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 6 - Independence?


Just over a year had passed since the battle over Texas; civil strife was rampant in Alta California. Vallejo, Alverado, Castro, Pico and the Carillo brothers had done a great job contributing to that major questioning of Alta California's rule by far away Mexico City. However, while a clear majority of Californios sided with Vallejo's opinion for self rule. There were, however, many that did not share his opinions, especially those that lived further south. Many of these people did not like the idea of having the Capitol so far away in Monterey and felt that it should be farther south, closer to where they lived.

Near the end of the year, 1836, after a series of changes in the governor of Alta California, Nicholas Gutierrez was placed back into power. Juan Bautista Alverado, was now a grown man of 27-years of age. He had been appointed as the secretary of the Territorial Deputacion. He was described by a fellow Californio as; "Well formed, full-blooded California Spaniard, five feet, eleven inches....With coal black curly hair, deep black eyes, high cheek bones, aquiline nose, fine white teeth, brown completion, and the clearly marked mien of a pompous coward, clad in the broadcloth and whiskers of a gentleman."

Monterey's Custom House as it appeared in 1846.

The fuse to the bomb of the 1836 insurrection was lit when Alverado and the new governor, Gutierrez, nearly came to blows over the collection of taxes at Monterey and the placing of guards at the customhouse. After the altercation, Alverado sped angrily to Sonoma to again try to convince his Uncle Vallejo to help him with the overthrow of the territory. Vallejo refused, giving his nephew only a cold reception, thinking that the time just was not ripe yet for a rebellion. However, Alverado still had his old friend and cousin, Jose Castro to count on, as well as his ace-in-the-hole, Isaac Graham.

It is unclear exactly how these two men originally met the other, yet, however they did meet, they decided to converse at Tia Borond's home, a sympathizer to the cause, and there discuss exactly what fire power and men Graham could supply for the revolt at the presidio in Monterey. Alverado promised him that once he was in power, he would institute changes in Alta California that would represent a much fairer government and give Graham and the other foreigners that participated in the rebellion, citizenship, equal rights with other Californios, large tracts of land, and three dollars a day for their services. However, it was what Alverado promised Graham he would do to him if he didn't help in the coup, that no doubt carried equal weight in Graham's decision to assist him, Alverado threatened all foreigners with arrest and exile if Graham didn't help. Graham is reported to have told Alverado, "I will call around me here a force that will make the old devil of a Mexican tremble."

Gutierrez, however, had spies everywhere and found out about the meeting Alverado was having with Graham. He had known for a time about the planning of a rebellion and sent soldiers to the Borond home to catch the traitor of Mexico. Yet, Alverado saw the soldiers coming jumped out of a window and escaped the soldiers by using Isaac Graham horse. No doubt a fast one, since Graham was very serious when it came to what kind of horse he rode. So it was that now, Captain Isaac Graham, in hunting shirt of buckskin and pants made of the same, covering his huge frame, a slouched broad brim hat upon his head covered in whiskers, became the leader of 50 "rifleros" that joined forces with Alverado who had his own, "Paisanos." The men descended upon sleepy like, Monterey.

It was while the troops came near the presidio that Alverado had a stroke of genius for troop disbursement. He made his troops seem larger by telling them to march loudly to one place. Then silently, yet quickly return and do the procedure again and again. Alverado then sent ultimatums to governor Gutierrez demanding his immediate surrender or face the consequences. It just so happened that three merchant ships were in the harbor, the Don Quixote, Europa and Carolina, the captains of these ships and merchants of Monterey. They donated much needed ammunition to the soldiers.

Although Alverado continued sending ultimatums to the under siege Governor Gutierrez, The man would not surrender, even though his men were deserting, Gutierrez refused to give in to Alverado. Hoping that a diplomatic solution could be reached without bloodshed, Alverado was prepared to continue with the siege, however, Graham had other plans. "Two nights and two days a waitin' on them baars was enough." Graham then told Alverado that he was going to send his own ultimatum to the governor and if Gutierrez failed to surrender quickly, he and his men were going inside. Alverado said no!

