Want an example of how different our ancestors were a century ago? Try this: Imagine dentistry as a spectator sport.
On a summer evening in 1913 Santa Rosa, an audience gathered on the corner of Courthouse Square to watch fifty people have a tooth pulled - or maybe it was just two people having all their teeth yanked. The local paper was not clear on the details except that it "attracted a large crowd who were interested in seeing the operations performed."
The article in the Santa Rosa Republican is a rare description of the traveling exhibition by the "Painless Parker" dentist's office in San Francisco. Using a large Locomobile touring car - probably similar to this one - everything behind the front seat was custom rigged with "a platform on the rear large enough to accommodate a miniature dental office, with operating chair, instrument table, lights, etc."
(RIGHT: Dentist ad from the October 31, 1913 Santa Rosa Republican)
This was demonstration auto #6 (out of eight) prowling the state, and although "Painless Parker" himself was not in Santa Rosa that evening he was a real person and actually a dentist, although his profession disowned him. By 1913 Edgar Rudolph Randolph Parker (1872-1952) was a multimillionaire running a chain of dental offices on the West Coast but he began as a Brooklyn street dentist, drawing crowds with dancing girls and a brass band that played on cue whenever he "painlessly" ripped out some poor devil's tooth.
When he came to California around 1908 he teamed with "Wizard Walton the Wonder Worker" and developed a traveling medicine show, complete with a parade where coins were tossed into the crowd, all leading up to an evening vaudeville performance that ended with a extravaganza of teeth pulling. Walton was a snake-oil huckster of the type that regularly visited Santa Rosa in that era, promising miracle cures in a bottle. A 1908 blurb promised, "gall stones are removed by the use of three doses of medicine in 24 hours without knife, blood or pain. Cancers cured permanently. No knife, blood or pain."
Parker's secret to painless dentistry was "hydrocaine," a local anesthetic he claimed to have developed himself (a man in Chicago had trademarked that name as an anesthetic in 1899). Some of his ads specified it was not cocaine but "a purely vegetable product, harmless yet powerful enough to remove all fear of the dental chair." In a 1915 suit, two former employees demanded danages for alleged injuries to their "eyes, nerves, muscles and tissues" from administering the "poisonous drug." Whatever that stuff was, it certainly had no connection whatsoever to the fine medical product available with the same name today and whose manufacturers, distributors, and customers are noble people kind to their children and small pets. Please don't sue me.
His New York Times obit noted he "often had his license revoked but for no great duration." Parker was the bane of the dental community, his fame coming just as they were scrabbling for legitimacy - medical doctors usually offered a dignified two-line ad in a newspaper's "professional" classifieds, yet dentists often ran large and garish display ads, promising to fix your bum teeth for less than the price of a cheap wool suit.
Parker fought back in the press, arguing the "Dental Trust" was opposed to affordable dentistry. His display ads were often op/eds and he offered papers a serial, "Painless Parker, Outlaw: His Confessions" that ran to at least 87 (!) parts. He tried to get the state Board of Dental Examiners disbanded in California and Oregon, and in 1935 he sued a doctor for slander because of a speech to the California Dental Association saying the state needed a law "to control the advertising of charlatans, quacks and painless parkers."
Most often he was hassled for using the word "painless" in his ads, forcing him to promote the "E. R. Parker System" instead. In 1915, his foes in California thought they finally had him beaten via passage of a state law requiring dentists to use their real name in ads. But in a true Believe-it-or-not! manner, he won by going to court that September and having his first name legally changed to "Painless."
DENTAL OFFICE "EN TOUR"Auto Fitted With Modern Appliances
Many Santa Rosans were entertained last evening at the corner of Fourth street and Exchange Avenue by a demonstration of painless dentistry made by the Painless Parker demonstration car, number six, from San Francisco. A short lecture was given on the care of the teeth and then about fifty teeth were extracted free of charge. The car will be at the same corner again tonight and it is announced that all teeth will be taken out free of charge.
The car is a large Locomobile, and one of the eight that the Painless Parker institution has. It is splendily [sic] equipped for the work, having two seats in front and a platform on the rear large enough to accommodate a miniature dental office, with operating chair, instrument table, lights, etc., and attracted a large crowd who were interested in seeing the operations performed. Those who had teeth taken out stated that they felt no pain and several were extracted for people said that they had been broken off by other dentists in unsuccessful attempts to extract them.
The Painless Parker institution is the largest dental concern in the world, having offices in several large cities stretching from Brooklyn, N.Y. to San Francisco. There are five offices in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, Bakersfield, Oakland and San Francisco. The San Francisco office is one of the three largest dental offices in the world, having twenty-two chairs. All of the operations by this concern are performed by a local anaesthetic [sic] originated nearly 25 years ago by Dr. Parker. The doctor makes his home in San Francisco where the general offices of the concern are located. He has a summer home in Marin county about ten miles from Fairfax on the Bolinas road. He is in New York now but his family is at the summer home. The car is in the charge of Drs. FitzGerald and Baird.
- Santa Rosa Republican, July 17, 1913
It was a solemn and historic occasion, but all we remember about it today is that some bozos showed up and made fun of everybody.
The event was the Fourth of July 1876 ceremonies held in Santa Rosa. "At an early hour the streets were thronged with carriages, horsemen and well dressed and happy looking men and women," reported the town's Sonoma Democrat. The parade formed on Third street; near the head was the Santa Rosa Brass Band and judges and dignitaries in carriages (including Bear Flag veterans with their famous flag). In the parade were also carts or displays representing local businesses, among them a wagon loaded with coal from the Taylor Mountain Coal Mine. "The procession marched through the principal streets which were gaily decorated with flags," the paper continued, before returning to the grandstand on Santa Rosa's plaza.
Gaye LeBaron wrote about the notable event that happened that day in "Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town," but the version that appeared in her 1998 column was a bit more concise:
|The Squeedunks made their first appearance in Santa Rosa in 1876, on the occasion of the Centennial Independence Day. When the county’s honored “First Citizen,” General Mariano Vallejo, ended his long oration (in Spanish, with a translator) and the formal portion of the celebration drew to a close, a band of masked men in outrageous costumes seized the podium and began a mock-heroic “Oh Ration,” an extemporaneous and outrageous send-up of the venerable Vallejo’s speech.|
It's a fun story and often retold - except none of it happened quite that way.
This was not the debut of the "Squeduncques" at a Santa Rosa Fourth of July celebration but at least their third appearance. Their "comical uniforms" were mentioned in a review of their 1874 showing so yeah, it's probably safe to assume they were also dressed up two years later, although nothing about it was mentioned. Those are quibbling points, tho.
(RIGHT: Sonoma Democrat ad, June 26, 1874)
But in no way did they seize the stage following Vallejo's speech to ridicule him. They were a scheduled part of the program at the end of the celebration, which wrapped up with the Squeedunks presenting the mayor with a wooden sword as "the thanks of every member of this beer destroying gang." And before they went on stage they presented their own parade which mocked that morning's procession. Where earlier the Sonoma Democrat was carting around a small printing press turning out programs for the day's events on the fly, for example, they had the "Dum Oh Krat Steam Press." Once they were at the podium they continued making fun of the original program with "intejuicery" (introductory) remarks, a "poim" (poem) and "Oh Ration," which was a sendup of the town's foibles and failings. All of this is transcribed below - complete with comic spellings as they appeared in the newspaper - but here's a sample:
|Look at our big brick depot, that we haven't built yet nor never will. Look at our grand school houses for the edification of the hoodlums of generations yet unborn. Look at all these and say are we not mighty in ourmightiness? Then let the proud eagle squawk; let the great American Jack bray and proclaim in stentorian tones "Erin go unum, E pluribus Bragh."|
Nor did General Vallejo even speak at the event. As described in the paper, he sat onstage as his speech was read by Charles E. Pickett, a well-known (and somewhat notorious) orator.1 The Sonoma Democrat didn't indicate whether it was in Spanish or English although it was likely the latter, as the paper commented the speech "was listened to with deep attention by all." The entire address in English appeared in the Democrat the following week.
Even delivered in English by a popular orator the Vallejo speech was a real stemwinder, which probably added to the anticipation for the Squeedunks' part of the show - the paper reported before they appeared the large crowd "seemed by this time to have grown a thousand or two stronger." It's easy to understand their appeal; much of the irreverent humor still holds up today, 140 years later - and works particularly well if you can imagine Groucho Marx reading it. For some in the audience, however, their antics probably had a nostalgic appeal; the Squeedunks were part of a long American tradition on the East Coast better known as the "Fantastics."
The Fantastics - sometimes "Fantasticals" - began in Colonial times (and can even be traced farther back to British mumming) were mainly young men dressing up, sometimes in women's clothes or wearing blackface while noisily mocking propriety and figures of authority. Think of it as trick-or-treating for adults, not children, and it happened at Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday except Hallowe'en. Also: They wanted you to give them booze, not candy. More about the origins can be read here.
Needless to say, our more sober ancestors were not approving of their young men carousing drunkenly in costumes four or five times a year. (Did I mention firing guns in the air was also a big part of the custom?) Apparently starting in the 1830s, restrictions began to be imposed limiting the partying to the Fourth of July and requiring the costumed revelers be enrolled in some sort of organized group. The earliest example of this I can find is an ad in the June 27, 1839 Baltimore Sun that calls for members of the "Eagle Fantastical Club" to attend a meeting for the upcoming parade.
For about twenty years on either side of the Civil War, parades of Fantastics were to be found all over the East; there's a mention from 1843 which suggests the Fantastics were long part of the Fourth of July celebrations in Maine and up to the start of the war their shenanigans were particularly popular in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Georgia and South Carolina. From the New York Sun, November 27, 1885:
|Fantastic processions burst out all over the town in unusual abundance and filled the popular eye with a panorama that looked like a crazy-quilt show grown crazy and filled the popular ear with the din of thumping drums and blaring trumpets. Thirty-six companies of fantastics had permits to march around making an uproar, and they did it with great success. Local statesmen went around.with the down-town paraders and helped them whoop things up. There were lots and lots of fantastics who hadn’t any permit, and who didn’t care either. They were the thousands and thousands of small boys who put on their sisters’ old dresses, smeared paint on their faces, pulled on red, yellow, brown, black, and indiscriminate wigs, and pranced round their own particular streets, without the least fear of police interference.|
Why our local "patriotic hoodlums" chose to call themselves "Squeduncques" instead is not known for certain, although in the early 1870s a squeedunk was the name of a homemade noisemaker that made a particularly horrific screeching sound.2
The Squeedunk tradition continued in Sonoma county for decades, spreading to Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and other communities. The last great ballyhoo in Santa Rosa was in 1908 (see "SQUEEDUNKS ON PARADE") but attempts at revivals popped up occasionally in later years. How sad to have lost the custom of celebrating our old bums, lunch eaters, and scalawags.
