A LITTLE after sunrise came Lieut. Missroon, whose every expression indicated that a sad change had come over his mind in relation to the subject of our Independence. He said sorrowfully, that he had been talking with the men of the garrison, and it was thought best not to put out any proclamation; and that something might be done by way of relieving us from our disagreeable situation--but as he continued to speak in sad, sorrowful tones, we tossed the copy of the Proclamation of the 15th we held in our hand, which by its dangling motion caught his eye, despite his sorrowful abstraction of mind. "What have you got in your hand, Sir ?" said he--his voice a little elevated by curiosity. "It is a copy of the Proclamation, Sir; and as it is already published, and as the men of the garrison so seriously disapprove thereof, it is very proper that they should know what it is, that they may be able to provide a timely remedy for the evils it may otherwise cause. Will you be so kind as to take it up to the garrison and read it to them ?" Lieut. Missroon very gravely reached out his hand, without saying a word, and took the copy; his countenance indicating more of sadness and pity than before, as he slowly opened it and began to move his eye along the lines.
This was a moment of horrid apprehension! Was it possible that the men of the garrison were to be taken on board the ship, and all our labor in proving to the world, that we scorned death and danger in any shape, rather than be shown up to the world as a band of Mountain thieves and robbers ? With what indescribable anguish did we trace each kindling emotion in the mind of the Lieutenant, as he slowly and carefully passed his eye to the end of it. But this horrible suspense was of short duration: it required no word of promise, nor word of any kind nothing but the language of the soul, the life of men, was capable of removing the apprehensions which had prompted our mind to the endurance of sleepless vigilance,--which was first quieted the evening before, by the assurances of Capt. Montgomery's letter, that the U. S. officers would not interfere,--to be thus horribly renewed!
Hitherto not a single voice (except Montgomery's) had spoken encouragement--not a man of influence came to our assistance. Four days had passed, and the men of our little garrison were only brave when wound up by the melodious sounds of Liberty and Independence, to become cold and desponding again, as soon as the excitement of action was past. If left to ourselves we would at least prove by our blood poured out, and by our written documents sent abroad, that we were "no base band of robbers, bent on mischief."
But, my dear Wambaugh, we had cherished, in our more cheerful moments, a brighter hope than this. We knew with positive assurance, that the whole country was groaning to be delivered from that excessive tariff taxation that had reduced our exports to less than nothing, and had left us to clothe ourselves, our wives and children in skins or fig-leaves, if we would maintain independence of lordly merchants. We also believed, in all sincerity, that if some man, even an entire stranger, would present us even the hope of a desirable change before the public mind, that one general crowding to the uplifted standard would render all "individual" entreaty and persuasion to adopt our cause unnecessary.
It was therefore that we neither importuned nor begged of a single individual, even to lend a listening ear to our plan! If the whole mass moved not, in answer to our appeal, it was more honorable to die singly and alone, rather than involve others in our fate.
The men of the garrison were already equally involved with ourself--(only, as, perhaps, the head of their leader might ransom them); but not one single man had thus involved himself through any persuasion of ours. Other persons and other motives had tempted them to enter the vortex.---But stop !--We must confess our guilt, as well as plead our innocence!
Truth, like the diamond, is always bright and clear; and the darkest crimes are deprived of half their turpitude by frank confession, and the other half is more than canceled by unfeigned contrition and forsaking. One solitary man (and others may have been in his situation) vehemently, in the anguish of his soul, accused us of having deceived him, and of having thus involved him in rebellion. What have we said, what have we done, thus to deceive? was the anxious inquiry. You were along with them. Guilty, we plead. But we were involved in the consequences we could not suppress. If we could not "gather up the flood in a basket", we might, perchance, run along before it, and, at some favored point, direct its course, and change the evil--the "partial evil"--to "universal good."
