Frémont on Gavilan

“At the beginning of March, Fremont was continuing his northward progress toward Oregon by moving west over the Santa Cruz Mountains and south toward Monterey. In violation of his agreement and in defiance of the authorities. They now took action. On March 5, at the Hartnell ranch near Salinas, an officer of the California militia rode into his camp and gave him letters from the prefect and the comandante. Both directed him to take his force out of the department at once. The hero worked on a hair trigger. He ordered the lieutenant out of camp with a red-fire message for his superiors, moved hastily into the hills, set up a breastwork of logs on tlie top of Gavilan Peak, nailed Old Glory to a pole, and prepared to b~ sacrificed. “If we are unjustly attacked,” he wrote to Larkin, “we will fight to extremity and .refuse quarter, trusting our country to avenge our death. . . . If we are hemmed in and assaulted here, we will die, every man of us, under the flag of our country.” … He had been told to get out, on the ground that he had broken faith with the officials, lied about his instructions and intentions, broken the law, defied the courts, and condoned the misbehavior of his men. There had been no thought of killing him.

Nobody was ready to confer martyrdom on him, and though his mountain men were hot for a go with the greasers he got nothing for his brave words except an artist’s pleasure in the style. Consul Larkin found so little intelligence in his actions that he supposed Fremont could not have understood the official orders and wrote explaining them – meanwhile asking Don Jose Castro not to get rough but to talk things over with the hero in simple language. Also, seeing his patient intrigue alt but ruined by this dramaturgy, he hastily asked for a man-of-war at Monterey, to persuade alt parties to dampen their powder. As for Don Jose, he mustered what militia he could, circularized an already agitated countryside with proclamations, and paraded his forces under the spyglasses trained on them from Gavilan Peak. That was the traditional way of using force in California.

It worked. In his lofty fortress Fremont reverberated with the most dramatic emotions but his position was impossible in both law and tactics, as he realized when the McGuffey phase had passed. He was here without the slightest authority of his government, which could only disavow him, and the Californians had ordered him out on sufficient grounds and altogether within their rights. They were unlikely to attack him on the Gavilan and, if they had attacked, his mountain men could have shot them to pieces. But they must eventually have starved him out and then ridden him down with the long lances that were to win them San Pascual. However stirring his compositions and however humiliating the retreat, no great deed was possible and he had to get out. After three days of Hollywood fantasy, his flagpole fell down and he told his men that this showed they had done enough for honor. He moved out, most slow and dignified.”