Adventures of the Sutter Gun (and John Bidwell too), Part 2

John Sutter wasn’t the only American to get a grant of land from Governor Manuel Micheltorena. The governor also gave John Bidwell a land grant, his first, at a site in the Sacramento Delta called Ulpinos. Micheltorena knew very well that the Californios disliked him and that a revolution was brewing. He hoped by granting land to men like Sutter and Bidwell to bring the Americans over to his side.

His ploy worked. Sutter put together a small army of Indians and Americans in his employ, and with John Bidwell serving as his aide-de-camp they left New Helvetia on January 1, 1845, taking the Sutter Gun with them. In Monterey they joined up with Micheltorena and the army moved southward. In was a long slow slog through the rain and the mud of a California winter. Bidwell later stated

“The varying scenes of that march, in the very wet and cold winter as it was, the transportation of baggage and ammunition on Mexican carts drawn by oxen over muddy roads, and through difficult passes I have no desire to recall or portray.”

The depredations of Micheltorena’s army drove the residents of California to the rebel side, and General Jose Castro was able to gather his own army of Californios and Americans. Near Los Angeles the two forces met in the Battle of Cahuenga, a battle that hardly deserves the name.

Both sides had about equal numbers, and both had artillery. They fired their cannons at each other, but only a mule was killed. Bidwell again:

“The artillery from both sides opened simultaneously at long range – Sutter with his American riflemen was directed to occupy a deep and winding gulch midway between the opposing forces and approach within rifle shot. Then for the first time the Americans with Sutter could plainly see that Castro had with him as many or more Americans than Micheltoreno.”

It wasn’t long before the Americans on both sides got together, started trading news from home, and decided to sit out the battle. Why should they kill each other over an argument about Mexican taxes?

But as aide-de-camp John Bidwell still had a job to do, carrying orders from Micheltorena to Sutter. He was captured by Castro’s soldiers, got away on his horse, and was captured again.

“Sutter & I started to rejoin Micheltorena – and were both taken prisoner by Castro’s forces, and were both conducted immediately to the presence of Castro which was at the adobe building of the Cahuenga Ranch. C received us in the most friendly manner threw his arms around Sutter – and called him his dear friend.”

Sutter might have been hung, but his old friend pardoned him and he was allowed to return to New Helvetia. The Sutter Gun stayed in Southern California. Micheltorena was put on a boat and sent back to Mexico. The Californios, eager to return to their ranchos and not needing a cannon, took the gun off its caisson and buried the pieces in the ground.

It would soon be resurrected, for the Bear Flag Revolt and the Mexican War were only a year away. But for the time being the Sutter Gun rested in somebody’s garden or field, and by the end of March 1845 John Bidwell was back at Sutter’s Fort, keeping the books and managing Sutter’s business affairs as before.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the Sutter Gun in the Mexican War.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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