1 Charles E. Pickett was then 56 years old and well known as an eccentric who claimed his profession as "philosopher." Despite a complete lack of legal training he was long a gadfly concerning the state supreme court, insisting the system of selecting judges was corrupt because the governor could appoint someone to fill a vacant seat until the end of the six year term of office. Thus a justice who was elected in 1870 and died or resigned the following year would be replaced with a politcal appointee until 1876, despite the opportunity for voters to choose a new justice in two general elections during that span of time. (Or at least, that's my reading of the confusing rules - see more details here.) In Pickett's view this meant the entire court should be impeached and as a new session began in August, 1874, he stormed the bench during opening ceremonies and took a seat himself. An uproar ensued and he was ejected, fined, and served over a year in jail for his unusual contempt of court.|
|2 Squeedunk (usually spelled Squedunk) came to be used as a joke town name, similar as Podunk, Skunktown and many others. Sometimes it was meant as the name of a place where backwoods yokels lived, othertimes it was just the name of a a hypothetical town. See: H. L. Mencken, The American Language, 1936. In the early 1870s, however, a squedunk was the name of a popular homemade noisemaker with a teeth-rattling sound created by drawing a violin bow or a waxed string on the rim of a tin can. Thus by calling themselves Squeedunks, the joke could have been either proclaiming themselves to be proudly "backwards country folk" or intending to be really, really annoying. Or both.|
Tbe Squeduncques, a distinguished band of imps, devils, patriotic hoodlums and screachers, will parade the streets of Santa Ross on the Fourth of July.
- Russian River Flag, July 2, 1874
...The fantastical display of the Squeduncques, which took place in the afternoon, drew to their stand, at the Court House, a vast assemblage. Their officers were: Captain, George Dunnegan; President of Day, D. H. Shahan; Orator, M. S. McClaire; Poet, L. W. Boggs; Reader, T. Woodward. Their burlesques, local hits and comical uniforms created shouts of laughter, and added much to the pleasures of the day. The Squeduncques were generally pronounced a success...
- Sonoma Democrat, July 11, 1874
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION.Santa Rosa, July 4th, 1876.Oration by hos. H. Burke -- Historical Address by Gen. M. G. Vallejo - Poem by F. M. Dimmick -- Bear Flag Men - Veterans -- Squeduncques -- Grand Sword Presentation to Mayor Neblett
The celebration of the Centennial Fourth of July in the city of Santa Rosa was one of the grandest demonstrations ever witnessed in the county...
At the close of the oration Mayor Neblett announced that Gen. M. G. Vallejo had arrived on the morning of the fourth in Santa Rosa, having concluded to accept the invitation of the committee sent from Santa Rosa some days previously to invite him to deliver his historical address here, the managers of the Sonoma valley celebration having concluded to omit this feature from their published programme. The large audience hailed the General's advent [illegible line of microfilm] with much enthusiasm. His well prepared history of the early settlements of the north side of the bay of San Francisco, and other incidents, was read by Mr. Chas. E. Pickett of the city of San Francisco, a pioneer of 1842, was listened to with deep attention by all. At his close three cheers for the General were called for and loudly given. This instructive, graphic and exact historical sketch, with characteristic comments by the author, will appear in the weekly issue of the DEMOCRAT.
At four o'clock in the afternoon the ancient and honorable order of Squeduncques suddenly made their appearance. The crowd which was immense in the morning seemed by this time to have grown a thousand or two stronger and greeted the appearance of the Squeduncques with cheers and shouts of laughter. They were headed by the old He Sque Dunk as Grand Marshal, and he was followed by the Drum Corps, who discoursed strains of discordant music which the pen of no living man can fully do justice to. Suffice it to say that the music department was a most distracting success. After the band came a line of vehicles which looked as though they once belonged to Noah's family and had seen rough usage since his death. These were drawn by horses who had the appearance of being in their Centennial year and for a long time strangers to oats and corn. Then came burlesques on the Water Company, the Dum Oh Krat Steam Press, the Fire Companies, the New Depot, the Street Sprinkler and other things; which we find we have not descriptive powers sufficient to do justice to and therefore cannot attempt it. The procession was followed by large crowds and cheered all along the route. When the pavilion was reached and the Officers of the Day, Orator, Poet and Reader, accompanied by the Drum Corps ascended the platform, the rush and jam of that vast crowd to get near was awfully sublime. The intejuicery [sic all misspellings below] remarks of the President of the Day, the Poim the Reading of the Declamation, the Oh Ration, and the
Of a magnificant sword (wooden) to his Honor Mayor Neblett, who was called to the stand. The grand gyascuius of the Squedunques then addressed him as follows:
Most potent, grave and reverend Seignor. Oh, thous noblest Roman of them all. Oh, ubiquitous chieftain of all patriotic emblems that adorn our American Eagle domain. Open your port-holes and hearken to the words that will immortalize you forever.
For over nine million years it has been the custom of this lunch destroying band ever to recognize merit in the human family. Our four fathers, ants and sisters, were celebrated for a looseness in this disgusting familiarity of Freedom.
For many sleepless nights we have watched the bursting character of your patriotic bosom. We have seen it swell--heave and pad out with a grandeur which few bosoms can ever expect to reach.
For tendering us the use of this lumber pile, and for aiding us in the rescue of our hungry recesses, by the donation of the sum of one hundred dollars, accept the thanks of every member of this beer destroying gang.
We are overflowing with gratitude but we can beer it all times. In order to make a proper showing of our inside feelings towards you, we present you with this beautiful sword. In other hands a club of this character would prove a very dangerous weapon. May you never entertain suicidal notions, for it won't do to get reckless in order to provide free rides for old bums.
Take it--Hang it up in the cellar where it can never rust, nor become mortified by bad use. And when your beaming head shall have assumed the radiance of a white-wash bucket, and when telegraphing shall have been supplanted by the lightning speed of Fortson's street railroad, may you be rolled up in the emblems of eternal ease, surrounded by limburger cheese, and beer, and with this shining blade buckled to your majestic form may you march on to Fame and Glory, and find sweet repose in the happy hunting grounds of our Honorable Order.
[ .. non-Squeedunk description of fireworks and late dinner ]
- Sonoma Democrat, July 8, 1876
SQUEDUNCQUE OH! RATION
FELLOW SQUEDUNCQUES: One hundred years ago to-day the booming of patriotic cannon awaked from their heroic slumbers a band of ancient Squedunques. That Cannon has never ceased to boom from that day to the present. You hear it now, you have heard it all day.
Why, Fellow Squedunques, is all this grand parade? Why all this vast assemblage of old bums, lunch eaters, and scalawags? Why all this tootin of horns banging of drums and squallin of "nest hiders?" It is, my fellows in iniqnity, to remind us of the fact that he who fit and run away has lived to fite another day.
Yes, my Fellow Dunks, we have cause to squelch over our misdeeds. Aye, and in Santa Rosa, too.
"For not a town go far and near,
That does not find a rival here!
I ask you, Squedunques, are we not great in our greatness? Compare us today with Santa Rosa one hundred years ago. Look at these sombrero oaks, which within the hundred years from little acorns grow. Look at these beautiful maidens who a hundred years ago were clad in homespun linsey and tow linen. How are they now? Wrapped in silk and satins from the Injins, bedecked with laces from Crapean and Deutchland adorned with gold and silver from Som Evaders, pinned back till the hump raises on their backs equal to the Camelias of Arabia. Look at our farms where a hundred years ago, notight was heard but the war whoop of the Digger and the wild screech of the Coyote, now blossoming and blooming with mustard and dog fennel. Look at our bankin institutions. There's the Anti Roses Bank where every Squedunque can borrow all he wants, if he leaves two dollars in the place of every one he borries. Then there's the Shavings Bank with millions in it saving up for the widders and orphins of deceased Squedunques, to be divided a hundred years from to-day. Then there's Long Pillars' Pharaoh bank that declares a divy every night, if you only copper the loser and go straight up on the winner. Ain't that improvement?
Then look at our young bucks, gay fellers with kid gloves and high-toned mustaches--they are away up. They are all great and grand, but each one presents some splendid exemplification of some singular qualification. One, a perfect Dick Nailer, fascinates his lady love by simply stroking her hair until in ecstacy exclaims, "Oh, how sweet!" While the Spring Valley man contents himself with playing with cotton pads while his dulcina holds the reins in an afternoon ride. Ain't that fastness? But, feller Squedunques, that is not the climax of our progress. Look at the great financial ability we display! A common weaver, without a loom, without any filling, without any warp, comes to our town, opens an ox-eyed-dental, wears a big bonanner and takes in the keenest and shrewdest mercadores of the town, even the Maccaroni and Crown Princes could not get away with him; even the great Southdown who for 20 years has been chief, and who saved him from the dungeon chains, and assisted him in escaping the wrath of his fellow dunks, cries out, "he [illegible line of microfilm]
Once more: Look at our great array of Policioners and County Deficients, who have entrusted us with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors. Don't they give up the jail keys valiantly and nobly; did they not a few weeks since with pistol and club arrest a powerful gang of marauders, put them in prison and save the life of an innocent criminal? Who cares for $1,500 reward?
Then look at our defences! Don't we keep a cannon, always loaded full to the 'nuzzle, parading our streets from rosy morn to dewy eve, guarding the destinies of all good and worthy gin slingers?
But this is not all, old bums! Look at our broad gouge railroads that President Don't-know-who has built clean through our county and down among the switches and hazel brush to Stumpville, with only $300,000 and the right of way to help him. Look at our big brick depot, that we haven't built yet nor never will. Look at our grand school houses for the edification of the hoodlums of generations yet unborn. Look at all these and say are we not mighty in ourmightiness? Then let the proud eagle squawk; let the great American Jack bray and proclaim in stentorian tones "Erin go unum, E pluribus Bragh." Happy proud Squedunques the lightning of tarantula juice has yielded to your animosity, let not the temptations of mint juleps and sherrey cobblers seduces you from the paths of sobriety. Fare you well.
- Sonoma Democrat, July 8, 1876
It was a momentous day: On February 24, 1854, the state legislature gathered in Benicia to vote on moving the state capitol to Sacramento. Three assemblyman stood and proposed to choose their own county seat instead - one wanted Marysville, another Stockton. James Bennett suggested Santa Rosa before the Yolo legislator rose and asked: "What county is Santa Rosa in?"
