Captain Isaac Graham

by Michael F, Kinsella

Captain Isaac Graham - Time line biography of his life that was written by Mr. Kinsella. The pages use to be available on the internet at another location and are no longer there. I have created these pages because Isaac was a true California hero worth knowing. I once played Isaac at the Everygreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz on May 1st, 1999. - Floyd D. P. Øydegaard

Part 5 - Fur Trapper

1833 - 1836
Isaac Graham's actions are sketchy. However, one could conclude with reasonable certainty that what he did during those years of mystery, was hunt game and hides. In 1833, which was probably the true year of his arrival into Alta California. The sea otter hide was worth a small fortune. And the fact that many of his contemporaries, such as George Nidever and Job Dye made a huge profit shooting the soon to be endangered species along the coast. When Isaac Graham and others from America and Europe arrived on the scene, they were expected to take up the ways of these Californios, or else forever be destined to live out their lives in somewhat poverty.

According to, Sir James Douglas in 1840, The Californios were very strict with the requirements to become a land owning person in Alta California. "A foreigner desirous of settling in the country can obtain letters of naturalization with the utmost facility, provided he be of respectable character, the law merely requiring that any such person shall have resided one year in the department, and shall produce to the Alcalde of the district a certificate from three citizens that the applicant professes the Roman Catholic religion, is an honest man and possesses an income of 1000 dollars per annum, and on the strength of that document the Governor issues letters of naturalization. These however, do not secure the full and unlimited privileges of natural born subjects, as it is an indispensable condition that he should be married to a native Mexican before 'real property,' that is, land, can be either obtained or legally held."

Historian Sandy Lydon writes. During the 1820s and 1830s, a few foreigners trickled into Branciforte. These first Immigrants were accepted by the natives because they sought assimilation into the local culture. Many of them wed girls from the pueblo and immersed themselves in the routine of daily life. They converted to Catholicism and became naturalized citizens of Mexico.

"He appears to have despised the native Californian's way of life, flaunting his contempt at every turn. So characteristic of his attitude is the fact that upon arrival in California, he did not put plow to soil and teach the locals a better farming system, nor did he take up cattle ranching which was the mode of the day. No, the first thing that he and his henchmen did was to set up a distillery at Natividad and sell whiskey to everyone, including the hapless Indians....Extranjeros began arriving in Alta California shortly after the first wave of immigrants. But these men were of another temperament; low, quarrelsome, greedy and land hungry types bent on destruction. Their ilk was so typified by Isaac Graham...."

From the History of the Monterey Bay Region, by Sandy Lydon: In 1837, a Midshipman Simpkins, from the ship H.M.S. Sulfur said of Graham; "There are a great deal of these American hunters who come across the Rocky Mountains into California, and some of them are very curious characters. I heard of one (a man of the name Graham who is in this rifle corps) who answers the description exactly of Hawk-eye or Leatherstocking in Cooper's novels.

This man they say is completely ignorant of civilian life, lives in the woods, and thinks of nothing but his rifle and his dogs. He is a most deadly shot and I have heard several people say that he will hit a reale (The size of a six pence) at a couple of hundred yards, and that as long as he could see it there was no point, however, small, that he could not strike."

Hubert Howe, another historian said of Graham; At the best, he was a loud mouthed, unprincipled, profligate, and reckless man, whose only good qualities seem to have been the personal bravery and prodigal hospitality of his class, with undoubted skill as a hunter, and a degree of industry.

Graham moved near the Capitol of Alta California, Monterey, at Natividad in the Pajaro Valley, where he raised horses, cattle and operated a distillery and saloon. The home and saloon he lived in like many others then, was a tulle hut, after a time, Graham's home and drinking establishment, became a gathering place for the less homebound men of the area and willing women. Many of the men were sailors who had jumped ship taking the advantage of finding an Anglo refuge, which was a clear minority group of people in Alta California in the 1830s. Others who frequented Graham's distillery were more, or less, Graham's type of man, Those who spent long months in the wilderness and took the opportunity to get, liquored-up before heading back into the woods to hunt and trap. These men, who were minorities in a sea of people from Spanish, and Indian descent, would in only a short time, become the nexus of Graham's own private army. There is not any doubt that many of these men felt beholding to Graham. And would follow him to their deaths. And many did, In the Salinas Court House records; there is a file that reads that a man, Manuel Butron, leased a site for a whiskey distillery to a "Ysac Graham, Enrique Nale, y Guillermo Dickey," on May 15, 1836.

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