ON the 25th of June, at 2, P. M. came Capt. Fremont with the whole of his forces, amounting to 72 men. Doct. Semple hailed us with joyful greeting, and frankly confessed that a few days since he had no confidence in any man among us capable of conducting the enterprise; but since the event of the 24th he was willing to risk his life anywhere that such a man as Lieut. Ford might lead the way.
Amid the general congratulations of the occasion, Capt. Fremont came up to me, and, without any other salutation, in a sarcastic and commanding tone, (looking me steadily in the face), said, "Who wrote that Proclamation for you ?" and continuing his "stern gaze" a moment, and perceiving that not the least notice was taken of his insolence, he indignantly said, "H-ah !--your name was to it !" and left me as abruptly as he came. The inference to my mind was instantaneous, and to the effect that however I might refuse to expose an accomplice in that offensive act, if there had been one, he was determined that I should not escape his wrath. But in a very few minutes he re-appeared, changing his whole line of attack, and I have every reason to believe that ere this he had changed his whole plan for the "Conquest of California"! But as, in the events of warfare, plans, and especially indefeasible purposes, are subject to alterations and change, no farther notice would have been taken of these trivial demonstrations, had a tithe of his professed devotion to the cause of Independence been genuine.
But to proceed, dear Sir. If you will be patient, I will tell you the whole tale, so far as it came to my personal knowledge; although we have somewhat difference of version from what has been published instead of the truth, about this matter: and if in aught there is exaggeration or mistake, as I said before, the means of correction are at hand. It has been said that "truth should not at all times be spoken"! But we consider the path of truth the only path of safety--ah, and of glory, too! But we will not contend for glory, since, like a shadow it fleeth from its pursuer.
We were about to say, that after a few moments Capt. Fremont came in again, and accosted us in a most civil and graceful manner, this time, (as it became a gentleman)--said he was happy to see and understand that the Proclamation was all it could have been; that every word was as he would have it, so far as it went; that we had done ourselves immortal honor; that in style of diction it would compare favorably with the best writers in the States; and only regreted that we had not made the insult and abuse he*12* had received a part of our grievances :--and went on to say that he would receive it as a great favor, in case Gen. Castro should write or do any act or thing that might call forth another Manifesto, that we would not forget to do him (Fremont) the justice to set forth the insults he had endured at Castro's hand. To this we agreed, and we separated in mutual friendship; at least as sincere as were his unbounded professions of friendship for the success of our labors for unalloyed INDEPENDENCE!
Seeing that we had succeeded in saving the life of William Todd, and as we had learned that about 80 of Castro's men were on duty, this side the Bay, we determined to send a sufficient force to hunt them down so closely as to prevent their re-embarkation across the Bay. Lieut. Ford was sent in command of this expedition, with orders not to turn to the right or left from pursuit, so as to suffer them to escape.
Capt. Fremont said in our hearing that be had come down, not to take any part in the matter; only to see the sport, and explore about the Bay: and that he would be pleased that our party should accompany him--or, that he would be pleased to accompany our party-- which, we cannot certainly say--but so it was they all set out together, and so anxious were all hands to "see the sport", that it was with difficulty we could persuade 75 men to remain to guard the Fort.
On the morning of the 26th this "pleasure" party left--in number amounting to about 134 men.--Large numbers continued to flock to our standard, and to record their names in support of Independence--pledging themselves to support the principles of the Proclamation of the 15th of June.
Before entering upon the doings of the said "pleasure party", it may be well to give an account of all we knew (by report) of Capt. Fremont's operations from the 11th to the 25th of June. And here, as we knew nothing by personal observation, you will compare it with other testimony.
We were informed that Capt. Fremont continued his preparations for his journey to the States until the 17th, when he learned that a party had seized the Fort at Sonoma; and, a it was not reasonable to suppose that Gen. Castro would pass by so small a force as that at Sonoma, to attack the larger force at Johnson's Rancho, more than 100 miles further off, the only chance to provoke that attack, which was, according to his instructions from the Executive Department, to constitute and be, in effect, a Declaration of War, on the part of Mexico, against the United States, was to move down nearer to the liabilities. So, on the 18th he moved to Sutter's Fort, and informed Capt. Sutter that it was necessary to take possession of his Fort, and if he thought fit to yield peaceable possession, it would save the disagreeable necessity of taking it by force. Capt. Sutter gave possession, and Gen. Vallejo and his companions were put under guard there.
Here Capt. Fremont waited for a few days, expecting that the garrison at Sonoma would soon be overthrown, and that the much desired assault upon the United States' Flag would soon be made, to rescue the much loved and esteemed Gen. Vallejo and his friends.
