I am reading a book about Military Governments in California in 1846-1849 by Theodore Grivas, Associate Professor of History Sonoma State College, published by The Arthur H. Clark Co. Glendale, CA. 1963. This book and a few others are giving me the understanding of what the governing forces were like during the days when California was under Mexican rule. I am working/writing a novel that takes place during this time. Interestingly enough under the Mexican rule of California, thirty-six years after Mexico gained independence from Spain in September 16, 1810, the ruling government was known as an occupation government. Mexico was very spread out after the Conquistadors had overrun the country and the Spanish throne took over, and later the Missionaries governed according to the rules of the Spanish crown. In the 1840s as the settlers were moving to California, there was favoritism given to some of the Mexican citizens in regards to land grants. Interestingly enough under Mexican rule, the land grants could be possessed and owned by women singly or if their husbands died, they assumed the title of the land. Also under Mexican laws, land grants could be passed down in the families to children and grandchildren. These were all positive reasons to own land in California during those years and, subsequently, following the Mexican rule, these allowances were the underlying basis for the American land ownership once California became a state, in 1850.
To back track a little, during the mid-1840s much lawlessness occurred under some of the Mexican Generals, Micheltorena was one who had brought up jailed Mexicans from central Mexico to use as troops, but some of them became unruly and this instilled fear and retaliatory clashes with the new settlers and the Californios. It became more and more of an uneasy society with livestock constantly being commandeered and taken by the Mexican authorities, which only fueled the new settlers to take action among themselves to secure their lands, and create their own civilian militias. Also the Native Americans were in the middle of this crisis also, having their migratory summer and winter lands occupied first by the Spanish and subsequently by the Mexican land owners. Alta California was then seized as the Mexican War waned with the Americans winning and annexing the land. Alta California continued to be a military government where American military personnel generals and colonels were ushered in to rule over common citizens, who were known as the Californios, the new settlers and the Indigenous peoples. These military governors were: Commodore Sloat, Commodore Stockton, Colonel Fremont, Colonel Mason, General Stephen Kearny and General Bennet Riley. Incidentally, all of these individuals have a street named after them in San Francisco, CA.
Even though people believe that California was initially ruled by civil authorities, quite the contrary, the government was officiated by military rule under Mexican occupation and later by the American naval and army personnel. While California was undergoing civil unrest war skirmishes occurred in 1846, starting with the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, against the Mexican government controlled by General Vallejo in Sonoma, Captain John Sutter, Sutter’s Fort (Sacramento), General Castro in Monterey, California, and General Pio Pico in Los Angeles. There was thought that the United States was beginning to start procedures for a takeover to unite the two California territories of Alta and Baja California and bring it into Statehood, as one territory state. The Americans succeeded in taking Alta California and creating a boundary line where it is today with Baja and along the seventeen miles of the Colorado River where it borders Arizona and Mexico.
What is fascinating to me is that “military control” was how early California was governed. Within the Constitution of the United States there is a provision that the President of the United States and the Governors could enact martial law. “It is considered temporary in times of enemy invasion or disaster where local authority is rendered useless. When martial law is put into play it overrides all forms of government, and civil laws are suspended until control is given back to the local authorities. Authorization for martial law and or military intervention is from the Constitution of the United States which provides for the operation and dispatch of a militia and allows it to execute laws of the Union. Last, but not least, it grants the President wide powers as commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States as proclaimed by the President by virtue of his powers as commander in chief.” In 1846, Commodore Sloat had to hold back his fleet until he was sure that Mexico and California were at war with each other. What this boils down to is that he had to wait two extra months at sea with his fleet before he could land his naval troops to march on Monterey and he did succeed to take it over on July 7, 1846. They hoisted flags in San Francisco under Captain John D. Montgomery, in Sonoma, at Sutter’s Fort and in San Jose. Although to the occupants of Alta California, which my ancestors were part of the settlement of early California, this takeover was considered by Commodore Sloat, as friendly to bring peace to its inhabitants with rights and privileges as citizens of the United States. It was further stated that those who wish to leave California would have time to dispose and sell their properties. At this time also Commodore Sloat offered the judges, alcaldes and civil magistrates to retain their offices until such time the transfer of power can be done civilly. He also proclaimed all persons holding title to land and real estate shall have their titles and rights guaranteed to them. This was not exactly how it went down, because my ancestors had to prove their Mexican land grants and it took years to prove the ownership patents under the terms and conditions of the new laws of the United States. However, what stuck was the fact that lands owned under Mexican rule could be transferred to children and grandchildren.
While land grants were offered in early California and Spanish California, each grant of land had to follow certain rules of the land to be planted, the condition of a water source, cattle maintained, cultivation of the land, and some parts of the property was left to be natural, as well as to have a system for water collection as the rains came. It was a plan of self sustainability. Each land grant had certain characteristics that were recognized as boundaries and it was fenced in, haciendas were built and occupied in order to comply with the Mexican rule, as well as all citizens had to become Mexican citizens and convert to Catholicism. As the lands were passed down to family members over time or sold, some of these divisions of land are still recognized to this day, and some of the characteristics of the land boundaries are still maintained. The landscape looks much different than from that earlier period in California’s history as much of the land has been built upon for towns, cities and industrial farmlands. California has had a diverse history, and most of the time it has been self-perpetuating and sustainable as the Central Valley has been the food basket of the country and much of the produce is flown to other parts of the world as well. There is a water canal system that diverts water from the northern section of California to feed into the canals to Southern California. We have enjoyed heavy rains and huge winter snowpacks for over a hundred years, but as we have discovered besides the periods of El Nino, warmer climatic changes are occurring. We know this is a fact, because the usual winter fog which bathes the valley fruits has been non-existent for some time, and the cherries have suffered for this lack of moisture. The winter snowmelt changes from year to year, and sometimes it barely exists, so in turn the rivers don’t carry as much fresh mountain water down through the valley and the salt from the Bay Area finds its way up the delta and creates a briny salty backwater along the levies which has caused the cherries in various parts of the San Joaquin Valley to not develop as robustly as previous years. The water table in the San Joaquin has dropped perilously low in the last one hundred years. Rains haven’t been coming as regularly and it is a concern of mine and others that we must make sure we bring about the right conservation of the land and water, as well as make changes for further self-sustainability, such as my idea of building desalination plants for water maintenance. Perhaps other farming techniques should be explored and used. It seems that the Ag-businesses could begin a new venture in vertical farm technology. It is thought that this technology uses less water and less soil to grow vegetables. These are important sustainability ideas that need to become the mainstay and echo of the original thoughts of our forefathers under the Spanish and Mexican regimes.
I think it was timely to read about the occupation of California, the laws of being a land owner and creating sustainability within each land grant, while settling in our early history here. We are a diverse community in both Northern and Southern California, united in our own unique ways, with the fabric that holds us all together as one people, because we all once were immigrants! We all have sweat equity that we have put into creating our lives here in building businesses, and in supporting businesses. We are one great State, and right now we are trying to overcome a bad virus, which we will and we will come back stronger than ever.