Now we were so simple as to suppose that he, whom chance and necessity had placed in the brief and uncertain command of the enterprise--he who had conceived and unwaveringly sustained it--would encounter the applause, the stupid gaze of all the world, by such an act. It was well known that he was charged with entertaining designs more base, more hostile to the interests and wishes of the good people of California, than even the plundering and robbing the house of Gen. Vallejo! He had been charged by Capt. Fremont with being a Mormon, and his scheme was denounced as an artifice to betray the whole country into the hands of the Mormons! and it was known that most of the garrison believed the foul slander !
It was fully known, also, that the men of the garrison had the most unbounded confidence in these United States officers, and that they looked to them for protection; and it was also known that, if the plan of Independence could be suddenly presented to the public, it would enlist the bone and sinew--and it was fondly hoped--the minds of all such as were capable of understanding the difference in favor of conquest, by extending just and benevolent principles of government, and that of violence, bloodshed and political murder. And it was fondly hoped there would at least be found one of noble and upright intentions, who might be willing to wear the honors, while we might still be permitted to perform some part of the labor necessary to the establishment of a government more humane, more honorable, more just and more enduring, and less oppressive, than any government that had hitherto arisen and fallen here in California. We had indeed promised, in behalf of its citizens, union with the land of our birth, at the earliest honorable opportunity--not by the devastation of blood, nor by the more ignoble system of purchase, but by the more exalted principle of universal and equal liberty and freedom of choice by the people; which remains to be more fully explained as we proceed in our narrative.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast;"And hope sprang up in our mind, the moment hope seemed to rise in the mind of the Lieutenant; and hope spake thus: "If he reads it before the garrison, and approves it himself, (and he will read and approve), it will make no difference whether they discover merit in it or not: if he approves they will approve, and we shall find means to circulate it: and when the people begin to flock to the standard, there will be a time for action; the mass will be in motion, and it will be easy to direct it, if no counter current springs up--if no vile interference defeat our aim."
--But the Lieutenant has finished the reading.
With the smile of joy he says: "I will read it to them"! He hastened with a long and bounding step back to the garrison--which said to us, (mentally), "The battle's won; we'll triumph still, in spite of 'fears of Mormonism' !"
Not long after the Lieutenant returned and said: "Every man has approved the Proclamation, and has sworn to sustain its principles !"--and from this moment that instrument became the test by which to approve our friends and condemn our enemies. Joy and animation were enkindled in every heart: even he who had denounced "the damned Mormon as less deserving of respect than a dog", smiled again, and yielded service with cheerfulness and joy, and furnished incontestable evidence that it was best not to have punished with death so trivial an offence as 'Mormonism.'
The first business was to send out the Proclamation, and also a Letter written by our friend, the liberated Alcalde; and a trusty man of known ability was dispatched southward with said copies and letters. Brooker penetrated successfully his way as far as Monterey; gave copies to known and faithful men; spread the copy of the Alcaldes's Letter even within Castro's camp, and the Proclamation was written and re-written, and sent as far as San de Angelos.
It was a fact worthy of note, that within three days of the arrival of the Alcalde's Letter and the Proclamation at Santa Clara, then the Head Quarters of Gen. Castro, more than half of his army deserted. Men were sent in every direction with the Proclamation, and it was not until our men were reduced to nearly one half our original number that we received the first accession to our force.
A party, on the 19th in the afternoon, arrived from the neighborhood of Napa Valley and Cash Creek, and as José Castro had, as early as the 18th, sent out a proclamation calling on all good Californians to unite, and with one bold effort, "fall on and kill the Bears of Sonoma, and then return and kill the whelps afterwards", it was deemed prudent to collect all the unprotected families, and support them within the garrison at the public expense, so long as the services of the husband or father were required for the common security.
It was known that a party of 70 or 80 of Castro's men were "cruising" about our neighborhood, and the danger to unprotected families was imminent; and therefore it became necessary to divide our forces in such manner as that the safety of the garrison should not be endangered.
