LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 32: NANCY KELSEY’S DIARY – THE KILLING OF DON FRANCISCO

Nancy’s diary passes quickly over this period in her life. Ben and Nancy built a cabin at Hillsborough near Ben’s brother Isiah. Their third child, Sarah, was born. There had been a fourth child, Samuel, but he died eight days after birth. They spent the winter in that place. Meantime, Ben’s father and mother, and the rest of the ten Kelsey’s, arrived in the Willamette Valley from Missouri.

In 1845, we built log cabins in the Napa Valley (Later part of Lake County). We were in the Napa Valley when the Mexican War, the ‘Revolution’, we called it, broke out (See earlier episode; Bear Flag Revolt). My husband offered his services to Fremont. Fremont ordered Ben to kill poor old Don Berryessa. Fremont had taken his home on the pretense of capturing him.

The good old man was a neighbor of ours and a better man never lived. My husband wondered how anyone could do such a thing. Ben said, ‘I would rather die myself before I would kill my old friend.’ Nevertheless, another man obeyed the order and shot the old man down.

From that day on, Mr. Kelsey had a personal enmity against General Fremont. When Mr. Kelsey applied for a pension it was necessary to get Fremont’s recognition. This was necessary because Ben had not been regularly mustered into the U. S. Army. When he made the application, Fremont refused to sign it.

A part of history that is less know was the circumstances of the Nancy’s story of the senseless killing of Don Francisco. After the capture of Sonoma by the ‘Bear Flag Party’, on 14 June, 1846, John Fremont and his soldiers were called to put down any resistance to the takeover of Northern California by the Americans. Captain Joaquin de la Torre, organized a resistance group. Fremont and a contingent of Americans, including Benjamin Kelsey, went looking for the Mexicans to do battle.

At the old San Rafael Mission, Fremont discovered the Mexican forces had circled to the north as they waited for help. It was decided to wait and intercept the new force of Mexicans before they could join Captain de la Torre. Don Berryessa, Kelsey’s longtime friend, and a companion, approached the Mission. Fremont ordered Ben Kelsey, ‘Go out and shoot them down.’ Ben refused. Thereupon, General Fremont said, ‘I don’t want any live prisoners in this camp. Kill those two men.’  Ben refused a second time. In no uncertain terms, he refused to carry out Fremont’s order. Berryessa was a good friend of his. Besides, the two Mexicans approaching the Mission were unarmed.

Fremont gave the order to Kit Carson and a second man, who carried out the order without hesitation. Fremont never forgave Benjamin Kelsey for refusing his order, nor did Ben forgive Fremont for having the order carried out. Nancy tells what happened afterward and about the Sonoma plot to kill the Americans.

I was sent to Fort Sonoma. I rode the distance on horseback and carried a month-old baby in my arms (her fourth child). When I arrived at my destination I was so weak I could hardly stand up. I found Mrs. Vallejo at Sonoma. Her husband had been captured and taken to Sutter’s Fort.

One day an Indian came to Sutter’s Fort and the Americans stopped him and searched him. On his person, wrapped in bark, they found a letter addressed to Mrs. Vallejo from the Mexicanos. It was a request that she give a supper in the back yard. At that time, they would come in and kill their enemies. Mrs. Vallejo wrote a reply that the American cannon would kill them all off if they attempted it. Lieutenant Gillespie sent a letter to my husband to overtake Fremont, who had started to Oregon, and tell him to return and help protect Sonoma from the expected attack. My husband did so. When Fremont arrived, his men had not changed their clothes for a month. A hired woman and myself sewed shirts until all the men had a change. I also baked bread for Fremont during that time.

              © 2017 PAL PUBLISHING/USED BY PERMISSION

                          Next Week: Fighting Mexicans and Gold Fever

                         Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

                          Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

                          For more of Gene’s books see Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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