See, Santa Rosa wasn't the Sonoma county seat at the time. In fact, Santa Rosa didn't really exist. It had only two houses and five little businesses, including a tavern. Yet despite its drawback of being almost non-existent, Bennett and other men were about to make it the centerpiece of the county.
When Santa Rosa was celebrating the Centennial Fourth of July in 1876, an article about Santa Rosa's founding appeared in the local Sonoma Democrat newspaper. It was unsigned but was clearly written by someone who was here during 1851-1854, which were the years being described. It's a key reference; traces of it pop up in every regional history. But aside from a Gaye LeBaron column published four decades ago, the bulk of the piece hasn't appeared anywhere over the last 140 years. It can be found transcribed below.
(RIGHT: Detail from 1866 Map Of Sonoma County)
That article covered the birth of Santa Rosa, death of Franklin (a village near the Carrillo adobe) and the campaign to capture the county seat. It was surprisingly slim on the particulars of those notable events. Instead, the value of this piece lies in its first-hand descriptions - such as Squire Coulter rolling his building from Franklin to Santa Rosa on wheels. Other buildings, including the Baptist church, likewise rolled away from Franklin over the following months, in what must have been a very odd and very slow procession. The author also described the Carrillo homestead as the main commercial center north of the town of Sonoma, a "lively spot" where "almost every day pack trains and wagons from the Russian river and the neighboring country surrounded the old adobe."
Mostly the item described who was there and what they did. Personally, I'm not much interested in who was the first blacksmith in Santa Rosa and where his shop stood, but details of that sort can give genealogists a case of the vapors. For more information on the people mentioned there - including correct/alternate spelling of some names - refer to pages 20-22 of "Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town" by LeBaron et. al.
Left unanswered in the article about the early 1850s - and not discussed in any local history that chronicles those years - was a key question: Why did Santa Rosa come to exist?
The old item from the paper explained how the story ends: There was a vote over the county seat in Sept. 1854 and Santa Rosa won over Sonoma, 716-563. Historians credit the victory to the blowout Fourth of July party thrown by Julio Carrillo and the other Santa Rosa promoters, which "invited to the feast the rich and poor, the lame, the halt and the blind - in fact everybody who had, or who could influence or control, a vote," according to historian Robert Thompson. An estimated 500 showed up to eat barbecue and dance until dawn, apparently going away with full bellies and warm feelings about the potential of Santa Rosa as the new county seat, in spite of the town only having added two houses over the previous year, bringing the grand total up to four. (One of those new houses was the Masonic Lodge, built at great expense because they shipped in East Coast pine, as no one was yet sure if redwood would be good for construction.)
But events leading up to the vote are sketchy. That's not particularly surprising; much of California history between 1850-1855 is full of gaps. Even in Sonoma county it's hard to peg down what was happening year to year. There's no doubt, however, that nearly everyone, Californio or American, rich or poor, was fretful over keeping their property. Should you build a cabin and plant crops if you could be kicked out before the harvest? Would the ranch supporting your family be taken away by the government, or taken over by squatters?
Once California became a state, no one - no one - was happy with the situation over Spanish/Mexican land grants. In theory, anyone who had land under Mexico simply had to provide documentation to claim ownership under statehood. In practice, the system set up by the U.S. to settle ownership issues was the worst possible, leading some properties to remain in limbo for over twenty years.
The Yulupa rancho east of Cotati was a good example; although Jasper O'Farrell had surveyed the surrounding ranchos, Yulupa specifically had no survey of its own, so the government rejected the claim in 1854. Appealed to federal District Court, the claim was approved in 1857. Two years later it was rejected again, this time by the U.S. Supreme Court. Not until 1865 was that large chunk of central Sonoma county (about 25 square miles) legally available for ownership. Squatters, of course, had been living and farming on that land for years.
The legions of settlers pouring into California expected to find the same encouraging homesteading policies followed elsewhere in the rest of the West - that anyone who could throw together a shack on public land could declare it as their own, paying the government little or nothing. But because the grants covered nearly all of Sonoma county, there was no public land. "The whole County is claimed. There is not a foot of ground that will do to cultivate but what is claimed," complained a new arrival in 1853 to his family in Kentucky. "...We cannot tell anything how they will go."1
Some settlers leased acreage or had other arrangements with the grant holders, but others squatted without permission. Twice confrontations with armed bands of squatters nearly came to shooting wars - near Healdsburg where a deputy sheriff was killed, and near Bodega where the rancho owner recruited a gang of toughs from San Francisco in an attempt to drive them off.
The state legislature fielded various proposals to mollify settlers, such as considering giving then 160 or 320 acres of public land somewhere else in the state or requiring grant holders to pay evicted squatters for what they had "cultivated or improved," the value to be set by a jury specifically composed of other settlers. Meanwhile, the Mexican grantholders - usually land-rich but cash-poor - were being bled dry by legal fees defending their claim. To raise funds they usually sold off parts of the rancho to settlers or speculators, even though those sales would be invalid if the courts didn't eventually validate the Mexican grant. Did I mention no one was happy with the situation?
"Settler's rights" became a political rallying cry all over the state, and nowhere louder than Sonoma county. Before the state election of 1853, there was a settler's convention here independent of the Democratic or Whig parties and they nominated for the Assembly one James N. Bennett, a recently-arrived squatter living near or just outside rancho Yulupa (named for him is Bennett Valley and Bennett Peak). Bennett won the election by just 13 ballots amid charges there were "importation of voters."2
Bennett was a single-term assemblyman. Besides asking the legislature to move the state capitol to Santa Rosa in 1854, his only legacy was passage the following month of "An Act to locate the county seat of Sonoma anew." According to the Sonoma newspaper, the proposal came as a surprise to the town:
|The first intimation we had of the people's desire to move the county seat from Sonoma to Santa Rosa was through the legislative proceedings of March 28, which inform us that a bill had been introduced and passed for that purpose. From what source did our representatives derive the information that a change was demanded by our people? In the name of a large body of their constituents we protest against the measure as premature, unauthorized and impolitic. The county cannot even repair the miserable building, and the only one it possesses; how then can it bear the expense of erecting new ones?|
That "miserable building" was the county courthouse, and had earlier been condemned by a grand jury, which called it "an old dilapidated adobe of small dimensions, in part roofless and unfit for a cattle shed." They say it had cost $9,000, of which $3,000 had been paid and $6,000 was still claimed. The town paper - unaware that a plot was afoot to move the county seat - commented at the time, "the old court-house is about being deserted, and high time it should be, unless our worthy officers of the law would run the risk of being crushed beneath a mass of mud and shingles, for we really believe it will cave in the next heavy rain."
Clearly some measures had to be taken by the county to provide a useable courthouse, but a seat of government usually doesn't pack up whenever a building needs repairs. Not only did Bennett's "Act to locate the county seat of Sonoma anew" propose exactly that, but its language was crafted to specifically fit Santa Rosa: "...said location shall be as near the geographical centre of the valley portion, or agricultural portion of said county, as practicable."
But the county residents, I believe, saw it as something more than just voting on moving the courthouse to Santa Rosa - and the tipoff is that part of the Act regarding the importance of the new seat being at the center of the county's agricultural region. There is clearly no need for the county seat to be in the middle of the farmland, but in 1854 Sonoma county, that meant being at the center of local squatter activity. It was, essentially, declaring the county to be welcoming to squatters while being also a gesture of defiance against both state and nation for their failure to "solve" the land grant problems to the settler's liking.
That is, I'll grant, just my reading of events. We don't know the content of speeches made at the Fourth of July BBQ, which probably declared what Bennett and others were really after. But "up-county" (as the Sonoma paper called areas north of them) certainly had more small farmers likely to be very upset about the indecisive, snail-paced processing of the grant claims, and the horseback ride to the courthouse in Sonoma took at least two hours, each way. Aside from a couple of tiny districts, Sonoma and Petaluma were the only places that voted against the move.
And moving the county seat was only the first of Sonoma county's many contrarian positions in that era. In the 1855 elections there was a local "settler's ticket" where every single candidate won. The county remained out of step with the rest of the state a few years later as the Civil War began, being the only county in California that never voted for Lincoln. And in the center of it all was Santa Rosa, a town created from nothing.
Which brings us back to the big question: Why did Santa Rosa come to exist? Towns usually evolved organically around something like a trading post, a riverport, a stagecoach or railroad stop. Maybe there was an adjacent swift-moving waterway to power a mill or factory; maybe there was a mine which employs lots of miners. The only apparent advantage of Santa Rosa's location was that it was at a crossroads, although to date that had not provided enough incentive for anyone to build a house or store there. Ignored in every published history, however, was the significance of this: The town was pressed tightly against the side of a very old Pomo village.
Kabetciuwa was a large and significant community, extending the equivalent of two blocks along the bank of Santa Rosa Creek from modern-day Santa Rosa Ave. to E street. (There was also another village about a mile west called Hukabetawi, around the location of Olive Park.) Whether any Pomo families still lived at Kabetciuwa in 1853 is unknown; about fifteen years prior smallpox epidemics decimated the population, and from later accounts we know many survivors regrouped near Sebastopol and Dry Creek.
Perhaps Santa Rosa was at that particular spot in order to exploit those Indians who remained as laborers; over their centuries of living there the Pomo would have developed the best possible ways to access the confluence of Matanzas Creek and Santa Rosa Creek, which certainly would be an advantage to residents of the new town. Today, sadly, Kabetciuwa has been completely obliterated by Santa Rosa's city hall complex and the federal building. Our squatter forefathers would be so proud of how the city they created just took a place over without so much as a look back.
1 James Jewell Letters 1853, cited in "Oliver Beaulieu and the town of Franklin" by Kim Diehl, 1999, pg. 6
2 "Fighting Joe" Hooker, California Historical Society Quarterly v. 16, 1937, p. 307
|Santa Rosa as shown on A.B. Bowers wallmap of 1866|
SANTA ROSA--CONDENSED SKETCH OF ITS EARLY HISTORY
In 1851 there were but three houses in the vicinity of Santa Rosa and none upon the present site of the town. The old Carrillo house on Santa Rosa creek, distant about a mile, was built in 1838 or 1839. Then came another adobe house on the Hanneth place which still stands, and then the Boileau House now owned and occupied by Dr. Simms, formerly the property of John Lucas. This house was build in the summer of 1851.
In January 1852, A. Meacham, now of Mark West, was keeping store at the old adobe, on the Carrillo place, now owned by F. H. Hahman. Hoen, Hahman and Hartman succeeded to the business of Meacham. For the next year the old adobe was a lively spot and these pioneer merchants drove a brisk trade. There was no other store north of Sonoma, and almost every day pack trains and wagons from the Russian river and the neighboring country surrounded the old adobe.
