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A Message to Kearney

Colonel John Charles Fremont rode from Los Angeles to Monterey and return in the hectic days of 1847 to carry an extraordinary message to General Stephen W. Kearney.

Horsemen stand aghast at the performance records of Spanish horses.  Early Californians called them "California horses."  Colonel John Charles Fremont said, "You have not seen the horse at his best until you have seen the California wild horse."  Their Spanish sires, generations back, were Arabians.  The famed pathfinder rode from Los Angeles to Monterey and return in the hectic days of 1847 to carry an extraordinary message to General Stephen W. Kearney.  Fremont was an excellent horseman.  Riding against time through a strange, rough, and hazardous country, he set an unchallenged record.

Kearney and his cavalry had marched from Santa Fe by way of the Gila route and the California desert to be surprised by a detachment of California volunteers at San Pasqual.  He saw tough horses and superb horsemanship in action that day, much to his embarrassment.  After this defeat, Kearney was joined by Commodore Robert F. Stockton.  They cleaned up the resistance in southern California and Kearney moved on to Monterey.  A tough military and political situation seemed to have been resolved.

Fremont remained in Los Angeles with a small force of volunteers.  He soon learned that an insurrection was brewing and decided to ride to Monterey and inform Kearney.  Riding with him was a friend, don Jesus Pico of a prominent California family, and Jacob Dobson, Fremont's orderly.  Dobson was born in Washington, D.C., but during his service in California with Fremont he had become adept with a reata.  They rode out of Los Angeles at daybreak, March 22, driving six loose horses ahead.  Most of the country ahead was mountainous and uninhabited, and much of the road was merely a trail.

Fremont was riding relay, the mode of horseback travel common to the Californians.  The rider changed horses when his mount began to show fatigue.  The Californian was a hard rider, but horses were plentiful.  He could borrow a fresh one almost any time and anywhere.  An unwritten code assured the traveler that he would always be provided a fresh horse without question.

The evening of the first day, the riders arrived at the rancho of Don Thomas Ribberis north of Santa Barbara.   They had covered 125 miles.  As the sun was setting the second day, the stopped for refreshments with Captain Dana and rode on in the evening to the ranch of Don Jesus Pico near San Luis Obispo.  The news spread fast and many Californians of the area called to greet Fremont.  The feasting and dancing, common to such occasions in Spanish California, continued through the night.

Circumstances had made friends of Fremont and Pico.  The summer before when Fremont's column moved south through San Luis Obispo, Pico had been arrested, and charged with with informing the Californians of Fremont's approach.  He was tried by a court martial and sentenced to death before a firing squad.  As the fatal hour approached, Señora Pico with her children called on Fremont.  She made such a fervent appeal for her husband's life that Fremont pardoned him.

Due to all the night festivities, Fremont got a late start next morning.  Pico insisted, according to tradition, that Fremont should leave his Los Angeles horses and take nine fresh mounts from his caballado.  In fact, Pico wished to make Fremont a generous gift.  To give another man your horse was the supreme expression of friendship.  That was just what Pico wished to do for his friend Fremont, the man who had spared his life.  He had two beautiful and well-trained cinnamon horses, canalos, a favored type with the Californians.  With expression of deep feeling, he presented them to Fremont.

The morning was well spent when they rode out of Pico's ranch on a trace road to Monterey, with Fremont riding one of the canalos.  Also along were Pico, Dobson, and a Mexican boy Pico had brought along to help with the loose animals.  Indians were troublesome in the area, so they turned off the road through heavy brush and made camp for the night in a secluded spot.  After an evening meal, they retired to their blankets, leaving the Mexican boy on guard.

In the small hours of morning, everyone was awakened to the pounding of hoofs and frantic shouts of the guard.  Fremont and Dobson reached for their guns, suspecting Indian horse thieves.  They soon realized that they had been raided by the huge grizzly bears common to this area.  Last summer Fremont's men had encountered 100 of them and killed 30.  Pico urged caution.  A man could frighten the bears away, he said, and he seemed to know for the bears flet at his shouts.

By the time they rounded up the horses and prepared breakfast, the sun was showing over the eastern mountains.  They rode 80 miles that day to Monterey.  The usual festivities for notables were performed and many local families brought their felicitations to the American officer.  His purpose accomplished, Fremont wished to hasten back to his command at Los Angeles where trouble could break at any moment.  Pico urged Fremont to put the oldest canalo to a test for speed and stamina on the return trip to San Luis Obispo.  It was late on the fifth day when they left Monterey and rode 30 miles that evening.

On the sixth day, Fremont had ridden the canalo 90 miles without relief.  Still 30 miles remained to Pico's rancho.  Pico said the horse could make it and urged Fremont to ride him to the rancho, but Fremont refused.  They enjoyed another evening of Pico's hospitality.

On the morning of the seventh day, Fremont bade his good friend farewell, took the 6 Los Angeles horses, and rode 125 miles that day.  Next day, they repeated this performance and reached Los Angeles in the evening.  Fremont had ridden 960 miles in the 8 days they had been away with delays at San Luis Obispo and Monterey.  Grass along the way was the only feed the horses had except some barley at Monterey.

Fremont became embroiled in an argument with Kierney over the authority in California.  When Kearney returned to Washington, he took Fremont along to face charges of insubordination and other offenses.  This ride was mentioned at Fremont's court martial, and the Washington Intelligence picked up the story.  The details were supplied by Dobson and later checked by Fremont.

The court martial exonerated the pathfinder.

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