Military commander, town founder, politician, patriarch. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was arguably the most powerful man in northern Alta California. After the American takeover, he helped form the new state and fought to preserve the history of Spanish and Mexican California.
- 1 Birth and Early Life of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
- 2 Education
- 3 Entering the Military
- 4 A Key Battle
- 5 Marriage and Family
- 6 Checking on the Russians
- 7 The Mission and the Rancho
- 8 Friendship with Chief Solano
- 9 The Pueblo of Sonoma
- 10 Military Commander of Alta California
- 11 Prisoner of the Osos
- 12 Serving in the New State
- 13 Helping Preserve History
- 14 Last Years and Death
- 15 A Statue in His Honor
- 16 Learn More about Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Birth and Early Life of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born at Monterey in 1808 into a family who came to Alta California in the early years. He was the son of Ignacio Vallejo, a soldier who had arrived with Junípero Serra in 1769. Ignacio later served as alcalde of the Pueblo of San José. His mother, María Antonia Lugo, was also the daughter of a soldier, and was born at San Luis Obispo in 1776.
Mariano spent his childhood years in Monterey. As a young boy, growing up in the capital of the territory had its advantages. His parents wished him to have an education, something that was not easily available among soldiers on the frontier.
Yet Mariano was quick-witted, and soon found a mentor in Don Pablo Vicente de Solá, the governor of California. Together with his nephew, Juan Bautista Alvarado (who was actually very close to him in age) and José de Jesús Castro, Mariano received an education unavailable to most young people.
Gov. Solá taught the boys to read and write, and supplied them with books like Don Quixote and other works of literature. He also furnished them with political books that were normally forbidden in Spain’s colonies. Like Mariano, the other two boys would go on to become important leaders in Mexican California. Juan Bautista Alvarado would eventually be named governor, and José Castro would become a military commander.
As a teenager, Mariano continued his studies with a scholarly Englishman named William Hartnell, learning English, French and Latin. Hartnell had settled in Alta California, marrying María Teresa de la Guerra, daughter of José de la Guerra y Noriega. Don José was comandante of the Santa Barbara presidio, and one of the most powerful men that area.
Entering the Military
Growing up in a military family, army life was familiar to Mariano. In 1824 he became a 15 year-old cadet in the Monterey company. While a cadet, he put his education to use as the personal secretary to Governor Luis Arguello.
In 1827 was commissioned as alférez, and became an officer of the San Francisco presidio. Although assigned to San Francisco, he remained stationed in Monterey for the next three years, carrying out important and sometimes dangerous assignments.
A Key Battle
In 1829 he led an expedition of mission Indians and Mexican soldiers against Estanislao, an Indian from Mission San José. Estanislao, who had been a native alcalde there, led a large group of native warriors resentful of the difficult conditions at the mission. Together they created a fortified stronghold in the Central Valley and defeated a number of attacks launched against them.
The forces commanded by Vallejo were eventually victorious, however, and Estanislao returned to Mission San José. Although there were later reports that soldiers and Indian auxiliaries had used unnecessary violence during and after the battle, the engagement became a defining and proud moment for the young officer.
Marriage and Family
In 1830 Vallejo began serving as an officer at the San Francisco Presidio; two years later he married Francisca Benicia Carrillo. Francisca had been born in San Diego to one of the most prominent Californio families (years later, Mariano founded the city of Benicia, which he named after his wife. For a short time the city was the capital of the state of California). Together Francisca and Mariano had 16 children, six of whom died in childhood. One of Vallejo’s sons, Platón Vallejo, later became California’s first native-born doctor. Platón also served as a battlefield physician for the Union during the Civil War.
Checking on the Russians
While at San Francisco, the young officer received further responsibilities. In 1833 he was sent on a mission to the northern frontier to find out about the activities of the Russian colony on the coast. The things that Vallejo learned exploring the northern reaches of Mexican territory and his contact with the Russians led to the founding of a Mexican pueblo and military outpost close to the mission at Sonoma.
The Mission and the Rancho
The mission, San Francisco Solano, was the last and most northern of the mission chain. Like the rest of the missions, the government had ordered it be secularized (converted into a town and parish church). The task fell to Vallejo. In 1834, as part of the secularization process, Governor Figueroa granted him Rancho Petaluma, which had been part of the lands of the mission and the Indians who lived there. Vallejo would spend the rest of his life in and around Rancho Petaluma.
