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Roman Catholic

Californio (historic and regional Spanish for "Californian") is a term used to identify a Spanish-speaking, mostly Roman Catholic people, or of Latin American descent, regardless of race, born in California from the first Spanish colonies established by the Portolá expedition in 1769 to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, in which Mexico ceded California to the United States. Descendants of Californios are also sometimes referred to as Californios. The much larger population of indigenous peoples of California were not Californios because they were not native Spanish-speakers. Neither were the significant numbers of non-Spanish-speaking California-born children of resident foreigners.

The military, religious and civil components of pre-1848 Californio society were embodied in the thinly populated presidios, missions, pueblos and ranchos.[1] Until they were secularized in the 1830s, the twenty-one Spanish Missions of California, with their thousands of more or less captive native converts, controlled the most (about 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km2) per Mission) and best land, had large numbers of workers, grew the most crops and had the most sheep, cattle and horses. After secularization, most of the Mission lands were divided up into new ranchos and granted to Mexican citizens (including many Californios) resident in California.

The Spanish colonial and later Mexican national governments encouraged settlers from the Northern and western provinces of Mexico, as well people from other parts of Latin America, most notably Peru and Chile, to settle in California. They encouraged new settlers to become Spanish and/or Mexican citizens, including suggested conversion to the Roman Catholic Church.

Society and customs


Alta California ("Upper California") was nominally controlled by an appointed governor. The governors of California were appointed under the auspices of the Viceroyalty of New Spain nominally under the control of the Spanish kings and after 1821 by the approximate 40 Mexican Presidents of Mexico from 1821 to 1846—the Mexican governments were notoriously unstable.

The instability of the New Spain (Mexican) government made governing the large area but small population in Alta California difficult, confusing and usually neglected as almost isolated Alta California contributed little if anything to the tax collectors. The cost of the Alta California government (what little there was) was borne by a roughly 40-100% import tariff collected at the entry port of Monterey, California. The United States conquered and annexed the thinly settled territories of Alta California, New Mexico and what later became the territories of several states in 1846–1848 during the Mexican–American War and paid $15 million for the territory.

As a creation of the Spain's monarchical State Church system, Spanish California society was joint structure that was hierarchical and authoritarian. The governor was appointed by the Viceroy in New Spain (Mexico) or later by Mexican President in Mexico City. The California Governor usually united in himself the military, executive, legislative and judicial powers common in a monarchical system. Communication time, distance and interest of viceroy, commandante general, audencia or President meant the appointed governor usually had a free hand. Under the governor the captains of presidios and commisonados were under his direct control. The 5-10 soldiers at each of the Spanish Missions of California were nominally under the control of the two (or more) friars there. These soldiers were used to maintain order in the Missions, enforce Mission discipline and run down and recapture runaway Mission Indians. The alcaldes of the small pueblos (towns) nominally held local executive and judicial control in local matters.

Ethnic Variety

Californios included the descendants of agricultural settlers and retired escort soldiers from what is today Mexico. Most were of mixed backgrounds, usually Mestizo (Spanish and Native American) or mixed African-American and Indian backgrounds. Despite the depictions of the popular shows like Zorro, very few Californios were of "pure" Spanish (Peninsular or Criollo) ancestry. Most with unmixed Spanish ancestry were Franciscan priests and a few officers probably less than 5% of the Californio population.[2] According to mission records (marriage, baptisms, and burials) as well as Presidio roster listings, several soldiers (soldados de cuero) operating as escorts, mission guards, and other military duty personnel were described as europeo (i.e. born in Europe), while most of the civilian settlers were indeed of mixed origins (criollo, coyote, mulatto, etc.). The term "mestizo" was rarely if ever used in mission records, the more common terms being "indio", "europeo", "mulatto", "coyote", "castizo" and other caste terms. An example of the number of European-born soldiers includes all of Pedro Fages' Catalan Volunteers and most of the men on the Portola-Serra Expedition of 1769 who were recruited from the Spanish Army infantry regiments, then stationed in Mexico. How many of them stayed in California is unknown.


The other center of power was the Franciscan Missionaries in the Missions under the father president who often resisted the powers of governor. The governor largely gave the approval for where and when Missions were built.[3]

Family and education

The family was characteristically patriarchal, with the son of whatever age, deferring to his father's wishes. Women had full rights of property ownership and control unless she was married or had a father—the males had almost complete control of all family members.[3] There was no formal education system in California. The few that knew how to read or write had to learn from hired private tutors or their parents. Since few of their parents knew how to read or write the number that knew how to read and write was only a few hundred.[1]


