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Frémont's California Battalion of Mounted Riflemen
Frémont: "Our cavalcade made a strange and grotesque appearance; and it was impossible to avoid reflecting upon our position and composition...guided by a civilized Indian, attended by two wild ones from the Sierra, a Chinook from the Columbia, and our mixture of American, French, German--all armed--four or five languages heard at once--above a hundred horses and mules, half wild--American, Spanish, and Indian dresses and equipments intermingled--such was our composition. Our march was a sort of procession. Scouts ahead and on the flanks; a front and rear division; the pack-animals, baggage, and horned cattle in the centre; and the whole stretching a quarter of a mile along our dreary path. In this form we journeyed, looking more as if we belonged to Asia than to the United States of America."

The Bear Flag was raised at Sonoma on June 15, 1846. On June 23, 1846, Frémont arrived at the garrison , with a force of about ninety men. James W. Marshall, who would discover gold at Sutter's mill in 1848, described the party.

"These were Americans, French, English, Swiss, Poles, Russians, Chileans, Germans, Greeks, Austrians, Pawnees [Delawares] native Indians [Walla Walla], etc...Some wore the relics of their homespun garments, some relied on the antelope and bear for their wardrobe, some lightly dressed in buckskin leggins and a coat of war-paint and their weapons were equally various...Well, if they [the Mexicans] can whip this crowd they can beat all the world, for [General] Castro will whip all nations, languages and tongues!"

On July 19th, his party swelled to about 160 from newly arrived settlers, he entered Monterey. The party was described by an officer of Her Majesty's Ship Collingwood, that had entered Monterey Bay hours after Commodore Sloat had hoisted the American Flag:

"During our stay in Monterey Captain Frémont and his party arrived. They naturally excited curiosity. Here were true trappers, the class that produced the heroes of Fennimore Cooper's best works. These men had passed years in the wilds, living upon their own resources; they were a curious set.

"A vast cloud of dust appeared first, and then in a long file emerged this wildest wild party.

"Frémont rode ahead, a spare, active-looking man, with such an eye! He was dressed in a blouse and leggings, and wore a felt hat. After him came five Delaware Indians, who were his bodyguard, and have been with him through all his wanderings; They had charge of two baggage horses. The rest, many of them blacker than the Indians, rode two and two, the rifle held by one hand across the pommel of the saddle.
(Chief Sagundai at right was one of the Delawares on this expedition)

"Thirty-nine [of 160] of them are his regular men…principally from the State of Tennessee and the banks of the upper waters of the Missouri. He has one or two with him who enjoy a high reputation in the prairies. Kit Carson is as well known there as the Duke [Wellington] is in Europe." Lieutenant Frederick Walpole, HMS Collingwood

"The undersigned was on duty on shore when Captain Frémont arrived with his force at Monterey from the north. The undersigned believes that the appearance of this body of men, and the well-known character of the commander, not only made a strong impression on the British admiral [Adm. Sir George Seymore, HMS Collingwood] and officers, but an equally impressive and more happy one upon those of the American Navy then in Monterey. For himself, the undersigned can say, that, after he had seen Captain Frémont's command, all his doubts upon the conquest of California were removed." Lt. George Minor, U.S.N., deposition before U.S. Senate

On November 28th, swelled to over 400 men, the California Battalion of Mounted Riflemen commenced a 400 mile march from San Juan Bautista to Los Angles.

The battalion was organized into eight companies:

A. Capt. Richard "Dick" Owens (Owens Valley; Owens River)
B. Capt. Henry L. Ford (nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln)
C. Capt. Granville P. Swift
D. Capt. John Sears.
E. Capt. John Grigsby (my 3-great grandfather)
F. Capt. Lansford W. Hastings (Hastings Cut-Off)
G. Capt. Bluford K. "Hell Roaring" Thompson
H. Capt. Richard T. Jacob
Artillery. Capt. Louis McLane
And outriders, hunters, couriers, and scouts, including Delaware, Cosumnes River, Chinook Indians, Kit Carson and Alex Godey.

go Doug Schneider, of Lafayette, CA, whose 3d great grandfather John Sturzenegger served under Bluford K. "Hell Roaring" Thompson in G company, sends this link to the full Battalion roster on the WWW.

Crossing mountain passes in the dead of winter, through horrific storms, in a pincer movement with the army and land-deployed naval troops commanded by Commodore Robert F. "Fighting Bob" Stockton. This march was culminated by the surrender of Mexican forces to Frémont and the Capitulation of Cahuenga.
go The Capitulation of Cahuenga

Years later, in his Memoirs (1887), Frémont recorded the following thoughts regarding the position in which he had found himself placed in June of 1846 at Montery:

The cross of St. George [England] hung idly down from the peak of the great ship [HMS] Collingwood, the breeze occasionally spreading out against the sky the small red patch which represented centuries of glory. There lay the pieces on the great chessboard before me with which the game for an empire had been played…I was but a pawn, and like a pawn I had been pushed forward to the front at the opening of the game...My path of life led out from among the grand and lovely features of nature, and its pure and wholesome air, into the poisoned atmosphere and jarring circumstances of conflict among men, made subtle and malignant by clashing interests.

go The other side of the issue


A new University of Oklahoma Press edition of Tom Chaffin's now classic Pathfinder: John Charles Fremont and the Course of American Empire.

"The most eloquent, understanding, and yet very candid biography of Frémont that has appeared to date"--Howard R. Lamar, Yale University


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham