Driving Through History: Mariano Vallejo

Vallejo Street. It’s named after another Californian who lived at the crossroads of California’s history with Mexico and the United States; someone who helped pave the way for better relations better the Californios and the Yankees.

Today, we’ve prepared a short biography and three things to remember as you drive on historically named streets.

Mariano G. Vallejo, later in life

Military Man & Rancher

Born in July 1807, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo grew up in a large family and was well-educated, tutored by the governor of California and reading voraciously in the gubernatorial library. Later, Vallejo learned English, French, and Latin by taking a job with an American merchant who had settled in California. He also served briefly as the governor’s secretary before joining the Presido Company in Monterrey when Mexico won its independence from Spain and became the new ruler of California.

In the military, Vallejo fought against some of the native tribes and then took part in the secularization of the missions (which was started when Pio Pico was governor in 1831). General Vallejo disbanded Mission Solana, the governor gave him a land grant including much of the former mission’s land, and Vallejo owned one of the large ranchos, Rancho Petaluma.

Vallejo married Francisca Benicia Carrillo in San Diego in 1832; they had sixteen children. In 1835, near the abandoned mission, he founded the town of Sonoma; two years later, Vallejo was appointed “Comandante of the Fourth Military District and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier,” in short the highest military rank in California at that time.

The Dilemma

As time passed, Vallejo used his military position to put down or “politically work” uprisings to California and his family’s favor. However, by the 1840’s, it had become clear to many of the powerful Californios that Mexico cared little for the Alta California territory. Assistance was typically slow in coming; requests and complaints were ignored. Trade and economic developed rested on the “colony.”

With restless Americans arriving in California to explore and settle, Vallejo and others began to wonder if being a territory of the United States might be more beneficially. Because of his reluctance to deport travelling Americans in California who didn’t have the correct papers, Vallejo and his family were replaced in the Alta California government.

Bear Flag monument in Sonoma

On the morning of June 14, 1846, Americans near Sonoma (and Vallejo’s rancho) staged the Bear Flag Revolt. They took over the town, captured Vallejo, and made plans to take over the rest of California. Vallejo was sent to Sutter’s Fort, under the orders of American officer John C. Fremont and was held prisoner until August 1846 when he was released with damaged health. Though the revolt and takeover, Vallejo wasn’t completely convinced he agreed with either side, but by the time he was released and the Americans controlled most of northern California, he decided to support the idea that the United States might do more for California than Mexico had. To symbolize the finality of his decision, he quietly burned his Mexican uniform at his home.

Welcome, Americanos

Once he’d decided, Vallejo used his powerful influence to persuade other Californios to accept the American rule, and when it came time for California to become a state, he helped write the state constitution. He offered some of his land to be used for a state capital (not the Sacramento location of the modern era), and served the California State Senate.

Despite his willingness to welcome the Americans and join the Union, Vallejo suffered personally from the change. He lost much of his land in legal fees and court battles over ownership. Still, Vallejo didn’t lose his positive outlook. He built an American style home near Sonoma and lived the rest of his life there, watching the changes to California and marveling at American innovation. Vallejo died in 1890.

He once said, “The Yankees are wonderful people – wonderful! Wherever they go, they make improvements. If they were to emigrate in large numbers to hell itself, they would irrigate it, plant trees and flower gardens, build reservoirs and fountains and make everything beautiful and pleasant, so that by the time we get there, we can sit down at a marble-topped table and eat ice-cream.”

There’s A Street Named After Him Because…

Vallejo could be described as an opportunist, but definitely as a Californian. In his decisions, controversial as many were in his era and sometimes in the history books, he sought the good of his “homeland.”

If we could only pick three things to remember as we drive on Vallejo Street, here they are:

  1. He served as the highest ranking military commander in California during the Mexican Era.
  2. He was captured and held prisoner during the Bear Flag Revolt, even though he wasn’t hostile to the Americans
  3. He decided to welcome the United States into California’s government and history and became a powerful and respected advocate for statehood and regional advancements and innovations.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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3 Responses to Driving Through History: Mariano Vallejo

  1. rarerootbeer says:

    Miss Sarah

    Vallejo is one of the most beloved Californians, from the 1800’s to today. I enjoy reading how a son of his once asked him about how he lost so much when the United States took over California. He responded how much California gained as a whole by being part of the United States and he was willing to lose power and land for the improvement of California.

    Robert Groeling

  2. Pingback: Driving Through History: John Warner | Gazette665

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