In the summer of 1853, the question of the removal of the county seat from the town of Sonoma to a more central locality was agitated. A town was laid off at what was then the junction of the Bodega, Russian river and Sonoma roads, just where the cemetery lane unites with the Sonoma road, near the eastern boundary of the city. Dr. J. F. Boyce and S. G. Clark built and opened a store there. Soon after, J. W. Ball built a tavern and a small store. H. Beaver opened a blacksmith shop, C. C. Morehouse, a wagon shop, W. B. Birch, a saddle-tree factory.
In September, 1853, S. T. Coulter and W. H. McClure bought out the business of Boyce and Clark. The same year the Baptist church was built, free for all denominations. Thus early was liberality in religious matters established on the borders of Santa Rosa, and happily it continues down to this day. The only two dwellings were owned by S. T. Coulter and H. Beaver.
Franklin town had now touched the high tide of its prosperity, and was destined to fall before a more promising rival which, up to this time had cut no figure in the possibilities of the future.
In 1852, John Bailiff built on the bank of Santa Rosa creek, for Julio Carrillo, the house now owned and occupied by James P. Clark. Soon after, Achilles Richardson built a store and residence between the Carrillo house and the creek near where the iron bridge now is. This house was afterwards burned. Mrs. Valley built a dwelling house on the corner of second and D streets. The old Masonic Hall, was built in the fall of 1853. E. P. Colgan who had been at the old adobe keeping a public house, moved to Santa Rosa, and rented the lower part of the Masonic Hall, and commenced building a house on the opposite side of the street which was the first hotel and was known as the Santa Rosa House. Ball moved down from Franklin and built a blacksmith on Second street now used as a barn next to the lot of John Richards, and soon after built a dwelling on the south side of Second street, just east of Main or C street. Hahman, Harman and Hoen, in the spring of 1854 built a store on the corner of C and Second street and moved to Santa Rosa in July of that year. The building now occupied by Moxon's variety store.
Hahman and Hartman bought of A. Meacham, 80 acres of land the west line of which ran through the plaza, paying therefor $20 an acre. They in conjunction with Julio Carrillo, laid off the town and donated the plaza to the County of Sonoma. The town limits embraced the space including between First and Fifth streets from south to north, and between A and E streets from west to east, the survey [illegible microfilm line] A man named Miller started a store in the building now occupied as the Eureka barber shop on the south east corner of second and C streets. It was managed by W. B. Atterbury.
In the fall of 1853, the election for members of the Legislature hinged on the removal of the county seat from Sonoma to Santa Rosa. Col. now General Jo Hooker, was a candidate, and opposed removal; James N. Bennett favored removal; at the election a tie vote was cast. Another election was ordered and Hooker was beaten by a few votes. Bennett introduced and caused to be passed, a bill authorizing the people to vote on the question of a removal of the county seat at the general election in the fall of 1854.
On the Fourth of July, 1854, the people gathered to Santa Rosa from all parts of the county to a grand barbacue [sic] which was held on the ground now owned and occupied by H. T. Hewitt. A Guerny, a Baptist preacher, was the orator of the day. John Robinson, Sylvester Ballou and Joe Neville also spoke on the occasion. Four or five hundred persons were present and the exercises closed with a grand ball at the new store. It was claimed by the people of Sonoma that the Santa Rosans made good use of the time and expenditures incurred, in electioneering for the removal of the county seat.
Be that as it may they won the fight, and in the fall of 1854 the county offices with the archives were transfered to the new capital. The first court convened in Julio Carrillo's house. Soon after, a temporary court-house was built where Ringo's grocery store now stands, on Fourth street, opposite the north-east corner of the plaza.
After the election Franklin town was removed to Santa Rosa. S. T. Coulter hauled his building here on wheels, set it down where the Santa Rosa Savings bank stands, purchasing there 80 feet front for the sum of one dollar front foot--$80 for two lots. The Baptist church came soon after and was re-located on Third street, near D. A few years ago it was turned broadside to the street and converted into two tennement [sic] houses.
Henry Beaver was the first blacksmith in Santa Rosa. His shop was near the bridge were Bill Smith's shop now stands, on the east side of C street. Beaver purchased two acres of land and built a residence on the place now owned by Capt. J. M. Williams, on Mendocino street, opposite the Episcopal church. Julio Carrillo started the first livery stable. The Eureka Hotel was built on the site of the Kessing Hotel by J. M. Case and W. R. O. Howell. Obe Ripito and Jim Wilson built a livery stable where the Grand Hotel now stands, on the south-east corner of Third and C streets.
John Ingram built the first brick house in Santa Rosa. It was one story, situated on Exchange street, adjoining the DEMOCRAT office, and is now owned by Gus Kohle. The next brick built is owned and occupied by the pioneer mercantile firm of Wise & Goldfish.
There are but few now in the city who lived here when the county seat was removed. Among those we can recall are Julio Carrillo, Joe Richerson, Ike Rippeto, S. T. Coulter, F. G. Hahman, Dr. J. F. Boyce and W. B. Atterbury. Dr. Boyce was the first physician in Santa Rosa, and Judge J. Temple and the late Col. William Ross were the first attorneys.
The first public school was kept by W. M. Williamson, now a resident of the Navagator Islands, [sic - now known as Samoan Islands] and a former subject of Ex King Steinberger of Samoa. The first bridge over Santa Rosa creek was built by Charles White. The first church built in the town was the Christian Church, which stood on the corner of B and Fourth streets where the Occidental Hotel now stands.
F. H. Hahman was the first Postmaster. One of the first children born here now living, was C. A. Coulter, on the 12th of December 1854.
Want of space prevents our going more into detail or further along in the history of Santa Rosa. From 1856 to 1870 the town grew slowly. At the national census in the last named year it was credited with but 900 inhabitants. In 1872 the railroad was completed from tide water to Santa Rosa, and since that time the town has increased from a population of one thousand, to nearly five thousand.
Two flourishing colleges have been founded. The city limits embrace an area of one and a half miles square. There are more than 1,000 houses and there is a rapid growth in material prosperity as well as in population. The future we will not predict. We are thankful that our lot is cast in a land so fair, a climate so salubrious, a soil so fruitful that it laughs with plenty if "tickled with a hoe."
A zealous priest, Father Amoroso, gave the stream and valley the name of Santa Rosa--in honor of Santa Rosa de Lima. The 26th day of August is her festival, and it must have been on that day that the good father discovered and baptized the stream.
[...Two paragraphs on Santa Rosa de Lima...]
- Sonoma Democrat, July 8, 1876
All we know for certain is this: Somewhere around Santa Rosa, their lives ended on the last day of spring. The Bear Flag Revolt was not even a week old.
(Regrettably, this article had to be split into two parts because of its length - yet another technical reason why I am migrating this blog to SantaRosaHistory.com. Footnotes for this part are included here but the full set, along with transcribed materials mentioned below, appear in part two.)
The stories about the horrific deaths of Cowie and Fowler dumped gasoline on the bonfire of anxieties among American immigrants in the North Bay. Earlier that June of 1846 rumors spread that the fearsome Mexican Army was on the march, preparing to drive them out of the territory - or maybe slaughter them in their beds. In truth, the Mexican government had trouble remembering anything existed beyond Yerba Buena (San Francisco) and probably had barely enough soldiers north of Los Angeles to fill a modern high school gym. When a small division of Mexican soldiers encountered armed settlers at the "Battle" of Olómpali they quickly retreated, even though they outnumbered the Americans by about four to one. More on the background and immediate American reaction to the deaths can be found in the earlier article, "TWO MARTYRS FOR THE FLAG OF THE BEARS."
From the Californio viewpoint, the small immigrant population just suddenly went nuts, declaring they were taking over and starting a new country. "The running up of this queer flag caused much fear to the families of the Californians established in the neighborhood of Sonoma, Petaluma and San Rafael," General Vallejo wrote in his memoirs, adding the ranchers would not have been so alarmed if it were the United States declaring annexation. But the aristocratic Vallejo and his brother - who represented the rule of law in that part of Alta California - were prisoners of this little breakaway rebel group and the citizens didn't know what they should do. A few "seized their machetes and guns and fled to the woods, determined to await a propitious moment for getting rid of the disturbers of the peace," the General continued. In other words, they formed a patriotic resistance force to hold on until order was restored by the mighty Mexican Army, see above.
Leading the Californio militia here was 22 year-old Juan Padilla who owned Rancho Roblar de la Miseria (think of the Hessel-Roblar Road-Two Rock area). Padilla only had been in the area a few months but had some official Mexican government credentials as being recently the alcalde of Yerba Buena. Estimates of the number of men riding with Padillia ranged from a dozen to upwards of 200, the higher numbers probably the product of fevered imaginations from American alarmists. There was another Californio militia from the Napa area trailing the Americans taking General Vallejo and other prisoners to Frémont's camp on the American River, but one of the few things certain about the Fowler and Cowie story is that they were put to death while in Padilla's custody. The most concise account of what happened was told in Bancroft's history:1
On the 18th or 19th, Fowler and Thomas Cowie were sent by Ide to obtain a keg of powder from Moses Carson at the Fitch rancho on Russian River. Disregarding the advice of Ide and Ford, they are said to have neglected all precautions, and to have followed the main road. Before reaching their destination they were captured by a party of Californians under Juan N. Padilla and Ramon Carrillo... It was near Santa Rosa that the two Americans were captured, under circumstances of which nothing is known. They were killed by their captors, and they are said to have been mutilated in a most horrible manner.
After they had not returned in two days, Bancroft continued, "...Sergeant Gibson [was sent] with four men to Fitch's rancho. Obtaining the powder, but no news, Gibson started back, and near Santa Rosa was attacked by a small party of Mexicans, one of whom was wounded, and another brought captive to Sonoma. It was from him that information was first obtained about the murder."
Almost everything written there by Bancroft came from the 1851 recollections of Henry L. Ford, the second in command at Sonoma and the guy who was really running the show ("Commander" William Ide was lost in the weeds, trying to decide if posterity would remember him as being more like George Washington, Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson).
Bancroft thought Ford was a trustworthy source but there were others who remembered things differently - sometimes very differently. There are multiple versions of where they were captured and killed and who was involved. The various accounts fall into two rough categories: American and Californio, each further divided up by when the claims appeared. The first versions are those that mostly were written close to 1846:
FIRST AMERICAN Warning: The descriptions of torture in this section are quite graphic.