The Spanish colonial government, and later, Mexican officials encouraged people from the northern and western provinces of Mexico like Sonora to settle in California—but California's isolation and the lack of support were severe barriers to colonization. Many of the wives of officers considered California to be a cultural wasteland and a hardship assignment. Most of California's early settlers were retired soldiers with a few settlers from Mexico. Since it was a frontier society, the initial ranchos built were characterized as rude and crude—little more than mud huts with thatched roofs. As the rancho owners, after several years' occupancy, got further ahead these residences were often upgraded to bigger adobe structures with tiled roofs. Today, when they are "restored" they are, in most cases, much grander than they ever were during the Californio period.[4]

The concession of land

Before Alta California became a part of the Mexican state in 1821, about 30 Spanish land grants had already been granted (at little or no cost) in all of Alta California nearly all to "a few friends and family of the Alta California Governors." (see NOTE) The 1824 Mexican General Colonization Law established rules for petitioning for land grants in California; and by 1828, the rules for establishing land grants were codified in the Mexican Reglamento (Regulation). The Acts sought to break the monopoly of the Catholic Franciscan missions while paving the way for additional settlers to California by making land grants easier to obtain. When the Missions were secularized in 1834–1836 the Mission property and livestock were supposed to be mostly allocated to the Mission Indians.[4] NOTE: In fact, historical research shows that the majority of ranchos were the result of land given to retired non-commissioned soldiers. The largest grants to Nieto, Sepulveda, Dominguez, Yorba, Avila, Grijalva, and other founding families were examples of this practice.

Ideology of the Criollos

After agriculture, cattle, sheep and horses were established by the Missions, Friars, soldiers and Mission Indians the Rancho owners dismissed the Friars and the soldiers and took over the Mission land and livestock starting in 1834—the Mission Indians were left to survive however they could. The rancho owners tried to live in a grand manner similar to what he believed the rich hidalgos in Spain lived. They expected the rest of the population to support them in their lifestyle. Nearly all males rode to where ever they were going at nearly all times making them excellent riders. They indulged in many fiestas, fandangos, rodeos and roundups as the rancho owners often went from rancho to rancho on a large horse bound party circuit. Weddings, christenings, and funerals were all "celebrated" with large gatherings.[4]


In practice nearly all Mission property and livestock were taken over by the about 455 large Ranchos of California granted by the Californio authorities. The Californio rancho owners claimed about 8,600,000 acres (35,000 km2) averaging about 18,900 acres (76 km2) each. This land was nearly all distributed on former mission land within about 30 miles (48 km) of the coast. The Mexican land grants required the owner to develop the land; the grants were provisional for five years or until a ranch was established. The ranchos often had imprecise boundaries and sometimes conflicting ownership claims. The boundaries of each rancho were almost never surveyed and marked and often depended on local landmarks that changed over time. Some Ranchos were later determined to have been granted after the Californio's surrender in January 1847 and used post-dated documents to try to establish an existing ownership.[4]

The taxes of the Catholic Church

Since the government (what little there was) depended on import tariffs (also called Custom duties and ad-valorem taxes) for its income there was virtually no property tax—the property tax when introduced with U.S. statehood was a big shock. As nominally good Catholics all were expected to pay 10%, the Diezmo, a compulsory payment to the Catholic Church of one tenth of the fruits of agriculture or animal husbandry, business profits or salaries. This tax was collected by the government who took a share of it for their trouble. Priest salaries and Mission expenses were paid out of this money or collected goods. While the Spanish Missions of California were being founded (1769–1821) the Spanish monarchy (state) financed all additional expenses, not covered by the diezmo, till the Diezmo collections were large enough to cover expenses. Later, after the Missions began to prosper, many Spanish governments borrowed money from the Catholic Church to support their officials and laws.[4]

Frequency of use of horses

There were so many horses that they were often left, after being broken in, to wander around with a rope around their neck for easy capture. It was not unusual for a rider to use one horse till it was wore out and then swap his gear to another horse—letting the first horse free to wander. Horse ownership for all except a few exceptional animals were almost community property. Horses were so common and of so little use that they were often destroyed to keep them from eating the grass needed by the cattle. California Indians later developed a taste for horse flesh as food and helped keep the number of horses under control.[4] An unusual use for horses was found in shucking wheat or barley. The wheat and its stems were cut from the gain fields by Indians bearing sickles. The grain with its stems still attached was transported to the harvesting area by solid wheeled ox-cart[5] (about the only wheeled transport in California) and put into a circular packed earth corral. A herd of horses were then driven into the same corral or "threshing field". By keeping the horses moving around the corral their hoofs would, in time, separate the wheat or barley from the chaff. Later the horses would be allowed to escape and the wheat and chaff were collected and then separated by tossing it into the air on a windy day as the wind carry the chaff away. Presumably the wheat was washed before use to remove some of the dirt.[6]