Accordingly, Capt. Sears, of the "1st Artillery", and Lieut. Ford, commander of the "1st Rifle Company", were left in charge of the Fort, with about 20 men, in addition to those expected and known to be making preparations to join us. Selecting the husbands, fathers and relatives of those defenceless families, the "General in Command" started before the dawn of day, with an escort of 10 men, for the aforementioned purpose. Proceeding cautiously along we discovered, a little after sunrise, a party of about 25 or 27 Spaniards, and made preparation for a meeting, by improving a path on the opposite declivity of the hill, so as approach unobservedly; but our wary opponents disappeared. This circumstance convinced our leader that any attempt to get a fight, (just for a sample of what could be done, so as in the main to avoid bloodshed), could not be effectual, unless the enemy were allowed to have an advantage of 'five to one': and even then a retreat must be feigned. This conclusion he formed from the fact, that he knew that not more than one-third of his small force had been seen by the enemy. The next day (21st) the families were returned in safety.
Gen. Castro's proclamation, which breathed out death and slaughter against even the infant that had a drop of American blood in its veins, greatly assisted us in getting together our forces. Even those who a few days before were unwilling to leave the care of a few calves, were not only ready to leave their stock and ranchos, but their houses and household stuff, and to bring their families, instead of "taking them to the mountains", by by-paths, and in the night-time, to the protection offered by our garrison.
On the 19th of June Thomas Cowey and George Fowler, two young men of peaceful dispositions were sent to Doct. Bails, a distance of about 20 miles, to obtain a keg of powder which had been purchased. They received particular instructions as to the manner of proceeding, and of avoiding danger: but having proceeded more than half way very cautiously, and meeting no enemy, they took the main road, and traveled as at other times. They were discovered and captured without resistance--having trusted the promise of the enemy, that if they would give up their arms, they should receive no harm. They gave them up, and died like martyrs! They were tied to trees and inhumanly cut in pieces, in a manner too horrible to relate. This was the first blood shed in the Conquest of California--an exemplary measure of the consequence awaiting all who might be weak enough to think of retaining life by the surrender of their arms, in a conflict with such an enemy. But this vile act of his gave strength to our nerve, and sharpness to our flint.
On the 21st our force was hourly increasing. All our prisoners in the callaboose had signed the "treaty stipulations", and been discharged; and it is not yet known that any of those Spaniards who made treaty with "the Bear-Flag-Men", ever after violated their engagements.
As our numbers were now somewhat increased, and there were men who had families dependent upon their daily labor for their support, an effort was made to establish some system of monthly pay for the service: but as we had no other means than the securities of the public properties, and none of these were in any manner immediately available, it was foreseen that any system of monthly pay would serve but to increase our financial difficulties: it was resolved that there should not be made any distinction between one man's services and another's, and that no one should be allowed an individual perquisite, except rations for himself and wife, and children under the age of twelve years.
It was further resolved to recommend and pledge ourselves, that there should be given to each man who had not already that amount of land, at least one square league of choice land, as a bounty for which he was to consider himself always bound to defend his rights, in common with his fellow-countrymen; or, to acknowledge himself unworthy of citizenship.
And again: it was resolved that the Mission property should be considered public property, except so much of it as had been properly vested in the several churches; and that all persons who were known to have received any portion of these properties be required to account for the same; and that every transfer of any of this property, wherein a valuable and complete consideration had not passed to some authorized agent of the Mexican Government, shall be considered void. It was considered that these means would be quite sufficient to defray expenses.
On the 23d of June we learned that another of our messengers, (William Todd), had been captured by means of the treachery of a guide that had been employed to conduct him to a settlement on the coast; and great fears were entertained that he would also be cut in pieces, (as the two American young men had been) by the Spaniards who had Todd in custody-- they being 88 strong.