The earliest version of the Cowie and Fowler story was published about ten weeks later in The Californian, the first newspaper in the province of Alta California. The author is not named but as the paper was founded shortly before by Bear Flagger Robert Semple he is the likely writer. Here is part of what Bernardino Garcia, known as "Four Fingered Jack" (because he supposedly was missing a thumb) reportedly told his captors at the Sonoma jail:
The party after keeping the prisoners a day or two, tied them to trees, then stoned them, one of them had his jaw broken, a riata (rope) was made fast to the broken bone and the jaw dragged out, they were then cut up, a small piece at a time, and the pieces thrown at them, or crammed in their throats and they were eventually despatched by cutting out their bowels.
An earlier military dispatch, written July 25 by Captain Gillespie from Frémont's forces, told the same basic tale: "The Californios first shot the two Americans, tied them to trees, cut off their privates, scared [sic] their breast on either side, broke their jaws, and disfigured them with knives ...they then threw the bodies into a ditch... "2
And although it didn't appear in print until ten years later, Alexis Godey, another of Frémont's men wrote about the same thing: "...their bodies presented a most shocking spectacle, bearing the marks of horrible mutilation, their throats cut, and their bowels ripped open; other indignities were perpetrated of a nature to disgusting and obscene to relate." He continued by writing Cowie was well-known and popular, so "...the sight that his lifeless remains presented, created in the breasts of many of his old friends a feeling of stern and bitter revenge..."3
Then there was this statement from Bear Flagger William Baldridge, in an unpublished account requested by Bancroft: "It was stated and believed by some that after they surrendered, they were tied to trees and cut to pieces with knives, but if anyone stated positively that they were put to death in that way, I failed to hear it."
Notice Garcia did not confess involvement with the killings, laying full blame on "the party," which the article specified as a "small party of Californians under command of one [sic Juan] Padilla." This was probably wise of him; in mid-July correspondence between Commander Montgomery of the American man-of-war sloop Portsmouth anchored off Sausalito and John Grigsby - the Bear left in charge of the 50-odd men remaining at the Sonoma fort after the others rode off with Frémont as part of the "California Battalion" - it was decided that Garcia and the other prisoner should remain in jail to protect them from being lynched.4
The accounts by Frémont's men seem to confirm the mutilation story until you look at the calendar. By all accounts Fowler and Cowie were killed on June 19th or 20th somewhere near Santa Rosa. But Gillespie and Godey rode in with Frémont on the 25th, so if they actually saw the bodies, the remains would have needed to be close to Sonoma and still unburied, for some awful reason.
Also, this: Frémont and the California Battalion left Sonoma on July 6 and ten days later Grigsby wrote to the naval commander, "We have found the two men who were lost on the Santa Rosa farm, horribly mangled." Thus none of Frémont's crew ever viewed the bodies - and neither did any Bear Flaggers until the victims had been decomposing for nearly a month. Conclusions about what all this implies is discussed at the end of this piece.
Also in question is where Fowler and Cowie were headed. Bancroft stated flatly they were going to "the Fitch rancho on Russian River" without his usual thorough and long-winded footnotes. Baldridge supports that: "A man on Russian River, about one day's travel from Sonoma, sent us word that he had a keg of powder and if we would sent after it he would give it to us."5
But the Californian newspaper - in the same article describing the horrific deaths - claimed they were headed to Bodega, and that destination appears in several early and modern histories. This is probably a confusion because Bear Flagger William Todd and another man were sent on a mission towards the coast around the same time, carrying some note from Frémont (I suspect it was an appeal to Captain Stephen Smith to join the revolt and alert them of any Mexican troop ships appearing on the coast). Todd and his companion were captured by Californios and taken to Olómpali.6
William Ide wrote they went in yet another direction; he claimed Fowler and Cowie were "sent to Doct. Bails, a distance of about 20 miles, to obtain a keg of powder which had been purchased." In many ways this possibility is the most reasonable. Doctor Bale had a substantial rancho where the Bears had rested before their assault on Sonoma, so Ide and the others had knowledge of what stores he had available. His place, however, was on the Napa River above St. Helena.
Thus depending whom you believe, Cowie and Fowler were going north, west, or east.
FIRST CALIFORNIO There were no early printed Californio accounts of the Bear Flag Revolt except for Osio's 1851 history (see sidebar in part 2, "HUNTING THE ELUSIVE BEARS"), and he does not mention Padilla's militia or the Cowie and Fowler incident. But original documents published by Bancroft and others later give a remarkably thorough account of the doings of Padillia's Californio homeland defense force from the capture of Cowie/Fowler around June 19 until the group faded away five days later when it merged with the soldiers at Olómpali.
In one of Bear Flagger Grigsby's reports to Commander Montgomery he lists names or partial names of twelve men who were believed involved with the killings. Most were obscure locals except for José Ramón Carrillo, the 25 year-old son of the famous Santa Rosa family. But writings that appeared later show Carrillo's group was separate from Padilla's - Carrillo captured Cowie/Fowler and turned them over to Padilla, who murdered them.
Later that summer Carrillo was in San Diego where he gave a court deposition about the doings in the north. Bancroft summarized that testimony in a lengthy footnote concerning Cowie and Fowler (see sidebar in part two), writing: "Carrillo took the two men and delivered them to Padilla, who, against his advice and that of others, insisted on having them shot. Four men under a corporal were sent to shoot and bury them." (Carrillo added he had reported what was done to Commandante General José Castro and he approved.)
In his memoirs, General Vallejo also made a distinction between the separate "command(s) of Captains Padilla and Ramón Carrillo." Vallejo's wife, Francisca - a sister of Ramón - said Bear Flag leader Ide strong-armed her into write a letter to both of them. Ide wanted a meeting and their promise not to attack Sonoma, warning Francisca that she and her family, who were under house arrest, would be killed "as soon as the California guerrilla men came in sight over the Sonoma hills." She did as he asked, but also packed her brother a little something extra:7
...I agreed to write the letters that Ide requested of us and, in order to ensure the life of the messenger, we asked him to give us a passport...so that the Indian Gervasio might travel freely with his oxcart loaded with hides. At night we ordered Gervasio to place among the hides a dozen pistols, ten pounds of powder, four flintlocks and six sabers. He left in the direction of Petaluma. On the road he met my brother, Ramón, turned the weapons over to him and then continued on his way to Petaluma.
Ide apparently made the demand a day or two before the Bears discovered Cowie and Fowler were dead. Ramón replied to his sister June 22, writing from "Sierra de Petaluma":
...I tell you not to have any fear that this force which I have reunited is for the purpose of doing any damage to that señor or his force. It is true that we have many armed Indians and people of class, and if we had any intention of doing any damage we would have done it...the only design for which we have united ourselves has been to guard our interests and to lay claim in a legal way to the peace which has been promised us...
Probably needless to say, the meeting did not occur; by the time Francisca must have received his reply, events had moved on and the Bear Flag irregulars were heading for Olómpali. His letter - with its defense-only message - did not mention Cowie and Fowler (Ramón's entire letter, in both Spanish and English translation, can be read here).
The Carrillo and Padilla forces again met up at Olómpali, and in his later court testimony provided one of the few first-hand Californio versions of what happened there: "After joining Padilla I proposed to him to set free his prisoners, and he did so before the fight. Then the foe fell upon us, all being under the command of [Captain Joaquin de la] Torre, who ordered us to mount and fire; but seeing that he could gain no advantage, since most of his men ran away, he ordered the rest to retire. We formed again in the plain, where we were not attacked; and then we retreated to San Rafael, with one man killed and two wounded."
|1 All references to H. H. Bancroft in this article refer to his History of California Vo. 5 1846-1848 published in 1886.|
|2 Officer Gillespie and Other Military Officers from the Pacific Squadron's Dispatches to the Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, MS 89, Reel 33. National Archives, San Bruno, California. Cited in Scheiner (see sidebar)|
|3 October 1856, New York Evening Post cited in Walker, Dale; "Bear Flag Rising", 199; pg 132-133|
|4 National Archives Squadron Letters cited in Warner; The Men of the California Bear Flag Revolt and Their Heritage; 1996, pg. 183. The second prisoner was named as "Blas Angelino" in that correspondence of Grigsby and Montgomery on July 16 and 18. Ford said he took the prisoners with them as he and the irregular volunteers went in search of the Californio militia and ended up at Olómpali. He did not explain why; perhaps he feared they would not be adequately safe in the Sonoma jail or maybe he anticipated he might need them as hostages to trade for the missing Bears.|
|5 The Fitch property was Rancho Sotoyome, which encompassed modern Healdsburg and lands to the east, including all of the Russian River nearby. Henry Fitch, married to the eldest of Doña María Carrillo daughters, was not a player in the Bear Flag story as he and the family lived in San Diego where he was part of the local Mexican government.|
|6 The party of Bears who confronted the soldiers at Olómpali were the rescue party for Todd and the other man. Todd was released unharmed at the start of the battle, but strangely, there is no conclusive answer about what happened to the other guy, who was reported as both killed and rescued. His name was Francis Young but usually mentioned as "English Jack," "the Englishman" or specifically, "the dumb Englishman." He was actually Canadian.|
|7 Vallejo's "Historical and Personal Memoirs" vol 5, cited in Rosenus (see sidebar) pg. 147-148|
The first versions of the Cowie/Fowler story were written close to 1846, as detailed in part one of this article. The later versions were primarily the accounts which popped up between 30-50 years later, and over time new details emerged - or, perhaps, were just made up:
LATER AMERICAN Bancroft's scholarly California history set began appearing in 1884 and was a great reference, but it wasn't cheap or easy reading - eye-crossing footnotes crammed with minutiae sometimes filled entire pages. A well-funded library might include that sort of deep resource but most of our California ancestors learned everything they knew about the Bear Flag Revolt from the county histories which began to appear around the same time. Those books were found in many homes because they were mostly vanity bios of locals who paid the publisher to be commemorated as an absolutely remarkable person. The chapters about state history were filler to lend the books gravitas and the same text was reused across all editions.
The Cowie/Fowler section from the 1880 Sonoma County history (which is the same for the histories of Marin, Alameda, Stanislaus, San Benito, etc. etc.) displays the mishmash of information found in these books. Although sources aren't mentioned, nearly everything there came from three newspaper articles.
