ANOTHER month rolled on, and Capt. Fremont came not; for the snows were not yet fully melted in the mountain gulches of the Sierra Nevada. The Oregon company were long gone. Forces were every day increasing under Gen. José Castro at San Juan Baptista. Six hundred armed men were known to be foaming out vengeance against a few foreigners.
Everybody spoke of and felt the impending danger--admitted that organization and resistance was desirable; but all agreed that it was impracticable. A want of confidence in the ability of any man among us to conduct such an enterprise was everywhere apparent and fully expressed, and a--a "certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation, that would devour the adversary", should we fail of success, bound and paralized the energy of that portion of our friends who were so miserable as to possess more wealth than they could swallow at a meal. "What was to be done? Were they to risk their lives, and the lives of their wives and children in the fathomless snows of the Sierra Nevada ?" Oh, no, Sir, no. This was impossible: the snows were melted. It was the 6th of June, and all eyes were turned to watch the the approach of Fremont---He came!--the glorious era !-- memorable day !--when it was determined, as we were informed nearly a year after by Col. Benton's letter to Congress, to "Overthrow the government, and conquer California at once!" But pardon me, my dear Wambough, for thus darting away to the consummation of such a scheme, without describing the modus operandi whereby this was to have been, before coming to the subsequent plan of operation by which it was accomplished.
I am requested to give such papers, among my cast-off memoranda, as may be in point: then read: "Notice is hereby given, that a large body of armed Spaniards on horseback, amounting to 250 men, have been seen on their way to the Sacramento valley, destroying the crops, burning the houses, and driving off the cattle. Capt Fremont invites every freeman in the valley to come to his camp at the Butts, immediately, and he hopes to stay the enemy, and put a stop to his"-- (Here the sheet was folded and worn in-two, and no more is found). This document was not signed by Capt. Fremont, nor by any person in his legal company; else it would have been legal evidence of unwarrantable interference in the difficulties brewing in the country which he uniformly and unequivocally declared he should refrain from. This letter came to hand by an Indian "agent", on the 8th of June, between the hours of 10 and 11, A. M.
You may be assured there was no hour of deliberation--not a moment; the horse bounded back to the cabin; the rifle, pistols and ammunition were, by every inmate of the house, produced at the door; one brief sentence gave the parting advice to the fond wife and listening, excited and wondering children, while the blanket was being lashed to the saddle.
Every house in the valley was visited; but not one was found willing to leave his goods, not his wife, (for there were only two within the valley)--and we hastened to the camp of Capt. Fremont, where we arrived at break of day on the 10th, and, by dint of apparent acquiescence, learned "THE PLAN OF CONQUEST"; which was quite simple and easy of accomplishment--and here it is: First, select a dozen men who have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Second, encourage them to commit depredations against Gen. Castro, the usurper, and thus supply the camp with horses necessary for a trip to the States. Third, to make prisoners of some of the principal men, and thus provoke Castro to strike the first blow in a war with the United States. This done, finish the conquest by uniting the forces, and "marching back to the States."
The foregoing constituted the whole of the "first edition" of Capt. Fremont's plan of neutral conquest of California.
And here I would beg a moment's indulgence, that I may the more fully show the true position of the "Bear Flag nation", so far as relates to any influence Capt. Fremont may have had in its origin or organization.
I do not wish to impugn his motives or conduct, but have no doubt he acted honestly in accordance with what he conceived to be the will of his superiors. Nevertheless, we must speak the whole truth, and say that the aforementioned plan was fully presented to us, with the advantages it would bring; to wit: a war between Mexico and the U. S., and the conquest and union of California with them.
Capt. Fremont, while we were alone in his markee, on the evening of the 10th, rehearsed the above plan, humanely providing that none who had anything to sacrifice should be implicated therein; and asked the opinion of his auditor, who said in reply, that "it would be a long time ere he would consent to, or join with, any set or company of irresponsible persons, who first commit an outrage, and then dishonorably leave the country and others to settle the difficulty, or endure its consequences."
Capt. F. remonstrated against this reply; and especially against the reflection of dishonor cast on himself--went on to show that the emigrants had received great indignities from Castro, and would be justified in any measure they might adopt for their safety-- went on to say, that if the emigrants waited to receive the first blow, all hope in resistance would be in vain; and cited, in support of his argument, the seizure of all Americans that had taken place, as herein before mentioned.
I then informed him that no personal reproach was intended; that he, (Fremont), as an accredited American officer, was supposed to act in obedience to his instructions from his superiors; but that we, although beyond the protecting shield of the U. States' flag, still cherished the memory of the AMERICAN NAME, the honor of which was yet dearer to us by far than any rewards of falsehood and treachery dishonorably won. Whereupon Capt. F. became exasperated. Rising hastily he said: "I will not suffer such language in my Camp; it is disorganizing !" and went immediately out.
Thus ended all intercourse, on our part, with Capt. Fremont until the 25th of June, when, in due course of events, his next salutations will be given. A few minutes after his departure Mr. King came into the markee, and politely invited us to another tent, and very soon commenced asking: "Suppose the men succeed in taking the horses, what will you in that case propose to be done?" The reply was, "When the breach is once made that involves us all in its consequences, it is useless to consider the propriety of the measure. We are too few for division. In for it, the whole man! Widen the breach, that none can stand outside thereof. Down on Sonoma! Never flee the country, nor give it up while there is an arm to fight, or a voice to cry aloud for Independence.
But let truth and honor guide our course. The United States may have cause of war against Mexico; but that is nothing to us. We have cause of war and blood--such as it is impossible for the United States to have received." "Good !" cried Mr. King, and ran out to repeat the sentiment. "Good! Hurrah for Independence !" cried the whole camp; and several persons, among whom was KIT CARSON, begged of Capt. Fremont their discharge from the service of the exploring expedition, that they might be at liberty to join us. This was preemptorily refused. Fremont, in my hearing, expressly declared that he was not at liberty to afford us the least aid or assistance; nor would he suffer any of his men to do so; that he would not consent to discharge any of them, as he had hired them expressly for, and needed their assistance on his journey over land to the States; that he had not asked the assistance of the emigrants for his protection; that he was able, of his own party, to fight and whip Castro, if he chose, but that he should not do so, unless first assaulted by him; and that positively he should wait only for a supply of provisions,--two weeks at farthest, when he would, without further reference to what might take place here, be on his march for the States."
Scarcely were these statements made, ere it wits reported and acclaimed: "The horses are coming !"--and on they came! All was animation in the camp. Capt. Merritt (for it was understood it was he who was to be the leader of this little band of heroes), made report that he had followed his instructions, as given by the "advice" of Capt. Fremont, and had surprised the guards and captured the whole band of 250 horses--had offered to give back the arms of the guard; and, for "fair play", to fight the battle over again, at 50 or 100 yards distance. This favor being refused, he had generously given each man his arms and two horses; and boldly directed the released prisoners to tell Gen. Castro "if he wanted his horses, to come and take them."
This conduct was highly applauded by Capt. Fremont, (who, a moment before, would not and dare not, on his honor, offer us the least protection or assistance). The said horses were acknowledged to be the rightful property of the twelve men who so valiantly had captured, them, and were delivered over to the care of Capt. Fremont for safe keeping, while their new owners might acquire new spoils in the direction of Sonoma.
It was 12 at night, and all possible haste was made to be off, as it was known that the men who had been imprudently released would, in all probability, separate and spread intelligence of the rising of the emigrants, and of the taking of government horses, in every direction; and it was more than probable, that the garrison at Sonoma might be alarmed, rather than surprised.