The Indian work force

For these very few rancho owners and their families, this was the Californio's Golden Age; for the vast majority it was not golden. Much of the agriculture, vineyards and orchards established by the Missions were allowed to deteriorate as the rapidly declining Mission Indian population went from over 80,000 in 1800 to only a few thousand by 1846. Fewer Indians meant less food was required and the Franciscan Friars and soldiers supporting the Missions disappeared after 1834 when the Missions were abolished (secularized). After the Friars and soldiers disappeared many of the Mission Indians deserted the Missions and returned to other tribes or found work elsewhere. The new Ranchos often gave work to some of the former Mission Indians. The Indians worked for room, board and clothing (and no pay. The ranchos got the former Mission Indians to do the majority of the work herding cattle and planting and harvesting the Californios' crops. The slowly increasing Ranchos and Pueblos at Los Angeles, San Diego, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) mostly only grew enough food to eat and to trade. The exception were the cattle and horses who grew wild on unfenced range land usually originally owned by the Missions and were killed for their hide and tallow.[7]

Leather and food

Leather, one of the most common materials available, was used for a wide variety of products, including saddles, chaps, whips, window and door coverings, riatas (leather braided rope), trousers, hats, stools, chairs, bed frames, etc. Leather was even used for leather armor where soldiers' jackets were made of several layers of hardened leather sewn together. This stiff leather jacket was sufficient to stop most Indian arrows and worked well when fighting the Indians. Beef was a common constituent of most Californio meals and since it couldn't be kept long in the days before refrigeration a beef was often slaughtered to get a few steaks or cuts of meat. The property and yards around the ranchos were often marked by the large number of dead cow heads, horns or other animal parts. The cow hides were kept for later trading purposes with Yankee or British traders who started showing up once or twice a year after 1825. Beef, wheat bread products, corn (maize), several types of beans, peas and several types of squash were common meal items with wine and olive oil used when they could be found. The mestizo population probably subsisted mostly on what they were used to: corn or maize, beans, and squash with some beef donated by the rancho owners. What the average Native Americans ate is unknown since they were in transition from a hunter gatherer type society to an agricultural one. Formerly, many lived at least part of the year on ground acorns, fish, seeds, wild game, etc. It is known that many of the ranchers complained about Indians stealing their cattle and horses to eat.[7]


From about 1769 to 1824 California averaged about 2.5 ships per year with 13 years showing no ships coming to California. These ships brought a few new settlers and supplies for the pueblos and Missions. Under the Spanish colonial government rules, trade was actively discouraged with non-Spanish ships and the few non-Indian people living in California had almost nothing to trade—the Missions and pueblos were subsidized by the Spanish government. The occasional Spanish ships that did show up were usually requested by the Californios and had Royal permission to go to California—bureaucracy in action. Prior to 1824, when the newly independent Mexico liberalized the trade rules and allowed trade with non-Mexican ships, the occasional trading ship or U.S. whaler that put in to a California port to trade, get fresh water, replenish their firewood and obtain fresh meat and vegetables became more common. The average number of ships from 1825 to 1845 jumped to 25 ships per year versus the 2.5 ships per year common for the prior 50 years.[7]

The Californio rancho society had few resources except large herds of Longhorn cattle which grew well in California. The Ranchos produced the largest cowhide (called California Greenbacks) and tallow business in North America by killing and skinning their cattle and cutting off their fat. The cowhides were staked out to dry and the tallow was put in large cowhide bags. The rest of the animal was left to rot or feed the California grizzly bears then common in California. With something finally to trade, and needing everything from nails, needles and almost anything made of metal to fancy thread and cloth that could be sewn into fancy cloaks or ladies' dresses, etc., they started trading with merchant ships from Boston, Massachusetts, Britain and other trading ports in Europe and the East Coast of the United States. The trip from Boston, New York City or Liverpool England averaged over 200 days one way. Trading ships and the occasional whaler put in to San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, San Pedro, San Buenaventura (Ventura), Monterey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco) after stopping and paying the import tariff of 50-100% at the entry port of Monterey, California. These tariffs or custom fees paid for the Californios' government, what little there was of it. The classic book Two Years Before the Mast (originally published 1840) by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. gives a good first-hand account of a two-year sailing ship sea trading voyage to California which he took in 1834-5. Dana mentions that they also took back a large shipment of California longhorn horns. Horns were used to make a large number of items in this time period. (The eBook of Two Years Before the Mast is available at Gutenberg project.[8] and at other sites.) California was not alone in using the import duty to pay for its government as the U.S. import tariffs at this time were also the way the United States paid for most of its Federal Government. A U.S. average tariff (also called custom duties and ad valorem taxes) of about 25% raised about 89% of all Federal income in 1850.[9]


Early colonization

In 1769, Gaspar de Portolà and his under 200 men expedition founded the Presidio of San Diego (military post), and on July 16, Franciscan friars Junípero Serra, Juan Viscaino and Fernando Parron raised and 'blessed a cross', establishing the first mission in upper Las Californias, Mission San Diego de Alcalá.[10] Colonists began arriving in 1774.