The bones of that narrative came from the Henry L. Ford memoir trusted by Bancroft, so that's the good news about the county histories version. Long after Ford had died, a friend of his edited a paraphrased version which appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin (unknown date) and the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel on March 11, 1876. Here is that summary of what Ford remembered, a mere five years after the events:
On Thursday, the 18th, Lieutenant Ford sends two men, named Cowie and Fowler, to Fitch's rancho for a keg of rifle powder. Before starting, he cautioned them to avoid traveled roads, as he apprehended the possibility of trouble from native Californians. The men observed this caution for about ten miles, when for some reason they struck into the main road to Santa Rosa. When within about two miles of that place they were surprised by a party of Californians, and were put to death in a shocking manner...on Saturday, the 20th, Lieut. Ford orders Sergeant Gibson to take four men, and by night repair to Fitch's rancho, and learn, if possible, the whereabouts of the missing men, and get the powder. These men went as directed, and obtained the powder, but could learn nothing concerning the missing men. On their return, just at daylight, as they are passing Santa Rosa, they are attacked by three or four Californians; they turn upon their assailants and take two of them prisoner and bring them with them back to Sonoma. From the prisoners they learn the fate of Cowie and Fowler, who were butchered in the most horrible manner.
The county histories also pulled information from an 1874 article which appeared in the Santa Rosa paper. The account published in the Sonoma Democrat, transcribed below, was widely reprinted in other papers at the time. In this short, unsigned article, it was revealed some thought the drawing on the flag "looked more like a hog than a bear," Cowie supposedly sewed the flag, and other little fun flaggy facts. Its significant contribution to the Fowler/Cowie story in the county books was identifying the location of their bodies (more or less) as being on a particular farm off modern-day Chanate Road. The original article additionally claimed they were captured a short distance from Rincon Valley.
Source #3 was lifted from a San Francisco newspaper item concerning "Three-fingered Jack" (he either lost another digit somewhere or maybe everyone was miscounting all along). This time the county histories copied the paper's entire section on the Cowie and Fowler's killings with brazen plagiarism, sometimes changing a word here and there but usually not. The worst of it was that the story they were stealing was a lie.
Although the 1853 newspaper prefaced their version of their murders by stating it was "substantially" the same as what was published "in the local papers of this place, in 1846," this was far more horrific than the original tale told in the Californian which is included in part one. From the Alta California newspaper of July 31, 1853:
...the two young men above named started to go from their homes, near Sonoma, to Bodega. On their way, not far from Petaluma Creek, they encountered a party of native Californians, all armed, by whome they were taken prisoners. They were kept guarded until the next morning, when a council was held to determine their fate. A swarthy New Mexican named Padilla, and a Californian called Three-fingered Jack, were most active in denouncing the prisoners as only deserving death, and their counsel prevailed. The unfortunate young men were stripped, bound to a tree with the lariats of their captors, and for a while the inhuman wretches practiced knife-throwing at their naked limbs, in the manner that savages are said to torture their victims at the stake by experiments with their tomahawks. The men prayed to be shot. The fiends then commenced stoning the victims. One stone broke the jaw of Fowler. A miscreant advanced, thrust the end of his riata through the mouth, cut an incision in the throat, and then made a tie by which the jaw was dragged out! The perpetrator of this horrible cruelty was Jack. Cowie, who had fainted, had the skin stripped from his arms and shoulders.
Both men were now slowly dispatched with knives. Nothing can exceed the sufferings in the slow torture to which they were subjected. Pieces of flesh were cut from their bodies and crammed into their mouths. They were eventually destroyed by cutting out their bowels.
The first local history actually written by someone local was the the booklet-sized 1884 Santa Rosa history by Robert Thompson, publisher of the town's Sonoma Democrat. He offered only two short paragraphs on Cowie/Fowler, but introduced several memes which have endured, primarily that their bodies were found by an Indian named "Chanate," which supposedly meant, "blackbird." If accurate, that man wasn't from anywhere around here.8
Thompson also wrote they were captured near where Richard Fulkerson lived in 1884. The county atlas from a few years earlier shows him owning several disjointed places north and east of Santa Rosa, including a large parcel near Rincon Valley, which may confirm the 1874 story. Fulkerson also owed all the land around (what became) the Rural Cemetery and the road north passed right through the middle of it - thus a possibility they were caught in the vicinity of today's Franklin Avenue.
But the most intriguing nugget was presented like a throwaway - that Juan Padilla's militia had commandeered the Carrillo family rancho. Here is what Thompson wrote in full:
...Cowie and Fowler were captured by Juan Padillo, [sic] who had charge of a band of marauders, and had taken possession of Señora Carrillo's residence, the old adobe on Mrs. F. G. Hahman's farm, near Santa Rosa.
The two unfortunate men were captured near where Mr. Richard Fulkerson now lives. They were then taken up the valley, above the County Farm, where they were shot. Their bodies were mutilated and thrown into a stream, a prey for the wolf and the coyote. A charitable Indian named Chanate--in English, Black Bird--less a savage than the slayers of poor Cowie and Fowler, went up and told Moses Carson of the condition of the bodies, and he came down and buried them beneath a pine tree.
Shift forward several years and it's the 50th anniversary of the Bear Flag Revolt. On June 14, 1896, Thompson gave a lengthy speech in Sonoma, published by Santa Rosa's Sonoma Democrat as "Conquest of California." The Indian was now named "Chanati" (nope, still not a Pomo word) and was no longer alone; now he and Mose Carson, "with the aid of other friendly Indian hands buried the bodies of these poor men beneath the pine trees." In this telling Cowie and Fowler were held captive at the Carrillo adobe overnight, then taken to the place of their execution the next morning because Doña María Carrillo "objected to any violence to the men on her ranch."
...They were taken to the Carrillo adobe house on Santa Rosa creek, now the Hahman farm, and were kept there all night. Mrs. Carrillo, who owned the place, objected to any violence to the men on her ranch.
On the morning of the 19th they were led out by their cruel and heartless captors. They were taken up the little valley on which the county farm is situated beyond the line of Mrs. Carrillo's ranch, a point then and now one of the most unfrequented places near Santa Rosa. It is a lovely spot at the mouth of a little cañon which opens from the Rincon ridge into Pleasant valley.
There were a number of pine trees in this dreamy and lovely little vale. Here poor Cowie and Fowler were dragged. Destitute of human sympathy, reckless of consequences, the cruel captor, Padilla, three-fingered Jack as he was called, bound them with rawhide riatas to two trees. They were hacked with knives, riddled with bullets, and not satisfied with this their dead bodies were mutilated and dishonored in a brutal manner, and were then pitched into a rivulet which ran down into the beautiful vale below. The outraged bodies were discovered a few days after by an Indian named Chanati (Blackbird) who, less a savage than Padilla, told Mose Carson of their condition. Carson came down, and with the aid of other friendly Indian hands buried the bodies of these poor men beneath the pine trees...
As before, there was no mention of where he learned this stuff, which no one had mentioned before.
LATER CALIFORNIO There is no more important resource about Alta California than the five volumes of memoirs General Vallejo presented to Bancroft in 1875. They were even translated into English. But the University of California has never published any of it, which (in my humble opinion) is a disgrace to the school. But at least sections related to the Bear Flag Revolt are available online and are worth reading in full.
There are several surprises in Vallejo's section on the Cowie/Fowler incident and it has to be remembered he did not know about any of this firsthand, as he was locked up with his brother and others at Sutter's Fort.
According to the General, the men were captured much farther away from Santa Rosa, on the Yulupa Rancho (think somewhere around SSU or a little east). They were tied to trees while riders were dispatched to contact the Californio ranch owners supporting the defensores asking them to meet that evening to decide what to do with the prisoners. Vallejo said nothing about them being moved to the Carrillo adobe or elsewhere and as mentioned above, he was very clear Juan Padilla and Ramón Carrillo were commanders of separate militias.
As the assembled group was discussing the issue that night, "Three-fingered Jack" Garcia interrupted the meeting to announce he had just killed Cowie and Fowler. "I thought you here were going to decide to free the prisoners and, as that is not for the good of my country, I got ahead of you and took the lives of the Americans who were tied to the trees," he said, according to Vallejo.
Yet another variant of Fowler/Cowie story was passed down through the Carrillo family:9
When Thomas Cowie and George Fowler (members of the Bear Flag Revolt) came from Sonoma to Mark West Creek to get ammunition stored there and stopped at Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa, they accepted hospitality and, in return, committed all kinds of atrocities. They included the raping and killing of Ramón’s wife before vigilantes (defensores) could arrive to help the Carrillo family.
The Señora didn’t want trouble on her property and begged everyone to leave. The vigilantes took Cowie and Fowler up the hill to the north of the rancho (the location of the Sonoma County Hospital). These murderers were killed but first were given some rough treatment in revenge for the crime they had committed at the adobe.
Rape and murder are accusations not to be thrown around lightly and if such an awful thing happened, the burden of proof begins with explaining why absolutely no one ever wrote about it. Ramón’s letter from the Petaluma hills, written only two or three days after his wife was supposedly murdered, does not mention her and displays no emotions towards the Americans - it is a cool, dispassionate message written as a diplomat seeking a peaceful armistice.
Likewise, it's inconceivable Vallejo wouldn't mention the killing of a family member (she would have been the wife of his brother-in-law). In his memoir he complained at length about the uncivilized behavior of the Bears and told the story of Damaso Rodriguez, an 80 year-old retired soldier who died after being badly beaten up at Olómpali, a "...venerable old man who had fallen as a victim of the thirst for blood that was the prime mover of the guerrilla men."10
Nor is there any real evidence he was married. All the Carrillo family book stated was, "...Ramón married a beautiful girl named Rosita but no records have been found of the marriage. They must have been married in Sonora, Mexico because Ramón went to Mexico about that time. It is recorded that they went to a dance together. As they danced so beautifully together, everyone applauded." Ramón did marry (or remarry) about eight months later.
The Rosita rape/murder story is so threadbare there's nothing more to discuss about it - except for the fact it is still being discussed. Gaye LeBaron has written it up for at least forty years (it was a section of her 1988 Valentine's Day column entitled, "The Avenging Lover") and it has become de rigueur to raise it as a possibility whenever Cowie and Fowler's deaths are mentioned. I object to this strongly; it turns their killings into a simplistic tale of Carrillo and his fellow Californios seeking revenge. And to preview the wrapup below, I believe this is an historic injustice to Ramón Carrillo, who appears to be just about the only major player in the Bear Flag Revolt cast of characters who comes out smelling like roses.
Ramón died in 1864, shot in the back while riding his horse on the road near Cucamonga. A couple of weeks later a letter from his brother Julio appeared in the Santa Rosa paper, denying the "infamous falsehoods" which were being spread about Ramón (more on this letter below). In the following weeks other letters appeared testifying to his good character. "He was not a desperado," wrote a man from Sacramento. "He possessed too high a sense of honor and self-respect to have ever been connected with outlaws." True or no, newspapers statewide had reported he was a notorious bandito.
