The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 2003, Volume 49, Number 1
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

The U.S.-Mexican War in San Diego, 1846-1847

Loyalty and Resistance

By Richard Griswold del Castillo

Images from the Article

Little has been written about the American military conquest of San Diego during the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848. The survey histories of San Diego, while mentioning the Battle of San Pasqual, do not discuss the ways in which the conflict here divided the Californio population. Neither is it appreciated that the majority of the Mexican population valiantly fought against the American occupation of their town and succeeded, for a time, in recapturing San Diego from the U.S. Army and in besieging the Americans throughout the winter months of 1846. The final capture of San Diego was not at all an easy affair. It was accomplished only after a major resistance movement by the Mexican partisans. A closer look at this period of conflict in San Diego can give us a better appreciation of the evolution of our Mexican American community.

On May 11, 1846, the Congress of the United States voted to declare war on the Republic of Mexico. President James K. Polk justified his war message saying that Mexico had attacked American troops and invaded the United States and that the Mexican government had not been cooperative in negotiations over the Texas boundary issue. The first battles between U.S. and Mexican troops occurred in the area just north of Matamoros, a few miles north of the Rio Grande (Bravo), in an area that had been part of the state of Coahuila for decades. In reality the Mexican "invasion" occurred in territory which was not conclusively American soil. Many Americans at the time saw the declaration of war as a legitimate and natural expression of America's Manifest Destiny to acquire the western territories reaching to the Pacific Ocean. Merchants and commercial men saw California's ports as part of a commercial expansion leading to the lucrative China trade. Strategically the U.S. government worried that the British or perhaps the Russians might annex California and that this would jeopardize national expansion.

San Diego's port was well known as one of the best in California after San Francisco. For years American merchant ships had visited these ports selling manufactured goods to the Mexican Californios. The occupation of these ports became a priority during the first few months of U.S.-Mexican War. On July 9, 1846, Commodore John D. Sloat occupied the California capitol port of Monterey and turned over command to Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who ordered Lieutenant John C. Frémont to occupy the town and port of San Diego. Sailing on the sloop-of-war Cyane with 160 men, the Americans arrived in San Diego harbor on July 29, 1846. After they captured the Mexican brig Juanita, the American troops occupied San Diego and raised the American flag on July 30, 1846. According to the Americans they got a friendly reception and the Californios offered no resistance. After a week Frémont set out with about 120 men from San Diego to assist Stockton in his capture of Los Angeles, leaving behind a garrison of about 40 men.

As was true elsewhere in California, the Mexican elite divided over whether or not to accept American military rule. On one hand, some of the Californio landholders had married their daughters to Americans and family loyalty counted a great deal in their culture. Also some Californios stood to gain economically by the links they had forged with American traders, and they believed that future prosperity would be assured under an American administration. On the other hand, the Californios felt a love of their patria chica, their homeland, and were fearful of what these foreigners would do to them and their families. Very few had abstract political loyalties to the Mexican government but most had a strong identity as Mexicans based in their language and culture.

Thus the Californios were of ambiguous and torn loyalties during the Mexican War. In San Diego many of the leading families supported the American occupation including the Bandinis, the Arguellos, the Pedrorenas, and the Carrillos. At the same time many of the hijos de pais in the countryside did not such as the Osunas, the Ibarras, the Cotas, the Machados. Some families were split with relatives on both sides, as was the case in the Carrillo household. Henry Delano Fitch, a wealthy merchant had married Josefa Carrillo, and he supplied the American troops in San Diego during the occupation. Meanwhile members of the Carrillo family fought against the Americans at the battle of San Pasqual. Economic ties, friendships, and family loyalties were the strongest forces binding individuals to one side or the other and inevitably, personalities and hurt feelings emerged.

The American Occupation

The American occupation of San Diego lasted from July 29, 1846 until the first week in October. Stockton ordered an election to solidify Californio support for the occupation. As a result, the San Diego Mexicans elected Miguel de Pedrorena, a Spanish merchant, as Justice of the Peace and Pedro Carrillo as the customs collectors. Later an election was held for municipal justices and, using the Mexican system of electors and the pueblo elected Joaquin Ortega as justice of the first instance and J. D. Wilson as justice of the second. This gave some of the Californio families a stake in the U.S. occupation.

