Andrés Pico

By Felix Greer

Andrés Pico, born November 30, 1810, was a cattle rancher, Mexican general, businessman, and later a California state legislator. As the younger brother of Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexico, he played an integral part in his brother’s political career, assisting him in both putting down and organizing rebellions. He would go on to be the commander of the Mexican troops in California during the Mexican-American War, handing General Stephen Kearny the U.S’ worst military defeat of the conflict. Later, as an American politician, he would fight for the rights of monolingual Spanish speakers in the newly annexed western parts of the United States and support Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Though he never married, he adopted two children, Romulo and Catarina, the former of which was later discovered to be his illegitimate child with Maria Antonia Dominguez. Despite being born a mixed-race person into the Spanish race-based caste system, Andrés rose to prominence as one of the most important military and political figures in 19th century California.

Early Life

Andrés was born in San Diego, at the time part of New Spain, to José Maria Pico and Maria Eustaquia Lopez. His grandmother on his father’s side, Maria Jacinda Bastida, was listed on the 1790 census as a mulata, or a person of mixed African and European descent. Andrés was the ninth of eleven children, with two older brothers, six older sisters, and two younger sisters. José Maria had been a military man with a long and successful career. When Andrés was a year old, his father was imprisoned on charges of conspiring to bring about Mexican independence. He was soon pardoned, but the event likely had an impact on the young Pio Pico, and through him his younger brother Andrés. José Maria continued to serve in the military until his death in 1819. Spanish law at the time forbade soldiers from privately owning land, and so nothing was left to his widow and their children. A young Pio started a store to support the family. In his youth, Andrés was reportedly extremely close to his older brother Pio and would remain so throughout his life. In 1823, the two of them worked together on building the family’s home in San Diego.

Land Grants and Military Career

While his elder brother leaned towards statesmanship, Andrés became a military man. However, their differing careers did nothing to pull the two apart, and Andrés often engaged in politics at his brother’s behest. When General Manuel Victoria assumed the governorship of California in 1830 and began the process of undoing his predecessor’s secularization efforts and establishing military rule, Pio fiercely opposed him. Twenty-one-year-old Andrés was briefly jailed for republishing his brother’s anti-Victoria manifesto. In response, Pio organized a rebellion that ended up deposing Victoria and furthering the secularization of the missions, securing vast tracts of ranch land for the family. In 1839, Andrés took a leave of absence from the military to take over operations at Pio’s Rancho Jamul, a gift from Victoria’s predecessor, following attacks on the complex by local Native Americans. He would handle the family finances for some time.

In 1841, Andrés and Pio would become the beneficiaries of a land grant by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado for the Rancho Santa Margarita, continuing to grow their wealth. The following year, Alvarado would be replaced by order of General Santa Anna. His replacement, Manuel Micheltorena, was overthrown by the Picos and their allies on charges of conspiring with foreigners, including John Sutter of Gold Rush fame, to secure California’s independence from Mexico. With his deposition in 1845, Pio would become governor. Not all were happy with this turn of events. José Antonio Carrillo and José Castro, former allies of the Picos, revolted in an attempt to overthrow Pio later in 1845. Andrés, by this point a senior military leader, took command of the Californian troops and defeated the rebels.

Later in 1845, Andrés would become the beneficiary of a substantial land grant from his brother.

He received the lease for the lands of Mission San Fernando Rey de España, at the time encompassing much of the San Fernando Valley. Much of this land was soon sold to Eulogio de Celis to raise funds for the Mexican American War, but Andrés retained the mission complex and surrounding areas, converting it into a lavish ranch home. The second oldest adobe home in Los Angeles, the Andrés Pico Adobe, still sits on the grounds, though Andrés used the larger mission building as his primary residence.

Mexican American War

In 1846, following the start of the Mexican American War, Andrés again took command of troops, leading a company of lancers. He would also take on the position of acting Governor of California, as Pio returned to Mexico to raise funds and garner support. On December 6, 1846, Andrés’ troops engaged the American general Stephen Kearny at the Battle of San Pasqual. Despite inferior equipment, he handed the U.S. its worst military defeat of the entire campaign. This earned him respect and even admiration from American military commanders. However, despite his brilliant battlefield tactics, losses mounted on other fronts. On January 13, 1847, Andrés signed the Treaty of Cahuenga along with John C. Fremont, ending hostilities in Alta California. Fremont was reportedly impressed by the man, and the two would go on to become friends. A year later, the war came to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Andrés, like many Californios, became an American citizen.

Political Career

Andrés would then turn his attention to politics. In 1851, he was elected to the State Assembly of California. He continued to live at his San Fernando home, employing and hosting prominent artists and musicians throughout the decade as well as earning the position of Brigadier General in the California Militia. In 1858, in his capacity as an assembly member, he protested the poor translation of state laws into Spanish. The following year, he was elected to the California State Senate with a seat in Los Angeles. In 1859, Andrés drafted a bill proposing the partition of California into two states, though it was never approved by Congress. Though he initially ran as a member of the Democratic party, he soon became disillusioned. Slavery, which he opposed, had begun to dominate the national conversation. In addition, the Democrats supported land reform policies in California that deprived many Mexican rancheros of their property. In 1860, to his older brother’s delight, Andrés changed sides of the aisle and joined the Republicans. He went on to support Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign.

Financial Decline and Death

Andrés’ good fortune did not last forever. In the early 1860s, he lost much of his land when the

U.S. government began to scrutinize many of Pio’s land grants. Despite a lack of evidence, the government accused Pio of backdating grants and falsifying information. Andrés took this dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court, where his claim was invalidated. He also lost his military position in 1862, likely because of his prior ties to the Democratic party, driving his finances further into disrepair. Andrés attempted to reorient himself towards business once again, starting several new ventures. He was involved in the founding of California’s first oil company, which would later become Star Oil, though the company would not see significant commercial success until after his death. Though Andrés had always had a penchant for gambling, particularly horse racing, his problem grew worse. He began to accrue mounting debts and was eventually forced to sell his San Fernando home to his brother, after which he retired to Los Angeles. In 1874, Pio transferred ownership of the remaining San Fernando properties back to Andrés to help with his finances. That year, his two adopted children moved into the Andrés Pico Adobe and married each other.

Andrés died in Los Angeles at the age of sixty-six on February 14, 1876 after spending weeks in a coma. Sometime prior, he may have been the victim of a violent assault, though conclusive evidence was never found. The Daily Alta California reported his cause of death as complications arising from brain fever, erysipelas, and inflammation of the bowels. He left no will, leading to a legal dispute between Pio and Romulo that would culminate in the public revelation that Romulo had been his biological child from an affair with a married woman.

Further Readings

Miguelez, A., & Giambruno, C. (2006). Excerpt: Don Andrés Pico on the Translation of Laws into Spanish. California History, 84(2), 52–53.

Pico v. United States, 69 U.S. 279 (1864)

Robinson, W. W. (1956). The Rancho Story of San Fernando Valley. The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 38(3), 225–234.

Salomon, C. M. (2011). Pío Pico: The last governor of Mexican California. University of Oklahoma Press.

Salomon, C. (2007). Secularization in California: Pío Pico at Mission San Luis Rey. Southern California Quarterly, 89(4), 349–371.

Tyler, H. (1953). The Family of Pico. The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 35(3), 221–238.