"The great California writer John Steinbeck noted in his novel Tortilla Flat that “Monterey had been invaded many times in two hundred years.” Not just Monterey, though, and not just the past two hundred years.
Many waves of European explorers/invaders arrived on the Pacific Coast, disrupting the indigenous people and eventually paving the way for an American conquest. The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore what is now the state of California. For instance, in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stopped at a place he named Bahia de los Pinos, better known today as Monterey Bay.
In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno cruised along the southern California coast. He left a major legacy of his efforts by naming San Diego, Santa Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. However, the Spanish were to have little enthusiasm for extending their influence farther in the area until the eighteenth century, when they began to fear other European powers expanding into it.
At that time, the Spanish sought to extend both their religious and military influence, both by sea routes and by land routes. Father Junipero Serra established the first Spanish mission in the area in San Diego in 1769, and Spanish officer Gaspar de Portolà led a military contingent and claimed the region for Spain. The Spanish seized Monterey. In 1775, 240 colonists, led by Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Pedro Font, moved from Sonora to San Francisco harbor.
The Spanish eventually built twenty-one missions in Alta and attempted to convert the natives to Catholicism. Diseases such as measles devastated the indigenous population, and the Spanish enslavement of native people generated some opposition. An uprising in 1775 in San Diego, for example, led to the deaths of three Spaniards. The Spanish tightened their grip on California by building presidios, or forts, in Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. e Spanish explorer Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra charted the waters near Bodega Bay in 1775. e rst major European fortification built in California was at the Presidio of San Francisco, which was constructed by the Spanish in 1776.
The Spanish would soon be followed by the British. Sir Francis Drake, the famous Elizabethan pirate, arrived o the shores of California in 1579, hoping to capture Spanish treasure ships. Accounts vary as to whether he stopped in Drake’s Bay, California, the Oregon coast, or even possibly British Columbia. Other Englishmen followed. A fur trader by the name of James Hanna traveled there in 1785; George Vancouver, an officer in the Royal Navy, arrived in Spanish California in 1792. Vancouver, observing the weak defenses of the Dons, noted that an invasion of California would be “an event which is by no means improbable.” The Hudson’s Bay Company engaged in fur trapping along the west coast.
In 1837, rumors swirled that Mexico might cede California to Britain in exchange for repayment of debt. American fears of a renewed British presence in California helped spur the call for Manifest Destiny.
1899 - 1980
|Captain Cyrille Laplace|
1793 - 1875
Many Frenchmen would beat a path to California, some attracted by the state’s winemaking potential. George de Latour would found Beaulieu Vineyard in 1900. A bubbly “invasion” of California was launched in 1973 with the introduction of méthode champenoise by Domaine Chandon.
Czarist Russia made a serious bid for California, which left a legacy that endures to the present. In 1806, officials of the Russian-American Company first visited San Francisco. They sought mainly a source of food to supply their colony in Russian Alaska. In 1812, the same year that Napoleon invaded Russia, the Russians ”invaded” northern California, establishing Fort Ross in what is today Sonoma County. The Russians already had an important colony established in Alaska, where the harsh climate made agriculture problematic. Eighty Aleuts and twenty-five Russians helped build a stockade. The cannons of Fort Ross were never fired in anger. Today Fort Ross is a California state park.
The Russians traded with the native Kashaya people who had inhabited the land around Fort Ross for thousands of years. Some Russian colonists intermarried with Kashaya women. The Russians and their Aleut allies pursued sea otters and planted orchards, growing peaches, apples, and pears. They built a Russian Orthodox church. An outbreak of smallpox in 1837 decimated the indigenous people, and by the 1830s, the sea otter population had been greatly diminished (only about 2,500 otters remain in the twenty-first century). The Russians opted in 1841 to sell Fort Ross to Captain John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss extraction, who later became famous for igniting the California Gold Rush of 1849.
