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Cold-blooded Murder in San Rafael (1846)

Los Angeles Star, 6 September 1856

The "Gallant" Col. Fremont.

In the Washington Union of July 24th, a long article appears in which the course of "Governor" Fremont California is truthfully sketched, all the facts being derived from official documents. This article affords unquestioned proofs of timidity, duplicity, fraud and peculation on the part of Col. Fremont which will somewhat cool the ardor of those who have been so loud in praising the valor of "the conqueror of California," the integrity of his political career, and the virtue of his private life while resident here. We shall from time to time make use of these facts and others promised by the Union, and add some particulars gleaned in this locality which will still further tend to illustrate the virtues of this heroic Governor. [...]

It will be recollected that Fremont was put under arrest by Gen. Kearney and tried by a court martial. Among the charges were — mutiny, disobedience to the commands of his superior officers, and conduct to the prejudice of good order and Military discipline. On this subject, read the following communication which we have received from one of the victims of Fremont's licentious course in California : —

"The town of Sonoma and all the ranchos in its immediate vicinity were invaded by about eighty or one hundred desperadoes (bandidos,) under the command of Col. J.C. Fremont, who took possession of said town without any opposition on the part of its inhabitants. On the same day, a flag was raised in the Plaza which indicated the party to which they (bandidos) belonged. It was the figure of a bear with a scarlet-red ribbon on the lower part. They then commenced to commit every kind of outrage and depredation against the inhabitants of said town and ranches. They started out to all the ranches, taking by force all the gentle horses ; they collected about 800. At the same time they published a proclamation inviting all the inhabitants of the country who might unite with them, that they would form a government separate and independent of Mexico, threatening that any person who would not join them should be placed in prison and exiled from the country.

"A few days afterwards, Col. Fremont being in San Rafael Mission with all of his companions or accomplices, a small boat arrived from San Francisco, and three persons disembarked and took the road on foot for the Mission of San Rafael. There was an old man, Don Reyes Berreyesa, and two young brothers — Don Francisco and Don Ramon de Haro. The elder of these last two had not attained the age of twenty years. The accomplices of Fremont started out to meet the three persons and after having learned that they were going to a rancho of an aunt of theirs to deliver some goods which their father had sent her, they took from them their goods by force; and because they did not deliver them immediately on the spot, they fired upon them, and two of them fell and the other ran away, but they followed him and killed him, both shooting and stabbing him. In this manner these three were killed. Then they took all of their goods into their possession and took off the clothes from the dead bodies and put them on themselves. A few days afterwards, some of these men went to the rancho of Juan N. Padilla and took away about 600 head of cattle. They broke open all of the trunks which they found in the house of said rancho; they took whatever they pleased about the house of the said rancho; they tied to a tree Marcos Jil, a servant of the rancho and gave him two hundred lashes, inflicting severe wounds to force him to tell where the owner of the rancho had his money or other effects. They then killed the said Marcos Jil, leaving him tied to said tree. They then set fire to the two houses on the rancho which were consumed with all the goods they contained."

Los Angeles Star, 27 September 1856

More Proofs.

In our publication of the 6th September, we gave the translation of a letter from one of the victims of Fremont's cruel and unsoldierlike conduct at Sonoma and San Rafael. That statement has been contradicted; and we are glad of it, for it has called forth additional testimony to the truth of our statement, which fixes on Fremont himself the blood of those innocent men.

The Hon. Philip A. Roach, wishing to be informed of the facts, inquired of Gen. Berreyesa for the particulars, who furnished the following narrative. Mr. Roach kindly favored us with the translation : —

San Francisco, Sept. 22d, 1856.

