Pattie didn’t believe a word: everything “was a vile and deceitful lie, yet such is the power of the oppressor.”
One day, Pattie refused to translate. Echeandia, called “easygoing” even by his enemies, drew his sword. Spewing a litany of Spanish curses, Echeandia slammed the flat side down on Pattie’s head. The mountain man flopped to the floor — then leapt up and, spitting rage, reached for the governor’s throat. Guards restrained Pattie. As they dragged him back to his cell, Echeandia swore he would rather deal with the devil himself than with Pattie.
Six weeks after Sylvester died, Captain John Bradshaw sailed the Franklin, a three-master, into San Diego Bay. A vagrant named William Simpson sent Echeandia word from Loreto: Bradshaw had transferred cargo illegally — and may have contra bando on board.
Bradshaw had been to San Diego before and promised to help Pattie recover his furs on the Colorado. When Bradshaw came ashore, he expected Echeandia, flanked by a military escort, to doff his hat and make a deep bow. He might even offer a cup of aguardiente — the local firewater — to commemorate the occasion.
Instead, soldiers aimed muskets at the American’s eyes. Unload your cargo at a warehouse, Echeandia commanded, until an investigation determines its legality.
Bradshaw promised to obey. But when he rowed back to the Franklin, he ordered his crew to re-anchor farther west.
Stunned soldiers watched the 333-ton ship turn tail and head, it seemed, back out to sea. When the Franklin halted off La Playa, no one knew what to think — except Echeandia, who had heard yet another American lie.
The governor-general sent word: Bradshaw could go free if he discharged the suspicious cargo, valued at 13,000 silver dollars.
“The ship and cargo have been lawfully condemned,” said Echeandia. “If not given up peaceably, I have soldiers enough to take the ship!”
“I came to trade on the coast, not to fight,” Bradshaw countered.
Echeandia wanted depositions from the crew. When he asked Pattie to translate, the mountain man replied, “That’ll be easy, because unlike Californians, Americans can’t say anything but the truth.”
Pattie could barely understand his fellow countrymen from New England: “What a new set of people were the sailors! How amusing and strange their dialect!” But the depositions pleased Echeandia; he promised Pattie that, after the Franklin affair was over, he and his trappers could retrieve their furs.
Echeandia wanted soldiers on board the Franklin but lacked a vessel — not even a small “customs” boat — to do it. According to Auguste Duhaut-Cilly, a Frenchman whose Heros was anchored near the Franklin, the local government was so poor it didn’t “have even a canoe at its disposal.”
Echeandia knew that Duhaut-Cilly had enough wood for a 24-foot craft. Echeandia asked the French captain to build it. Although Duhaut-Cilly thought the governor pompous and despotic (“he enjoyed extensive power and often misused it”), he agreed to the purchase, unaware that the boat would ship guards to the Franklin to prevent it from sailing away.
When he discovered the governor’s motive, Duhaut-Cilly stalled. His carpenters, in a tent at La Playa, measured and fitted each plank into place with the patience of diamond-cutters. Somehow, they forgot to caulk the craft.
On July 11, Echeandia rode up the pebbly La Playa trail with a squadron. He had a “most urgent need,” he told Duhaut-Cilly, for the boat that day.
Almost done, replied the Frenchman, but we have no oars.
“Find some,” commanded the governor. “You will do me a notable service.”
Duhaut-Cilly said he’d try. A few hours later, he sent word that he couldn’t offer oars “without stripping my other boats.” The Frenchman asked to void the contract. “Thus I gained part of the day,” he wrote later, “hoping from moment to moment to see the Franklin set sail, but she did not do so.”
Early on July 12, Echeandia sent Duhaut-Cilly a letter: “Deliver the boat at once.”
“With no further way to hold back without compromising myself,” the Frenchman handed over the small craft. But when the soldiers boarded it, water seeped through the planks, and it almost sank. Duhaut-Cilly told his shipbuilders to tow it high and dry and apply sealant.
Bradshaw watched from the Franklin. When the caulking neared completion, as every eye focused on the result, Bradshaw cut the ship’s cable, spread the sails, and slowly headed westward.
That Bradshaw could move from a standstill to full sails stunned everyone on shore, including Duhaut-Cilly, who wrote that it would take a better writer than he to describe “the ingenious maneuvers employed by Captain Bradshaw.”
But the Franklin wasn’t free. The ship still had to pass within 200 yards of Fort Guijarros, the 12-cannon garrison on Ballast Point.
As soon as the Franklin slipped its cable, it became an enemy of Mexico. Officers and at least 38 soldiers readied for battle. “In a fusillade that continued for 20 minutes,” writes Duhaut-Cilly, the garrison fired grapeshot and chain, an estimated three dozen #24 cannonballs — roughly the size of “kelp globes” — at the fleeing ship.
In an act that “spread alarm in all of California” (Bancroft), since it constituted an international incident, Bradshaw ordered two broadsides at the fort.
Fourteen days later, the Franklin wobbled into Honolulu harbor.
According to Louis Monto, who kept a ship’s log for the Plough Boy, the Franklin received “two balls in the hull and two others in the rigging.” Bradshaw, wounded in the fray, had to replace the main and mizzen yards.
Dealing with foreigners lay beyond Echeandia’s daily stack of woes. Richard Batman: the governor may have “tired of the whole business” with the trappers and was “anxious to find an excuse for releasing” them. He was certainly tired of American lies and ruses that swarmed like Presidio fleas.
On December 20, 1828, Echeandia vowed to let Pattie go if the mountain man would vaccinate the region against smallpox. Pattie boasts he did much more: he vaccinated 22,000 people and single-handedly saved California from the dreaded disease — which, historians agree, was the biggest lie of all. ■
— Jeff Smith