Now it was certain that the only way to rescue Todd, was to get a fight and whip the enemy, and thus enable him to make his escape at the same moment that the enemy should make his escape. At this time we could have met him, man to man, besides guarding our Fort; but to have sent such force after them would have caused the death of our comrade. So, as the only means of the thing sure, our Commander selected, one by one, until there were 18 men in the row. Capt. Ford, then 1st Lieut. of, and in command of the 1st company of Riflemen, was selected to carry into execution the especial Orders of (not "General Fremont", for he knew nothing of the matter), but of another man who was understood, at this time, not to be on the most friendly terms imaginable with that noble officer.
This little band of 19 men, after having been made up, as nearly as possible, on the ratio of 1 to 5 men of the garrison, was especially charged as to the importance of understanding and obeying orders. The design in particular was to save the life of Todd; but the practical utility and importance of properly conducting this manœuvre was set forth in unmistakable terms. The Lieutenant received Orders to "conduct his men cautiously along, without fatiguing the horses, until he should discover himself to the enemy; then halt, and as soon as the enemy began to be in motion, retreat to the nearest clump of trees, and every man get down and tie his horse fast. Then mark out the distance of 100 yards, and let it be understood by every man where the line of the circle shall be, that there may be no mistake.
Then let no man fire before the enemy reach the well-known line. Then be careful to take, each one, your man--but be cautious not all to fire at once, lest they rush upon and cut you to pieces before you can re-load. Make no calculation for mounting your horses, nor for running away. The Spaniards can outrun you, therefore don't fight them by running. Remember that this day is to decide the fate of every one of us! If you do your duty like men this day, and we be faithful to ourselves, and follow up its advantages, you will not be again called on to engage in fight, until the full conquest of all California is achieved. But if, on the other hand, you yield like cowards this day, not a man of us can save his life! And now, if there is a man among you in whom I have been mistaken in thus putting your bravery and good conduct to this severe test, let him speak, and I will fill his place. Will you carry out these orders at the expense of your life, if need be ?" "We will do it!" said the gallant Ford. "Have you a man with you that you cannot trust your life with? Are you all satisfied?
Is every man ready to go and do his duty ?---Then go! and not a man of you will be harmed"--and they bounded away.
There was felt no little anxiety as to the result; especially as we thought the life of Todd was at stake, and his release depended on an entire rout of the enemy. We had heard that Gen. Castro had already crossed the Bay, and as he was allowed, even by his enemies, to be a wiley adversary, it was fully believed that the operations of his advance party, whom Lt. Ford was sent to encounter, were intended to draw out our forces in a western direction, while Castro, with his host (for we were not yet informed of the fact that half of his men had deserted him), would, in that case, suddenly fall upon our defenceless garrison from the east. Therefore it was, that the "Commander-in-Chief" remained at the garrison, and made all necessary preparations for such a movement by Castro: but (as we soon afterwards learned) he had sufficient occupation for his tact at generalship, to keep down and overcome a formidable party that had organized in support of our Proclamation of the 15th, on the south side of the Bay, under the superintendence of Weaver and Bird. Capt. Grigsby, who was first elected Captain before the taking of the Fort, and who resigned through fear of being found in a state of "unauthorized rebellion", came back from a visit to Capt. Fremont's camp, and begged of the men to be reinstated; and was elected captain of the 1st Company of Riflemen; which office he held until the 5th of July.
On the afternoon of the 24th Lieut. Ford came back, bringing Todd with him, and made report to the Commander, in these words:
"I have done exactly as you ordered. We have whipped them, and that without receiving a scratch. We took their whole band of horses, but owing to the fact that about one half of the men retreated with all possible haste, I did not think best to encumber ourselves by taking the whole band. So we only picked out each one a good horse, and thus supplied the place of the horses we had killed, and have come back without bringing the whole band. "Very well done! I did not order you to bring the horses: I only told you that you never mind the killing a few horses, for you would easily get more. You have done all that I expected of you. You have given tone and character to the Revolution. We have only to follow up this example and the work is done."