San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco

The Murder of Berreyesa and the De Haros

The story of the death of José de los Reyes Berreyesa and Francisco and Ramon de Haro has been told in many of the accounts of the Bear Flag war and most of the narrators agree that it was an unprovoked murder. The Los Angeles Star published on September 27, 1856, a signed statement of Jasper O'Farrell, who saw the shooting and also a letter from José de los Santos Berreyesa, son of the murdered man. These statements may have been published in other newspapers, but if so the papers have disappeared and there is no record of the statements, so far as I know, save that of the Los Angeles Star, and of that day's issue I have only succeeded in finding one copy. From the fact that the records of this testimony have become so scarce it would seem as if some one had attempted to destroy them. This being the case I have thought it best to put the statements of O'Farrell and Berreyesa on record in this work and am able to do so through the courtesy of Mr. J. M. Guinn of Los Angeles, secretary of the Historical Society of Southern California, whose collection contains this valuable copy of the Star. It has been claimed that the statements were published in the newspapers for their political effect on the presidential campaign of 1856. That is probably true but it cannot in any way alter the facts.

San Francisco, Sept., 22, 1856.
Hon. P. A. Roach

My dear sir:

"In reply to your question whether it is certain or not that Col. Fremont consented to or permitted his soldiers to commit any crime or outrage on the frontier of Sonoma or San Rafael in the year 1846, to satisfy your inquiry and to prove to you that what is said in relation thereto is true, I believe it will be sufficient to inform you of the following case: Occupying the office of first alcalde of Sonoma in the year 1846, having been taken by surprise and put in prison in said town in company with several of my countrymen, Col. Fremont arrived at Sonoma with his forces from Sacramento. He came, in company of Capt. Gillespie and several soldiers, to the room in which I was confined, and having required from me the tranquillity of my jurisdiction, I answered him that I did not wish to take part in any matters in the neighborhood, as I was a prisoner. After some further remarks he retired, not well satisfied with the tenor of my replies. On the following day accompanied by soldiers he went to San Rafael. At the time that the news of my arrest had reached my parents, at the instance of my mother, that my father should go to Sonoma to see the condition in which myself and brothers were placed, this pacific old man left Santa Clara for San Pablo. After many difficulties he succeded in passing (across the strait), accompanied by two young cousins, Francisco and Ramon Haro, and having disembarked near San Rafael they proceeded towards the mission of that name with the intention of getting horses and return to get their saddles, which remained on the beach. Unfortunately Col. Fremont was walking in the corridor of the mission with some of his soldiers and they perceived the three Californians. They took their arms and mounted—approached towards them, and fired. It is perhaps true that they were scarcely dead when they were stripped of the clothing, which was all they had on their persons; others say that Col. Fremont was asked whether they should be taken prisoners or killed and that he replied that he had no room for prisoners and in consequence of this they were slain.

"On the day following this event Fremont returned to Sonoma and I learned from one of the Americans who accompanied him, and who spoke Spanish, that one of the persons killed at San Rafael was my father. I sought the first opportunity to question him (Fremont) about the matter, and whilst he was standing in front of the room in which I was a prisoner, I and my two brothers spoke to him and questioned him who it was that killed my father, and he answered that it was not certain he was killed, but that it was a Mr. Castro. Shortly afterwards a soldier passed by with a serape belonging to my father and one of my brothers pointed him out. After being satisfied of this fact I requested Col. Fremont to be called and told him that from seeing the serape on one of his men that I believed my father had been killed by his orders and begged that he would do me the favor to have the article restored to me that I might give it to my mother. To this Col. Fremont replied that he could not order its restoration as the serape belonged to the soldier who had it, and then he retired without giving me any further reply. I then endeavored to obtain it from the soldier who asked me $25, for it, which I paid, and in this manner I obtained it. This history, sir, I think will be sufficient to give you an idea of the conduct pursued by Col. Fremont in the year 1846."
I remain your friend
José S. Berreyesa.


I was at San Rafael in June 1846 when the then Captain Fremont arrived at that mission with his troops. The second day after his arrival there was a boat landed three men at the mouth of the estero on Point San Pedro. As soon as they were descried by Fremont there were three men (of whom Kit Carson was one) detailed to meet them. They mounted their horses and after advancing about one hundred yards halted and Carson returned to where Fremont was standing on the corridor of the mission, in company with Gillespie, myself, and others, and said: "Captain shall I take these men prisoners?" In response Fremont waved his hand and said: "I have got no room for prisoners." They then advanced to within fifty yards of the three unfortunate and unarmed Californians, alighted from their horses, and deliberately shot them. One of them was an old and respected Californian, Don José R. Berreyesa, whose son was the alcalde of Sonoma. The other two were twin brothers and sons of Don Francisco de Haro, a citizen of the Pueblo of Yerba Buena. I saw Carson some two years ago and spoke to him of this act and he assured me that then and since he regretted to be compelled to shoot those men, but Fremont was blood-thirsty enough to order otherwise, and he further remarked that it was not the only brutal act he was compelled to commit while under his command.

"I should not have taken the trouble of making this public but that the veracity of a pamphlet published by C. E. Pickett, Esq., in which he mentions the circumstance has been questioned—a history which I am compelled to say is, alas, too true—and from having seen a circular addressed to the native Californians by Fremont, or some of his friends, calling on them to rally to his support, I therefore give the above act publicity, so as to exhibit some of that warrior's tender mercies and chivalrous exploits, and must say that I feel degraded in soiling paper with the name of a man whom, for that act, I must always look upon with contempt and consider as a murderer and a coward."

(Signed) Jasper O'Farrell.

Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.

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