Michael White on the Battle of Chino

Now between the revolt against Micheltorena and the Battle of Chino, White’s friends are doing pretty well for themselves. Pio Pico became Governor, José Castro, Comandante General and Workman, Wilson and Rowland are collecting land.

Things are going very badly for the Mexican government in California and it really just doesn’t seem possible that Michael White, whose aforementioned friends just de-stabilized the last Mexican-appointed governor didn’t know that. James Beckwourth, of the Pegleg Smith-Walkara-Beckwourth gang helped himself to 1,500 horses on his way out of California after the Battle of Cahuenga, justifying it by saying he was depriving the “enemy” of horses. What? The Mexicans weren’t enemies – yet. 

Pico moved the capital of California from Monterey to Los Angeles in 1845. America declared war on Mexico in May 1846, the Bear Flag revolt was in June 1846 and Monterey was captured in July. So in 1846, Michael White knew trouble was brewing.

Here he goes:

“I was working in September, 1846 for Mr. Hugo Reid building a house at the place where Mr. B. D. Wilson now lives.

Side note on that, courtesy Glen Dawson: Rancho Huerta de Cuati was owned by Victoria Reid, wife of Hugo Reid. She owned this rancho and that of Santa Anita and was one of the few full-blooded Indians to hold land under a Mexican grant, in California. She sold to Huerta de Cuati to Don Benito Wilson, who renamed it "Lake Vineyard."

Back to Michael White:

“My home was at the San Isidro ranch, which I still hold. Reid went up to San Francisco. There was a man sawing lumber at San Gorgonio, named Pablo Weaver” [aka Pauline Weaver, the guy who knew that the “we’ll give you the Rancho Muscupiabe Grant and all you have to do is keep raiding parties out of California” was a bad idea].

Here the Beatties have something to say “The mission rancho San Gorgonio, at the summit of the pass of that name, was the most eastern property occupied by San Gabriel. In 1845 Pauline Weaver joined Isaac Williams in petitioning the Mexican government for a grant of this former mission holding. (Beattie, Heritage of the Valley, p. 68)

And back to Michael White:

“I am coming to see this lumber. When I got to the Chino ranch, belonging to Isaac Williams,

he asked me to remain, and as I had had a long ride, I consented to stay. [that’s no joke; San Gabriel to Chino is a long haul – about 30 miles. The ranch house of Isaac Williams, the site of the Battle of Chino, is no longer in existence, but was about three miles southwest of the present town of Chino.]

That evening B. D. Wilson came there with his men, 18 all told. After that other men joined us, namely Rubidoux, John Rowland, David Alexander, George Walters, Loring and an Austrian named William Skene or Stene.”

O.K., now I think that basically Michael White was a pretty honest guy, but I’m not sure I believe the whole “I was just looking at lumber and the Benito Wilson showed up with his posse” scenario. He’s got to know after the Battle of Cahuenga that when the Taos mafia showed up, they weren’t going out to a sports bar.


Back to Michael White:

“Among Wilson's original 18 were William and Edward Cottrell (both sailors) and Godey and Perdue (American Creoles from St. Louis, Mo. and both officers under Wilson). I don't remember the names of the others—one of them was an American sailor, who some years after was hung in San Diego for having joined hostile Indians to commit depredations.

We by this time formed a party of 22 or 23. That night I stood guard with David Alexander (present [1877] sheriff of Los Angeles). I heard the Californians who were besieging us that they would burn us out the next morning. I think that was the night of 26 September.

As soon as I got relieved, I went to Wilson and Isaac Williams and suggested that we should build two little forts with joists of which there were a quantity there, so that we could sweep the enemy from all sides at which they could approach the house where we were. My advice was not heeded, as they said that the Californians would not come near us.


Next morning got up, and one fellow went on top of the house. His name Isaac Batchelder, (surnamed the Picayune because he was short). He sang out to me, and said, "Good God—what a quantity of horses are there!" I told him to lookout sharp, and he would see men on top of them.

A Frenchman named Anton the Cook, said, "I must hurry up and make some coffee" and I told him, "Yes, hurry up, or else you'll get chocolate." We did get chocolate, sure. I had hardly got the words out of my mouth, when I saw the whole force of Californio cavalrymen rush to the house and the roof was very soon on fire—it was made of wood and asphaltum.