Monterey, California was established in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra and Gaspar de Portolà (governor of Baja and Alta California (1767–1770), explorer and founder of San Diego and Monterey). Monterey was settled with about two friars and 40 men and served as the capital of California from 1777 to 1849. The nearby Carmel Mission, in Carmel, California was moved there from Monterey to keep the Mission and its Mission Indians away from the Monterey Presidio's soldiers. It was the headquarters of the original upper Las Californias Province missions headed by Father-President Junípero Serra from 1770 until his death in 1784—he is buried there. Monterey was originally the only port of entry for all taxable goods in California. All ships were supposed to clear through Monterey and pay the roughly 42% tariff (customs) on imported goods before trading anywhere else in Alta California. The oldest governmental building in the state is the Monterey Custom House and California's Historic Landmark Number One.[11] The Californian, California's oldest newspaper, was first published in Monterey on 15 August 1846 after the city's occupation by the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron on 7 July 1846.[12]

Late in 1775, Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led an overland expedition over the Gila River trail he had discovered in 1774 to bring colonists from Sonora New Spain (Mexico) to California to settle two missions, one presidio, and one pueblo (town). Anza led 240 friars, soldiers and colonists with their families. They started out with 695 horses and mules and 385 Texas Longhorn bulls and cows—starting the cattle and horse industry in California. About 600 horses and mules and 300 cattle survived the trip. In 1776 about 200 leather-jacketed soldiers, Friars, and colonists with their families moved to what was called Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) to start building a mission and a presidio there. The leather jackets the soldiers wore consisted of several layers of hardened leather and were strong enough body armor to usually stop an Indian arrow. In California the cattle and horses had few enemies and plentiful grass in all but drought years and essentially grew and multiplied as feral animals—doubling roughly every two years. They partially displaced the Tule Elk and pronghorn antelope who had lived there in large herds previously.

Anza selected the sites of the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asís in what is now San Francisco; on his way back to Monterey, he sited Mission Santa Clara de Asís and the pueblo San Jose in the Santa Clara Valley but didn’t initially leave settlers to settle them. Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, the sixth Spanish Mission, was founded on June 29, 1776, by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu (a companion of Junípero Serra), both members of the 1775–1776 de Anza Expedition.

On November 29, 1777, El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (The Town of Saint Joseph of Guadalupe now called simply San Jose) was founded by José Joaquín Moraga on the first pueblo-town not associated with a Mission or a military post (presidio) in Alta California. The original San Jose settlers were part of the original group of 200 settlers and soldiers that had originally settled in Yerba Buena (San Francisco). Mission Santa Clara, founded in 1777, was the eighth mission founded and closest mission to San Jose. Mission Santa Clara was three miles (5 km) from the original San Jose pueblo site in neighboring Santa Clara. Mission San José was not founded until 1797, about 20 miles (30 km) north of San Jose in what is now Fremont.

The Los Angeles pobladores ("townspeople") is the name given to the 44 original settlers, 22 adults and 22 children, who founded the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781. The pobladores were agricultural settler families from Sonora, Mexico. They were the last settlers to use the Anza trail as the Quechans (Yumas) closed the trail for the next 40 years shortly after they had passed over it. Almost none of the settlers were españoles (Spanish); the rest had casta (caste) designations such as mestizo, indio, and negro. Some classifications were changed in the California Census of 1790, as often happened in colonial Spanish America.[13]

The settlers and escort soldiers who founded the towns of San José de Guadalupe, Yerba Buena (San Francisco), Monterey, San Diego and La Reina de Los Ángeles were primarily mestizo and of mixed Negro and Indian ancestry from the province of Sonora y Sinaloa in Mexico. Recruiters in Mexico of the Fernando Rivera y Moncada expedition and other expeditions later, who were charged with founding an agricultural community in Alta California, had a difficult time persuading people to emigrate to such an isolated outpost with no agriculture, no towns, no stores or developments of almost any kind. The majority of settlers were recruited from the northwestern parts of Mexico. The only tentative link with Mexico was via ship after the Quechans (Yumas) closed the Colorado River's Yuma Crossing in 1781. For the next 40 years, an average of only 2.5 ships per year visited California with 13 years showing no recorded ships arriving.

In a frontier society, casta (caste) designations did not carry the same weight as they did in older communities of central Mexico. The significant criterion was the concept of the gente de razón, a term literally meaning "people of reason". It designated peoples who were culturally Hispanic (that is, they were not living in traditional Indian communities) and had adopted Catholicism. This served to distinguish the Mexican Indio settlers and converted Californian Indios from the barbaro (barbarian) Californian Indians, who had not converted or become part of the Hispanic towns.[14] California's Governor Pío Pico was descended from mestizo and mulato (mulatto) settlers.

