One of the most interesting aspects of California history in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s was the role of ex-General Mariano Vallejo of the Mexican military. Events happened so fast during this era that often times the prominent role that Mariano Vallejo played in early California history goes unnoticed.
To preface this article, I need to point out that present day California has a city named after this Mexican ex-General. Vallejo California lies in the far northeastern part of San Francisco Bay (San Pablo Bay) in the Carquinez Straits which separate the San Pablo Bay from Suisun Bay to the east. The United States navy also commissioned the nuclear submarine USS Mariano G. Vallejo, (SSBN-658), in 1966. The submarine was in service until it’s decommissioning in 1995. An interesting historical fact about the submarine is that the Vallejo’s tail was saved and is currently on display at Mare Island California, adjacent to the city of Vallejo. The site at Mare island, the first full scale Naval installation on the west coast, is a fitting place for the Vallejo submarine tail display.
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born into a prominent Spanish family and pursued a career in the military and politics. Vallejo firmly believed that the American presence in Alta California promoted economic prosperity and political stability. Mariano Vallejo was born in Monterey on July of 1808. Starting off as a cadet in the military he was made comandante-general of California in 1838. Vallejo made a name for himself at the age twenty-one, when he led a victorious Mexican and Indian expedition against an Indian revolt at the San José Mission. Not long after that accomplishment, the Mexican governor appointed Vallejo the head of the San Francisco garrison, then as the military commander of the northern part of the state. This preceded vallejo’s move to Sonoma. Vallejo actually had additional power as director of colonization of the north Alta California region and was authorized to issue land grants to settlers.
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is quite an interesting figure in early California. Although he was briefly jailed during the Bear Flag Revolt in the late 1840’s, Vallejo went on to become quite a booster for the new State of California that was established in 1850. At the time of Alta California being ceded to the United States from Mexico, Mariano Vallejo was in charge of a military garrison located in present day Sonoma California. Sonoma of course was a Franciscan Mission town which, surprisingly, was built by the secular Mexican government after the defeat of the Spaniards. The popular story about the mission in Sonoma is that the Mexican government needed a northern outpost north of San Francisco Bay because of Russian activity to it’s north. The Russians had a long history of fur trapping and trading in the Fort Ross and Bodega Bay area of the Pacific coast, north of San Francisco. The mission settlement and troops stationed under Vallejo in Sonoma would serve as a sort of lookout post. This is what placed Vallejo and his troops in the Sonoma County California area at the time of the Bear Flag Revolt and the ultimate takeover by the U.S. It has also been written that at one time the Russians were interested in selling Fort Ross, on the Pacific coast, to the Mexican government and that Mariano Vallejo had indeed discussed this with them. Nothing of course ever happened in this regard.
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo passed away in 1890. At the time of his death he still was able to hold a relatively small 200 acre ranch. As it turned out for Vallejo and other Mexicans who were present in California at the U.S. takeover, the future wasn’t exceptionally bright. By the end of the 1800’s most all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans found themselves an ignored minority, with little or no political power and little wealth.
There is a lot of interesting history as to how several sites around present day Vallejo received their names. The city of Vallejo itself was named for the ex-Mexican General in 1844. The city of Benicia to it’s east was named after Vallejo’s wife. The very historic naval shipyard of Mare Island, adjacent to Vallejo California on it’s west, reportedly received it’s name because it was the site where Vallejo’s favorite horse was found after it fell off a raft in 1845.
Today, there are several historic sites and museums that tell the story about Vallejo California, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo and the naval history of this North Bay California city. The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum tells the fascinating story about Vallejo California and adjacent Mare Island. The museum is located at 734 Marin Street in Vallejo. The Sonoma Plaza in Sonoma California has the home of General Mariano Vallejo and the site where the Bear Flag Revolt took place in 1846. Petaluma Adobe which is preserved in Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park in Sonoma County, is considered one of the oldest preserved buildings in northern California. The adobe was constructed by General Vallejo and was a part of his ranch. The state park has been temporarily closed due to budget restraints. You check on the status of the park before you journey there.
(Photos of Sonoma Barracks, historic building and city of Vallejo are from author’s private collection)