Friendship with Chief Solano
One of the most remarkable aspects of Vallejo’s life was his friendship and alliance with a Suysun Patwin Indian chieftain Sem Yeto, later baptized as Francisco Solano (often known as “Chief Solano”).
Prior to his alliance with Vallejo, Solano lived both inside and outside the mission system. He fought against the Spanish and Mexican militaries, and was a skilled warrior. As early as 1834, however, it seems that he and other Suysuns had begun aiding Vallejo in campaigns against other Indian tribes.
Their most important battles were against the Satiyomis, who lived in the Mendocino region, to the north and west of the Suysuns. For his help, Solano and his warriors became a militia attached to the Mexican army.
Over time, both Vallejo and Solano became friends, and even their families grew close. Vallejo’s seventh son, Platón became fluent in the language of the Suysun Indians, and later conserved and passed down some of the only information we have about that language.
The Pueblo of Sonoma
Because of his successes, in 1835 Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was made military commander and director of the settlement of the northern frontier. He established the Pueblo of Sonoma that year, and a military presidio to guard the northernmost reaches of Mexican territory. From then on, he remained mainly in Sonoma and the north bay region of Alta California.
Military Commander of Alta California
By now Vallejo’s influence had made him one of the most powerful men in Alta California. Under the governorship of Juan Bautista Alvarado, he became commandant general of all military forces in Alta California in 1836.
Although a Mexican military commander, Vallejo had mixed feelings about Mexican rule in Alta California. Like most Californios, he was generally welcoming of foreigners and outside influences. He believed that the Mexican government was mishandling its far-flung territory and he was open to the idea of joining the U.S.
Prisoner of the Osos
During the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, the instigators of the rebellion (whom the Californios called osos [“bears”]) came to take Vallejo prisoner. Instead of resisting them directly, the general invited them in to offer them a meal and ply them with liquor. He professed his sympathy with the cause of union with the United States, and treated the men with courtesy.
The strategy did not work quite to his plans. Although both his house and his family were spared any abuse, Vallejo and his brother Salvador were sent as prisoners to Sutter’s Fort on the Sacramento River. There, they were given good treatment at first, but when American Army Major John C. Frémont found out, he ordered that they be treated like any other prisoners. Both Mariano and Salvador lost a great deal of weight due to harsh treatment. Mariano wound up contracting malaria during his time of imprisonment.
Serving in the New State
Despite his treatment, Vallejo remained sympathetic to the U.S. takeover. In 1849 he became a member of the California State Constitutional Convention. The following year he became a member of the first state legislature.
In the legislature, he fought to have the accomplishments of his fellow Californios recognized. He also sought to preserve California’s pre-statehood history. In 1850 he wrote a report on the origins of the names of several counties. This report, although perhaps not accurate in all its details, shows how Californios understood the history of their land.
Vallejo felt deeply that it was important for the Californios’ voices to be heard. He wanted their version of the state’s history to have a prominent place in the official record.
Helping Preserve History
During his later years, the old general was particularly helpful in aiding historian Hubert Howe Bancroft. Thanks to Vallejo, Bancroft sent researchers Thomas Savage, Henry Cerutti and others to compile oral histories of surviving Californios. Vallejo’s vast knowledge of the territory, and his ties of marriage, patronage and friendship gave him the ability to open doors for these men. The testimonies they recorded would eventually form the basis for Bancroft’s multi-volume History of California and other works.
Despite the help he gave to Bancroft, Vallejo believed that the true story of Spanish and Mexican California was still misunderstood. So he wrote down his own notes, titled Recuerdos históricos y personales tocantes a la Alta California (Historical and Personal Remembrances of Alta California). He wrote nearly 1,000 pages collected into five volumes of information about the history of Alta California between 1769 and 1850.
Last Years and Death
As he grew older, Vallejo spent most of his time at his Sonoma home, Lachryma Montis (“Mountain Tear” in Latin). General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo died on January 18, 1890 at the age of 82.
A Statue in His Honor
In 2017 the town of Sonoma, where Vallejo spent so many years and left such a mark, dedicated a statue in his honor. Among those who spoke at the statue’s dedication was Martha Vallejo McGettigan, great-great granddaughter of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.
Learn More about Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
California history told through the life of Mariano G. Vallejo from the time he was 10 years old.
An engaging look at Vallejo’s life just before, during and after the annexation of California to the United States.