Mexican Governors of California
H. D. Barrows
From the time of the achievement of
independence by Mexico in the year 1822, till 1846, July 7, when
Alta California became a territory of the United States, eleven
persons served as governors, or Gefe Politicos, of the Province;
two of them serving two terms, thus making thirteen
administrations during the Mexican national regime. All of these
eleven governors, except Gov. de Sola and Gov. Gutierrez, who
were born in Spain, were natives of Mexico; and four of them,
namely: Governors Arguello, Pico, Castro and Alvarado, were born
in California. It is not known that any of these officials is
The first Mexican governor was Pablo
Vicente de Sola, who was in office when Mexico gained her
independence in 1822; and his term extended till 1823. He was a
native of Spain, where he received a good education; and he came
to Mexico as a military officer prior to 1805. At the time of
his appointment by the Viceroy as Governor of California, in 181
5, he was a lieutenant-colonel of the Mexican army. He arrived
at Monterey August 30, 181 5. He filled the office of governor
about seven years. Being elected a deputy to the Mexican
Congress he left Monterey November 22, 1823, and San Diego
January 2, 1824, arriving in the City of Mexico in the following
June, where he soon after died.
Governor de Sola was succeeded by
Luis Antonio Arguello, whose term extended to June 1825.
Governor Arugello was born at the Presidio of San Francisco,
June 21, 1784. He died there March 27, 1830 and was buried at
the Mission by Father Estenega. His widow, who was the daughter
of Sergeant Jose Dolores Ortega, was the owner of Las Pulgas
Rancho. She died in 1874.
Governor Arguello was universally
commended by the old-time Californians and Americans as an able,
amiable and honest citizen and governor. The Arguellos of early
times, and their descendants, have been accounted among the
first families of California.
Jose M. Echeandia was the next
governor. Gov. Echeandia was a native of Mexico; he was a
lieutenant-colonel and director of a college of engineers, at
the time of his appointment as Gefe Politico, y Comandante
Militar that is governor and military commandant of the
Californians. He came to Loreto, Lower California, by way of San
Bias, in June, 1825, where he remained till October,
reorganizing the political affairs of the Provinces. He arrived
at San Diego in November, and made that Presidio his official
residence. He carefully studied the country's needs; and
tentatively tried some experiments to test the feelings of the
friars and the capacities of the Indians, as to the
practicability of secularizing the Missions, which Mexican
statesmen already foresaw must be brought about some time if
California was ever to have a future as a civilized State. As it
had been demonstrated that it was impossible to make
self-governing citizens of the Indians, it became apparent that
the settlement of the country by Mexican citizens, i. c, by
gente de razon, must be encouraged, by making it possible for
them to acquire a permanent foothold. It was during the
incumbency of Gov. Echeandia that the law or reglamento of 1828,
relating to the granting of lands was passed by the Mexican
Congress. The Padres naturally distrusted him, because he
represented, according to their views, the new republic, which
they instinctively felt was inimical to their interests.
The details of Gov. Echeandia's
administration are full of interest, and as I have not room to
recount them here, I hope some-time to present them in a
separate paper, as I have already done in the case of Gov. Pico
and several other notable governors, whose striking
characteristics are worthy of separate treatment.
After administering the office of
governor for nearly six years. Gov. Echeandia sailed from San
Diego in May, 1833, and returned to the City of Mexico, where,
as late as 1855-6, Mrs. Gen. Ord, who knew him well in
California, saw him frequently, and, at a still later period, he
died there at an advanced age.
Manuel Victoria, who, after Mexico
had gained her independence, in the struggle for which he took
part, was, in 1825, military commandant at Acapulco, of which
place he was probably a native; and in 1820 he was Comandante of
Baja California; and in the latter year he was appointed Gefe
Politico or Civil Governor of Alta California, to succeed Gov.
Echeandia. He arrived at Monterey, by land from Loreto, and
assumed the duties of governor on the 31st of January, 1831,
serving about one year or till January, 1832, when the people
arose in rebellion against his arbitrary rule, and drove him out
of the country.
Victoria was generally regarded more
as a soldier than as a civilian; and, while he was a man of much
force of character, he lacked tact, and sought to administer his
civic duties by military methods, and, naturally, he became a
very unpopular official. More-over, his high-handed refusal to
convene the Departmental Assembly (as was his duty), in order
that the important and beneficent land laws of 1824 and 1828
might be made effective in California, so exasperated the people
that they forced him to resign, which he did at San Gabriel,
after a hostile encounter between his forces and the
revolutionists at Cahuenga, and he was succeeded by Pio Pico as
the senior member of the Departmental Assembly.
How abundant the causes were which
moved the people in their summary action may be learned from the
Manifesto of the revolutionists, of Nov. 29, 183 1.
Gov. Pio Pico, the fifth Governor of
California after Mexico became an independent nation, was a
native of the Privince, born at the Mission of San Gabriel in
1801. He was twice governor, in 1832, and again in 1845-6, he
being incumbent of the gubernatorial office at the time
California came under the jurisdiction of the United States.
As I have already presented to the
Historical Society a bio-graphical and character sketch of Gov.
Pico (printed in the Society's Annual for 1894), it is
unnecessary to enlarge here on the events and salient
characteristics of his life. Our older members remember him
well. He died in this city September 11, 1894, at the age of 93
Of Gen. Jose Figueroa, one of the
best and ablest Governors of California, I here give only a
brief sketch, hoping at some future time to present a fuller
account of his life.