The end of Mexican rule

In the 1830s the newly formed Mexican government was experiencing difficulties having gone through several revolts, wars, and internal conflicts and a seemingly never ending string of Mexican Presidents. One of the problems in Mexico was the large amount of land controlled by the Catholic Church (estimated then at about one-third of all settled property) who were continually granted property by many land owners when they died or controlled property supposedly held in trust for the Indians. This land, as it gradually accumulated, was seldom sold as it cost nothing to keep but could be rented out to gain additional income for the Catholic Church to pay its priests, Friars, Bishops etc. and other expenses. The Catholic Church was the largest and richest land owner in Mexico and its provinces. In California the situation was even more pronounced as the Franciscan Friars held over 90% of all settled property supposedly in trust for the Mission Indians.

In 1834 secularization laws[15] were enacted that voided the mission control of lands in the northern settlements under Mexican rule. The Missions controlled over 90% of the settled land in California as well as directing thousands of Indians in herding livestock, growing crops and orchards, weaving cloth, etc. for the Missions and the presidios and pueblo (town) dewellers. The Mission lands and herds formerly controlled by the Missions were usually distributed to the settlers around each Mission. Since most had almost no money the land was distributed or granted free or at very little cost to friends and families (or those who paid the highest bribes) of the government officials.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, for example, was reputed to be the richest man in California before the California Gold Rush. Vallejo oversaw the secularization of Mission San Francisco Solano and the distributions of its roughly 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km2). He founded the town of Sonoma, California and Petaluma, California, owned Mare Island and the future town site of Benicia, California and was granted the 66,622-acre (269.61 km2) Rancho Petaluma, the 84,000-acre (340 km2) Rancho Suscol and other properties by Governor José Figueroa in 1834 and later. Vallejo's younger brother, Jose Manuel Salvador Vallejo (1813–1876), was granted the 22,718-acre (91.94 km2) Rancho Napa and other additional grants known as Salvador's Ranch.[16] Over the hills of Mariano Vallejo's princely estate of Petaluma roamed ten thousand cattle, four to six thousand horses, and many thousands of sheep. He occupied a baronial castle on the plaza at Sonoma, where he entertained all who came with most royal hospitality and few travelers of note came to California without visiting him. At Petaluma he had a great ranch house called La Hacienda and on his home farm called Lachryma Montis (Tear of the Mountain), he built, about 1849, a modern frame house where he spent the later years of his life.

Vallejo tried to get the California State Capital moved permanently to Benicia, California on land he sold to the state government in December 1851. It was named Benicia for the General's wife, Francisca Benicia Carillo de Vallejo. The General intended that the prospective city be named "Francisca" after his wife, but this name was dropped when the former city of "Yerba Buena" changed its name to "San Francisco" on 30 January 1847. Benicia was the third site selected to serve as the California state capital, and its newly constructed city hall was California's capitol from February 11, 1853 to February 25, 1854. Vallejo gave the 84,000-acre (340 km2) Rancho Suscol to his oldest daughter, Epifania Guadalupe Vallejo, April 3, 1851, as a wedding present, when she married U.S. Army General John H. Frisbie. It is unknown what he gave as a wedding present when his two daughters Natalia and Jovita married the brothers Attila Haraszthy and Agoston Haraszthy on the same day—June 1, 1863.

In some cases particular Mission land and livestock were split into parcels and then distributed by drawing lots. In nearly all cases the Mission Indians got very little of the Mission land or livestock. Whether any of the proceeds of these sales made its way back to Mexico City is unknown. These lands had been worked by settlers and the much larger settlements of local Native American Kumeyaay peoples on the Missions for in some cases several generations. When the Missions were secularized or dismantled and the Indians did not have to live under continued Friar and military control they were left essentially to survive on their own. Many of the Native Americans reverted to their former tribal existence and left the Missions while others found they could get room and board and some clothing by working for the large ranches that took over the former Mission lands and livestock. Many natives who had learned to ride horses and had a smattering of Spanish were recruited to be become vaqueros (cowboys or cattle herders) that worked the cattle and horses on the large ranchos and did other work. Some of these rancho owners and their hired hands would make up the bulk of the few hundred Californios forces fighting in the brief Mexican-American war conflicts in California. Some of the Californios and California Indians would fight on the side of the U.S. settlers during the conflict with some even joining the California Battalion.

Mexican Governors of California

The Californios had a succession of Mexican appointed governors who nearly all either died in office or were driven from office. Many of governors appointed by Mexico proved to be mediocre, autocratic and indifferent to Californio concerns or needs and were driven from office. The native Californio governors were usually self-appointed and acted as governor pro tempore till Mexico heard about the previous Governor's death or ouster and they could appoint a new governor or approve the existing governor—often a slow process. The Californios had such poor luck with Mexican troops (often unpaid convicts) and Mexican appointed governors that many resented Mexican interference in what they considered their internal affairs.

