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Claims Committe Report on the California Battalion, 1851 

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REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON CLAIMS— To whome was referred that portion of Gov. McDougals message relative to the California Battalion.

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In Senate read & adopted and 300 Copies ordered printed

Feb 5 1852

A C Bradford
Sec(retary) Senate *


The Committee on Claims beg leave to present the following report upon that portion of the Message of Gov. McDougal, relative to California Claims for property taken and supplies furnished during the war between Mexico and the United States.

The Committee will state that the claims are of two distinct classes, which they will call first and second class claims, according to priority.

Those of the first class are claims that originated prior to or on the eve of the war between the United States and Mexico, and during the operations of what was termed the Bear party.

The Committee will remark, that a portion of its members were personally cognizant of the state of affairs in this country at that time, and consider that, from the knowledge they have upon the subject, the General Government of the United States cannot 1 reject the claims of persons who sustained losses during that period.

Although the operations of Col. Fremont with the Bear party have been declared premature and unsanctioned by his Government, yet a part of this Committee are personally acquainted with the facts that Fremont had instructions from his Government, which led him to take the steps he did, relative to the matter.

Lieut. Archibald H. Gillespie arrived at Monterey previous to the organization of the Bear party, and as soon as Thos. O. Larkin, Esq. the U. States Consul at Monterey, could fit out Lieut. Gillespie with horses and men, he immediately started in pursuit of Col. Fremont, who was far on his way to the Territory of Oregon. He did not overtake him until the 9th day of May, 1846; and from the character of the dispatches and instructions communicated to Col. Fremont by Lieut Gillespie, he was induced to return into 2 California; for he was in the Territory of Oregon, when met by Lieut Gillespie.

It was about the time when he had returned and encamped near the Buttes on the Sacramento River, that the difficulty between the native Californian's and the immigrants from the United States occurred.

Perhaps it would be well to state here that the difficulty spoken of had been brewing for some time, and Col. Fremont was aware of it before he broke up his camp to move into Oregon; but did not in any wise meddle with the matter; and Lieut Gillespie was cautioned to be careful in moving through the country in search of Fremont.

It will be understood that it was not until he had been brought back by a Government Agent, and after being waited upon by a delegation from the emigrants who solicited the assistance of his party, that he consented to do that which any other citizen of the United States would 3 have done under the circumstances; viz: give them such assistance for their protection and the protection of their families, as was in his power.

It will be remembered, that it was now the season of the year when the mountains were covered with snow; and the Native Californians did not hesitate to say that it was their intention to cause the emigrants from the United States to leave the Country. It is a well known fact that they were collecting their forces at the Mission of San Juan Baptista. What was to be done? Were they to risk their lives and the lives of their wives and children, in the fathomless snows of the Seirra Navada; or was it better to stand by each other like brave men, and lose their lives, defending those most dear to them, rather than ignominiously fly to the Mountains and perish in the snow?

They did not go to the Mountain; for Fremont 4 generously offered his assistance and with a few men under the gallant Ford, taught the natives that the emigrants were not so easily disposed of.

It was at or near Santa Rosa, that the first blood was drawn. The enemy occupied a position at a house on the edge of the plains, about sixty yards from a small grove of burshwood. Capt. Ford having several prisoners, left four men to guard them; and with the remainder advanced upon the enemy.

Reaching the burshwood, he directed his party to tie their horses; and take such positions as would cut off the Californians; but by no means to fire until they could kill their man; which order was so well obeyed that, out of twenty or twenty five shots fired by the Americans, eleven took effect. Eight of the enemy were killed, and two wounded. One party of the Californians charged up handsomely, led by a sergeant 5 but the deadly fire of Ford's riflemen compelled them to retire with the loss of the sergeant and several of his men.

The fall of the Sergeant was the signal for retreat. The Californians were 86 strong, while Ford had but 18 men engaged.

It was on the 25th day of June that Fredmont formed the garrison at Sonoma, and several days were spent in persuit of De la Torre, who finally crossed the bay of San Francisco, and returned to San Juan.

The committee consider it necessary to make these statements that a proper knoweledge of the matter may be had.

The Committee will here present the desposition of Lieut. Gillespie, before a Committe appointed by the Senate of the United States to investigate the matter, at the time that an appropriation was asked for to pay the claims of the people of this Country against the Government of the United States.6


In reply to the inquiry of the Honorable Committee wether I was charged with any message or Mission from the Government to Capt. Fremont, when I joined him on the Talmath Lake, in May, 1846, I beg leave to State, that early in November, 1845, I received orders from the President and Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Bancroft, to proceed to California by way of Vera Cruz, and the shortest route through Mexico to Mazatlan, &c. I was the bearer of a duplicate of the dispatch to the United States Consul at Monterey, as also a packet for J.C. Fremont Esq., and a letter of introduction to the latter gentleman, from the Hon. James Buchanan. The former, viz: the letter to Larkin, I destroyed before entering the port of Vera Cruz, having committed it to memory.

The packet and letter of introduction, I delivered to Capt. Fremont, on the 9th day of May, in the Mountains of Oregon.7


The Committe are aware of the fact, that the original copy of the letter given to Lieut Gillespie, and the substanence of which was communicated to Col. Fremont by Lieut. Gillespie, from memory, was called for by the Senate of the United States in the year 1848, and was received and marked "confidential," (and as a distinguished member of the Senate, Mr. Clark, of Rhode Island, remarked) reposes as quietly in the Executive Archives as it would have done, if it had remained uncalled for in the Archives of the department of State.

