In 1821 Mexico declared their independence from Spain. Almost immediately they claimed dominion over California, but news of the Mexican domination traveled slowly. Nobody in California heard about Mexico’s Independence for nearly a year. When the news finally arrived, the Spanish occupants of California changed their fealty to Mexico like a cannon shot. Pablo Sola, the last Spanish Governor, never had to leave his fancy office in Sonoma. Sola, along with his official crew, simply took an oath of allegiance to Mexico. The transition from Spanish to Mexican ownership was so neatly done people hardly noticed the change.
Two of the greatest leaders, who influenced Lake County’s destiny, were the Vallejo brothers; Salvador and Mariano. In 1836 Salvador Vallejo was the first non-Indian to explore the Clear Lake region. The brothers also had the dubious honor of being among the first white men to lead the tide of genocide and the wars against the Native Americans. The elder Vallejo brother, Mariano, was one of the few leaders with enough force and power to put down the Native American uprisings. It made little difference to the Mexican invaders that the Native Americans, quite rightly, claimed ownership of the land they had occupied and hunted for thousands of years.
In 1837 there was a medical catastrophe. With all of their other troubles with the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Americans, a new plague was visited on the Indians. To this day, no one knows exactly what happened. We have the testimony of four independent persons, each with his own version of the events of 1837 in Lake County.
A Mexican Corporal, Ignacio Miramontes, and a small party of Indian auxiliaries and mixed cavalry were sent to Fort Ross to make sure the peace in the area was kept. While they were there some of the men became infected with smallpox. Natives died in wholesale lots.
Perhaps the disease had been carried by one of the Mexican soldiers. We do not know for certain. When Miramontes’ men returned to Sonoma, they mingled with the natives and passed the disease to the tribes of Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Lake Counties. The sickness exploded in all directions; a gasoline wildfire out of control. With no immunity, the Natives were helpless to stem the plague.
“They died like bugs,” one witness described the epidemic.
The Pomo and the Wappo were hit the hardest. A thousand Indians died around Clear Lake, burning to death with infection and fever in their huts and teepees.
It was especially a disaster for Solano, Chief of the Pomo. Until then Solano had been Mariano Vallejo’s friend and ally. Now began an estrangement. His people had suffered terribly from the pestilence, and it continued to spread. By May of that year, it reached Napa Valley, a part of Lake County. Hundreds more died. Still more perished on the Carquinez Strait. By the New Year, only 200 of Chief Solano’s tribal thousands still lived.
What Solano did was understandable. He tried in the only way he knew to replenish the nearly depleted numbers of his people. He turned to
Mariano Vallejo took advantage of the Natives medical catastrophe. Always a practical man, when Vallejo saw an opportunity, and with most of Chief Solano’s Pomo dead and no longer able to manage their cattle, he added Solano’s livestock to his own herds. The final break with Vallejo was Solano’s arrest. Kidnapping had to stop.
His arrest triggered a revolt. Vallejo was forced to release Solano, but only after Chief Solano promised to return the children and stop the kidnapping.
Peace reigned for a while but not for long. Solano was a practiced kidnapper familiar with the business, and he began to kidnap again but this time with a difference; this time he kept some of the children for his tribe and sold the rest to other tribes. Solano’s victims were non-Patwin, as were the Wappo and Miwok. His victims were not only children; he kidnapped a woman. Like Vallejo, Solano was a practical person with a method to his madness. Isadora Filomena, a Patwin, eventually became Solano’s wife.
Next week: Son of the Devil
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