California State Park
The Spanish did not perceive the Russian presence at Fort Ross as much of a threat to their empire. In fact, Spanish sovereignty over California was repeatedly tested and weakened. In 1808, Napoleonic France invaded Spain, providing a catalyst for the Mexican Revolution. Hippolyte Bouchard, a French Argentine, commanded two ships that cruised against the Spanish in 1818. In December of that year, Bouchard’s pirates seized and subsequently burned much of San Juan Capistrano. A revolution that swept aside Madrid’s power in the New World would begin in 1810 and culminate with Mexican independence in 1821.
During the Mexican period, Father Eugene Macnamara from County Clare led a brief Irish “invasion” of the San Joaquin Valley. A stream of American immigrants also began to ow into Mexican California.
|President James K. Polk|
Polk House / Columbia TN
In June, Frémont captured towns in Sonoma. On July 1, he was ferried across the San Francisco Bay and spiked ten Mexican cannon. On July 4, 1846, the Bear Flag Republic was proclaimed, and Frémont became the head of the California Army.
|General Stephen Kearny|
1794 - 1884
Prior to the war, Commodore John Sloat had been instructed to seize San Francisco in the event of hostilities between the United States and Mexico. On July 7, 1846, Sloat captured Monterey with a force of three ships and fewer than three hundred sailors and marines without a shot being fired. Sloat immediately announced the annexation of California. By the end of July, the sixty-eight-year-old Sloat was replaced in command of the Pacific squadron by “Fighting Bob” Stockton. Commodore Stockton ferried Frémont’s men south, where they captured San Diego and Los Angeles.
On August 9, 1846, General Castro of the Californio forces called for “Death to the Invaders,” but promptly fled south to Mexico. All seemed to be going remarkably smoothly for the Americans, who were now in charge of all significant towns in California, but not for long. Archibald Gillespie, left in charge of Los Angeles with a force of forty-eight men, began to impose a harsh and unpopular martial law. Californio resistance coalesced under the leadership of Andrés Pico, a ranchero who owned the oldest building in the San Fernando Valley, which still stands today.
The bloodiest battle of the American invasion of California was fought on December 6, 1846, at San Pasqual, between General Kearny’s forces and the Californios, led by Pico. Nineteen Americans were killed in the fifteen- minute-long engagement, most pierced by the willow lances of the mounted Californios, who were excellent horsemen. Kearny himself was wounded, but his regulars forced the Californios to withdraw. Casualties among the Californios are unknown. e intervention of naval and marine forces would quickly overwhelm the resistance of the Californio forces. Frémont and Pico negotiated the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended the fighting in California. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles honors the family of the Californio leader.
Victory by American forces in the Mexican-American War led finally to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which ceded California to the United States. California was admitted to the Union in 1850, and Frémont became one of the state’s first two senators.
The continual flow of settlers created intense competition for land, and the Native American population often suffered severe brutality from US forces and settlers. A series of clashes and minor wars occurred. For instance, in 1850, 130 Pomo men, women, and children were killed by US forces on an island in Clear Lake. The Mariposa War of 1851 saw Native American resistance crushed in the Sierra Nevada. The Yuma fought US forces over control of the Yuma crossing of the Colorado River. Overall, a huge percentage of the Native American population in California was wiped out during the nineteenth century.
|Ulysses S. Grant|
San Francisco, CA
Some smaller units made up of Californians would fight on the Union side in the Civil War. The California battalion formed part of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry and fought in over fifty engagements, mainly in Virginia. The California brigade suffered high casualties at Antietam in 1862 and at Gettysburg in 1863. A California Column was used to drive Confederate sympathizers out of Arizona and New Mexico.
Fort Mason was built in 1864 during the Civil War on property owned by Frémont. It was intended to protect San Francisco from Confederate raiders. The previous year, a group of Confederate sympathizers had outfitted a schooner, the J. M. Chapman, to serve as a privateer operating out of San Francisco Bay. Most Californians, however, remained loyal to the Union.
