In November 1829, a military revolt broke out in Alta California. Disgruntled soldiers, many of whom had not been paid in years, mutinied and called for the governor’s ouster. Troops throughout Northern California joined the rebellion and, with a former convict as their leader, began their march toward Santa Barbara, where the beleaguered governor had decided to make his stand.
Trouble had been brewing for a while. In June 1829, authorities in Monterey learned of a plot by soldiers to raise the flag of mutiny and to depose the governor of Alta California, Jose Mar-a Echeand-a. The soldiers’ pay was seriously in arrears, resulting in severe hardship. Rations were often in short supply, causing hunger among the troops and their families.
The leader of the nascent mutiny was Joaquin Sol-s. He had fought for Mexico in its war of independence from Spain but had then turned to a life of crime. At the time the plot was uncovered, he was working on a convict ranch near the Monterey presidio. Criminals were often sent from Mexico to work in labor-starved Alta California.
The crisis was averted, but incredibly, the authorities took no punitive action against the ringleaders, partly because no officer could be found to act as prosecutor. The affair was soon forgotten, but the underlying causes went uncorrected.
During the night of November 12-13, the soldiers at the Monterey presidio rose in revolt and arrested their officers, who put up no resistance. The mutineers cast about for a leader and again turned to Sol-s, who on November 14 was proclaimed comandante of the renegade troops. A proclamation not only called for a redress of grievances but also became a cry for revolution. Echeand-a was to resign, to be replaced by a soldiers’ committee, which would appoint a person to serve in his place until a new governor arrived from Mexico. Salaries and supply inventories would be brought up to date as soon as possible. The soldiers also obtained the support of Monterey’s alcalde (mayor), who transferred municipal funds into the rebels’ coffers.
In late November, Sol-s moved north, gaining support in the Bay Area. He was met with an artillery salute in San Francisco, and the entire presidio garrison there went over to him. By the end of December he was back in Monterey, and-with a force of some 100 men-he decided to descend upon Santa Barbara. The garrison there had revolted earlier in the month, briefly imprisoning the acting presidio comandante, Romualdo Pacheco. Pacheco eventually convinced the troops of the error of their ways and, by the time Governor Echeand-a arrived, Pacheco had a force of about 90 loyalists under his command.
Echeand-a had been in San Diego when the revolt broke out. Rallying support, he moved northward and, when he reached Santa Barbara and heard Sol-s was marching south, decided to make his stand in Santa Barbara.
Echeand-a sent an emissary to Sol-s with an order to surrender and a promise of amnesty to anyone who would forswear the folly of revolt; Sol-s refused all entreaties. By mid January, Sol-s was moving through the Goleta Valley. Comandante Pacheco sallied forth to meet him but, upon sight of the rebels, beat a hasty retreat back to the presidio. Sol-s approached the presidio and opened fire with his artillery; the garrison returned fire. The distance was so great, however, each side was out of range of their opponents’ guns. After two days of desultory combat, in which no one was hurt, Sol-s realized that both the mission and the presidio were impregnable to him and that the Santa Barbara garrison was not going to rally to him. In fact, some of the rebel forces deserted back to the governor.
Sol-s was beaten. On January 15, he ordered his cannon spiked and the retreat northward began, the army disintegrating along the way. The governor quickly restored order. Sol-s was hunted down and captured in early February and sent to Mexico in irons. He was eventually released without serious punishment. The rebellion of Joaquin Sol-s was over, defeated at the “battle” of Santa Barbara.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara's history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.