On Saturday, April 6, 1861, William H. Brewer camped with his geological survey team at the ranch Alamo Pintado in the Santa Ynez Valley. Traveling several days from Santa Barbara, the party had traversed Gaviota Pass and followed the Alisal Road route, passing the Nojoqui Ranch and the Santa Ynez Mission, the latter in ruins at the time with only a few residents. In his log, Brewer noted that the “religious destitution and moral state of the county is not easy to describe” with “a race growing up more wicked, desperate, immoral than any that has gone before.”
Following the Mexican American war, sons of the original Californios were dispossessed of land and wealth, shouldered aside in the goldfields, and generally maltreated by the surging hordes of Americans. While most Californios endured in silence, an angry and dispossessed few took to the highways and gave rise to the era of the Mexican bandit.
Salomon Maria Simeon Pico was among the first, although certainly not the worst, in Santa Barbara county (the crown for that category must go to an American, Jack Powers, from New York City). Yet Pico’s career emblemized the true Mexican bandit of popular conception.
Born in Monterey, Salomon learned to ride, as only native Californios could ride, on the great Rancho del Rey San Pedro his father managed. After his father died, he moved back to Monterey to live with his mother, Maria Ysabel Asencion Cota Lugo. There, in a town newly opened to international trade and among influential relatives, Salomon’s life as a young man was exciting and rewarding. He married his true love, received a grant of land, and when the war began, marched off to fight the Americans. And then it all fell apart.
Salomon , as ensign to Capitán José Castro, accompanied him to Mexico in the final months of the war and was one of the last soldiers to return home. He found his land in Stanislaus County full of 49’er squatters. In November of that same year, his wife Juana fell ill and Salomon brought her to Monterey for treatment. Soon after he transferred his land to the opportunistic Dr. James Ord, who probably treated her. Despite his efforts, Juana died on November 18, 1848 in Monterey(*). His three children, Ana Pacifica (b.1841), José (b.1842), and Maria Antonio (b.1843), have disappeared from the pages of history, possibly victims of a cholera epidemic brought to Monterrey from South America by the American Consul’s cook. Another child, Tristan Maria Simeon Pico (b. 1845), survived.
A war-weary, embittered young man, Salomon was now poor and rootless, with no love for Americans, whom he blamed for all his travails. He fell in with some kindred spirits and together they began to plot an act of vengeance, one that would change the trajectory of Salomon’s life forever.
(To be continued in Part Two)
*Herein resides one of many conflicting narratives; the preceding is stated in THE CALIFORNIOS, even giving a burial place and number (Campo Santo San Carlos (SC Death 03382)), yet the 1860 census has Juana Pico living in Monterey with several older children, including Tristan.