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MEXICO the UNITED STATES and WAR (5 of 9)

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War for California and New Mexico

Just before the war, Mexico's governor in California, Pío de Jesus Pico (of Indian, African and European ancestry), wrote of California being threatened by "hordes of Yankee emigrants." Pico complained of the Yankees "cultivating farms, establishing vineyards, erecting mills, sawing up lumber, building workshops and a thousand and one other things which seem natural to them but which Californians neglect or despise." Pico asked whether Mexicans were to "become strangers in [their] own land."

Following the US declaration of war on April 13, news was slow in reaching California, but there was a sense that war was coming. A false story spread among Californians that a Mexican force was pushing through the Sacramento Valley, destroying crops, burning homes and dispersing the cattle of settlers from the United States. In response, on June 14, 1846, a band of thirty-three heavily armed men, led by a settler originally from Massachusetts, William B. Ide, revolted against Mexican rule and established the "Bear Flag Republic." They invaded the home of Mexico's General Mariano Vallejo, a man who believed that Mexico's hold on California was hopeless. He had been hoping that the US would annex California, and he offered his services to the revolt. Eventually he would be one of California's state senators.

On July 2, Commodore Sloat sailed (literally) into Monterey Bay. He had been ordered to the area and to be ready for war. He had heard of the battle by the Rio Grande but he had yet been informed of a declaration of war. Afraid of not acting as he had been ordered, or of acting before a declaration of war, he chose to err on the side of action, and on July 6 he landed 225 sailors and Marines from three of his warships. They raised the US flag over the customs house, and Sloat read a proclamation declaring the annexation of California, accompanied by a 21-gun salute – the only shots fired. Two days later this was repeated at the small port town of San Francisco, then called Yerba Buena (which translates in English to "good weed," or marijuana). Sloat ordered a company of men on horseback to patrol the area around Yerba Buena, and he sent a message to Governor Pico in Los Angeles describing himself as "the best friend of California" and inviting "his Excellency" to meet him in Monterey.

One of Sloat's ships, the sloop "USS Portsmouth," was anchored a little to the north of Yerba Buena – at Sausalito. Seventy Marines and sailors marched north to Sonoma – the place of the Bear Flag Republic. There, settlers had voted to join the United States. The force from the USS Portsmouth raised the US flag, and they marched to Sutter's Fort (where the city of Sacramento was to be). It was the center of Anglo agriculture in the Sacramento Valley, and there they also raised the US flag.

By the end of July word arrived in California of the declaration of war. Commodore Robert Stockton arrived with his squadron of ships at other locations along California's coast and began raising flags and firing salutes. On August 17, under instructions from the US War Department, Stockton claimed the coastal towns of San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara for the United States.

The day after Stockton's proclamation, a US Army force from Leavenworth Kansas, led by Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, entered Santa Fe, New Mexico. The United States was taking possession of what it had wanted to buy from Mexico. New Mexico had been run arbitrarily by a greedy, corrupt bully, Governor Manuel Armijo. Armijo had driven back the Texans in 1845, but now he fled to Mexico. Kearny toured New Mexico on horseback with 700 of his men. He announced to local authorities that his army had come not as a conqueror, that no one would be molested who did not take up arms and that anyone who did take up arms would be hanged. He said that "not a pepper, not an onion, shall be disturbed or taken by my troops without pay or by the consent of the owner."

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