As they had in Los Angeles, the Americans then decreed martial law requiring all people to be within their houses from 10 p.m. until sunrise. On August 17, 1847, Pedrorena issued an order forbidding citizens or their servants from leaving the city and the next day he relayed an announcement issued by the U.S. military which was propaganda intended to make the Californios more cooperative. Pedrorena announced that "this territory is actually invaded by a party of fanatic adventurers called Mormons, who arrived by sea at San Francisco in order to form a large number of others who come by land well armed with the purpose of taking this country by force." Also that, "we are threatened by another party of five hundred Indians called Piutes, who are already in this territory intent upon our complete destruction."2 Accordingly, Pedrorena called for volunteers and a donation of horses from the Californios, promising that the Americans would pay for the horses. He requested that all rancheros give all possible assistance. The fear of the threat of the mysterious Mormons and an Indian invasion probably strengthened the local Californio perceived need of the American army for protection.

Pedrorena, who was pro-American and who would later be a San Diego delegate to the California Constitutional Convention, was aware of the tensions that were being built up by the American occupation. He wrote in English to his compadre, Henry D. Fitch, on August 8, 1847:

"… Some of our friends (Californios) did not like to stay… the Señores retired to their Farms—Marron was the only man left I could speak to. (sic) However we managed in the old Fashion way and nobody dare insult us….I find my friend Aguirre so much like a lamb in my presence is taking every opportunity of speaking against me and wounding my feelings in very possible way and manner. I hope that he and I will meet again and if there is not hot water enough to scald one of us it is a pity I forgave him once on account of Family relationship but that will not avail him again".3

Another account of the American occupation of San Diego in the fall of 1846 is given by Helen Elliott Bandini, based on stories she had heard as a child growing up in San Diego. She remembered that her family and the Arguellos had given the Americans "a hearty welcome, and much needed assistance…."4 According to her, the patriarch Juan Bandini escorted some of the Americanos to his rancho in Baja to get cattle and food. While the Americans were there, his own family had to leave the rancho. Following the family legend Commodore Stockton asked Señora Bandini to make him an American flag. "From the handbag on her arm came needle, thimble, thread and scissors, and from the clothing of her little ones the necessary red, white, and blue cloth."5 Thus the Bandinis could claim to be as loyal as the descendants of Betsy Ross.

Events to the north would change the political situation in San Diego and lead to further warfare. On September 27, 1846, the Californios in Los Angeles revolted against the Americans and succeeded in recapturing the pueblo on October 4, 1846. Then from Los Angeles Captain José María Flores sent Francisco Rico and Serbulo Varela with fifty men to recapture San Diego. Captain Ezekiel Merritt and John Bidwell, who were in charge of the American garrison in San Diego, feared that they would be overrun and so the Americans and a few of their Californio supporters decided to abandon the town. The Californios went to their ranchos, the Americans and a few allies boarded the whaling ship Stonington anchored in the harbor. Others like Jose Antonio Estudillo and his large extended family proclaimed their neutrality in the affair and stayed in the pueblo. Without firing a shot the Mexicans recaptured San Diego from the Americans in early October 1846.

The Mexican partisans held on to San Diego for three weeks until October 24, 1846, when the American army moved to recapture the pueblo. An American soldier sneaked ashore and spiked the Mexican cannons on the hill where the old presidio had been (Presidio Hill). Then the American volunteers charged the Mexican defensive positions. The Mexican commander, Serbulo Varela had been ordered to send most of his men back to Los Angeles to protect that town from an expected attack and so was outnumbered. After a brief skirmish the Americans took possession of the town and hauled down the Mexican flag. But before it could touch the ground María Antonia Machado rushed to saved it from being trampled. She clutched it to her bosom and cut the halyards to prevent the American flag from being raised. This emerged as a counter legend to offset that of the Bandini's.6

The Siege of San Diego

Two days later on October 26, 1846, Captain Leonardo Cota and Ramon Carrillo arrived with 100 men and laid siege to the Americans and their sympathizers in San Diego. Stockton arrived a few days later with reinforcements. Don Juan Bandini, one of the leading Californios in San Diego, welcomed Commodore Stockton into his home, which became the American military headquarters. During the occupation it was the scene of frequent fiestas held in honor of the Americans.

For the next several months the Americans were trapped inside the pueblo. Skirmishes were a daily occurrence. Commodore Robert Stockton reported:

"The situation of the place was found to be more miserable and deplorable…. On the afternoon of our arrival the enemy came down in considerable force and made an attack; they were, however, soon driven back with the loss of two men and horses killed and four wounded. These skirmishes, or running fights, were of almost daily occurrence. Since we have been here we have lost as yet but one man killed and one wounded."7

As described by Stockton, Arguello and Pedrorena helped lead a counter attack. Arguello,

"though wounded in the leg, drove the Californian, under Hermosillo, from their position. They made a new stand behind the ruins of the old Presidio walls, but soon retreated toward the mission. Capt. Pedrorena went in pursuit, and about a mile up the valley met and exchanged some shots with the advanced guard under Leandro Osuna. From this time…many began to come in and give themselves up. Dances and festivities followed.8

Eventually more than 700 American troops would enter San Diego in preparation for the build up for the recapture of Los Angeles. Nevertheless the siege remained effective. The Americans sent out Indian scouts to assess the Californio strength and received reports that there were about fifty of them located at San Bernardo (20 miles from San Diego), but that many more surrounded the pueblo.