He also goes on to say that he can only speak of it as it comes to us in this report, and to infer its character and import from the fact that it was deemed unsafe to take it into Mexico, and hazard its discovery by the authorities of that Country. And that Lieut Gillespie, after committing it to memory, tore it up and buried it in the deep waters of the Gulf. Its substance was made known to Capt. Fremont, and it bore date in October, 1845.8


The Committee will here ask why Col. Fremont did not continue on his way to Oregon? What turned him from his course, and caused his return into California?

Was it not the instructions conveyed to him by Lieut. Gillespie, who was charged with despatches from the Executive of the United States?

Lieut Gillespie's desposition makes the matter perfectly clear. He was induced to return and take the steps heretofore spoken of in this report.

This Committee do not hesitate to pronounce the Claims of the 1st Class just and recommend the General Government to dispose of them in the same manner as, those of the Second Class.9

This much the Committee have to say in refference to the claims of the 1st Class and they have gone to greater length than was their intention in the first place, nevertheless they deem it necessary to place the matter in a proper light and from the evidences collected, one fully satisfied that Col. Fremont was authorized to act by the general government.

In refference to what the Committee term Claims of the 2nd Class; They will state that the organization of the California Battalion dates from the 13th July 1846. Nearly all of the officers received their commissions from Commodore Stockton on the 12th July which were read on the morning of the 13th to the troops on parade at Monterey.

At that time Capt Fremont had a Commission as Major from Commodore Stockton. Lieut Gillespie held a commission as Adjutant of the Battalion with the rank of Major, from the same source.

The terms of peace made by Col Fremont with the Native Californians were recognized by the General Government, and by Commodore Stockton & Gen Kearny, his superiors in grade. They were signed on the part of the U. States by Lieut Col J.C. Fremont, military Commandant of California and on the part of California by Andres Pico Commandant of Squadron, and Chief of the National forces of California.10

Commodore Stockton adressed a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, of which the following is an extract

“It seems that not being able to negotiate with me, (alluding to the Californians) and having lost the battles of the 8th and 9th of January, they met Col Fremont on the 12th on his way here who not knowing what had occured he entered into the capitulation with them, which I now send you and although I refused to do it myself, still I have thought it best to approve it.

The territory of California is again tranquil, and the Civil government fromed by me is again in opperation in places where it was interrupted by the insurgents.

Col Fremont has 500 men in his battalion which will be quite sufficient to preserve the peace of the territory.

Faithfully, your obl(obedient) Servant
R F. Stockton, Commodore &c

To the Hon George Bancroft
Sec(retary) of the Navy Washington D.C.”11

The opperations of the California Battalion were recognized by the General Government.

And the government has certainly not been a loser by their works; the national revenue, public domain, and mineral lands, they must acknowledge are an acquisition to the public treasure.

It was by the enterprise of the men whome the general government, have not yet paid for property and services given in the late war, that the attention of the Government of the U. States was directed to California.

It was their men who traversed the wilderness when there were no roads to guide them.

It was their men who nobly stood their ground when attempts were made to drive them from the Country.

It was their men who struck the first blow that added another bright star to our glorious constellation; and now they ask for justice, not for favours.

It is estimated that on the Pay Quartermasters & Commissary departments there will be required, about $500.000 to liquidate claims for which vouchers can be produced; and that 12 $200.000 will be required to meet the payment of claims held by persons for property taken for which no receipts were given.

At the time that the Battalion were at Monterey preparing for the 2nd Campaign, about the latter end of November 1846, the required horses & saddles, these were taken from the Native Californians, without giving receipts, and no returns were made to the proper officers, consequently no account was made of them, but the persons who were engaged in these expeditions are yet in the country and, can be found to give evidence in the matter.

Bands of Cattle were frequently driven into camp, their owners not being found, in some cases the marks and brands were taken by the Commissary, to furnish a clue to the proper Claimant.

100 head of cattle were thus driven in on the 2 of December to supply the troops during the march to San Miguel, through a portion of the Country, not stocked with Cattle. Thirteen beeves was the number slaughtered per day for the consumption of the Battalion, other provisions being exhausted; beef constituted the only article of diet. 13

About 600 loose horses were driven along to supply the place of those left on the road exhausted, and out of the band many were unfit for use having been used in the summer campaigne.

Besides these they had a large band of pack mules upon which the ammunition and camp equipage was transported.

It was the rainy season, when the old grass, as well as the new contained no nutrinent and evey day horses & mules gave out on the march and were left behind to be devoured by the wolves, and their riders would straggle into camp with their saddles & blankets upon their shoulders.

This will account for the great number of horses, used on the march, and liberal allowances should be made by the government in the Settlement of the Claims.

More than one hundred horses were lost in crossing the Santa Ines Mountain

The rain fell in torrents carrying down the gorges through which the horses had to pass mud and rocks, many of the horses were litterally 14 burried in the mud and their packs were cut from their backs, and the animals left to die. Others sliped down the sides of the mountain and were precipitated over the precipices 60 feet deep where they were piled up from ten to twenty in a heap.

The Committee would recommend that a Commission be appointed to adjudicate the Claims of the California Battalion, they would also recommend, an appropriation by Congress of $100.000 to liquidate the debt, and a disbursing agent who should be the head of the Quartermaster Department in this Country, whose business it should be to pay the claims when approved by the Commission.

The Committee would also recommend that bounty land be allowed each officer & private, in like manner and in like quantities as is allowed under the act granting bounty land to certain officers & soldiers who have been engaged in the military service of the U. States and that our Senators & Representatives in Congress be requested to use their exertions to carry out the measures recommended in this Report. 15

The Committee recommend that three hundred printed copies of this report be printed and copies furnished our Senators & Representatives in Congress.


Jacob R. Snyder
Chas. F. Lott
James Miller 16


"Report of the Committee on Claims," 1851
Legislative Papers
California State Archives
Sacramento, California

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