Thoughts on the Michael White Story So Far

Ok, so we’ve got this pretty awesome oral history going with Michael White. He’s old, but he’s sharp and everyone seems to think that he’s one of the more honest guys around.


Life hasn’t been easy for him – he worked his butt off and doesn’t have much to show for it. He’s saying plenty and he’s naming names but there’s also a lot to the story that isn’t being told and at this point, all we can do is speculate. White’s givin’ us the “what” but he’s holding back on the “why.”


Maybe he didn’t have a clue about politics, and maybe he did but just didn’t have the right suck-up instincts to get ahead. Frankly, I like that in a person. Maybe he had an unfortunate tendency to get too “honest” and start telling everybody what he really thought. Sometimes it is impossible to tell good luck from bad luck. So here are some Michael Claringbud White mysteries that have occurred to yours truly:


What happened with the ship-building venture? Did he get demoted (and Joseph Chapman promoted in his stead) when he and Henry Paine failed to get the Danube back to Santa Barbara more or less intact? Was it really his screw-up? It certainly wasn’t his fault it got wrecked in the squall, but he delayed getting down there. Maybe if he’d left with Henry, he would have had enough lead time to get it off (or maybe they would have been wrecked again when the storm hit.) Why did he never mention Joseph Chapman?


The old mission padres all started dying right around 1830 as the missions were getting secularized. Did this dry up his employment stream? Is this why he started a store? Was "store" sort of a glorified front for his smuggling operations? Was he still in business with Castro? He must’ve known Juan Bandini and Abel Sterns – how did he feel about them? Friends or foes? This (plus his family connections through the Perez de Guillen clan) must have informed some of his choices about political alliances.


Speaking of political alliances, did taking a neutral position over Las Flores cause Don Juan Bautista Alvarado to consider White, if not a political enemy, then a non-asset? Did he lose his position of Alcalde [Judge] of Los Nietos over this incident? Is that why he was living in Compton? Was José Castro right to try to get him to side with Alvarado [we’ve already established that Castro was something of a scammer and he might have had great instincts about knowing when the fix was in]? Siding with Alvarado didn’t seem to do Isidoro Guillen any great favors, however, he was in the military and White was not. Also, White’s argument against being forced to fight Macedonio Gonzalez is valid to a point except Macedonio was Isidoro’s cousin and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Or did he? We don’t find out about that, and of course, now that it’s over, history remembers the Battle of Las Flores as a non-event, but what if it had turned into a Gettysburg?


The fact that Michael White was appointed Alcalde, although he does not say who appointed him, is pretty significant. Even though all of these positions were political appointments made to “friendly” interests, the main qualifications being “male,” “Mexican citizen,” and “non-Indian,” he still would have had to be able to read and write in Spanish, which means he could also read and write in English. This is advanced stuff for a guy who left school (for he must have had some education) at age 12 ½.


Did Michael White consider José Sepúlveda to be a total jackass? He doesn’t exactly come out and say so, and yet, there’s a little bit of tone in the way he told the anecdote. Sepúlveda was best known for his extravagant parties and psychotic addiction to horse racing  Michael White certainly knew enough to be wary of becoming a pawn in a rich man’s plans for expanding his power base, and that may have had everything to do with whether the choice he made that day was a bad one or a good one.


ps on that. Most folks would think that if you're 17, you've been working on a whaleboat for four years, and on the one day you have off and you decide to rent a horse and go exploring, the horse falls on you and dislocates your ankle – well, that pretty much defines a bad day. You might even go so far as to consider it one more bad day in a bad life, and the one thing you'd been looking forward to for four years – getting paid and going home – just got taken away from you in the blink of an eye. The general consensus of opinion is that that "really sucks." Except it didn't. It may have been the single best thing that ever happened to young Miguel, as we found out. And there are dozens of Michael White decendants in California who owe their existence to the fact that a teenager fell off a horse and couldn't go back to England. And Michael White didn't end up dying of scurvy somewhere on a boat reeking of whale. Just something to consider when life ain't fair. 

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~ by ravenjake on January 9, 2010.

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