Memoirs of the Vallejos
(original typed manuscript)
Platon Mariano Guadelupe Vallejo
Extracts relating to Francisco Solano, Chief of the Suysune
The chief of the Suysunes was a famous ruler called Sum-Yet-Ho in the native togue, the words meaning "the Mighty Arm." His name fitted his person. He was of gigantic stature, standing six feet seven inches--without his stockings, for he had none. And he was large all over in proportion, with the strengh of several men. His name by baptism was Francisco Solano, and by that name he was best known. My father early made the acquaintance of Sum-Yet-Ho and he admired the rugged savage. They were friends, but when the chief learned that the commandante proposed to plant colonies in his land, he said, frankly enough, that such a thing meant a finish fight.
Well, it either meant war or an abandonment of all the plans of Californians for maintaining their discovery right against Russia. By direction of the government, my father gathered an army of more than 200 men and invaded the territory of Solano. The hostile forces met in the Suscol Valley, and there a severe battle was fought. Many Indians were killed and a few Spaniards, but the red men, with their bows and arrows and spears were no match for the guns, swords and discipline of the soldiers.
Solano had the good sense to know when he was beaten and sought a conference with my father. The two met, like warriors, had a long talk, decided that the country was big enough for both and entered into an alliance and treaty of good will, which was never broken by either side. When colonization began soon after, Solano and his warriors were the best protectors of the early settlers. For there were very savage Indians in the mountains in the north, far different from the tractable Suysunes. They would have cheerfully murdered the settlers in their beds had not Solano and his braves prevented.
The Commandante always held Solano, not alone as a an ally, but as a personal friend and equal. He consulted him on all things. The chief was a most welcome guest at his hacienda, when he settled in Sonoma. He might be savage in some things, with his primitive ideals of war. My father often told me that he never came in contact with a finer natural mind. He was keen, clear-headed thinker, readily grasped new ideas, learned to speak Spanish with ease and precision and was so ready to debate that few cared to engage him in a contest of wits.
For three consecutive years, 1837-38-39, the dread disease [small pox] swept the Pacific Coast. Those who escaped during one year by non-intercourse were caught the next. The scourge seems to have finally spent its force through very lack of victims. Here and there, isolated mountain tribes survived, and those domiciled around the white settlements, where strong precautions were enforce. But the great communities of Indians, the flower of the aboriginal race, were swept away in a common, hideous fate. My father and Solano in 1835, estimated the number of Suysunes at not less than 40,000. After the pestilence there were a scant 200 left. Solano, who had been vaccinated, survived, a king without a kingdom, mourning for his departed nation.
While I am on the subject, I will tell the last chapter in the life of the noted Indian chief Solano. We left him in my father's house at the time of the general's capture by the Bear Flag warriors. The old man did not understand. All his savage loyalty was ablaze. He was trembling with excitement. Fearing some outbreak, my father addressed him briefly in the Suysun language, telling him briefly to depart, or, as we put it, to make himself scarce. True to his habits of discipline, the chief obeyed. But from a distance his keen eye watched what followed. He saw my father leave, surrounded by armed men. He thought he has being led away to execution, and, in passionate depsair, tuned his face to the wilderness and was lost.
It seemed as if the earth had yawned and swallowed him. When my father returned to Sonoma from his captivity at Sutter's Fort, he made a searching inquiry to learn something of Solano's fate. Far away into the mountains the inquiry extended, but the earth said naught. No one had seen him after the eventful June 14. In time, he was thought of only as one dead. Most believed he had perished by his own hand, seeking, like some wild animals, a lonely spot to die, where his bones might remain unseen and undisturbed.
He left behind him a wife, known by her Christian name Isadora. Also three daughters, called in Suysun Ahmahee ("Redbird"), Ithladatee, a pet word for rabbit like our word "bunny", and Chlelthaler, "Home Girl". They were not only pretty, but real beauties, of a splendid type of womanhood. They were attached to my mother's household. None of them ever married. All of them died young, more from sadness and world-weariness than from any ill of the flesh.
Twelve years after the Bear raid, in 1858, I was sitting with my father and mother on the porch of our new home, Lacryma Monte, at Sonoma. Handsome grounds surrounded the residence. A long driveway reached from the buiding to the road. As we sat there, a gigantic figure of a man approached, clad in tattered clothes. Suddenly my father started and looked intently. The next moment he was tearing down the pathway and grasped the man's hand.
It was Solano, sure enough, older, but much the same. For once, the Indian solidarity was overcome. Tears were streaming down his rugged face as he said:
"Senor, I have come to offer you my services again."
All through the afternoon and far into the night the chief and my father talked together, recalling memories of the distant past, when all through the valleys of Sonoma, Napa and Solano the wilderness was unbroken save around the little settlements of Sonoma--when the two stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting the battle of civilization.
This was, in brief, Solano's story of his flight. Convinced of my father's death, he had plunged into the wilderness, hoping never to see the white man's face again. He wandered northward through Oregon, through Washington, deep into the wilderness of the British Posessions. He must have traveled into Alaska, for he spoke of a land where it was sometimes light, sometimes dark, all day.
Always he was searching for a nation worthy to be ruled in the good old Indian way, but he never found any to his liking. At last he ventured back to California and was much surprized to learn that my father was not only very much alive, but also a big chief, surrounded by many people. And where there were so many people, he surmised there must also be plenty of good fighting. So, he had hastened to offer the service of his mighty arm. He was shocked, and perhaps chagrined, to learn that everyone was at peace now.
Solano remained at the Vallejo residence for several days, renewing old aquaintances. He left to visit some Suysun Indians near what is now known as Cordelia. this time he did not return. He died at Cordelia, just how we were never able to learn, and was buried there. Many years after his remains were exhumed and his skull is now in the possession of Mr. Topley, a druggist of Vallejo. My father always said that, in the rugged human virtues, he had never met a better man than Solano.
Many of the older Suysun Indians lived on my father's land around Sonoma, and all their wants were carefully provided for as a duty he owed to friends. Old Tomo was the last to drop from life, in 1860, as near as I can remember. He became quite a musician, aspired to be a poet in the Suysun tongue, and even wrote verses in Spanish that were not half-bad. He was widely known as a philospher and a great repository of ancient lore, taking much pride in his distinction. Very peacefully at last, he went to sleep with his father.
Bas-relief of Chief Solano
by Platon Vallejo
Bas-relief of Isidora Solano
by Platon Vallejo
The images above show Chief Solano (left) and Ysidora Solano (right) as depicted in bas-reliefs carved by Platon Vallejo. As the reliefs themselves have since been lost, these photos are the only remaining record. Platon wrote on the back of the Solano photo, "This picture of Solano looks like him. I do not believe he ever sat for his portrait or went to a gallery to be photographed."