Trouble in California

In 1845, Fremont led a group of explorers on an expedition to California. At that time, California was a territory that belonged to Mexico. But many Americans had settled in the region, and some of them wanted the United States to claim it. Mexican officials knew that the U.S. government was interested in taking California away from them. So when Fremont and his heavily armed men arrived, the Mexicans viewed them as a threat and ordered them to leave. Instead, Fremont added to the Mexican fears by building a log fort and raising the American flag over it. Fremont finally backed down after a tense standoff with the Mexican army.

By this time, however, many of his men were looking for a fight. As they moved north into the Sacramento Valley, they met American settlers who told them that the Klamath Indians who lived in the region were hostile (unfriendly). Fré-mont and his men soon confronted the Klamath. Nearly two hundred Indians died in the fight that followed. A short time later, a Klamath leader took revenge for the massacre by killing one of Frémont's men as he slept. Frémont's group responded with more violence, slaughtering many members of peaceful Indian tribes who lived nearby.

In 1846, with the approval of Frémont, a group of American settlers organized a rebellion against the Mexican authorities in California. In what became known as the Bear Flag Rebellion, the Americans ended up gaining control of the region without much difficulty. Then Frémont and several other military leaders in California became engaged in a heated dispute about who was in charge. Without the proper authority to do so, Navy commodore Robert Stockton (17951866) named Frémont governor of California. Then word arrived from Washington, D.C., that Army general Winfield Scott (1786-1866; see entry) had named another soldier, Stephen Kearney, as governor. Finally, Frémont received orders to return to Washington in June 1847.

When Frémont reached the Missouri River, however, he was arrested for mutiny (refusing to follow the orders of a higher-ranking military officer). As he was transported to Washington to face a court-martial (military trial), thousands of people turned out to show their support for the flamboyant explorer who had helped California gain its independence. His trial became front-page news across the country. Although the court found him guilty, he did not receive any punishment. Nevertheless, Frémont felt insulted by the verdict and resigned from the army.

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