  • List of Governors
  • 1822-1825: Luis Antonio Argüello (born in San Francisco, he was the first native-born Californio to govern Alta California)
  • 1825-1831: José María de Echeandía Mexico appointed; first of two terms
  • 1831-1832: Manuel Victoria Mexico appointed; forced from office after one year
  • 1832: Pío Pico native-born Californio, native of San Diego and favored British acquisition of California, moved capital from Monterey to Los Angeles
  • 1832-1833: Agustín V. Zamorano a secretary to Manuel Victoria and was governor pro tempore of northern California. and José María de Echeandía Echeandía reappointed governor pro tempore but could only gain control of southern California. Both were only temporary appointments
  • 1833-1835: José Figueroa Mexico appointed; started secularization of Missions; died in office
  • 1835: José Castro Californio; governor pro tempore
  • 1836: Nicolás GutiérrezMexico appointed; governor pro tempore
  • 1836: Mariano Chico Mexican governor expelled from office after three months and exiled to Mexico
  • 1836: Nicolás Gutiérrez Mexico appointed; governor pro tempore reassumed office
  • 1836-1837: Juan Bautista Alvarado Californio; ousted Gutierrez
  • 1837-1838: Carlos Antonio Carrillo Californio governor pro tempore
  • 1838-1842: Juan Bautista Alvarado Californio, reassumed office
  • 1842-1845: Manuel Micheltorena Mexico appointed governor came in with 300 troops and served from December 30, 1842 until his ouster in 1845 when he and his troops (most unpaid convicts) were driven back to Mexico.
  • 1845-1846: Pío Pico Californio, reassumed office
  • 1846-1847: José María Flores Mexican Army officer, secretary to Micheltorena, fled California when Mexican American War started
  • 1847: Andrés Pico Californio, commanded Californio lancers against General Kearny, provisional governor of rebellion, signed Treaty of Cahuenga 12 January 1847 ceasing strife in California.

The Mexican–American War

Prior to the Mexican–American War the Californios forced the Mexican appointed governor, Manuel Micheltorena, to flee back to Mexico with most of his troops. Pío Pico, a Californio, was the governor of California during the conflict.

The Pacific Squadron, the United States Naval force stationed in the Pacific was instrumental in the capture of Alta California in the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848 after war was declared on 24 April 1846. The American navy with its force of 350-400 U.S. Marines and "bluejacket" sailors on board several U.S. Naval ships near California were essentially the only significant United States military force on the Pacific Coast in the early months of the Mexican–American War. The British navy Pacific Station ships in the Pacific had more men and were more heavily armed than the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron, but did not have orders to help or hinder the occupation of California. New orders would have taken almost two years to get back to the British ships. The Marines were stationed aboard each ship to assist in ship-to-ship combat, as snipers in the rigging, and to defend against boarders. They could also be detached for use as armed infantry. In addition, there were some "bluejacket" sailors on each ship that could be detached for shore duty as artillery crews and infantry, leaving the ship functional though short handed. The artillery used were often small naval cannon converted to land use. The Pacific Squadron had orders, in the event of war with Mexico, to seize the ports in Mexican California and elsewhere along the Pacific Coast.

The only other United States military force in California at the time was a small exploratory expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont, made up of 30 topographical, surveying, etc. army troops and about 25 men hired as guides and hunters. The Frémont expedition had been dispatched to California, in 1845, from the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers.

Rumors that the Californio government in California was planning to arrest and deport many of the new residents as they had in 1844 led to a degree of uncertainty. On June 14, 1846 thirty-three settlers in Sonoma Valley took preemptive action and captured the small Californio garrison of Sonoma, California without firing a shot and raised a homemade flag with a bear and star (the "Bear Flag") to symbolize their taking control. The words "California Republic" appeared on the flag but were never officially adopted by the insurgents. The present Flag of California is based on the original "Bear Flag."

Their capture of the small Californio garrison in Sonoma was later called the "Bear Flag Revolt".[17] The Republic's first and only president was William B. Ide,[18] whose administration lasted twenty-five days. On June 23, 1846, Frémont arrived from the future state of Oregon's border with about 30 soldiers and 30 scouts and hunters and took command of the "Republic" in the name of the United States. Frémont began to recruit a militia from among the new settlers living around Sutters Fort to join with his forces. Many of these settlers had just arrived over the California Trail and many more would continue to arrive after July 1846 when they got to California. The Donner Party were the last travelers on the trail in late 1846 when they were caught by early snow while they were trying to get across the Sierras.

Under orders from John D. Sloat, Commodore of the Pacific Squadron, the U.S. Marines and some of the bluejacket sailors from the U.S. Navy sailing ships USS Savannah with the Cyane and Levant captured the Alta California capital city of Monterey, California on 7 July 1846. The only shots fired were salutes by the U.S. Navy ships in the harbor to the U.S. flag now flying over Monterey. Two days later on 9 July, USS Portsmouth, under Captain John S. Montgomery, landed 70 Marines and bluejacket sailors at Clark's Point in San Francisco Bay and captured Yerba Buena (now named San Francisco) without firing a shot.

