General Andrés Pico and the "Pathfinder"
The Magnificent Treaty of Cahuenga

By Richard Duree (Col. Richard Dodge, SASS 1750 Life)


Ruth Levin Duree and Richard Duree

The years of 1946-1947 were busy one for California. Not only were wagon trains bringing thousands of illegal immigrants into Mexican California, those illegal gringos were aided and abetted by the military forces of their own foreign nation – the United States of America. Their coming was to quickly and surely spell the demise of the Californios and their gentle, honorable and generous way of life.

Two of the great gringo officers, General Stephen Kearny and the "Pathfinder," Col. John C. Fremont, who would soon be at each other's throats, were to in turn engage and be defeated by Californio General Andrés Pico, brother to Governor Pío Pico. This was as far as the Mexican-American War intruded into California.

It would appear that the Pathfinder had been expelled from California in an earlier attempt to occupy California and, instead of leaving as promised had turned north to Monterey, away from events taking place in the south. The Mexican army soon forced him to flee further northward to Klamath Lake in Oregon where a courier from Washington found him and delivered orders to enforce American interests in California – reason enough to return south.

In Fremont's absence, the American army did indeed occupy Los Angeles, as General Kearny, smarting from his defeat at San Pasqual at the hands of General Andrés Pico, regrouped at San Diego. In company with Commodore Stockton and a young Philip St. George Crook (he of Apache War fame thirty years later), entered and occupied Los Angeles after the Battles of San Gabriel and La Mesa.

It happened that Commodore Stockton had "paroled" three Mexican military officers on the condition that they not bear arms against the occupation unless exchanged. These military gentlemen promptly proceeded to organize and lead a revolt that drove the gringos from Los Angeles, at least temporarily before reinforcements arrived from San Pedro and the city was retaken.

So now we had three Mexican officers who were in jeopardy of being executed by the American military tribunal. General Pico, still afield and informed of Fremont's advance from the north, met Fremont at Cahuenga Pass where he pulled off a brilliant diplomatic and military coup. When Fremont observed how the Californios had fortified the pass into Los Angeles, he was more than pleased to meet Pico under a flag of truce at a small adobe, which stands to this day across the street from Universal Studios.

Taking advantage of Fremont's ignorance of the now peaceful situation in Los Angeles, Pico agreed to surrender his arms on the condition that his troops be allowed to return home without harassment or future indictment. Major Horace Bell recounts what happened next:

. . . the gringo conqueror marched in to reap the rewards of his victory.

Two batteries of artillery, consisting of a dozen California live oak logs mounted on so many native corretas . . . one old blunderbuss that, from the date engraven on its brass barrel suggested service in the siege of Granada, two old flintlock Spanish horse-pistols, and about 40 Mexican ox-goads with flaming red pennons thereto attached, made a full inventory of the spoils which, by virtue of the great Treaty of Cahuenga, passed forever from the hands of humbled Mexico and went to enrich the arsenals of the gringo nation.

Infuriated at the Californios' duplicity, Fremont stormed into Los Angeles, occupied the finest house he could find and proclaimed himself Governor of California. The events following this bold assumption of governmental power are a different story and an interesting one, however, the famed Treaty of Cahuenga had the effect of removing any threat or punishment against the three offending Mexican parolees. It is said that General Pico, a great humorist in addition to being a crafty strategist, loved to retell the story of how he threw dust in the eyes of the conquering gringos to spare his countrymen from conquering wrath. And, in truth, the treaty was not even a legal one at the time, as neither Pico nor Fremont had any authority to sign it; it was only after Kearny was forced to approve it that it became a legal document.

Ah – the stories of California's history.

Bell, Horace; Reminisces of a Rangerd; Yarnell, Catstile and Mathes; Los Angeles, 1881

Andrew Rolle; Exploring an Explorer; California, Psychohistory, and John C. Fremont," Southern California Quarterly, March 1994, Vol. 76#1 pp 85–98

Andrew F. Rolle; John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny; 1991