"History Alive!"

Humanities, January/February 1998 | Go to article overview

"History Alive!"


JUANA BRIONES. One of the most prominent women in early California, and one of most successful in the American period. Juana Briones grew up as the daughter of the commandant of the Presidio at San Francisco and, with her husband, was one of the first civilians settled in the colony of Yerba Buena. Her success on her own as a businesswoman, landowner, rancher, and humanitarian was unusual for a woman of those times. She was also one of the few Californio landowners who successfully fought for her land grants, in what are now San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

YEE FUNG CHEUNG.A famous herb doctor who came from China in 1850 to care for Chinese miners and others. Yee probably prospected for gold before giving it up to practice what he knew best-herbal medicine. He set up his first herb shop in Chinese Camp in Fiddletown. Later he set up offices in Virginia City, Nevada, (during the silver strike) and in Sacramento. Dr. Yee was joined in his practice by his second son, T. Wah Hing. Both effected many famous cures and took care of the sick of all races and nationalities.

ANTONIO GARRA.

A Cupeno Indian, Garra was the leader of the 1851 Indian Tax Revolt in southern California against the United States for the same reasons that inspired the American colonialists to revolt against England-- no taxation without representation. He also fought for Indian rights to due process in the judicial system. He lost his struggle and his life in the cause.

JOSE JESUS. A Siakumne Indian of the Central Valley Yokuts, Jesus was an alcalde (mayor or leader) at Mission San Jose who, after secularization, returned to the Central Valley and became a leader of his people. During the Californio period, he earned himself a reputation as the "Christian horse thief." During the MexicanAmerican War he was contracted by Sutter to fight alongside his Indian brethren as soldiers in Captain John Fremont's Company H of the California battalion. After the war he was hired by Charles Webber and Associates to contract Indian labor of the Stockton Mining Company, which opened up almost all of the southern mines.

WILLIAM LEIDESDORFF.

A native of the Virgin Islands whose father was a Danish planter and whose mother was black. He went to San Francisco in 1841 in command of an American schooner after making a fortune in New Orleans as a cotton broker. In San Francisco he built the City Hotel and a large warehouse and acquired thirty-five thousand acres of land on the American River. He was appointed the vice-consul under Thomas Larkin. He launched the first steam vessel on the San Francisco Bay. A small downtown San Francisco street is named for him.

BIDDY MASON. An African American woman prominent in the early urban history of Los Angeles. Her story exemplifies how Californians struggled with issues of slavery in the 1850s. Arriving in southern California as a slave in 1851, she later won her freedom and became a midwife and nurse, a philanthropist, and organizer of the First African American Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

PiO PICO. Pico was born at San Gabriel Arcangel Mission of Spanish, Italian, Indian, and African ancestry. Both as a politician and as an entrepreneur he espoused the views of many native-born Californios over directives from distant seats of government. As the last Mexican governor of California, he presided over the secularization of the missions and turned over their vast landholdings to private hands and moved the capital of California from Monterey to Los Angeles. Although he fled California during the American takeover, he returned to build the first major hotel in Los Angeles and serve on the city council.

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