Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
In a life that spanned the colonial, Mexican and American eras in California, Mariano Vallejo saw himself steadily marginalized in his own native land, despite his efforts to stay at the forefront of change.
Vallejo was born in 1808 to an upper class California Mexican (californio) family in Monterey, then the capital of the province of Alta California. From the beginning of his life, he was groomed for leadership, receiving much of his education directly from Alta California's governor. At age fifteen, barely two years after Mexican independence, he became a cadet in the Mexican army.
Vallejo's first public accomplishment came at age twenty-one, when he led a victorious Mexican and Indian expedition against an Indian revolt at the San Josť mission. In quick succession the Mexican governor appointed Vallejo the head of the San Francisco garrison, then the military commander of the northern part of the state. The latter task consisted primarily in putting down sporadic Indian revolts and founding more settlements in order to halt Russian expeditions coming down from Alaska.
Despite his high rank, Vallejo was extremely critical of much of Mexican upper class society and government. Much to the horror of his family, at age twenty-three he had been unofficially excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his refusal to turn over banned books to a local priest. He consistently identified with Mexican liberals, who stressed the rule of law and an efficient government with constitutionally limited powers, separate from religious authority. Like many other Mexican liberals, he saw the United States as something of a model form of government. Accordingly, in 1836 he supported a short-lived rebellion led by his nephew, Juan Batista Alvarado, that led to the proclamation of California as a "free state."
Given his attraction to the United States, Vallejo's treatment at the hands of American rebels in 1846 came as a rude shock. General John C. Fremont, the leader of the so-called "Bear Flag Rebellion," imprisoned Vallejo and his younger brother at Sutter's Fort for two months without filing any formal charges. Fighting and looting caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to his estates. After the rebels were replaced by regular U.S. forces under the command of Stephen Kearney, matters improved for a few years. Vallejo was appointed Indian agent for Northern California, a position which effectively continued his earlier work for the Mexican government. In 1849 he was one of eight californios to serve in California's constitutional convention, and was subsequently elected to the first state senate.
Despite the continuation of his political career for several years after 1848, the United States' conquest of California was ultimately as disastrous for Vallejo as for other californios. Although the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo formally protected the legal rights of Mexicans newly incorporated into the United States, a long legal challenge to Vallejo's land title cost him thousands of dollars in legal fees and finally deprived him of almost all his land. The flood of immigrants into California begining with the gold rush left the californios a badly outnumbered minority, unable to protect their political power. By the time of his death in 1890, Vallejo led a modest lifestyle on the last vestige of his once vast landholdings, a simple two hundred acre ranch he called Lachryma Montis.
Although he was one of the leading members of California's Mexican population, Vallejo's life is in many ways representative of the common fate all californios faced under American rule. Despite their willing acceptance of democratic government, their new country treated them as foreigners. By the end of the century, almost all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans found themselves a beleagured minority, with little or no political power, and occupying the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.
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