The Americans and Californios who were inside old town were constantly harassed by snipers, who shot into the town every night, especially when the U.S. flag was raised and lowered. A Californio partisan shot at Miguel de Pedrorena and the bullet passed through his hat. Meanwhile the Americans dragged the old cannons from Ft. Guijarros at the end of Point Loma to the west end of the town and built a barricade using adobes from the town.9 The Californio strategy was to drive all the cattle and edible stock into the hills while laying siege to the pueblo, hoping to starve the Americans out. They guarded the roads out of the town to prevent "spies" from escaping to locate food for the population. These spies were undoubtedly Californios or Indians who had joined the Americans. Finally with the help of a local Indian chief, the Americans secured about 600 sheep who were herded onto an island that was connected to the mainland at low tide.10

The Californios continued harassing and besieging the pueblo for the next month. The deaths mounted. On November 1, 1846, Commodore Stockton arrived with reinforcements and sent out a patrol twenty miles south of San Diego, past present day Tijuana, to "acquire" a herd of cattle but was unsuccessful. On November 18 the Californios staged an unsuccessful attack on the American positions in the pueblo. They were led by José Antonio Carrillo with a force of between 80 and 100 men. During the battle three Californios were mortally wounded. Following the attack, there were sporadic encounters. An American soldier who strayed 300 yards from the protection of the town to water his horse was lanced by a Californio soldier and died. An Indian was killed while he was herding sheep destined for the American troops.

During the siege the Americans built an earthen fort on top of Presidio Hill and even built a draw bridge for an entrance. On December 1 the Americans inside the pueblo learned that General Stephen Kearney's dragoons were about eighty miles away at Warner's Pass so Commodore Stockton mounted an escort of fifty men commanded by Captain Archibald Gillespie to march north to meet him. The joint command, comprising about 150, men soon encountered about ninety-three Californios led by Andrés Pico at the Battle of San Pasqual, the bloodiest of the war in California.11

A Californiana Account of the War: Felipa Osuna de Marron

Perhaps the best account of this period from the point of view of the Californios in San Diego is the reminiscence of Doña Josefa Felipa Osuna de Marron. When historian Hubert Howe Bancroft's assistant, Thomas Savage interviewed Doña Felipa in 1878 she had been a widow twenty-five years and was sixty nine years old.12 Her father had been a soldier in the presidio during the Spanish administration and at the age of twenty she married a rancher, Juan María de Marron. He became the administrator of mission San Luis Rey following the secularization of the missions in the Mexican period.

Doña Felipa remembered that she was still living at Mission San Luis Rey in the summer of 1846 when General Frémont and the American troops arrived looking for the Californio leaders whom they desired to capture. The Americans questioned her as to where her husband was and who else was at the mission. As it happened Don María Matias Moreno, the secretary to the California government, was staying with the Marron family at the time. When the Americans appeared, Doña Felipa decided to disguise him as a sick cousin and succeeded in fooling the Americans who left without him. As soon as they had departed, Don Matias, who had recognized his good friend Don Santiago Arguello riding with the Americans, sent a messenger to catch up with Arguello to tell him to return so he could join him. This sudden switching of allegiances angered Felipa since it put her delicate situation in jeopardy. She ordered Don Matias to leave the mission immediately.

This episode revealed some of the schisms among the Californios regarding the American conquest. Some supported the U.S. occupation and others were opposed. Switching sides, at least in the case of Don Matias, was prompted by friendship more than ideology. Indeed Doña Felipa and her husband were later forced into changing sides.

Soon after this incident at the mission she accompanied her husband to their rancho and later she traveled alone to San Diego for safety. This was during the second American occupation of the town. She recounted how in San Diego Don Miguel Pedorena, Don Santiago E. Arguello, and Don Pedro C. Carrillo, were allied with the Americans. The Californios who were still opposed to the Americans asked her husband to join them which he did. The leader of those against the Americans were Leonardo Cota and José María Alipaz.13

Doña Felipa remembered that while she was in San Diego, the Californios continued to harass the American troops, hiding in the hills near the pueblo and shouting "challenges, threats and insults." Others entered San Diego at night and occasionally shot into the pueblo.14 After a time, her husband sent word to her to leave San Diego and join him on their rancho. Felipa recounted what happened:


