was ill, and lingered ill. "Let us have a captain," said one--a captain, said all. Capt. Grigsby was elected, and went immediately into the house. The men still sat upon their horses--patience grew faint; an hour became an age. "Oh! go into the house, Ide, and come out again, and let us know what is going on there!" No sooner said than done. There sat Doct. S., just modifying a long string of articles of capitulation. There sat Merritt--his head fallen: there sat Knight, no longer able to interpret; and there sat the new made Captain, as mute as the seat he sat upon. The bottles had well nigh vanquished the captors. The Articles of Capitulation were seized hastily, read and thrown down again, and the men outside were soon informed of their contents. Pardon us, dear Doctor--we will not make an exposition. It is sufficient to say, that by the rule of opposition, they gave motion and energy to the waiting mass, and all that was necessary was to direct the torrent and guide the storm.
No one hitherto in authority had thought of seizing the fortress, or disarming its guard. Capt. Grigsby was hastily called, and the men demanded of him that the prisoners should be immediately conveyed to the Sacramento valley.
Capt. G. inquired, "What are the orders of Capt. Fremont in relation to these men?" Each man looked on his fellow, yet none spake. "But have you not got Capt. Fremont's name in black and white to authorize you in this you have done?" cried the enraged Captain-- and immediately we*09* demanded, that if there were any one present who had orders from him, either written or verbal, he declare the same. All declared, one after another, that they had no such orders. Thereupon the Captain was briefly but particulary informed, that the people whom he knew had received from Gen. Castro, and others in authority, the most insolent indignities--had been, on pain of death, ordered to leave the country; and that they had resolved to take the redress of grievances into their own hands; that we could not claim the protection of any government on earth, and were alone responsible for our conduct; that-- (Here the Captain's "fears of doing wrong" overcame his patriotism, and he interrupted the speaker by saying, "Gentlemen, I have been deceived; I cannot go with you; I resign and back out of the scrape. I can take my family to the mountains as cheap as any of you"--and Doct. S. at that moment led him into the house. Disorder and confusion prevailed.
One swore he would not stay to guard prisoners--another swore we would all have our throats cut--another called for fresh horses, and all were on the move--every man for himself; when the speaker [Mr. Ide] resumed his effort, raisin- his voice louder and more loud, as the men receded from the place, saying: "We need no horses; we want no horses. Saddle, no horse for me. I can go to the Spaniards, and make FREEMEN of them. I will give myself to them. I will lay my bones here, before I will take upon myself the ignominy of commencing an honorable work, and then flee like cowards, like thieves, when no enemy is in sight. In vain will you say you had honorable motives! Who will believe it? Flee this day, and the longest life cannot wear off your disgrace! Choose ye! choose ye this day, what you will be! We are robbers, or we must be conquerors!"--and the speaker in despair turned his back upon his receding companions.
With new hope they rallied around the desponding speaker--made him their Commander, their Chief; and his next words commanded the taking of the Fort. Joy lighted up every mind, and in a moment all was secured: 18 Prisoners, 9 brass cannon, 250 stands of arms, and tons of copper, shot, and other public property, of the value of 10 or 1200 dollars, was seized and held in trust for the public benefit.
Arrangements were immediately made for putting the garrison in a complete state of defence.
Tools suitable for fortification, and for supplying a well of water within our walls; and a liberal stock of provisions were procured on contract--pledging the public property now in possession for future payment. But that portion of our forces who still adhered to the "neutral conquest" plan, with the four gentlemen, the aforementioned prisoners at Sutter's Fort, were allowed to remain under the protection of Capt. Fremont, where every comfort was granted them that their situation allowed.
Thus and so was the "Independent Bear Flag Republic" inaugurated. Other circumstances might be given; but not to change its character. What dear friend of Capt. Fremont will hereafter claim that the taking of Sonoma, or the hoisting the Independent Flag, or any other act that grew out of the same, constituted any part of his plan for the conquest of California? If any of those twelve men who took the horses had have had any idea that Fremont desired the seizure of the garrison, think you they would have sat on their horses more than two hours, within pistol shot of the Fort, and never thought of taking possession of it? Or think you that if Capt. F. had designed the capture and hoisting the Independent Flag, he would not have so instructed his three champions, who were the leaders of this force, up to the very moment of the recalling the scattering soldiers, and the appointment of the Commander by the people, who ordered the taking of the Garrison?