Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo: Biography & History

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Before California was the home to famous movie stars and Hollywood, it was the birthplace of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a wealthy Mexican military leader. In this lesson you will learn about the life and career of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.

Vallejo's Famous Role in California

Before California became the state famous for theme parks like Disneyland, cities like Los Angeles, and crazy celebrities like the Kardashians, it was a vast territory owned by the country of Mexico. Today we refer to people from California as 'Californians', but in the 1800's, Vallejo and other settlers were known as californios.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is known for his military command defending California from Native rebellions and Russians and settling it for the Mexican government. Though often siding politically with the United States, Vallejo lost almost all his wealth and position in the aftermath of the U.S. acquisition of California.

Early Life

Vallejo was born into a very conservative Catholic family. Catholicism dominated most aspects of daily life, including education and the way the government was run. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo went to school like other kids his age, but most of what he learned came from Catholic doctrine.

He was a good student and was hungry to learn as much as he could. With the help of some of his more relaxed teachers, Vallejo collected non-religious books and read them secretly. This became a problem for him later on in life. One of the local priests knew that Vallejo was reading contraband books and demanded that Vallejo turn them over so they could be burned. Young Mariano refused and was excommunicated, or cut off from the Catholic Church. This action was just one small example of Vallejo's fiery passion and rebellious nature!

Early Career

Along with religious training, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was also taught military strategy and tactics. At a young age it was very clear that he was meant to be a leader. At just 15 years old he entered the military and became a cadet. Think about life for an average 15 year old today...usually in high school without careers, and certainly not expected to fight in a war! By the time Vallejo turned 21, he had already helped lead the charge against a Native American rebellion at the Spanish San Jose mission.

His impressive feats earned him the position of military commander of Northern California. He had two major responsibilities: put down Indian rebellions and help settle the California territory. Even by today's standards, California was a very appealing place to live. Even Russian settlers were creeping south from Alaska. To stop Russian settlement, Vallejo was given instructions to build as many Mexican settlements as possible as a preventative-defense strategy. Vallejo was given the authority to give land grants, or large parcels of land, so that settlers could build homes and farm in northern California.

Political Philosophy

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo didn't grow out of his rebellious phase as a child. Even though he was raised as a devout Catholic, he had many issues with the Church. Being excommunicated for holding onto contraband books didn't help!

More and more, Vallejo began to side with Mexican liberals who wanted to separate the Mexican government from the Catholic Church. He believed in a limited constitution and scaling back the role of government. In 1836, Vallejo supported a rebellion against the governor of California The governor was notorious for over-indulging and was often 'sick'; Vallejo and many others knew this was the polite way of saying the governor had a drinking problem.

Though the rebellion was unsuccessful, Vallejo still held onto the idea that California could be free from the Mexican government. He even looked to the United States for inspiration.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

Later Life

Vallejo's life began to change drastically in the 1840's. In 1845, the United States decided to annex Texas, a former Mexican territory. This did not sit well with the Mexican government and the two countries prepared to go to war. In 1846, American rebels made their way into California and captured Vallejo and one of his brothers. The two men were held captive for two months. The conflict was extremely costly and Vallejo lost a small fortune in property damage due to looting.

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