Yesteryear, in Mexican California, the headlines of the day might have read: ”Governor orders illegals out of the country.”
The illegals were Yankees, Americans, citizens of the United States of America.
There is an annual reenactment of this page in history at San Juan Bautista and Fremont Peak, north of Salinas. In 1846 there was a showdown between the northern governor of Mexican California and a band of rowdy Americans led by John C. Fremont.
In essence, General Jose Castro, governor of Northern California, ordered the 60 Americans, mostly rambunctious mountain men, to get out of the country, head back to the United States, then east of the Rockies.
It was a step Castro ”had every right to take, as they had not bothered to secure passports,” wrote Ray Allen Billington in his history, ‘The Far Western Frontier: 1830-1860.”
Castro probably was not aware that Fremont and his men were on a secret mission for U.S. President James K. Polk to provoke war – an American revolution against Mexico.
The first American trails to California were blazed by Jedediah Smith in 1826 and Joseph Walker in 1833. Organized parties of immigrants from the United States began crossing the Sierra Nevada into Mexican territory in 1841. Some had permission. Some did not.
But one group drew the ire of the province governor. In an act of provocation, Fremont raised the U.S. flag on the slopes of Gavilan Peak, today known as Fremont Peak.
”It was the most provocative, anti-Mexican thing that could have been done,” said Rick Morales, a park ranger and expert on local history at San Juan Bautista.
Soon after this, California-Americans at Sonoma revolted against Mexican rule. They set up the Bear Flag – or California – Republic. Their revolt blended with the American cause in the Mexican War.
That war resulted in an American victory, establishment of the Rio Grande as the boundary and cession of California and New Mexico to the United States. California was conquered by U.S. forces commanded by Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny.
Mexican territory, from Texas to the Pacific Ocean, became U.S. territory in exchange for $15 million in a forced treaty.
The re-enactment at San Juan Bautista State Historical Park starts when Castro receives word that Fremont and his company of explorers have entered the Monterey Bay area and are encamped on the slopes of Gavilan Peak.
Castro issues a proclamation ordering Fremont and his people to get out of the country.
In the proclamation, Castro asks for help from the local people: ”In the name of our native country, I invite you to place yourselves under my immediate orders at headquarters where we will prepare to lance the ulcer which would destroy our liberties and independence . . .”
Castro was able to raise a force of about 200.
Then the re-enactment shifts to Fremont Peak, where the American intruders had set up a makeshift fort. Castro’s men deliver the governor’s edict to Fremont.
Soon after that historic confrontation, the wind blew down the American flag, and Fremont told his men that it was a bad omen. They left.
But a couple months later, the United States and Mexico were at war.
The rest is history.