We women, all of us left our houses and met in the Estudillo adobe. The Californios against the Americans (los del pais) approached the pueblo above the fort that the Americans had built on the hill. I wanted to leave to join my husband and I had sent a message to Alipaz and Cota to come and get me. So they sent my husband under a white flag thinking that since he was such good friends with Pedrorena, Arguello and Carrillo, they would let him pass. So he approached under a white flag and Pedrorena and a party of Americans rode to meet him- they took his horse and arms and put him in jail. Since he was detained several days without returning to the countryside with me (Felipa), los del pais suspected that he had gone over to the Americans and they became very angry with him.15

Felipa, in her words, feared the Americans who she thought were not disciplined soldiers and soon she and her husband were allowed to leave after swearing that they would not continue hostilities. They were given a safe conduct pass in case they were detained by other American troops. With their children they fled San Diego and returned to their rancho where they found the Californios "furious with her husband" accusing him of working as a courier for the Americans. They even threatened to shoot him. Instead they took all their horses and the family as prisoners to another rancho, Agua Herivida, located near present day Carlsbad. Here they left Felipa and their children and took Juan, her husband, along with their Indian servants. Juan Marron became sick and the Californio partisans left him on his rancho and let her return to San Diego. Every day the "fuerzas del pais" descended on the Marron rancho to take what they needed, so that finally "most of what we had was taken from us including the cattle that had been given to me by Fr. Zalvidia."16

When the war ended they barely had enough to eat and the Californios continued to accuse Felipa and her husband of being pro-American. Their bad treatment finally forced the Marrons to ask for protection from the American commander of San Diego. After indications that they would be welcome and not mistreated they departed for San Diego. Traveling with the Marron party were several Californio lancers who had been at San Pascual, inlcuding Felipa's brother Leandro who had killed an American in that conflict. On the outskirts of the town her husband raised a white flag and they entered the pueblo leaving their few remaining live stock out side. She reported that some Americans in San Diego were angry at the return of these former enemies but finally did nothing.

The narration of Doña Felipa de Marron Osuna is most interesting for its account of the problems that her family had in being loyal to Mexican California. Circumstances forced them to rely on the Americans for protection from suspicious countrymen. Her account serves as a critique to those who might simplify the issue of loyalty during the war.

The Battle of San Pascual

During the fall of 1846 a large contingent of Californios in Southern California continued to resist the American occupation. In Los Angeles the Mexicans continued to hold on to their recaptured city while in San Diego, the Americans and their supporters were besieged. The country-side belonged to the hijos de pais. The Battle of San Pascual in December 1846 marked the high water mark of the Californio resistance during the war. It was the bloodiest battle fought in California and was a victory for the partisan forces. Nevertheless the Americans were able to reinforce the San Diego garrison and eventually use it as a basis for an overland march to retake Los Angeles.

About a month after the American recapture of San Diego, the Mexican governor of California, José María Flores, sent Andrés Pico to the San Diego region to watch for American troop movements. Pico established a base at Mission San Luis Rey and assisted Captain Leonardo Cota in keeping the Americans in San Diego from foraging the countryside for food. Pico had an informant within the city, his sister Margarita who told him of the American movements. From her he learned that Gillespie had set out from the town toward the Indian rancheria of San Pascual intending to join another group of Americans. These were General Kearney's troops coming from the east, after having marched overland from Santa Fe. Many of the Angelenos who were with Pico were anxious to fight Gillespie since he earned a reputation as a Mexican hater when he had been in charge of the occupation of Los Angeles. Early in December Pico's men, numbering about seventy-two men, marched to the Indian rancheria of San Pascual (called Kamiai by the natives) to intercept Gillespie's troops. A local Diegueño Indian named Felicita remembered their entry:

"a great company of these soldier men came up the valley. We seized our baskets and ollas of food and ran to the hills as before to wait until the passed, but they did not pass.

The Californios then took what foraging they could from the village for their horses and entered into the empty Indian huts to build fires for cooking. They slaughtered some of the surrounding cattle for food.

