Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Last week we presented historian Elenore Meherin’s account of the murder of Mariana Richardson’s beloved Ramon de Haro by Kit Carson during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. Here are some lightly edited excerpts from Ms. Merherin’s description how Mariana learned of this tragedy at her father’s Rancho Saucelito hacienda:
Mariana stood in the orchard, dropping golden apricots into a basket and telling herself with anxious ardor, “He will come today; he will surely come today.” She twisted a rose in her hair and told herself excitedly Ramon would soon arrive. Was he not the fleetest horseman in a country famous for its riders? Long hours since, by noon at latest, he would have reached Sonoma; he would have seen his cousin, imprisoned at Sutter’s Fort and within the hour be galloping the ribbon of road homeward to her.
She listened for the faint clump of hoofs and the snap of twigs in the shoulder-high mustard fields. In the distance a wolf howled; on the hills above the glen a herd of elk emerged, their great antlers making fantastic tracery against the pallid sky. There was no human sound.
She kept thinking of the day in the mountains when Ramon had swung the lariat and brought the wild white stallion, conquered to his haunches. She recalled his exultant smile and the pride and sweetness in his voice when he said so softly, “For you, querida. He is tamed for you!” Folded in a tiny locket on her bracelet was his last message, “Hasta la vista, pearl of my heart.” This promise he would surely keep.
Long after midnight when the moon was a cold white mirror tilted on the waters and the hills and trees were silvered with the coming dawn, Mariana awakened from fitful sleep. The sound of hoofs rang in the Glen. Not a faint and solitary sound but a frantic, crowding drum-roll.
Scores of men were galloping onward.
She jumped up and pulled on the clothes she had so recently laid aside. There was a knocking at the door, a stealthy call urgently repeated. Mariana recognized the voices of her countrymen. She ran through the long dim sala, the red rose still twined in her black unconfined hair. Without hesitation, she flung open her father’s door. Joaquin de la Torre stood before her. And with him, thronging into the sala, his haggard, red-eyed, emaciated followers. They had been hiding five nights and five days since their defeat at the battle of 0lompali.
Fremont’s fierce and naked Delawares had stalked through the hills, hunting them like wolves. They were hot on their trail. There was not a moment to lose. Starved though they were, they dared not pause to eat. Frightful was the fate meted to Californians whom Fremont overtook.
This was the word Joaquin de la Torre feverishly rasped into Captain Richardson’s ear. He
stood in the sala, his hands clenched on a rawhide chair. The tapers wavered over his handsome face, showing it sunk and gray. And he spoke of blood on the sands, of murder done.
Mariana stood in the shadow and drank in the stark tale.
“There were three men killed,” said Mariana to her father as they stood on the patio.
“One of the murdered men was Manuel Castro, it is thought,” her father answered. “The two with him were probably Indian sailors.”
She said, “He did not say they were Indian boys. They were three men going north, Ramon was one of three and he was going north!”
In the early morning of July 1, Mariana and her brother Stephen were galloping over the hills of their rancho. They came to a woodland where the wild forget-me-nots were a blue embroidery on the banks of a hidden stream. They rode slowly. And they saw the horsemen coming. Not two or four. There were scores; there were armies. In the lead was a swift rider whose reins glittered with silver and whose stirrups flashed with jewels. Swept across his shoulders was a scarlet and purple serape. It had a long fringe of gold.
Mariana halted the white stallion. Her heart stopped with it. She said to her brother, “That
is not Ramon; that is surely not Ramon. But he wears Ramon’s cape. He rides Ramon’s saddle!” That was the way the news came to Mariana Richardson. Ramon was dead.
Fremont’s soldier came galloping to her in her lover’s clothes! The horsemen, unaware of the white-faced broken girl and the angry boy hidden in the woodland, went cantering brazenly to the Richardson hacienda.
Fremont requisitioned horses for his men and chartered a boat to cross the bay to the Presidio of San Francisco. He spiked the guns, which it chanced were lying on the ground, not a round of powder to fire them, not a soldier to mount them, and thus gloriously he took the fort. He wrote to his father-in-law, powerful U. S. Senator Thomas H, Benton, that he had defeated Joaquin de la Torre, driven him across the bay spiked the guns and freed the territory north of the bay as far as Sutter’s Fort from Mexican authority. He wrote as though a battle had been fought and brave victory won!