On June 26, 1846, about thirty undocumented U.S. immigrants trespassing in California, plotted against Mexico.
Doing so, they set in motion what can best be described as the “Texas Plan.”
That’s because they followed the principal playbook U.S. expatriates in Texas had used ten years earlier.
Basically, the pretentiously named California Bear Republic (Bear Flag Revolt) was a bust. Short-lived, it didn’t last long – four weeks. It consisted of a small group of rogue individuals who initiated two basic steps.
- First, exploiting the turbulent political situation in Mexico City, they unlawfully declared independence.
- Second, they then asked for (and received) military help from the U.S. government. (For the record, as in Texas, U.S. President James K. Polk was the one pulling the strings in California.)
The plotters had only one goal. That is, to extract from Mexico its California territory and realign it to the U.S. At the time, California’s borders went farther north and east, beyond today’s state boundaries. It included a huge expanse of fertile farm and ranch lands, robust timber woodlands, Pacific Ocean harbors, and vast gold ore reserves.
Clearly, it was a catastrophic blow to Spanish Mexican and Native American residents, whose lives were turned upside down. Shortly thereafter, the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48 turned their worst fears into reality.
Countless courageous Californio founding families never recouped their lands after that. Many of those who valiantly fought back were instantly branded as bandits and eliminated.
In the end, Californios were robbed of their properties by devious U.S. government officials, corrupt land speculators, and squatters from the east. While some families scored individual victories in court, most came out empty-handed.
Right away, the Spanish Mexican founders of California went from riches to rags. Tragically, the new Anglo-descent majority relegated Californios from the top of California society to the bottom rung on the U.S. socio-economic ladder.
Ostracized, disenfranchised, and powerless, they existed as an invisible, subculture for the next one-hundred years.
(Note: Their brethren in Texas and the New Mexico territory suffered the same fate, creating disastrous long-term effects from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Consequently, the painful experience has adversely affected generations of Mexican-descent citizens and how they see themselves in U.S. society.)
As an eighth-generation Texan, I’ve always been interested in what happened to ancestral Spanish Mexican pioneers when the U.S. absorbed our Southwest homeland. Likewise, as a person of Mexican-descent (Native American), I’m naturally drawn to the plight of what occurred to our First American ancestors. More on this later on in this article.
Personifying the ruthless assault, Major John C. Frémont, U.S. Army, led the intervention. By way of background, Frémont had been sent (under the guise of an explorer) to encourage a revolt by Anglo immigrants in California. Once they did his bidding, he overruled the ring leaders and assumed command. Thereby, he executed the final step of blatant U.S. aggression against Mexico’s sovereignty.
Before proceeding, readers must understand two things:
- U.S. agents active in Mexico (especially its northern territory of Texas, New Mexico, and California) were not models of ethics.
- Heartless men, they fulfilled their clandestine orders following the adage “The ends justify the means.” Lacking a moral compass and driven by the idea of Manifest Destiny, they claimed that the U.S. had a right to invade its southern neighbor. Incidentally, more than likely it’s in Mexico where the U.S. began training and perfecting its future vast intelligence spy web.
By the way, despite his ambition to rule California, Frémont was pushed aside and the job given to someone else. Notably, Frémont was court-martialed, not for brutal atrocities against Californios, but for disobeying orders. He was convicted of insubordination and military misconduct.
Unsurprisingly, U.S. mainstream historians try their best to polish and romanticize violent individuals, such as Frémont, John Sutter, etc., and that is how they write U.S. history.
- Today, the U.S. prides itself as ending English colonialism in America and we all celebrate the occasion every July 4th. Yet, at the same time, the U.S. intentionally became a colonial power itself. Said another way, the U.S. simply replaced England and its colonialism aspirations. Three related things happened as a result:
- It is at this time that the U.S. seized the term “America” to mean the U.S. because it wrongly assumed dominion over the entire continent of America (Monroe Doctrine). Likewise, it confiscated the word “Americans” and redefined it as an exclusive synonym for U.S. citizens.
- More alarming, official policies across the nation were written to imply that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution’s guarantees applied only to white people. (Minority groups had to wait over 100 years to be included.) Not surprisingly, beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century, that sense of superiority had its most corrosive effect on intolerant white people who began to self-anoint themselves as “nativists.”
- Alas, that elitist misconception was wedged into the collective consciousness of the U.S. mainstream population where it remains to this day.
Interestingly, U.S. aggression apologists put value on sovereignty only when U. S. interests are concerned. They diminish past U.S. expansionism misdeeds and are less prone to respect other nations’ autonomy. Unfortunately, that white-washing mindset is entrenched in school curricula, unfairly depriving students from learning the other side of the story.
What was the effect on California Native Americans? What may surprise most readers, California and the surrounding area was home to one of the most concentrated population of independent indigenous groups in North America.
Just as Native Americans’ painful experience across the country, California’s Klamath allied tribes were subjected to horrid acts of violence. At first enticed and befriended with gifts by white immigrants, they were soon betrayed as more white squatters moved into their territory. Akin to the Anglo violence toward Mexican-descent Californios, California’s First Americans suffered horrific violence, too graphic to describe here.
It is recorded that aggressive immigrant John Sutter lured natives to work for him, and then viciously abused and mercilessly enslaved hundreds of them. Those who resisted were hunted down and slaughtered as part of a deliberate extermination campaign.
While some native leaders rose to the challenge, such as Chief Kintpuash (Captain Jack), U.S. military power was too much. Finally, after surrendering, warriors were exiled as prisoners of war to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Or, they were executed, as was Chief Kintpuash, who had so valiantly inspired his people to fight for their land.
As usually occurs in the rendering of U.S. history, Native Americans were executed for killing white people, but white people were not held accountable for killing native men, women, and children. Equally sinister, mainstream U.S. historians label defensive native attacks on whites as “massacres,” while calling unprovoked attacks on native villages as great “victories.” Worse, the film industry continues to perpetuate the bigotry.
Alas, it may be obvious to readers that mainstream U.S. history doesn’t accept the term Texas Plan. Why not? Because these unsavory events contradict its faux-noble version of how the U.S. spread its reach from sea to shining sea.
In summary, the chauvinistic California Bear Republic is but a history footnote. Yet, regrettably it also served as the torch that lit the pre-arranged U.S. military invasion of its southern neighbor’s land for the second time in ten years. (Of interest is the fact that U.S. expatriates weren’t done yet. They used the Texas Plan to acquire Hawaii in 1898.)
Lastly, I realize that most people in mainstream U.S. society still hold on to the movie-based story of how the U.S. “won” the west. Thus, it is fitting to end with the sage observation of Winston Churchill: “Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by historian and author José Antonio López. It appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. López can be reached at: [email protected]
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