Elenore Meherin and Larry Clinton
Sausalito Historical Society
In 1994, journalist and novelist Elenore Meherin wrote a four-part series for the Sausalito News featuring Mariana, the youthful daughter of Captain William Richardson. While describing her adventures, Ms. Meherin also provided vivid descriptions of life among the Californios and indigenous servants of the day: She wore a bright red-ruffled skirt and a little tight bolero. She stole swiftly across the sunlit patio to the tree where a horse was tethered. She was very young but already her face had arresting provocative beauty. The horse whinnied. She answered with a soft, excited laugh and sprang to the saddle. Before she could lift the reins an Indian stepped from the shadow. He was tall and straight, his face as old and hard as granite. He now took the bridle and spoke in a voice of incredible deep music, “Does the madre know where you go?”
The girl chuckled, “She does not! But of course, you do. Tell me, Monico, is there anything you don’t hear? Listen—does the wind say a southeaster is coming up?”
The old Indian answered gravely, “There will be no storm of wind and rain, but a storm of men. It is no longer safe for you to ride, Ninita. There are bandits in all the hills.”
She leaned down and stroked the horse’s neck, then grinned at the loved old servant. “Bandits? They’ve been saying that since the pirates came, decades and decades ago.”
“Then you have not heard what the gringos do? Three days since, Francisco Arce and Lieutenant Jose Maria Avila were waylaid, their men wounded and 80 of General Castro’s horses stolen.”
“But why? We are not at war. My father says the gringos are good men.”
“They are not good men. They are horse thieves and highwaymen and they have come to steal the country.”
She patted the rifle strapped to her saddle. “Am I not the best shot in the ranchos—since you yourself have taught me? And almost the best rider? They will not steal our land, Monico, while God and the saints look on!”
But she glanced back at the great rambling hacienda, its newly whitewashed walls and the climbing red roses glinting in the sun. Indians were now going to the fields and scores of children shouted in the glen. Three of them, brown and half naked, the youngest a mere infant, all astride one old nag now came galloping to the orchard. The apricots and purple plums weighted down the branches; one old cherry tree was still in riotous bloom. It grew at the edge of the creek where the water was dammed and where a dozen stout brown Indian women, now on their knees, were soaping mounds of snowy linens against the smooth stones. A lovely scene with the thousands of cattle roaming the many hills and the vaqueros now riding before them swift and reckless as the wind.
This was the Saucelito Rancho that Mariana Richardson surveyed so proudly on that destiny-packed morning of June 13, 1846.
But she stopped, picked a rose, tucked it in her shining hair and went galloping, a song in her heart, across the ravine. She took the road along the beach until it wound into the hills behind Mill Valley. The wild oats and the yellow mustard grew shoulder high, the deer ran before her.
Now and then she saw a bear or a herd of elk. She had ridden among them longer than she could remember and she had never been afraid. At a distance, Monico followed. Mariana laughed. How foolish the wise can sometimes be! Where the trees began to tower and the road became a tangled path, she looked eagerly for other riders. Presently she saw three horsemen, brilliant figures with crimson and yellow bandanas fluttering but their bodies motionless in the swift and perfect rhythm of the canter. They were coming up from the Read Rancho where they were helping their aunt and only neighbor, the young widow Hilarita, with the marking of her cattle.
Mariana turned and waved to Monico. He could go now. Even with bandits abroad, she would be safe with her brother Steve, and their two good friends, Francisco and Ramon de Haro.
They were twins, alike in their long black hair, tied with ribbons, their flashing eyes and superb bearing. But Ramon was taller than his brother. In Mariana’s eyes he was handsomest and bravest of all California’s dashing young Caballeros. He was 20, she was 17.
Among these hills they had both been born; here they had frolicked and here they would live and love and be happy always. So they thought that sunny June morning when they rode on their last adventure together. Ramon raced to her side, sweeping off his sombrero and saying excitedly, “We saw him in the hills, the snow-white stallion. I will catch him today.”
To be continued …