But while preparations for the said attack, and further provision for his journey across the Plains were being made, he received a letter from Lieut. Ford informing him that the men of the garrison had no confidence in the ability of Mr. Ide to manage matters at the Fort at Sonoma; that they were in great danger of being betrayed into the hands of the Spaniards; that such an inference was drawn from the supposition that the Commander had erred in his conditions of peace with the neighboring Spaniards. (At the time this letter was sent we had no knowledge thereof, as it was sent by that weekly messenger that was provided by the hospitality of the Americans, to convey letters from the families of the said prisoners to Gen. Vallejo and companions, and from said prisoners to their families, weekly.).
Intelligence of this was soon communicated to the Commander, and every effort was made to convince the men of the garrison that our interest, as well as moral obligations forbade that we should refuse to others the same rights and liberties that we claimed for ourselves, and that we must not, if we desire the best good of the inhabitants of California, think of laying hold of the right to govern by the iron hand military force, but by the might of such equitable principles as we could plainly show were calculated to unite the masses in one common effort to extend the knowledge and blessings of true Liberty.
Lieut. Ford, (as we were informed by an officer who had seen the said letter) begged Capt. Fremont, by all means, to come down and make his camp in the immediate neighborhood of Sonoma. Whether this letter had pith and pathos sufficient to dissuade Capt. F. from all his public protestations against involving himself, his men or his Government, in any unwarrantable and dishonorable interference in the internal difficulties of the people of a nation then at peace with his Government, (as far as was then known by us), or whether a desire to avail himself of the honor of provoking the Mexican authorities to open the floodgates of that war which fate had destined to be the messenger of peaceful Liberty to so much of the Mexican domain as it might be desirable to "annex" to the Union, in order to obtain, or rather to retain the balance of political power in favor of "the cherished institutions of the South", we will not presume to affirm; but will state distinctly, that up to the 25th, and even to the 5th of July, he had adhered strictly to his neutral plan of provocation, according to what was fully understood among the knowing ones to be in accordance with his private instructions: and what course of conduct could be better calculated to exasperate-- to induce some unthinking agent of Mexican authority (a subaltern of a friar, perchance), to throw an unlucky shot at one of Capt. Fremont's "neutral and unoffending men", and thus to have struck the chord discordant--that had rung the tocsin of war, involving in its consequences a hundred thousand lives! If he who, by the favor of Heaven and persevering study, has seized the lightnings and directed their course, shall be thought worthy the admiration of his surviving race, in how much higher estimation shall he be held, who may introduce a successful mode of conquest, without the shedding of blood--of extending Liberty to the suffering sons of civil oppression and slavery?
But pardon me, dear Sir, and I will return to the narration of another series of events as they occured, and which imperceptibly produced our overthrow.
Perhaps you would have considered the 5th of July the zenith of our glory! Not so, dear Sir. It is true that numbers came pouring in up to the 5th. This continued increase of numbers was the effect of that quiet influence of motives, designs and principles, silently set in motion, which could not be supposed to cease to act, on the commission of the first error, nor yet on any change of the general plan. But you will recollect that no action was had reflecting the least credit to our enterprise, after the arrival of Capt. Fremont at Sonoma: and if we had been ten days in establishing a reputation for our cause, which was capable of enlisting the whole energy of the country in its support, and which did enlist hundreds who had no knowledge of us, except by the one common appeal made to all alike--to enemies as well as to friends--ten days more were fully sufficient to effect an entire revolution, and to divert and change the current of that general interest which none other had power to awaken.
These prefatory remarks bring us to consider the events and circumstances which changed the character of our enterprise, and presented California to the United States as a trophy of that species of conquest that wallows in the blood of murder, or of that ignoble traffic that makes the price of Liberty the price of blood, instead of presenting the same fair land on terms of honorable compact and agreement,-- such as all the world can participate in without loss or dishonor, by the free, frank expression of voluntary consent and good will of the parties.
We will now refer to a little incident illustrative of the feeling of all California, at that time, on this subject. The native Californians were democratic in feeling, scorning subjugation by conquest; but not ignorant of advantages that might have been secured to all California by an amicable union with the United States. After taking the garrison at Sonoma, and after confidence had been established by the equitable course pursued, the highest official officer of the District of Sonoma, on seeing our flag, said to me: "Why did you not raise the United States' flag ?" I said we had no right to do so; that the United States' Government would justly punish us should we do so, and return within its jurisdiction: but that we would raise an Independent Flag, and become a united and free people; and then, by peaceful agreement, unite ourselves to the United States by treaty--and then (and not till then) we would hoist the United States' Flag. He heartily replied, "Buena! then will my people dance all day! !" But such a day of glory to the free institutions of America was not then at hand.---Yes, we would have gladly "danced", also, rejoicing--"Old men and maidens in the dance together", if we might have been allowed to behold the peaceful triumph of just principle, rather than the triumph of Buena Vista and Sierra Gorda!