My father, Pontho the chief, was brave, so he went to talk with the soldiers; their head man was called General Pico, and to him my father spoke. This man said we might come and live in the huts the soldiers did not need, so at night we crept back, for it was cold, and the rain was falling. There were few houses left for so many, and little food, but we said nothing."17

Upon arriving at the village Pico commanded the lancers to practice their tactics. Pablo Vejar, one of the soldiers who was later captured by the Americans, remembered that "we concluded that they were sufficiently adept to go into combat."18 Pico then ordered the horses put into pasture to be guarded by the local Indians. The horses were some distance from the Indian village; he discounted reports given by the natives that there was an American force nearby. Meanwhile some members of the Californio lancers were suspicious of Pico's motives in all of this—even to the point of thinking that perhaps he was preparing to turn them over to the Americans. One solider, Juan Bautista Moreno, remembered, "It had been some days that we had suspected that Don Andrés wanted to turn us in. He received continuous correspondence from Los Angeles but he would not tell us anything. This case of the horse made us more suspicious still."19

Meanwhile the American troops under Gillespie and Kearny had joined forces near the present day city of Ramona, in the Santa Maria valley. Kearny's men numbered about 150, including Delaware Indians with Kit Carson and African American slaves of the officers and drovers. Gillespie's party had thirty nine soldiers including Rafael Machado, a local Californio. The total American force was about 179. The Californios under General Andrés Pico had about 100 men.20

The American commanders debated whether to engage Pico's troops at San Pascual or bypass them on their way to San Diego. Finally, over objections from some of the officers, Kearny decided to scout the Californio positions and sent out a party led by Rafael Machado, a local Californio deserter. Machado succeeded in entering the San Pascual village and learned of the Californio strength. But the American troops grew impatient with him and advanced making enough noise to wake people in the camp who came out "crying Viva California, abajo los Americanos."21 Soon after that the Californios sent out a patrol and they retrieved a US Army blanket—proof that the Americans had been near. When this was discovered Pico ordered the horses retrieved from the distant pasture and the Californios to prepare for battle.

Early in the morning of December 6, 1846, the American force charged the Californio army camp in the Indian village of San Pasqual. During the long charge the Americans became strung out in a long file, with those on stronger mules and horses far outdistancing others who were on tired mounts. The few gunshots exchanged were in this first charge, as the Californios met the early arrivals some distance from their camp. Captain Johnston was the first man to be killed. Then the Californios raced away being chased for about three-fourths of a mile. The Californio troops turned and charged at the Americans with their lances. It had been raining off and on for several days and Kearny's troops had damp powder and had to fight with their sabres. The Californios were armed with long lances that they were expert at using in slaughtering cattle. In the hand to hand combat the Californios had the advantage of superior mounts, weapons and battle preparation. José F. Palomares, one of Pico's men at the battle recalled:

"With our lances and swords we attacked the enemy forces, who could not make good use of neither their firearms nor of their swords…. We did not fire a single shot, the combat was more favorable to us with our sidearms (swords). Quickly the battle became so bloody that we became intermingled one with the other and barely were able to distinguish one from the other by voice and by the dim light of dawn which began to break."22

Felicita, the San Pascual Indian woman recalled:

"The Americans did not shoot their guns many times: perhaps the rain had made the powder wet. They struck with their guns and used the sword, while the Mexicans used their long lances and their riatas. The mules that the Americans rode were frightened and ran all through the willows by the river. After them rode the Mexicans on their swift horses, striking with the lance and lassoing with the riata; it was a very terrible time."23

Only about half of the American force of 179 were involved in the actual battle. The rest were in reserve guarding their supplies and baggage. The Americans had trouble loading their newly-issued carbines with the small firing caps in the dark and cold. The two groups fought for about a half an hour mostly in the semi-dark and fog. Gillespie was struck twice. One lance threw him from his horse and another pierced his chest. According to one Californio account Andrés Pico engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Captain Moore. Another version put him and Leonardo Cota and Tomás Sánchez a mile away on a hill observing the battle. One Californio solider recalled that Juan Lobo, a twenty-three year old vaquero from Mission Vieja, led the main Californio assault on Kearny's forces. During the battle the Californios captured one of the American cannons when the mules pulling it bolted and ran towards them. Finally the Americans brought up another howitzer which they fired at the Californios causing their retreat.24

Dead on the field of battle were nineteen American soldiers. Two more died later from their wounds. Kearny himself had suffered three lance wounds and temporarily relieved himself of command. The Californios had eleven wounded and one, Pablo Véjar, was taken prisoner. Juan Alvarado was wounded in the back by a rifle ball. Some American deaths may have resulted from friendly fire. Lieutenant Emory recalled finding the body of Captain Johnston; he had been shot in the head. He was the only American to be killed by a bullet wound. The American wounded were taken with the remnants of the U.S. troops to a camp on a hill near San Pascual. The dead were buried in a mass grave and a messenger sent to Commodore Stockton in San Diego to ask for help.25 The next day, December 7, Kearny's troops resumed their march to San Diego followed by the Californios who constantly harassed them.