Graham gathered his men for action. Gave his lieutenant, Coppinger a prearranged wink as a signal and it started. A four-pound cannon ball was shot, passing through the air with a perfect trajectory landing directly through the tiled roof of the governor's house. This one perfect shot of cannonball marked the beginning, and the end of the siege of Monterey. It has been reported that in the home of friar Don Angel. A flag had been prepared to be raised at the presidio after victory by the California, rebels. The single red star on a white field flag, however, for some reason it was never used.

After the surrender of Governor Gutierrez, Graham and his men, as well as Alverado and the other Californios who had participated in the action against the presidio gathered. Their six resolutions were passed as a basis for a new provisional government. The first said that Alta California was to be an Independent country, free from Mexico, the second, that Alta California was to be a free governing state, with a congress that would dictate her laws, three, the new country would continue to have the Roman Catholic religion as her main religion. However, people would NOT be persecuted for their own religious beliefs. The fourth said that a Constitution would regulate all branches of the administration, the fifth said, that until the constitution is put into effect. Don Mariano Vallejo is to act as Commandante General. The sixth; The President should pass on all communications to the municipalities of the territory.

Not long after Alverado and Graham's army agreed these six resolutions. The Californios in the southern part of Alta California, upon hearing about it, decided to take over of the Capitol, they gathered at the mission San Fernando and agreed that they were not beholding to the northern-made resolutions. Alverado and Graham, upon hearing of the dissatisfaction in the South, mounted their horses once again, and along with their Californio and Americano armies, traveled south to face the Californios of Southern Alta California.

The two armies faced each other near the mission. Just as before, Alverado preferred to use diplomatic tactics to appease the Southerners. Graham on the other hand, once again took matters into his own hands. Once dispatches came back without a notice of surrender, or a wish to compromise. Captain Graham once again went to Alverado informing him that he could not restrain his men any longer, because they were itching for a fight. If he, Alverado, did not immediately order an attack on the Southern forces, He and his men would go into battle alone. Since the now, Governor Alverado knew that Graham meant what he was threatening to be the truth. He agreed with Graham. So the entire force advanced on the Southerners. The Southerners fled upon seeing the Northerners attacking. It has been reported that the battle was won without a single shot fired.

For the next few months everything was somewhat peaceful in Alta California. However, in Santa Barbara, Californios again began to question the authority of Governor Alverado. This time, recognizing the popularity Isaac Graham and his men were receiving for their service to the cause. Alverado left Northern Alta California without his assistance. During his absence from the Monterey area, those opposed to Alverado in the North once again occupied the Monterey Presidio and began to loot it. Graham, being notified at his ranch at Natividad, about the trouble going on in Monterey, quickly saddled up his horse and began to mobilize his forces.

However, this time, those that occupied the presidio were prepared for Captain Graham and his men. They had reinforced the garrison with two heavy cannon and increased their force of men to eighty. Graham obtained a diagram of the fort and found a route that would allow his men to avoid a suicide frontal attack. He would lead his men toward the woods behind the fort and then follow a gulch that would bring his men to a position where they could pick off any of the enemy that showed their head. The plan agreed upon was to attack a first daylight. Yet, just as before, the enemy having learned that Graham's forces had surrounded the fort, didn't want to have anything to do with fighting Graham and his fellow crack shots and by morning, most of the enemy had departed. Graham is reported as saying, "The cowardly rascals surrendered without a firing."

At around that same time, Alverado was finding things a bit more difficult to put into order without Graham and his men to back his threats up, the Carrillo brothers, once Alverado's allies, were now in open rebellion against him. Although it is not clear, these brothers might have suspected, or had information that Alverado, the once young man who shared ideals of giving more equality to all the inhabitants of Alta California, was about to betray those ideals and betray the men that had stood behind him when others would not.

The President of Mexico, Bustamente, was incapable of taking back Alta California by force. The fight over Texas had depleted the country's army. It was then that opportunity knocked at the President's door, in the form of Jose Castro, who had been sent by Alverado to ask for the Presidents sanction of Alverado's self appointment as governor of Alta California. Bustamente, having no other choice, quickly accepted the offer by Castro, and the former new country, once again belonged to Mexico. The only real change since Alverado, would become the first Californio as head of the government. The revolution of 1836, failed to bring the reforms promised by those men who had begun it. And many felt betrayed by the actions of the original coup leaders, including foremost, among these former patriots of change, Captain Isaac Graham.

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