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Beckwourth and the California Revolt
Beckwourth and twelve others arrived in Pueblo de Angeles in January, 1844, and he proceeded to indulge his "new passion for trade."
With his usual talent for finding "excitement," Beckwourth soon found himself embroiled in the 1845 revolt of the American settlers in California against Mexican control.
In his autobiography he indulged another of his talents -- he got the names1 all wrong. Governor Micheltorena becomes "Torrejon," while Rowland, one of the leaders recruiting insurgents, becomes "Roland." Other key leaders aren't even mentioned. And, of course, he becomes the leader and hero of every encounter. But on the essential facts of the battle of Cahuenga, he is substantiated by other accounts.
Then came the news that war had broken out between the United States and Mexico. Beckwourth headed home for Pueblo. But not alone. Along with five others, he
collected eighteen hundred stray horses we found roaming the California ranchos and started with our utmost speed from Pueblo de Angeles. This was a fair capture and our morals justified it, for it was war-time. 2
Beckwourth's autobiography is notorious not only for getting names wrong, but dates as well, and over the year's this has contributed to his reputation for being a "gaudy liar." Historians would look at his account and dismiss it as a fabrication because they could find no historical evidence of someone he mentioned, or because his dates were off by a couple years. In his defense, when he dictated his autobiography to T. D. Bonner, he was recounting from memory events that had happened years, or even decades, earlier. Would any of us do any better with dates?
As for names, Bonner was often sloppy, spelling phonetically at best and haphazardly at worst.
When the names and dates in accounts that had previously been dismissed as
fabrications or exaggerations are corrected, much other corroborating evidence
often turns up.
2T. D. Bonner, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, University of Nebaska Press Edition, 1972, p. 474.
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