Williams begged me to go on the roof and ask the Californians to let us off, but as I was angry with him for not heeding my advice of the night before, and charging me with cowardice. I refused, and told him to go himself. Williams was frightened out of his wits.

He was a traitor to us. He wrote a letter to the Californian commander encamped at the place now called Bella Union, which I saw him deliver to Felix Gallardo, saying that if his forces did not come up quick, they would not be able to take us, for Stuttering Alick (whose name was Smith) was out at San Jacinto and would come to our rescue the next day. I know this to be a fact for Captain Segura some days afterwards told me of it and showed me Williams' letter.

Here’s the footnote on that one: “Don Benito Wilson wrote a letter to Gillespie from the Chino Rancho apprising the Lieutenant of the fact that it would be impossible for him to come to his assistance in the pueblo due to lack of ammunition. This letter was given to Felix Gallardo to deliver, but Williams told the messenger to deliver it to General Flores, instead, as a token of his (Williams') loyalty to the Californians.” [Wilson, Observations of Early Days, Historical Society of Southern California Annual Publication, 1934.]

Boy, I’ll be Michael White was feeling good and suckered by now. Here he goes again:

“Williams took a very long reed and hung on it something that looked like a piece of a shirt, and exhibited it in the enclosed plaza so that the Californians could see it above the roof (it was a square of about half an acre surrounded by buildings). After some palavering, Wilson, who acted for us, received a promise that we should be treated as prisoners of war if we would surrender. Previous to that there had been a good deal of firing from both sides. Our fire killed Carlos Ballesteros, and wounded a New Mexican.

On our side we had Callahan (in the prairie the day before) and Godey wounded, besides William Skene who was hit by a ball in his breeches' pocket where he had a box of caps, which bursted and burnt into both his thighs and into his privates. The poor man suffered horribly.

We accepted the terms offered us and surrendered.

The Californians took us over to the soap works—about 300 yards from the house. On going over I saw one of the Mexican officers brandishing his sword and heard him say that they must look upon us with mercy.

Loring asked me what the Californians were talking about and what they were going to do with us. I answered that they were going to make soap of us. Loring did not like the joke, for he had seen the brandishing of the sword and had not understood the words. Indeed, he believed that they were going to kill us all.

We were searched, and the same evening started on the march for the headquarters of the California forces. I had been requested by Wilson to say that we had taken the Chino by force so as to save Williams from being carried off as a prisoner, and I complied. Williams was left at home with his children.”

Alright, now that’s a little weird, don’t you think? Again, it answers the “what,” but not the “why.” If Benjamin Wilson and Michael White both believed that Isaac Williams betrayed them, why on earth would they cover for him?

If Michael White is being completely truthful, then this is the sequence of events:

Isaac Williams, a considerate host, noted that Michael White had a long ride and offered him a place to crash. White, having made the long ride from San Gabriel to Chino, was happy to have some down time before getting back on the road. “Oh, look who’s here – it’s Ben Wilson and 20 of his friends? Hey, looks like this is shaping up to
be quite a party!” Then they got besieged and had to come up with a good defense. Then Wilson and Williams together shot down White’s 2-fort plan. Then White got pissy with everybody for dragging him into another disaster. Then Williams tried to save his own neck at everyone else’s expense, which isn’t too surprising since his whole family was in the house and he didn’t want it burned down. And then Wilson told White to lie about it to save Williams, so he did! Sorry, amigo, but your story has some holes in it. I think you knew what was going down, and you weren’t just there to look at lumber.

Now here’s another wrinkle and it’s a more sympathetic look at Isaac Williams, and White doesn’t mention it. Williams, originally from Pennsylvania, had become a Mexican citizen and married Maria de Jesus Lugo, daughter of Antonio Maria Lugo. Yeah, that Antonio Maria Lugo. So it isn’t just “whose side are you on” – it’s a family thing because William’s own brother-in-law was coming out to arrest him

Here’s the recap: Serbulo Varela, Diego Sepulveda [Diego Sepulveda and José Lugo were cousins] and Ramon Carrillo left Los Angeles with about fifty men, while José del Carmen Lugo with another fifteen to twenty men left from San Bernardino to converge upon Rancho del Chino. On the night of September 26, 1846, the adobe ranch house was surrounded by the Californios. At dawn, the following day, gunfire was exchanged resulting in one Californio (Carlos Ballesteros) dead with two wounded and three American wounded. When the Californios attempted to set fire to the roof of the house, Wilson surrendered to Varela. This brief engagement became known as the Battle of Chino.