On the evening of the 28th one of our men intercepted a letter addressed to certain citizens of Sonoma, giving intelligence, that early on the morning of the 30th Gen. Castro would invade Sonoma, and put to death every soul found there, without distinction, except the "Grande Oso", whom they intended to chain and convey to the other side of the Bay, for the amusement of their women and children. All the Spanish people came and requested of me permission to leave the town, which was positively refused. After much unavailing persuasion they ceased to importune; but a short time after a request was presented, that all the women and children, both American and Spanish might be allowed to congregate in one house, and that the Spanish men might be allowed to take shelter in the callaboose. To this we agreed. The women and children were hived in the back apartment of Gen. Vallejo's house; and as the night came on, all were ready for the expected attack. The two 18-pounders, double charged with canister shot, guarded the main entrance, and 7 other pieces of artillery were in using order, and so arranged as to be available at short notice at any point whither an attack might be made. The 250 loaded muskets were divided among the men, and so placed as to be within convenient reach. The rifles, all fresh capped, were ready--the guards were strictly charged, the matches were always burning at night.
About 4, a. m., or a little earlier, our guards came in and reported having heard the tramping of horses in the distance. Every man was called to the position intended. The signal for the fight, the onset, was agreed on. The 18-pounders were first to answer the report of my rifle--each officer had his orders at what particular distance the enemy should be allowed to approach, before he might engage in the fight. And as we well knew that if the enemy were to succeed at all, it would be by a sudden charge; therefore we placed a trusty guard, whose duty it was to reserve each a loaded musket, only to be used in such an emergency. Thus prepared, in less than one minute from the first alarm, all listened for the sound of the tramping horses--we heard them coming! --then, low down under the darkened cañon, we saw them coming!! In a moment the truth flashed across my mind: the Spaniards were deceiving us! In a moment orders were given to the captains of the 18-pounders to reserve fire until my rifle should give the word and, to prevent mistake, I hastened to a position a hundred yards in front of the cannon, and a little to the right oblique, so as to gain a nearer view. "Come back; you will lose your life !" said a dozen voices. "Silence !" roared Capt. Grigsby; "I have seen the old man in a bull pen before to-day!" The blankets of the advancing host flowed in the breeze. They had advanced to within 200 yards of the place where I stood. The impatience of the men at the guns became intense, lest the enemy came too near, so as to lose the effect of the spreading of the shot. I made a motion to lay down my rifle. The matches were swinging-- "My God! they swing the matches !" cried the well known voice of Kit Carson. "Hold on, hold on! we shouted--'tis Fremont, 'tis Fremont !" in a voice heard by every man of both parties, we cried--while Capt. Fremont dashed away to his left to take cover behind an adobe house; and in a moment after he made one of his most gallant charges on our Fort: it was a noble exploit; he came in a full gallop, right in the face and teeth of our two long 18's!
Thus ended this 'glorious' battle; and thus were our plans defeated; and thus escaped those very men who cut in pieces George Fowler and Thomas Cowey, through the disobedience of our orders, else had they have paid the penalty justly due to so inhuman an act. But the officer in charge, on being interrogated the reason why he had not left the Fort to the care of him whose duty and privilege it was to have defended it, until he had punished the murderers of Fowler and Cowey? said "the advice of Capt. Fremont had induced him to forsake the path of duty." The party were immediately ordered back to the pursuit of the flying murderers of Fowler and Cowey; and, after a hearty breakfast, they departed and arrived at the Bay in season to witness the embarcation of Castro's men.
It appeared on investigation, that--First, a letter had been addressed to Sonoma, intended to fall into the hands of the garrison, in the hope that I would recall the men under Ford for the protection of the Fort; but this having failed, the flying Spaniards drew lots among their number, and three men, prepared with letters in their boots, put themselves in the power of their pursuers, threw away their arms and fell on their knees, begging for quarter: but the orders were to take no prisoners from this band of murderers, and the men were shot and never rose from the ground. But notwithstanding one of the men declared with his dying breath, that he expected death--that he came on purpose to die for the benefit of his countrymen; yet Capt. Fremont was either deceived by the letters found in their boots, or he deceived our men, by advising them to forsake the pursuit ;--in either case the stratagem took effect, and the murderers escaped.