When the Americans reached Rancho San Bernardo a larger group of Californios attacked them, and Kearny made the decision to establish a fortified camp on a hill. They were unable to advance further because of the wounded and the increased Californio attacks. On what became known as Mule Hill, the Californio lancers surrounded the remnants of Kearny's and Gillespie's command and because of hunger they were reduced to eating mule flesh, also they had no water. The Californios captured the messenger the Americans had sent to San Diego when he was returning and, under a flag of truce, he was exchanged for the only Californio prisoner, Pablo Vejar. Kearny then learned that Stockton was not able to come immediately because of the lack of horses.

By December 8, 1846, the Americans decided to send out another party to inform Stockton of the urgency of their situation. One of the three messengers sent was a Native American, possibly from the San Pascual tribe. They arrived in San Diego after walking thirty miles and Stockton set out that same day to rescue the Americans. Meanwhile Pico received orders from Governor Flores to abandon his siege of the Americans and return to Los Angeles to rescue him from an insurrection from within the Californio ranks. So Pico and his men departed before Stockton's led by Lieutenant Gray's troops, arrived on December 11. Finally Kearny's troops were able to move on toward San Diego in safety, arriving on the afternoon of December 12.26

Later General Kearny wrote that the battle of December 6th had been a "victory" and that the Californios had "fled from the field." This view was challenged by one U.S. soldier, who wrote that they had been saved from decimation by the Californios' capture of the American howitzer, an act that made the Californios "consider themselves victorious, which saved the balance of the command." Later at the court martial of John Charles Frémont, Kearny admitted that the rescue party from San Diego had saved them from disaster. Generally the Navy officers, headed by Stockton, considered the Battle of San Pascual a defeat for the U.S. Army. Of course the Californios considered this engagement a victory and news of it spread throughout the district.27

Kearny's defeat was a product of his overconfidence in the condition of his own men and an underestimation of the Mexicans will to fight. When in New Mexico, Kearny had expressed his contempt for Mexicans, writing, "the Mexicans are physically, mentally and morally an inferior and 'low flung' race." The Californios for their part did not follow up their initial advantage. General Andrés Pico had divided his forces prior to the battle, not expecting to encounter Kearny's troops. Moreover he knew that the Californios could not fight a conventional war. They lacked the military training, firearms and supplies. Under these circumstances the most effective tactics was guerrilla warfare. He wrote after the battle on April 15, 1847, "the morale of the people had fallen, due to the lack of resources… together with my compatriots we made the last efforts, not withstanding the extreme lack of powder, arms, men and all kinds of supplies."28 The battle of San Pascual proved that despite internal dissention and division many Californios were willing to die to defend their homeland from the American invasion.


During the hostilities between the Americans and the Mexicans, the local native populations were by and large neutral. They composed the majority of the population of Southern California and their loyalty towards the Mexican government was not very solid—having experienced the loss of mission lands and various injustices at the hands of Mexican Californios. Nevertheless, many natives who had assimilated the Spanish language and religion and had become separated from their traditional villages and were living in and around the pueblo of San Diego. Many of them worked as servants and laborers or were casual migrants in search of food. In the back country, away from the coast, the natives were subject to misinformation and manipulation by both sides. An example of the resentments against the Californios affecting the war was the infamous Pauma massacre.

During the Mexican War, some Luiseño, Diegeño and Cupeño bands raided Californio ranchos, taking advantage of the weakened defense. The Californios considered the raiding bands as inspired by the Americans but the majority were probably the work of opportunists who were taking advantage of the war-time chaos. A major event involving the Native Americans of San Diego during the war was the Pauma massacre.

A few days after the battle of San Pascual eleven Californio men and youths took refuge in an adobe house on Rancho Pauma owned by José Antonio Serrano. While they were there they were tricked into allowing themselves to be captured by Luiseño Indians led by Manuelito Cota. The Indians took all the men prisoner and then took them to Warners Ranch. There they consulted with a Mexican named Yguera and William Marshall an American who had married the daughter of a local Indian chieftain. What happened next is subject to some debate. According to Doña Juana Machado de Ridington, Marshall instigated the massacre that followed by telling the Indians that they would be rewarded by the Americans. After a short captivity the prisoners were put to death by a torture of red hot spear thrusts. Doña Juana Machado de Riddington reported that, at the time, she had heard rumors that the Americans had authorized the Indians to kill and rob Californios, but that these rumors turned out to be false.29 Another Californio rumor was that Bill Marshall hated José Maria Alvarado, who was among the prisoners, because he had married Doña Lugarda Osuna, who Marshall had loved.30 José Antonio Estudillo remembered that the killings were carried out by Indians from Mission San Luis Rey and that other natives from San Pascual had set out to rescue these captives but had arrived too late.31 Later Marshall was implicated in the Garra Indian uprising in 1851 and executed. His actual role in the Pauma massacre is not clear since during his trial no mention was made of the atrocity and he was not linked to the massacres until 1878, more than twenty years after the event.32