So did Isaac Williams know what was up or didn't he?

Back to Michael White:

“About one mile or two from the Chino on the march, we were in the utmost danger of being killed. The Californians and Mexicans were exasperated because of the death of Ballesteros and had come to the conclusion to shoot us all. Ramon Carrillo saved our lives. Mr. Wilson has always said that we owed our lives to Sérvulo Varela, but I know that he and Diego Sepúlveda were in cahoots and would have sent us to the other world if it had not been for Ramon Carrillo.

I saw with my own eyes when Carrillo, on the road went, and struck several whacks on Varela's back with the flat of his sword, saying at the same time, "I'll let you know that they are prisoners of mine, and you can do nothing with them. They say that I am an assassin" (he referred to the charges preferred against him of having murdered some Americans in the Sonoma region) "I will prove to the world that I am not one." Diego Sepúlveda and Sérvulo Varela were always after that and had been before very good friends of mine; but the facts of the case are just as I have stated.”

A note about Ramon Carrillo: This incident occurred during the Bear Flag Revolt at Sonoma. On June 18th or 19th, 1846, two men, Cowie and Palmer, were sent by William Ide to secure a keg of powder from the Fitch Rancho on the Russian River. Discarding all precaution these men took the main road and were captured by Ramon Carrillo and Juan Padilla, by whom they were supposed to have been killed. (Giffen)

Now I’m thinking that it isn’t that Michael White was a liar, I just think he ain’t being 100 percent truthful, and the reason is because he found himself in a morally ambiguous situation and there was no possible way he could win. He had “friends” on both sides of this conflict and he chose to side with the Americans. That wasn’t such a bad thing – everyone knew the Mexicans and Californios weren’t going to win the war (although they did well in battle) because they didn’t have the infinite resources of the United States. And since he was English, not Spanish, he never really was “one of the Dons.” Since New Mexico, he’d been hanging out more with these Americans, and maybe their ideology was appealing to him – they seemed like a bunch of movers and shakers that shared his sense of adventure instead of just kicking back on the farm.

By the time this of this narrative, about 30 years had gone past, and he was sorry he’d had anything to do with this war, even though it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. And who can say? If he fought with the Californios, he would’ve won this battle and lost the war, instead of losing the battle and winning the war, or maybe he would just be dead. Remember what I say about luck.

But let’s get back to Michael White:

“One or two days later in the Paredon Blanco [White Bluffs, now Boyle Heights. In a few short years, the Workman family would own this property] three or four of us were exchanged. I was exchanged for Andres Pico, who had been till then a prisoner in the hands of Captain [Archibald H ] Gillespie. Isaac Batchelder, Edward Cottrell, and a half-breed Cherokee were also exchanged for other Californians in Gillespie's hands.

The whole trouble and revolt of the Californians arose from the despotic measures of Captain Gillespie, who seemed to take a special pleasure in humiliating the most respectable among the Californians and reducing the people to the condition of a conquered race. His measures were unwarrantable, and led to all the trouble and bloodshed that ensued. Had a sensible officer been left in command at Los Angeles instead of him, the Californians would have continued to acquiesce to the occupation of their country by the Americans at least until something favorable to Mexico had resulted from the campaign there.”


It’s interesting that Gillespie considered Michael White a suitable hostage exchange for Andres Pico. It’s also a little weird that White considered Gillespie a total ass, and joined the American side anyway.


The chronology of this period is as follows:

·        August 13, 1846, Fremont and Stockton took Los Angeles without opposition;

·        early September, Captain Gillespie and some 50 men were left to hold Los Angeles;

·        September 23 there was an outbreak by the Californians in Los Angeles;

·        September 26 was the Battle of Chino, described by White, with the American force surrendering to the Californians;

·        September 30 was an exchange of prisoners and Gillespie forced to withdraw to San Pedro;

·        October 9, the attempt to retake Los Angeles fails at the Battle of Dominguez;

·        December 6, Kearny and his men fight the Californians at Battle of San Pasqual;

·        January 8 and , Americans approaching from San Diego fight battles of San Gabriel and La Mesa, the last battles on California soil

·        January 13, 1847, Fremont and Andres Pico sign treaty of Cahuenga.


