General Vallejo entered the military in Monterey on January 8th, 1824. At age 21, he gained regional fame for putting down an Indian revolt at the San Jose Mission. Despite this success, Vallejo spent much of his early life criticizing the Mexican elite. He was a classical liberal who admired the United States Constitution. When he was 23, the Catholic Church excommunicated him for his refusal to destroy banned books.
In 1834, he was sent to secularize Mission San Francisco Solano. He also engaged in military campaigns against the local Native Americans. For his services, he was granted the Petaluma Rancho later that year. He settled there with his wife, Benecia Carillo Vallejo.
In 1835, Vallejo was ordered to establish a Pueblo at the old Mission and was given power over all land grants and colonization issues in the northern region. He renamed the Pueblo Sonoma after the Native American name for the valley. His chief concern was to thwart continued Russian expansion south from their base at Fort Ross.
In 1836, Vallejo supported a revolt against the Mexican establishment by his nephew, Juan Batista Alvarado. Alvarado favored the destruction of the entrenched privileges of the hereditary elite. At this point, Vallejo personally held most of the power on the frontier.
In 1838, Vallejo became Comandante General of California. This made him the chief military officer along the northern frontier of Mexico. Vallejo established a standing army of about 50 individuals to guard the region.
When the Mexican Government failed to pay its soldiers, Vallejo took on this task himself. He developed the Sonoma Pueblo into a self-sufficient institution. Because of his personal involvement, the land developed into his own de facto fief.
Vallejo’s military strength and savvy diplomacy generally maintained the peace with the Native Americans and the Russians. By 1837, Vallejo had established himself as one of the richest and most powerful men in California.
He owned several thousand heads of livestock and owned many acres of vineyards and other agricultural products. His experiments with new varietals was extremely important to California’s history of wine.
Vallejo’s Russian counterpart was a man named Rotchef. The two gentlemen had a polite but guarded relationship. Vallejo insisted that the Russians were technically on Mexican soil. At the same time, he officially tolerated the existence of their Fort Ross and Bodega Bay settlements.
Vallejo’s relationships with John and Augustus Sutter were much tenser. Sutter threatened that if Vallejo attempted to assert Mexican authority over the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Foothills, he would be met with not only violence, but a struggle for complete independence.
In 1841, Micheltoreno replaced Vallejo as Comandante General. Vallejo helped the new military leader in any way that he could. In 1844, Micheltoreno granted Vallejo the Rancho Nacional Soscol to thank him for his assistance.
But when Sutter’s uprising targeted Micheltorena, Vallejo did not want to upset the Americans by ordering them to join the fight. He realized that the balance of power was shifting.
General John C. Fremont imprisoned Vallejo at the end of the Bear Flag Revolt. His property and land were looted during his two months in prison. As things settled down and a formal government was set up in California under the United States, Vallejo’s circumstances improved.
Despite Vallejo’s attempts to gain favor with the burgeoning American Government in California, he lost most of his property and was even imprisoned for some time. Even after these insults, Vallejo was one of eight Californios that were members of California’s Constitutional Convention. He was appointed the Indian Agent for Northern California later that year.
When gold was discovered, a huge influx of young male speculators flooded the region. This inevitably caused many land, settlement and squatter controversies. General Vallejo lost many court cases because the Americans placed little value on land grants and deeds from the Mexican era.
During the 1870s, Vallejo amassed a large collection of documents from the Spanish and Mexican Eras and wrote an extensive five volume history of California. These materials are now housed in UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. His death in 1890 was widely mourned and attended by hundreds of people.
The State of California acquired his Lachryma Montis home in 1933 and has maintained it ever since. It is currently open to the public and is interesting to visit.