Immediately after learning of the capture of the Californios a punitive force of twenty-two Californios set out, led by José del Cármen Lugo and with a force of friendly Cahuilla Indians. They ambushed the Luiseño force and killed more than a hundred and took twenty captive who were later killed by their Cahuilla allies, according to their custom.33

The Pauma massacre illustrated the persistence of native animosities towards the Mexicans and the possible manipulation of Indian hatreds by the Americans. It also depicts how later reminiscences by Californios attributed a prime role to the Americans in the massacre. News of the massacre along with the fact that in 1847 the Indians vastly outnumbered the Californios and Mexicans may have worked to demoralize the Californio resistance movement in San Diego county.

Despite the Californio successes at San Pasqual, Dominguez Rancho, and Chico Rancho in Southern California, the U.S. forces were able to force the Californios to surrender and an armistice was signed on January 13, 1847. With the Americans reoccupying Los Angeles and San Diego the guerilla forces in the countryside disbanded. The war was officially over for the Californios and their conflicts with the Americans now went underground to resurface in banditry and other forms of resistance.

The Mexican War in San Diego county was a period that divided the Californio society into those loyal to the Americans and those who resisted with arms. This division persisted into the next decades making it even harder for the Mexicans to unite politically against the many injustices they experienced during the American takeover. The U.S.- Mexican War in San Diego was a small chapter in a much larger conflict, however it illustrated the resistance of the Mexican population to the American conquest and that the issue of loyalty was indeed a complex one.



1. Donald M. Grugal, "Military Movements into San Diego from the Mexican War to Statehood, 1846-1850," Masters thesis, History, San Diego State University, 1950, pp. 3-6.

2. Miguel de Pedrorrena, August 17, 18, 1846 in Benjamin Hayes, Documentos para la historia de california, Ms, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.

3. Miguel de Pedorrena to H.D. Fitch, 8 August 1847, Henry Delano Fitch, Documentos para la historia de California, 1827-1858, Bancroft Ms., Berkeley, California.

4. Helen Elliott Bandini, History of California (NY: American book co., 1908), p. 145.

5. loc. cit.

6. Both flag stories are retold in George Tays, "Plaza in Old San Diego," typescript 1937, California Historical Landmarks Series, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California mF 864. C136 no. 63. Later Antonia Machado and her family had to flee to a rancho in Baja California to escape retribution for their deed. See Carl H. Heilbron, History of San Diego County (San Diego: San Diego Press Club 1936), p. 66.

7. Ibid., p. 66.

8. Ibid., p. 66.

9. "Duvall's Log of the Savannah," Quarterly of the California Historical Society, Vol. III, no. 2 (July 1924): 119.

10. Ibid., p. 120.

11. Ibid., passim. Andrés Pico was Pío Pico's brother. He had been born in San Diego in 1810 and had gotten his military training as an officer in the San Diego Company. He had been the administrator of the San Luis Rey mission lands and had a rancho at Santa Margarita, San Juan Capistrano and Temecula. Later he would be elected, at various times, a state senator from San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties.

12. "Recuerdos de Doña Felipa Osuna de Marron: Natural de San Diego donde vive acutalmente con various papels oriniales…" 1878 Bancroft Library, MSS C D 120.

13. Ibid., p. 14.

14. "…daban gritos y echaban amenazas y desverguenzas," Ibid., p. 20.

15. "Nosotras las mujeres, todas dejamos nuestras casas, y nos reuníamos en la de los Estudillos Venian los del pais arriba del fortin que habían lavantado en la loma yo quería ir a unirme con mi marido, y hubo de consegir el con Alipaz y Cota licencia para venir a sacarme para eso pusieron alla una bandera blanca Alipaz y Cota dijeron a Marron que el no sería agarrado por los Americanos porque llevaba mucha amistad con Pedrorena, Arguello y Carrillo Los de aqui le dejaron entrar, porque los Californios me venían con una bandera blanca. Luego que entro me puso, porque salieron Pedrorena y un partido de Americanos a recibirlo le quitaron su caballo y armas y lo llevaron al cuartel. Como se tardo aqui varrios dias sin volverse a campo de los Californios conmigo, sospecharon aquellos que el se había pasado a los Americanos, y se pusieron muy enojados con el. Ibid., p. 15.

16. "Estabamos muy ansianos de ir a unirnos con nuestros paisanos, porque yo les tenía mucho miedo a los Americanos, que no era tropas disciplinados. Al fin logramos salir bajo palabra de honor de no hacer armas contra los Estados Unidos." And: "asi se acaba gran parte del nuestro, y el que me había dado el P. Zalvidia," Ibid., p. 16 .