~ by ravenjake on February 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Michael White on the Battle of Chino”

  1. This one from a timeless classic from 1902. This is just plain weird; you wouldn’t expect someone named Juan Caballeria to take such a dim view of Latinos. It gives a different overview of the battle (and Rev Caballeria wasn’t there) He sure loved Isaac Williams, though.

    History of San Bernardino Valley from the padres to the pioneers, 1810-1851

    CHAPTER XX. MEXICAN PIONEERS— ISAAC WILLAMS— BATTLE AT CHINO. The Americans who came into California in the early days were not ordinary men. As a rule they were men endowed with unusual characteristics. It was not love of gold that led them to face the perils of a journey across mountain, desert, plain or ocean, for gold had not yet been discovered In California. It was rather a restlessness of spirit that could not brook the restraints of an older civilization and found in the freer life of the frontier that which appealed strongest to their adventure-loving natures. Such men have ever been of the vanguard in the progress of civilization. From out of the old lands of a weary old world they crossed the stormy Atlantic to the new lands of a newer world; then, step by step across a continent until the calm, smiling waters of the Pacific seemed to set a boundary beyond which they could not further go. But the wheels of Progress will not stay their resistless course and men must advance, always to some far- off ideal the end of which is beyond vision. So these Amer- icans came to California and found here what appeared to ihem limitless possibilities — wealth without labor, life without toil. These big, strong, virile American men were favored by the dark-eyed senoritas of the sunny land and with their love went dower of rich lands and herds of fat cattle. Thos.) that came in search of adventure stayed. Here was wealth, beauty, pleasure, love, and the spell of it all soon bound them in a thrall they did not care to break. It was lotus-land and tile cooler northern blood was not proof against the languor* I HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. 93 ol the southern sun, and the desire to bask forever in U\e soft, warm rays grew upon them until the wild spirit of ad- venture which had thrilled their pulses and led them from afar slumbered under the spell and no longer beckoned. Then they took to themselves wives, the beautiful daughters of the best families in the land . All that was required of them was some slight formality in the way of change of faith — and their leligious prejudices were not strong — and an allegiance to an- other government than their own. This did not weigh heav- ily upon them, so they embraced the new faith and tlie new customs — and yet they became not so much a part of the latter, for in return they infused into the new life that which Vie native Californians lacked — a spirit of enterprise and tho energy of the colder-blooded race. Isaac Williams of the Rancho del Chino, was a typinal American pioneer of that period. He was the first American fo settle in this section of the State. His was a spirit born t: command. Whole-souled, generous, hospitable, he kept open house for every American passing his door. A hearty greet- ing awaited every comer; the best the rancho afforded was at their disposal and they were invited to regard it as their own, and when at last the time came for departure, it was with sincere expressions of regret that the genial owner of the place bade them God-speed. Many a party of exhausted emi- grants halted at the Chino rancho, and mf\ny a weary, foot- sore wanderer found here a resting place. Not one amoag his countrymen, if in need, left the home of Isaac Williams empty handed . Indeed, it is stated, that Colonel Williams, in his desire to aid his countrymen, sometimes came very near to embarrassing himself. However, if he erred at all in this respect it was on the right side, and if the blessings and rem- oTnbrance of the weary, home-sick, heart-sick travelers in a &trange land may count to his credit. Colonel Williams needs no other monument. Isaac Williams, generally known in California as Julian 94 HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. Williams, was born in Wyoming Valley, Penn., Sept. 19, 1799 He came to Los Angeles in 1832 with Ewing Young’s party of thirty men who had been engaged in hunting and trapping on the Gila River, in New Mexico. With this party alpo carac Moses Carson, a brother of the celebrated Kit Carson. Mr. Williams appears to have become prominent in local affa’r? very soon atfer his arrival, as his name is mentioned in con- nection with several matters. He was a member of the vig- ilance committee in 1835. In 1839 he took the oath of al- legiance and became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. Im- mediately following he married Senorita Maria de Jesus Lugo, daughter of Don Antonio Maria Lugo, and in 1841 became owner of the Chino rancho, of which Don Antonio was the original grantee. In 1843 he obtained an additional grant of land adjoining his Chino property and settled down as a lancher and stock breeder, devoting himself to the manage- ment of his large estate. In 1846 he proposed to build a fort Jit the Cajon, on condition that he be allowed to bring goods ■’o the value of $25,000 into California, free of import duty, as ar that time there was