On July 11 the British Royal Navy sloop HMS Juno entered San Francisco Bay, causing Montgomery to man his defenses. The large British ship, 2,600 tons with a crew of 600, man-of-war HMS Collingwood, flagship under Sir George S. Seymour, also arrived at about this time outside Monterey Harbor. Both British ships observed, but did not enter the conflict.[19]

Shortly after July 9, when it became clear the US Navy was taking action, the short-lived Bear Flag Republic was converted into a United States military occupation and the Bear Flag was replaced by the U.S. flag. Commodore Robert F. Stockton took over as the senior U.S. military commander in California in late July 1846 and asked Frémont's force of California militia and his 60 men to form the California Battalion with U.S. Army pay and ranks with Fremont in command. The California "Republic" disbanded and William Ide enlisted in the California Battalion, when it was established in late July 1846, as a private.

The first job given to the California Battalion and was to assist in the capture of San Diego and Pueblo de Los Angeles. On 26 July 1846 Lt. Col. J. C. Frémont's California Battalion of about 160 boarded the sloop USS Cyane, under the command of Captain Samuel Francis Du Pont, and sailed for San Diego. They landed 29 July 1846 and a detachment of Marines and blue-jackets, followed shortly by Frémont's California Battalion from Cyane, landed and took possession of the town without firing a shot. Leaving about 40 men to garrison San Diego, Fremont continued on to Los Angeles where on 13 August, with the Navy band playing and colors flying, the combined forces of Stockton and Frémont entered Pueblo de Los Angeles, without a man killed nor shot fired. U.S. Marine Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie, Frémont's second in command, was appointed military commander of Los Angeles with an inadequate force from 30 to 50 California Battalion troops stationed there to keep the peace.

In Pueblo de Los Angeles, the largest city in California with about 3,000 residents, things might have remained peaceful, except that Major Gillespie placed the town under martial law, greatly angering some of the Californios. On 23 September 1846, about 200 Californios under Californio Gen. José María Flores staged a revolt, the Siege of Los Angeles, and exchanged shots with the Americans in their quarters at the Government House. Gillespie and his men withdrew from their headquarters in town to Fort Hill which, unfortunately, had no water. Gillespie was caught in a trap, badly outnumbered by the besiegers. John Brown, an American, called by the Californios Juan Flaco,[20] meaning "Lean John", succeeded in breaking through the Californio lines and riding by horseback to San Francisco Bay (a distance of almost 400 miles (640 km)) in an amazing 52 hours where he delivered to Stockton a dispatch from Gillespie notifying him of the situation. Gillespie, on 30 September, finally accepted the Californio terms and departed for San Pedro with his forces, weapons, flags and two cannon (the others were spiked and left behind). Gillespie's men were accompanied by the exchanged American prisoners and several non-Californio residents.[21]

It would take about four months of intermittent sparing before Gillespie could again raise the same American flag originally flown over Los Angeles. Los Angeles was retaken without a fight on 10 January 1847.[22] Following their defeat at the Battle of Providencia, the Californio government signed the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended the war in California on 13 January 1847. The main Californio military force, known as the Californio lancers, was disbanded. On January 16, 1847, Commodore Stockton appointed Frémont military governor of U.S. territorial California.

Some Californios fought on both sides of the conflict (U.S. and Mexico). The battlefield memorials attest to the heroic fight and loss on both sides.

Californio battles

Most cities in California surrendered without a shot being fired on either side. What little fighting that did occur usually involved small groups of disaffected Californios and small groups of soldiers, marines or militia

The war campaign in California ended on January 13, 1847, after the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga.

Californios after U.S. annexation

In 1848, Congress set up a Board of Land Commissioners to determine the validity of Mexican land grants in California. California Senator William M. Gwin presented a bill that, when approved by the Senate and the House, became the Act of March 3, 1851.[23] It stated that unless grantees presented evidence supporting their title within two years, the property would automatically pass back into the public domain.[24] Rancho owners cited the articles VIII and X of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, wherein it guaranteed full protection of all property rights for Mexican citizens—with an unspecified time limit.[25][26]

Many ranch owners with their thousands of acres and large herds of cattle, sheep and horses went on to live prosperous lives under U.S. rule. Former commander of the California Lancers Andrés Pico became a U.S. citizen after his return to California and acquired the Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando ranch which makes up large part of what is present day Los Angeles. He went on to become a California State Assemblyman and later a California State Senator. His brother former governor of Alta California (under Mexican rule) Pío Pico also became a U.S. citizen and a prominent ranch owner/businessman in California after the war. Many others were not so fortunate as droughts decimated their herds in the early 1860s and they could not pay back the high cost mortgages (poorly understood by the mostly illiterate ranchers) they had taken out to improve their lifestyle and subsequently lost much or all of their property when they could not be repaid.