17. As told to Elizabeth Judson Roberts and published in Indian Stories of the Southwest (San Francisco: Harr Wagner Publishing Co., 1917), p. 222 in Eileen M. Hook and Mary A. Helmich, "San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, Interpretive Plan," Review Draft (Sacramento: Office of Interpretive Services, California State Parks and Recreation, May 1985), 136-7.

18. Eileen M. Hook and Mary A. Helmich, p.137; see Allen Olmstead Véjar and Pablo Véjar, Californios—one Portola Soldado de cuera's Family in California (1769 1877) (San Franicsco, Ca: private printing, 1989) for Vejars complete reminiscence.

19. Ibid., p.137 quoted from Juan Bautista Moreno, "Vida Militar," Ms. 1887, BAncroft Library, p. 27.

20. Sally Cavell Jones, "The Battle of San Pascual," Masters Thesis, USD, 1973, p. 72. Various estimates of troops sizes are discussed in this work. A partial list of the Californios soldiers commanded by Andrés Pico at San Pascual are as follows (from Grugal, "Military Movements into San Diego," p. 114)

Andrés Pico, Commander
Leonardo Cota, officer
Tomás Sanchez, officer
José Aguilar
Dionisio Alipas
José Alipas
José María Alvarado
Juan Alvarado
Pablo Apis
Felipe or Salvador Canedo
Ramon Carrillo
José Duarte
Gabriel Garcia
Franciso Higuera
José María Ibarra
Francisco Dorio Lara
Juan Lobo Mariano
Santiago Lobo
Cristobal Lopez
Jesus Machado
Juan Manirquez
Juan Bautista Moreno
Isidoro Olivares
Leandro Osuna
Ramon Osuna
Felipe or Rafael Peralta
Pedro Perez
Gregorio Santiago
Casimiro Rubio
José Antonio Serrano
Joaquin Valenzuela
Pablo Vejar
Miguel or Pedro Verdugo
Domingo Yorba
José Antonio Yorba III
Romualdo Young

21. Ibid., p. 139

22. Ibid., p. 175 found in José Francisco Palomares, "Memoria," Ms. June 21, 1877, Transcribed by Carlos N. Hijar, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California, pp. 91-92.

23. ibid., p. 176 in Roberts, p. 224.

24. Sally Cavell Jones, "The Battle of San Pascual," Masters Thesis, USD, 1973, p. 83-93. See Benjamin Hayes, "Notes on California Affairs," Ms., n.d. in Bancroft Library.

25. Ibid., pp. 164-6.

26. Ibid., p., 173.

27. Ibid., pp. 130-31.

28. Ibid., p. 140; Nile's National Register, November 7, 1846 p 146 in George Tays, "Pío Pico's Correspondence with the Mexican Government," California Historical Society Quarterly, XIII (June, 1934), p. 132.

29. Juana Machado de Ridington, "Los Tiempos pasados de la alta california: recuerdos de la Sra. Doña Juana Machado de Ridington, Bancroft Ms. 1878, C D 119; see also Raymond S. Brandes, trans. "Times Gone By in Alta California: Recollections of Senora Doña Juana Machado Alipaz de Ridington," Historical Society of Southern California, Vol. 41 (1959) pp. 195-240.

30. General John Bidwell, Echoes of the Past…. (Chico: Chico Advertiser, n.d.), p. 72; Bidwell was a resident of San Diego during this period.

31. José Maria Estudillo," Datos Historicos sobre la Alta California," Bancroft Ms., 1878 c D 76, p. 48. He listed some of the victims as José Maria Basualado, José Lopez, José Maria Alvarado, Dona Lugarda Osuna, Jesus Serrano, Santiago Osuna, and José Rosario Alipaz. Estudillo calls Bill Marshall, Bill Matador.

32. See Leland E. Bibb, "William Marshall," Unpublished Research Paper, San Diego Historical Society.

33. R. W. Brackett, A History of the Ranchos (San Diego: Union Title Insurance and Trust Co., 1939), p. 59.

Ricardo Griswold del Castillo, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at SDSU and Chair of the department. He has published a number of books including The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Legacy of Conflict (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), La Familia: Chicano Families in the Urban Southwest, 1848 to the present (Notre Dame: Univervsity of Notre Dame Press, 1984), The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890: A Social History (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1980), Chicano Social and Political History in the Ninteenth Century (edited with Manuel Hidalgo) (Van Nuys: Floricanto Press, 1992), Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit (with Richard Garcia) (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), and North to Aztlan: Mexican Americans in United States History (with Arnoldo De Leon), Twayne Publishers, 1996.