Gov. Figueroa was one of the heroes
of Mexico's long struggle for independence. In 1824 he was
appointed Comandante General of Sonora and Sinoloa. He served as
Governor and Military Commandant of California from January 14,
1833, till shortly be-fore his death at Monterey, September 29.
1835. During his ad-ministration he did some very good work in
organizing territorial and local government. As a capable,
patriotic statesman, he served the people of California well,
and won their respect and good will. The older Californians and
there are still living some who remember him well, had nothing
but praise for the character and acts of Governor Jose Figueroa.
Gov. Jose Castro, the seventh Mexican
Governor, was a native of California, born at Monterey in about
the year 18 10, where he attended school from 1815 to 1820, or
later. In 1828 he was sec-retary of the Monterey Ayuntamiento.
He took an active part with other citizens in sending
representatives to Mexico complaining- of Governor Victoria's
refusal to convoke the Departmental Assembly and of other
arbitrary acts of that official.
In August, 1835, Gov. Figueroa,
because of failing health, appointed Castro (he being then the
senior member of the Departmental Assembly), as Acting Gefe
Politico or Governor. In accordance with the national law of May
6, 1822, Gov. Figueroa, just before his death, ordered the
separation of the civil and military chieftainships, and
directed that Jose Castro should succeed him as Governor ad
interim, and that Nicolas Gutierrez (as ranking officer), should
become Comandante General. Castro served as Governor till
January, 1836, and later held numerous other official positions.
Gov. Nicolas Gutierrez was a native
of Spain, and came to Mexico as a boy. He served with Figueroa
in the Mexican revolution, and came with him to California in
1833, as captain. He was promoted to a lieutenant-colonelship in
July of that year, and in 1834-6 he was commissioner for the
secularization of the Mission of San Gabriel. He was acting
Comandante-general from October 8, 1835, to January 2, 1836; and
from the latter date till May 3, he was governor and Comandante.
He was also military chief in the south during the incumbency of
Gov. Chico (who' succeeded him as Governor), or till July 31,
and he was again Governor till his over-throw by Alvarado,
November 4, 1836. Gov. Gutirrez was arbitrary in his methods,
and treated the Departmental Assembly brusquely, and in his
intercourse with the people, he showed little tact and as a
natural result he became very unpopular. Both of his terms as
Governor were short, and his services to the Province were
comparatively unimportant. In person he was of medium stature,
stout, with light complexion and reddish hair, and he had a
squint in his right eye, which gave him the nickname of "El
Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado, whose
term extended from December 7, 1836, to December 31, 1842, was a
native of California, born at Monterey, February 14, 1809. He
was the son of Sergeant Jose F. Alvarado and Maria Josefa
Vallejo de Alvarado. He acquired such rudiments of an education
as were available in his time; and his life was an eventful one,
which should be of interest to us; and possibly I may sometime
give our society a more detailed sketch of his career, as a
somewhat important factor in early California history, of the
later Mexican period. He filled numerous official positions;
and, being connected with prominent families, and possessing
some natural ability, he exerted considerable influence in his
time prior to the change of government. He was secretary of the
Departmental Assembly from 1827 to 1834; and in 1836, having
been elected a member of that body, he became its president.
Gov. Alvarado was elected to the
Mexican Congress in 1845, but he did not go to Mexico. He was
grantee of several ranchos, including Las Mariposas. In 1839 he
married Martina Castro, daughter of Francisco Castro. They had
several children. She died in 1875. Gov. Alvarado died July 13,
1882, in his 74th year.
Those who knew him say he was a man
of genial temperament, courteous manners, and rare powers of
winning friends. There are many native Californians as well as
Americans still living, especially in the upper counties, who
knew him well in his lifetime.
Gov. Manuel Micheltorena, the last
Mexican Governor of California but one, was appointed January
22, 1824; and he served as both Governor and military commandant
till his surrender to the revolutionists, February 22, 1845. He
was a native of Oajaca, of good family and some education. As a
political and military chief he lacked sound judgment, though
personally of amiable and courteous manners. He was seriously
handicapped by having brought with him to California (under
orders of the Mexican government, pursuant to a miserable
policy), a considerable number of convicts as soldiers, whose
lawlessness and brutality shocked decent citizens, and tended
strongly to make the Governor unpopular. Micheltorena and his "cholos,"
as his ragamuffin, thievish soldiers were called, became a
bye-word with the Californians, and are still unpleasantly
remembered by the old timers. After Micheltorena's return to
Mexico, he was elected a member of congress, and later, in 1850,
he served as Comandante-General of Yucatan.
The following is a chronological list
of Mexican Governors of Alta or Upper California, which may
prove convenient for reference:
Mexican Governors of California:
Pablo Vicente de Sola, Sept. 16, to
Nov. 22, 1822.
Luis Arguello, Nov. 22, 1822, to
Jose M. Echeandia, June, 1825, to
Manuel Victoria, Jan., 1831, to Jan.,
Pio Pico Jan., 1832, to Jan., 1833.
Jose Figueroa Jan., 1833, to Aug.,
Jose Castro Aug., 1835, to Jan.,
Nicholas Gutierrez Jan., 1836, to
Marino Chico May, 1836, to July 31,
Nicolas Gutierrez July, 1836, to
Juan B. Alvarado Nov., 1336, to Dec.
Manuel Micheltorena Dec, 1842, to
Pio Pico Feb., 1845, to July, 1846
Source: Annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern
California and Pioneer register, Los Angeles, Part I. Vol.