Californios did not disappear. Some people in the area still have strong identities as Californios. For instance, numerous people descended from the Sepulveda family meet and keep in contact via the Internet. Thousands of people who are descended from the Californios have well-documented genealogies of their families.

The history of Californios has fueled the politically volatile issues of the La Raza movement by some Chicano activists, who depict Mexican Californios or Hispanics as the state's original people. They discount the claims to this status by the approximate 50,000 to 80,000 indigenous peoples, such as Coast Miwok, Ohlone, Wintun, Yokuts and other Native American ancestors. Many of these tribes' ancestors inhabited the California region for thousands of years before European contact.

Other Californio descendants claim they had an integrated society of Mexicans, Indians, Mestizos and American immigrants, which had evolved over 77 years beginning with the founding of Misión San Diego in the Alta California territory in 1769.

The developing agricultural economy of California allowed many Californios to continue living in pueblos alongside Native peoples and Mexicanos well into the 20th century. These settlements grew into modern California cities, including Santa Ana, San Diego, San Fernando, San Jose, Monterey, Los Alamitos, San Juan Capistrano, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Arvin, Mariposa, Hemet and Indio.

From the 1850s until the 1960s, the Californios (of Spanish, Mexican and regional Native American origins) lived in relative autonomy. They practiced a degree of social racial segregation by custom, while maintaining Spanish-language newspapers, entertainment, schools, bars, and clubs. Cultural practices were often tied to local churches and mutual aid societies. At some point in the early 20th century, the official recordkeepers (census takers, city records, etc.) began grouping together all Californios, Mexicanos, and Native (Indio) peoples with Spanish surnames under the terms "Spanish", "Mexican", and sometimes, "colored"; some Californios even intermarried with Mexican Americans (those whose ancestors were refugees escaping the Mexican Revolution in 1910).

Californio identity today

Alexander V. King has estimated that there were between 300,000 and 500,000 descendants of Californios in 2004.[27]

Notable Californios

Californios in literature

  • Richard Henry Dana, Jr., recounted aspects of Californio culture which he saw during his 1834 visit as a sailor in Two Years Before the Mast.
  • Joseph Chapman, a land realtor noted as the first Yankee to reside in the old Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1831, described Southern California as a paradise yet to be developed. He mentions a civilization of Spanish-speaking colonists, "Californios", who thrived in the pueblos, the missions, and ranchos.
  • They could not compete economically with the European and Anglo-American immigrants who arrived in the region with large amounts of cash.

A portrayal of Californio culture is depicted in the novel Ramona (1884), written by Helen Hunt Jackson.

The fictional character of Zorro has become the most identifiable Californio due to short stories, motion pictures and the 1950s television series. The historical facts of the era are sometimes lost in the story-telling.

See also

Culture, race and ethnicity

History and government



  • Beebe, Rose Marie and Robert M. Senkewicz (2001). ISBN 978-1-890771-48-5.
  • Beebe, Rose Marie and Robert M. Senkewicz (2006). Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848. Berkeley: Heyday Books, The Bancroft Library and the University of California.
  • Bouvier, Virginia Marie (2001). Women and the Conquest of California, 1542–1840: Codes of Silence. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-2446-4
  • Casas, María Raquél (2007). Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820–1880. Reno: University of Nevada Press. ISBN 978-0-87417-697-1
  • Chávez-García, Miroslava (2004). Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-2378-8
  • Gostin, Ted (2001). ISBN 978-0-9707988-0-0
  • Haas, Lisbeth (1995). ISBN 978-0-520-08380-6
  • Heidenreich, Linda (2007). ISBN 978-0-292-71634-6
  • Hugues, Charles (1975). , The Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1975, Volume 21, Number 3
  • Hurtado, Albert L. (1999). ISBN 978-0-8263-1954-8
  • Mason, William Marvin (1998). The Census of 1790: A Demographic History of California, Menlo Park, California: Ballena Press. ISBN 978-0-295-98083-6
  • Osio, Antonio Maria; Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz (1996) ISBN 978-0-299-14974-1
  • Pitt, Leonard and Ramón A. Guttiérrez (1998). ISBN 978-0-520-21958-8
  • Ruiz de Burton, María Amparo; Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita (2001). ISBN 978-1-55885-328-7
  • Sánchez, Rosaura (1995). ISBN 978-0-8166-2559-8
  • The editors of Time-Life Books (1976). The Spanish West. New York: Time-Life Books.

External links

  • , a personal website
  • Pitti, José; Antonia Castaneda and Carlos Cortes (1988). Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California. California Department of Parks and Recreation, Office of Historic Preservation.
  • Guide to the Amador, Yorba, López, and Cota families correspondence. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.
  • Guide to the Orange County Californio Families Portrait Photograph Album. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.
  • A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas at Arlington
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