In the months before his death it was reported the "Ramon Carrillo gang" was being hunted by the Los Angeles Vigilance Committee for supposedly killing a deputy in Santa Barbara. Some authors have suggested Carrillo was shot by a "vigilante" seeking to avenge Fowler/Cowie, but it's clear from the contemporary papers that people were wondering whether he was murdered by someone part of the LA Committee, infamous for lynch mobs which mainly killed Latinos.
"Jose Ramon Carrillo, who has acquired much notoriety of late, has signified his desire to come in and surrender himself to the law, provided he can have a legal examination and trial, without falling into the hands of the Vigilance Committee," reported the Alta California on Christmas Eve, 1863. Two months later the paper said it was believed "...he was skulking in the mountains with some twenty or more adherents, and that the military in this district had orders to shoot him on sight. Rumor now says that he will join a company of volunteers for the U. S. service, and that he has always been a good, true and loyal citizen." Shortly thereafter, two members of his "gang" were nabbed and promised to squeal on their hideout.
Whether or not he was actually a highwayman is not a debate to have here - but before judging anyone who lived in Southern California during that era, read a new book, "Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles." Imagine the most violent Quentin Tarantino movie and multiply the senseless brutality by ten.
Why Ramón chose to leave Northern California and his family is unknown, but after he and his men retreated with the Mexican soldiers after the battle at Olómpali, Carrillo continued moving south. He appeared in San Diego during August where he gave his testimony, then taking a part in the 11th-hour battles in Chino and San Pasqual shortly before the Mexican-American War came to an end in California. In February, 1847 he married Maria Vicenta Sepulveda Yorba, a widow with a large ranch and four children - together they would have another eight. The ranch near Mount Palomar ran large herds of livestock and horses, was an important stagecoach stop and included a trading post. He was a U. S. postmaster for a time and in the early part of the Civil War, was a scout for the Union when there were fears that the Rebels were about to invade Arizona from across the Mexican border. Quite a bit of detail about this side of his life is documented on a webpage from the San Diego History Center.
It sounds like a thoroughly mundane life, but José Ramón Carrillo was far from being a mundane man; he famously killed bears armed only with a knife and proved to be an excellent commander in the war with the Americans. It's his fearlessness combined with lawless, turbulent conditions in Southern California which gives the "Carrillo gang" stories any credibility, and helps explain why his story came to be completely entangled with the myth of Joaquín Murieta.
Murieta was an actual robber who had a small gang that stole gold and horses in the Gold Country between 1852-1853 and killed at least 20 people, mostly Chinese immigrants. Said to be among those riding with him was a man named Carrillo plus...wait for it...our old friend, Four/Three Fingered Jack. The public was so frightened of these men that the state legislature created the "California State Rangers" to track them down. In July, 1853 the Rangers had a shootout with a group of Mexicans in the Central Valley and claimed they killed Murieta, sawing off the guy's head and Jack's hand as proof.
The next year a small book appeared: The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit written by a man named John Rollin Ridge. This was entirely a work of fiction, gleaned from hearsay and newspaper articles over the years. The plot had Murieta being nearly whipped to death, his wife Rosita raped and his brother hung on false accusations, all within the first dozen pages. The rest of the book described how he hunted down and killed the Americans responsible. Here Jack was Murieta's savage henchman and the Cowie/Fowler story was rehashed to show how heartless he was (now he also was credited for cutting out their tongues and "punching out their eyes with a knife"). "Carillo" was named as part of the gang, and twice the book had Murieta stopping by the rancho of "José Ramune Carrejo."
That book received little notice (only a single copy is known to still survive) but shift forward five years to 1859, when a version was serialized in the popular Police Gazette along with topnotch illustrations. Almost entirely plagiarized, among the small changes was the detail Murieta's wife was raped AND killed in front of him.
Suddenly the Murieta story became a sensation. It was translated into Spanish with the setting moved, as appropriate, to different countries. Over the following decades plays were written and dime novel publishers churned out knockoff stories about "the Mexican Robin Hood." You don't have to squint very hard to see the "Zorro" character emerging here.
The tale evolved over time and lent itself to both blood 'n' thunder action stories and lost love romances - the most prominent of the latter being a book-length poem published in 1882, "Rosita: A California Tale." Here Rosita was not the spouse of Murieta, but one of his followers named Ramón.
Finally, it's worth noting a 1910 best-seller, "Celebrated Criminal Cases of America" flatly claimed "Murieta's true name was Carrillo" without offering any proof. This new spin has trickled down to today; do a Google search on "Joaquín Murrieta Carrillo" to find hundreds of places - including Wikipedia - which state matter-of-factly that the terrorist outlaw was indeed a Carrillo.11
How to make sense of all this? The problem with the Cowie/Fowler story is that there is too much information. They were headed to Healdsburg/Bodega/St. Helena; they were killed by torturers/firing squad/Garcia alone.
All that's certain is the story we tell today has an undeserved certainty. In the earliest accounts about half the time it was stated they were headed towards Bodega; after the 1874 Sonoma Democrat article appeared, it was settled fact they were going north to the Fitch Rancho. The same anonymous article established they died at a very particular spot, and that's where we're looking for them today (without much luck). Ten years after that a local history introduced the character of Chanate, and now the story always includes the friendly Indian. Similarly, the sufferings they endured became more awful. The original 1846 account was gruesome but only a few lines long; by the time it was retold in 1853 it was much longer because more horrific details were added, and that was the version used in all those county histories. The story kept building up like layers of sediment in slow moving waters.
Digging out provable truth after 170 years seems as unlikely as the odds we'll be digging up the bodies in the foreseeable future, but a good place to start might be looking closely at the mutilation story.
As discussed above, it's doubtful any of the Bear Flaggers actually saw the bodies of Fowler and Cowie until almost a month had passed. Yet in that gap there were four descriptions of the mutilations (counting the version printed in The Californian, where the latest news cutoff was the Battle of Olómpali). That Baldridge hadn't heard the story suggests it was only being spread by a faction of the Bear Flaggers, who passed it on as gospel truth to newcomers, including Frémont's men. So where did they learn about the horrible things done to the two young men? The only source could be prisoner Bernardino Garcia - or more likely, what someone heard a comrade say about what Garcia said. Thus a key part of the story rests on the honesty and truthfulness of "Four Fingered Jack." Swill that distasteful thought around for a moment.
Add to that: Even when their whereabouts were discovered, the bodies had been buried by Chanate and the other helpful Indians, according to the popular Thompson version. Did the Bear Flaggers take time out from the war to dig them up and do a field autopsy?
Next to consider is the means of death. Slow torture goes along with mutilation so again, raise your hand if you think old four-fingers was telling the whole truth and nothing but. Vallejo's version, with Jack sneakily killing them while the rancheros debated what to do, certainly sounds reasonable although that would place their graves somewhere near the SSU campus. But I'd put my money on Ramón Carrillo's account - that he turned them over to Padilla who had them shot and buried.
I've come to believe Ramón Carrillo is the only player in the Bear Flag drama with an unassailable character. Once it's understood his militia was on patrol separate from Padilla's group, more of the whole story makes sense. He argued with Padilla over keeping them prisoners but lost. Later, Comandante Castro told Carrillo he backed Padilla's execution of them. When testifying to these events he easily could have simply told the judge they were killed and left it at that; instead, he made a point of registering his dissent.
When other prisoners fell into his hands, it seems Carrillo did not turn them over to Padilla. Bear Flaggers William Todd and "the Englishman" were captured on a mission shortly after Cowie/Fowler but were not harmed. Carrillo wrote to his sister they were then being "detained in our camp" and when the two militias reconnected at Olómpali, Carrillo testified, "After joining Padilla I proposed to him to set free his prisoners, and he did so before the fight." (Todd ran to safety under the line of fire but the other guy apparently was too frightened to budge, hence his new nickname: "The dumb Englishman.")
Another alternative reading worth a ponder: Carrillo might have dropped Fowler and Cowie off with Padilla and did not learn what happened to them until a few days later, when the two militias again met up at Olómpali. Ramón's letter to his sister from the Petaluma hills did not mention their fate, instead noting "...we have never thought of doing the least damage with our arms, as we have not done up to the present..." implying he believed no blood had been spilled. And after Ramón's death his brother Julio wrote an impassioned letter to the Sonoma Democrat (transcribed below) which seems to support that idea, insisting Ramón "...was not even aware that these men had been taken prisoners until after they had been killed." That's not completely true since he apparently captured them, but it didn't mean he stuck around for their deaths.
Julio's 1864 letter about his brother continued with this observation: "The act was disapproved of by all the native Californians at the time, excepting those implicated in the killing, and caused a difference which was never entirely healed." That simple statement was the single most profound thing anyone had yet written concerning the events of the summer of 1846.
When the Bear Flag Revolt began William Ide penned a manifesto declaring they were establishing a multicultural utopian California Republic. Ramón wrote to his sister that his aim was only to protect the rancheros and hold Ide to his promises. Then someone on the Californio side killed Fowler and Cowie. Then someone on the American side killed the Haro teenagers and their elderly uncle. Lofty principles were forgotten and it became a neighborhood gang war, each side hunting the hunters on other side. And like in a gang war, both sides wanted to absolve what they did by claiming the other guys drew first blood.
Those unhealed wounds and regrets lingered for decades. Vallejo's 1875 account of the Bear Flag Revolt is filled with resentment against the Americans; he had been a good friend to the settlers both personally and professionally yet they treated him abusively, ransacked his house and threatened to kill his family. Neighbors who stood on different sides still had to live next to each other after the dust settled and it became American territory, but it wasn't sometimes easy. Antonio Coronel - a prominent Mexican who crossed paths with Ramón Carrillo in Southern California - was up here in 1849 and went out for a drink with a friend to a Sonoma saloon. As summarized from his memoirs:12
One day he and compadre Juan Padilla were waiting for the wet January weather to clear, when a former Bear Flagger began to bully Padilla for having served as Bernardo Garcia's henchman in the wartime atrocity against Cowie and Fowler. Padilla insisted that the charge was a lie, and the American replied with an assault. After a severe beating, Padilla lay in an upstairs room, hovering near death for several weeks, while below his accuser continued to threaten his life. Only Coronel's good reputation and the intercession of friendly Americans restrained the former Bear Flagger.
Towards the end of the 19th century the Americans had come to memorialize all things about the Bear Flag Revolt, particularly the story of how the flag was designed and the martyrdom of Cowie and Fowler. Conflicting views were not welcome; during the 50th Bear Flag anniversary, Robert Thompson ranted at length about Bancroft being a "biased historiographer" and "self-constituted historian" who was "unfair to the pioneers" by not being properly deferential to Frémont and the other Americans - even suggesting he would regret his words if some of the more kick-ass original Bears were still around to teach him a thing or three.
