José María Flores

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José María Flores
Mexico  Governor of Alta California
In office
1846 – January 13, 1847
Preceded by Pío Pico
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born 1818
Died 1866 (age 48)
Profession Politician, soldier
Religion Roman Catholic

General José María Flores (1818, New Spain – 1866) was an officer in the Mexican Army and was a member of la otra banda. He was appointed Governor and Comandante General pro tem of Alta California from 1846 to 1847.

Mexican-American War[edit]

The American occupation would have gone smoothly if Commodore Robert F. Stockton had accepted José Castro’s peaceful surrender during the Mexican-American War. However, Stockton did not trust the Californios and placed Archibald Gillespie in charge of Los Angeles. This decision would bring about a rebellion led by General José María Flores.

Captain José María Flores arrived in California in 1842. He was a secretary for Governor Manuel Micheltorena. He was a captain in Comandante General José Castro's military army. Castro sent Flores to deliver a message to Stockton stating that Castro was going to accede to the wishes of the United States. Stockton did not recognize Castro’s authority and rejected it. Castro, seeing no alternative, fled California. Governor Pío Pico followed shortly thereafter. Flores and other military officers were left behind in Los Angeles.

Stockton placed Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie in charge of Los Angeles. Unfavorable rumors spread against the U.S. forces. Gillespie heard the rumors. He overreacted and arrested twenty Californian men. Californios, upset by Gillespie’s tactics, assembled a force to retake Los Angeles. Captain José María Flores, one of the officers, was chosen to act as comandante general. Captain José Antonio Carrillo was made second in command, while Captain Andrés Pico, as comandante de escuadrón, ranked third.

Battle of Chino[edit]

Flores’s troops outnumbered Gillespie’s. Flores demanded that the Americans leave. February 13, 1846 Gillespie agreed to leave Los Angeles. Gillespie sent for Benjamin Wilson in the San Bernardino area to bring a force of American sympathizers to aid in securing Los Angeles. Word reached José del Carmen Lugo that Wilson was looking for Lugo to arrest him. Lugo put together a Californio Militia and went after Wilson. The two forces met at the Battle of Chino. Afterward Lugo took forty prisoners and turned them over to Flores. Flores asked Lugo to join forces with him, but Lugo declined. Flores wanted to send the prisoners to Mexico City, but many people opposed the idea. Benjamin Wilson sent a message to Gillespie asking him to leave California completely. On October 4, 1846 Gillespie left San Pedro. A few Chino prisoners were exchanged for Californio prisoners.

Flores began reclaiming California. Flores dispatched Manuel Garfias to retake Santa Barbara. Garfias accomplished his mission without a fight. Manuel Castro was sent to secure the north. He occupied San Luis Obispo. Francisco Rico was sent south to retake San Diego. He did not make it there, because he was recalled back to Los Angeles. Rico sent a few Californios to watch over San Diego and to keep the Americans at bay.

Flores now had control of California from Santa Luis Obispo to San Diego, but his army had few arms and little ammunition. All male inhabitants of Southern California were asked to become soldiers. However, only about 200 men were kept in active service.

On October 6, 1846, 420 Americans, including 203 United States Marines, led by Captain William Mervine landed at San Pedro. Flores dispatched José Antonio Carrillo with fifty Californio Lancers to meet the advancing American forces, while remaining regular military forces remained to secure Los Angeles.

Battle of Dominguez Rancho[edit]

On October 7, 1846, the American forces advanced to the Spanish adobe buildings of the Dominguez Rancho. Flores ordered Carrillo's forces, mostly local Spanish cattle ranchers, to engage Mervine's forces and they defeated the Marines, killing 14 while suffering zero casualties, while driving the Americans back to San Pedro Bay. This was the Battle of Dominguez Rancho, and in history, one of the few times US Marines have ever been defeated in battle. This victory was also a high-water mark for the Californios' control of their territory.

Comandante general[edit]

On October 26, 1846 Flores called the Departmental Assembly of California into session and reorganized the remaining California government. On November 1 Flores became the temporary governor and comandante general. On December 3, Francisco Rico and José Antonio Carrillo revolted against Flores. Flores was placed under arrest for his alleged scheme against the Chino prisoners and for allegedly stealing war funds. Flores decided not to send the Chino prisoners to Mexico City and no evidence was found in regards to the missing funds. On December 5 he was restored to power. Rico and Carrillo were jailed for the revolt, but released shortly afterward.

Battle of San Pasqual[edit]

Flores needed help from the national Mexican government. He sent Captain Antonio Coronel and a few men to Sonora to get reinforcements. In route the men learned of General Stephen W. Kearny’s advance. A messenger was sent to Flores. Flores sent Andrés Pico to encounter the Americans. The Battle of San Pasqual soon followed.

After the victorious battle, Flores requested that Pico return to Los Angeles, but to leave men in the south to watch the American movements. After the battle a few Californios were killed at the Pauma Massacre. Flores sent José del Carmen Lugo and his militia to Temecula to avenge the killings. The Temecula Massacre soon followed.

By January 4, 1847 Stockton and Kearny had joined forces (totalling 660 men) and were marching towards the Los Angeles area. In the north, John Charles Fremont was advancing with 320 men south towards Los Angeles. Flores sent messengers requesting a truce until word was received from Mexico City about the end of the war. It was a delay tactic. Stockton refused. He requested unconditional surrender. He stated that all would be given amnesty except Flores, who would be shot or taken prisoner.

Battle of Rio San Gabriel[edit]

On January 8, 1847 Stockton's army encountered Flores’s Californios at the Battle of Rio San Gabriel. The Americans won a hard fought battle and Flores regrouped.

Battle of La Mesa[edit]

On January 9, 1847 Flores’s troops encountered Stockton’s forces one last time at the Battle of La Mesa. By January 12, Flores’s troops offered a flag of truce.

On January 10, 1847, Flores left Los Angeles and stayed at Los Verdugos. He held a final council, in which he decided to leave California. He transferred command to Andrés Pico and departed that night, the 11th, for Sonora. Before leaving Los Angeles he released all of the prisoners.

References[edit]

  • Whitehead, Roy E. (1978). Lugo: A Chronicle of Early California. Redlands, CA: San Bernardino County Museum Assoc. ISBN 0-915158-11-6. 
  • Harlow, Neal (1982). California Conquered: War and Peace on the Pacific, 1846-1850. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04430-4.