Hon. P. A. Roach — My Dear Sir : In reply to your question whether it is certain or not that Col. Fremont consented to or permitted his soldiers to commit any crime or outrage on the frontier of Sonoma and San Rafael in the year 1846, to satisfy your inquiry and to prove to you that what is said in relation thereto is true, I believe it will be sufficient to inform you of the following case :

Occupying the office of First Alcalde in the frontier of Sonoma in the year 1846, having been taken by surprise and put in prison in said town in company with several of my countrymen, Col. Fremont arrived at Sonoma with his forces from Sacramento. He came in company of Capt. Gillespie and several soldiers to the room in which I was confined, and having required from me the tranquility of my jurisdiction, I answered him that I did not wish to take part in any matters in the neighborhood, as I was a prisoner. After some further remarks, he retired, not well satisfied with the tenor of my replies. On the following day, accompanied by his soldiers, he went to San Rafael. At the time that the news of my arrest had reached my parents, at the instance of my mother that my father should go to Sonoma to see the condition in which myself and brothers were placed, this pacific old man left Santa Clara for San Pablo. After many difficulties, he succeeded in passing, accompanied by my two young cousins, Francisco and Ramon Haro, and having disembarked near San Rafael, they proceeded on foot towards the mission of that name with the intention of getting horses and return to get their saddles, which remained on the beach. Unfortunately, Col. Fremont was walking in the corridor of the mission with some of his soldiers, and they perceived it three Californians. They took their arms and mounted — approached towards them and fired. It is perhaps true, that they were scarcely dead when they were stripped of the clothing, which was all they had on their persons ; others say that Fremont was asked whether they should be taken prisoners or killed, and that he replied that he had not room for prisoners, and in consequence of this, they were slain.

On the day following this event, Fremont returned to Sonoma, and I learned from one of the Americans who accompanied him and who spoke Spanish, that one of the persons killed at San Rafael was my father ; I sought the first opportunity to question him (Fremont), about the matter; and whilst I was standing in front of the room in which I was a prisoner, I and my two brothers spoke to him and questioned who it was that killed my father, and he answered that it was not certain that he was killed, but that it was a Mr. Castro. Shortly afterwards a soldier passed by with a serape belonging to my father, and one of my brothers pointed him out. After being satisfied of this fact, I requested Col. Fremont to be called and told him that from seeing the serape on one of his men, that I believed that my father had been killed by his orders and begged that he would do me the favor to have the article restored to me that I might give it to my mother. To this, Col. Fremont replied that he could not order its restoration, as the serape belonged to the soldier who had it, and he then retired without giving me any further reply. I then endeavored to obtain it from the soldier, who asked me $25 for it, which I paid and in this manner obtained it. This history, sir, I think will be sufficient to give you an idea of the conduct pursued by Col. Fremont in the year 1846.

I remain your friend,


Statement of Jasper O'Farrell, Esq., in reference to the above mentioned act.

I was at San Rafael in June, 1846, when then Captain Fremont arrived at that Mission with his troops. The second day after his arrival, there was a boat landed three men at the mouth of the Estero, on Point San Pedro. As soon as they were descried by Fremont, there were three men (of whom Kit Carson was one) detailed to meet them. They mounted their horses, and after advancing about one hundred yards, halted, and Carson returned to where Fremont was standing in the corridor of the Mission in company with Gillespie, myself, and others and said : “Captain, shall I take those men prisoners ?” In response, Fremont waved his hand and said : “I have got no room for prisoners.” They then advanced to within fifty yards of the three unfortunate and unarmed Californians, alighted from their horses and deliberately shot them. One of them was an old and respected Californian, Don José R. Berryesa, whose son was Alcalde of Sonoma. The other two were twin brothers and sons of Don Francisco de Haro, a citizen of the Puebla of Yerba Buena. I saw Carson some two years ago and spoke to him of this act, and he assured me that then and since, he regretted to be compelled to shoot those men and says he intended to make them prisoners; but Fremont was blood-thirsty enough to order otherwise; and he further remarked that it was not the only brutal act he was compelled to commit while under his command.

I should not have taken the trouble of making this public, but that the veracity of a pamphlet published by C. E. Pickett, Esq., in which he mentions the circumstance been questioned — a history which, I am compelled to say is, alas! too true — and from having seen a circular addressed to the native Californians by Fremont or some of his his friends, calling on them to rally to his support. I therefore give the above act publicity, so as to exhibit some of that great warrior's tender mercies and chivalrous exploits; and must say that I feel degraded in soiling paper with the name of a man whom for that act I must always look upon with contempt and consider as a murderer and a coward.

Jasper O'Farrell.

Source: Text retrieved from the California Digital Newspaper Collection
Page created: 18-IX-2016
Last updated: 18-IX-2016