a tax of $600 on every vessel. At the time of the American invasion of California the Americans living in the territory were looked upon by the Californians with more or less suspicion. While nominally citizens of Mexico, the Americans saw the advantage which ■Hould accrue to California if brought under the government of the United States, and many of them were pronounced in advocating the change. This, naturally, was not pieaslng to the native Californians who were Mexican in their sympathies, and more or less coldness and friction resulted in consequence. Open hostilities between the Californians and the Ameri- cans began at Los Angeles, September, 1846, when Cervol V:i rela attacked the Americans imder A. H. Gillespie, a Lieuten- ant of Marines, left in charge as Military Commandant at Los Angeles, by Commodore Stockton. D. B. Wilson, owner of the Jurupa rancho, was then in command of a force of twenty HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY. 95 men stationed at Jurupa for the purpose of protecting the in- liabitants and property on the San Bernardino frontier from mdian raids. Wilson, ordered by Gillespie to come to lil^ aid, was en route to Los Angeles and stopped at the Chino rancho, the property of Colonel Williams . The party waa nearly out of powder and found Williams in the same condi- tion. In the afternoon of the day of their arrival, while deliberating as to future movements, Isaac Callaghan, a scout fient out to reconnoitre, returned to the house with a bullet in his arm and reported the approach of a party of Califor- nians. After consultation it was decided that, taking all things into consideration, the Americans were more than equal to the Californians and they decided, notwithstanding their lack of ammunition to withstand a siege. The Californians under Varela, Diego Sepulveda and Ramon Carillo, with fifty men, made up the attacking party. They were later reinforced with twenty men from San Ber- nardino rancho under command of Jose del Carmen Lugo. The Californians were also short of weapons and ammunition. The Chino ranch house was an adobe building fashioned in the usual California manner, surrounding a courtyard. The roof was of asphaltum. There were few doors and windov/s. hut the walls were plentifully supplied with loop-holes. The entire building was surrounded with an adobe wall and a ditch. Early in the morning of the 27th of September, an attacK v.-as made on the rancho. The Californians, on horseback, made a fierce onslaught firing as they approached the house,
    to which the Americans responded. The horses of the Call fornians became frightened and in attempting to leap the ditch threw several of their riders who received injuries, and ore man, Carlos Ballestros, was killed. Three men inside the lanch house were wounded. The att.acking party succeeded in reaching a secure position under the shelter of the walls and from there set fire to the roof of the building. The 96 HISTORY OF SAN BERNARDINO VALLEY . Americans finding themselves trapped and in danger of a. scorching concluded to surrender, and in order to make as good terms as possible induced Col. Williams, whose brother- in-law was one of the captains in command of the assailants, to take his children and presenting himself outside, make an appeal to Lugo. The Americans surrendered. The Califor- nia us then set about extinguishing the flames and afterwards l-icceeded to loot the building. Enraged at the death of Fiallestros, who was a general favorite among them, the in- J’jriated men insisted on putting the prisoners to death, but. jnil’Jer counsel prevailed and they were taken to Los Angelas, Then- the more prcminnit ai them were held by Flores until January, 1847. It is related that these men were promised their liberty on condition that they agreed not to bear arms or use their influence in favor of the United States, but to their cred- it they refu’^ed to secure freedom on such terms. Among those captured at the battle of Chino were D. B. Wilson, Isaac Wil- liams, David W. Alexander, John Rowland, Louis Robidoux, Joseph Perdue, William Skene, Isaac Callaghan, Evan Calla- ghan, Michael White, Matt Harbin, George Walters. Colonel Williams returned to the Chino rancho where he resided until his death, Sept. 13, 1856. He sleeps in the old cemetery at Los Angeles. He left two daughters, Maria Mer- ced, wife of John Rains, and Francesca, wife of Robert Car lisle.

  2. Very Interesting comments on the Battle of Chino.
    I find it strange that Benito Wilson, who was assigned to be in charge of the group of Americans by Gillespie goes to war without any ammunition. He and his group were to be prepared but they were out in the mountains hunting for bears and used all their powder. It seems there are many stories that have floated around. One should look at the reputation and motives of Isaac Williams and Benjamin Wilson before taking much stock in what Mike White has to say. His story seems to change at every breath. I find it hard to believe that Isaac Williams would charge him for a blanket when he fed, clothed and gave money to immigrants who came into California in dire straights from the hostile desert. His primary interest during the battle was the safety of his three young children. He also was in a very ackward position, in a battle with his brothers in law and dual citizenship.

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