The 1860s and 1870s saw a number of clashes between US forces and Native Americans in Northern California, during the so-called Snake War of 1864–1868 and the Modoc War of 1872–1873.
When the War of the Pacific was fought (1879–1883) between Chile on one side against Peru and Bolivia, the Chilean Navy was considered superior to the US Navy’s Pacific fleet, and America did not intervene.
As Pacific powers such as Russia and Japan expanded their respective navies, the security of California’s long coastline became of heightened concern. Forts Baker, Barry, and McDowell were built to defend San Francisco from feared invasions between 1876 and 1905. In 1917, Fort MacArthur (named after Chester MacArthur) was built in San Pedro during World War I. More California forts would be built during World War II.
|1942 Rose Bowl|
On December 23, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s I-21 under Commander Matsumura torpedoed and sank the oil tanker Montebello off the California coast, near Cambria. The surfaced sub also used its machine guns to shoot crew members that were attempting to use the ship’s lifeboats. Poor visibility allowed the crew to escape. In 1996, the wreck of the Montebello was discovered. Eight of its ten oil storage tanks are an on-going environmental concern as they rust in coastal California waters.
On February 23, 1942, I-17 surfaced near Santa Barbara. The Japanese sub used her 140mm deck guns to shell the Ellwood oil refinery with sixteen to twenty-four rounds. Damage was minimal and no one was killed or injured in the attack, but Radio Tokyo crowed, “Sensible Americans know that the submarine shelling of the Pacific coast was a warning to the nation that the Paradise created by George Washington is on the verge of destruction.”
In the early morning hours of February 25, 1942, the air-raid sirens of Los Angeles sounded after an unknown aircraft triggered a blip on the radar. Anti-aircraft guns red over ten tons of ordnance into the night sky. Eight citizens died during the “raid,” mostly due to heart attacks. The phantom raid had involved no Japanese planes. Panic had swept the West Coast. This incident later inspired Stephen Spielberg’s movie 1941.
The US Navy’s decisive victory at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942 largely eliminated the threat of Japanese invasion to California and the West Coast. In November of 1944, the first of at least twenty Japanese balloon bombs to land in California was spotted off the coast of San Pedro, near Fort MacArthur, by a US auxiliary ship.
Philip K. Dick’s 1962 science fiction novel The Man in the High Castle (and the subsequent TV series) posited an Axis victory of World War II and a Japanese occupation of California and the West Coast.
The small rocky island at the heart of San Francisco Bay known as Alcatraz has been subject to many invasions over time. In the 1850s, it was fortified by the US Army Corps of Engineers. During the Civil War, it was used to defend against Confederate privateers on the Pacific Coast and to house Confederate prisoners of war. It would later evolve from a military prison into a federal maximum-security prison, housing the likes of Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly (no relation!). The prison was finally closed in 1963. In 1969, Native Americans “invaded” the island and occupied it as a protest for two years. Today Alcatraz is “invaded” daily by masses of tourists eager to hear tales of “The Rock.”
On December 2, 2015, fourteen Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, launched by an American citizen and his Pakistani-born wife."
TOURIST SITES: There are so many great tourist sites in the Golden State for those interested in her military history. Here are a few of my favorites...
1) SUTTER'S FORT, Sacramento, CA. (https://suttersfort.org/). Learn where the Gold Rush started.
2) FORT ROSS, Sonoma County, CA. (https://www.fortross.org/). Find this gem of a Park right north of Russian River.
3) SAN PASQUAL BATTLEFIELD, Escondido CA. (https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=655). Site of California's bloodiest battle.
4) USS MIDWAY, San Diego, CA. (https://www.midway.org/). Board a WW2 era Aircraft Carrier.
5) USS PAMPANITO, San Francisco, CA. (https://maritime.org/uss-pampanito/). Check out a WW2 era submarine near Fisherman's Wharf in SF.
San Pasqual Battlefield Park
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And my most recent interview...http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/08/17/america-invaded-christopher-kelly