Forgotten was that many Americans at the time had mixed feelings about ousting the Mexican government, with Bear Flagger Baldridge plainly saying it was an injustice. Forgotten was that the American settlers were not in real danger or acting in self-defense. And forgotten was that no matter how noble their original ideals, the Bear Flag Revolt was part of a war of aggression - and as Americans we like to think we denounce countries who do things like that.
1 All references to H. H. Bancroft in this article refer to his History of California Vo. 5 1846-1848 published in 1886.
2 Officer Gillespie and Other Military Officers from the Pacific Squadron's Dispatches to the Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, MS 89, Reel 33. National Archives, San Bruno, California. Cited in Scheiner (see sidebar)
3 October 1856, New York Evening Post cited in Walker, Dale; "Bear Flag Rising", 199; pg 132-133
4 National Archives Squadron Letters cited in Warner; The Men of the California Bear Flag Revolt and Their Heritage; 1996, pg. 183. The second prisoner was named as "Blas Angelino" in that correspondence of Grigsby and Montgomery on July 16 and 18. Ford said he took the prisoners with them as he and the irregular volunteers went in search of the Californio militia and ended up at Olómpali. He did not explain why; perhaps he feared they would not be adequately safe in the Sonoma jail or maybe he anticipated he might need them as hostages to trade for the missing Bears.
5 The Fitch property was Rancho Sotoyome, which encompassed modern Healdsburg and lands to the east, including all of the Russian River nearby. Henry Fitch, married to the eldest of Doña María Carrillo daughters, was not a player in the Bear Flag story as he and the family lived in San Diego where he was part of the local Mexican government.
6 The party of Bears who confronted the soldiers at Olómpali were the rescue party for Todd and the other man. Todd was released unharmed at the start of the battle, but strangely, there is no conclusive answer about what happened to the other guy, who was reported as both killed and rescued. His name was Francis Young but usually mentioned as "English Jack," "the Englishman" or specifically, "the dumb Englishman." He was actually Canadian.
7 Vallejo's "Historical and Personal Memoirs" vol 5, cited in Rosenus (see sidebar) pg. 147-148
8In regional Pomo vocabularies around this area, the word for "blackbird" varies slightly but always begins with a "ts-" sound (crow was consistently "Kaai"). In Southern Pomo, for example, the present location of Windsor was called "Tsco-le-cawi" which meant, "blackbird water." The closest I can find to "Chanate" in any historic word list is "Chel-hay," which was a name for a valley oak sometimes used in the Healdsburg Pomo dialect.
9 "History and Memories: the Carrillo family in Sonoma County" by Alma McDaniel Carrillo and Eleanora Carrillo de Haney; 1983
10 Damaso Rodriguez - a career soldier and who was 64 years old, not 80 - was an invalid and had been on the payroll as part of Vallejo's small retinue in Sonoma for about nine years. While Bears may have indeed beaten him up in front of his family, Osio does not mention this incident in his history of the battle at Olómpali. Nor did Rodriguez apparently die from cause, as several days later he filed a claim worth $1,243 with the U.S. for cattle and other property stolen by Frémont's men. (The U.S. did honor some Bear Flag-period claims like this when a receipt was provided - see Bancroft p. 462.)
11 The introduction to the University of Oklahoma edition of Ridge's original book has more details on the twists and turns of the Murieta story. The author suggests the notion that Murieta was really a Carrillo came from a 1909 Overland Monthly article supposedly written using "authentic sources." There it's stated both Joaquin Carillo [sp] was Murieta's real name, then a few pages later that Carillo "was also an alias of their chief."
12 Pitt, Leonard; The Decline of the Californios, 1970; pg 50
The story of the Bear Flag Revolt may be captivating, but the confusion surrounding the Cowie and Fowler episode shows how little is really known for certain.
SIDEBAR: HUNTING THE ELUSIVE BEARS
The main problem is few primary sources are available. At the time there were no newspapers published in California - it would be three months before the pro-American "Californian" broadsheet appeared and offered the first detailed accounts of what had happened (the full Cowie-Fowler report can be read in issue five). Another obstacle is that for thirty-some years the Revolt was treated as an odd little footnote to the Mexican-American War. Letters from the aging Bears sometimes appeared in papers and the Revolt was sometimes given a page or two in profiles of John Frémont or memoirs about the Gold Rush, but it wasn't until historians Bancroft and Josiah Royce paid attention and it was glamorized in the flood of county histories that it gained traction as an important event in its own right. That's a long time for details to fade and myths to develop; imagine what we might believe today about the JFK assassination, for example, had little been written about it before the year 2000.
The chapter of General Vallejo's memoir on the Bear Flag Revolt is available online and is worth reading in full, even though he was a prisoner during most of this time and learned details second hand. Bancroft considered William Baldridge's "'Days of '46" as "by far the most valuable and complete" account of the Revolt and it's given due emphasis here. For anyone interested in researching further, Bancroft offered a lengthy discussion of Bear Flag sources as well as scooping up every scrap of information he came across about Cowie and Fowler. A single-page PDF of that summary is available for download through the Comstock House digital library. An 1890 magazine article, "The 'Bears' and the Historians" was helpful in sorting out the evolution of the myths surrounding the Revolt.
The best overall book on the events is Alan Rosenus' "General Vallejo and the Advent of the Americans" written in 1995. Antonio María Osio's 1851 "The History of Alta California" is now available in English translation and along with Vallejo's chapter, offers the Californio viewpoint (Cowie and Fowler are not mentioned). Also very useful is a thesis written by Patricia Campos Scheiner, "Californio Resistance to the U.S. Invasion of 1846."
A list of works best avoided would be long, but near the top would be the books written by and about the "Commander" of the California Republic, William B. Ide: "Who Conquered California?" and "Scraps of California History." Both were published around 1880 by his brother and based on their conversations before his death in 1852 and a long, descriptive letter he supposedly wrote quite soon after the events. But as described in the previous article, Ide was an alarmist who promoted fear to justify his actions. And historian H. H. Bancroft found those books are "...everywhere colored by a violent prejudice, sometimes amounting to a mania, against Frémont, whom Ide honestly believed to have robbed him of his fame as a conqueror and founder of a republic."
A TRUE HISTORY OF THE BEAR FLAG
The circumstances connected with the transfer from Mexico to the United States of sovereign power over the territory of California is of absorbing interest. As time goes on this interest will increase, and the historian of the future will search wearily through the dusty records of the past for facts which at this time may be obtained from active participants in those stirring scenes. We have the following statement from a former citizen of this county of the facts connected with the raising of the Bear Flag, why it was made and of what material. These facts can be established by persons now alive. They are of peculiar interest to the citizens of Sonoma county. The neighboring town of Sonoma was the scene of the event, many of the participants were afterwards our neighbors and friends, some of them still reside among us. On the morning of June 14th, 1846, about daylight thirty-three armed men, who had organized in Napa Valley the previous day, arrived in the town of Sonoma, the headquarters of the Mexican military commandant, Gen. M. G. Vallejo. This small band had selected from their number Capt. Merritt, of Sacramento Valley, to lead them. They entered the town, meeting no resistance; went first to Gen. Vallejo's quarters, arrested him, his brother Salvador, and Victor Prudon, Alcalde of the town. They sent them as prisoners under guard to Sutter's Fort. The rest of the revolutionary party remained in possession of the town. Among them were three young men, Alexander Todd, Benjamin Duell and Thomas Cowey. A few days after the capture in a casual conversation between these young men, the matter of a flag came up. They had no authority to raise the American flag and they determined to make one. Their general idea was to imitate, without following too closely, their national ensign. Mrs. W. B. Elliott had been brought to the town of Sonoma by her husband from his ranch on Mark West creek for safety. The old Elliott cabin may be seen to this day on Mark West creek about a mile above the Springs. From Mrs. Elliott[,] Ben Duell got a piece of new red flannel, some white domestic, needles and thread. A piece of blue drilling was obtained elsewhere. From this material, without consultation with any one else, thes-e three young men made the Bear Flag. Cowie had been a saddler. Duell had also served a short time at the same trade. To form the flag Duell and Cowie sewed together alternate' strips of red, white, and blue. Todd drew in the upper corner a star and painted on the lower a rude picture of a grizzly bear, which was not standing as has been sometimes represented, but was drawn with head down. The bear was afterwards adopted as the design of the great seal of the State of California. On the original flag it was so rudely executed that two of those who saw it raised have told us that it looked more like a hog than a bear. Be that as it may, its meaning was plain—that the revolutionary party would, if necessary, fight their way through at all hazards. In the language of our informant, it meant that there was no back out; they intended to fight it out. There were no1 halyards on the flag-staff which stood in front of the barracks. It was again reared, and the flag which was soon to be replaced by that of the Republic for the first time floated on the breeze.
The Americans were short of powder. It was known that Mose Carson, a brother of Kit and Lindsey, who at the time was Superintendent of the Fitch ranch, had at that place half a keg of powder. Just after the flag was raised, Thomas Cowey and a man named Fowler volunteered to go to Russian River and secure this powder. They came up the valley and attempted to cross the Rincon Valley to avoid Santa Rosa. Within a short distance of this place they were surprised by the Mexicans and both were killed. Their mutilated remains were afterwards found and they were buried where they fell, upon the farm now owned by John Underhill, two miles north of Santa Rosa. No stone marks the graves of these pioneers, one of whom took so conspicuous a part in the event which gave to the Union the great State of California. Alexander Todd still lives in the State and will confirm this statement in every particular.
- Sonoma Democrat, August 8, 1874
The Murder of Ramon Corrillo.
EDITOR OF SONOMA COUNTY DEMOCRAT:
I desire through your paper to brand, as it deserves, a foul aspertion [sic] upon the name of my brother, Ramon Corrillo, who was recently murdered in a most cowardly manner near Los Angeles.
But I wish more particularly to call attention to an old charge, which I presume owes its revival to the same source, to wit: That my brother, Ramon Carrillo, was connected with the murder of two Americans, who had been taken prisoners by a company commanded by Juan Padilla in 1846.
I presume this charge first originated from the fact that my brother had been active in raising the company which was commanded by Padillo, and from the further fact that the murder occurred near the Santa Rosa farm, then occupied by my mother's family.
Notwithstanding these appearances, I have proof which is incontestable, that my brother was not connected with this affair, and was not even aware that these men had been taken prisoners until after they had been killed. The act was disapproved of by all the native Californians at the time, excepting those implicated in the killing, and caused a difference which was never entirely healed.
There are, as I believe, many Americans now living in this vicinity, who were here at the time, and who know the facts I have mentioned. I am ready to furnish proof of what I have said to any who may desire it.
- Sonoma Democrat, June 4, 1864