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Fitch fumed. His new godfather had stopped the marriage! Josefa cried tears of shock. In most accounts, she turned to Fitch and said, “Why don’t you carry me off, Don Enrique?”

Fitch was scheduled to sail the Buitre (“Vulture”) to South America the next day. He conferred with Pio Pico and Captain Barry. Each urged him to take Josefa. In a testimonial she said Fitch took the initiative.

No one consulted her father.

Early the next day, Fitch said good-bye to friends at the presidio, then to his beloved. He rode the La Playa trail to where the Buitre lay anchored. He boarded the ship and barked orders. His crew shimmied up the masts, unfurled sails, and the English brig split whitecaps on its way to sea. Beyond Point Loma it grabbed a wind to the west.

That night, Josefa didn’t weep. She packed belongings into a small trunk and listened for pounding hooves. Pio Pico rode up on his best horse. Josefa, who said he “didn’t have any trouble convincing me,” climbed on in front of Pico, and they galloped into the night.

Six sailors waited in a longboat near the landing at La Playa. Not far up the beach, Fitch hid behind a large rock. The horse pulled up. Just before the lovers raced to the boat, Pico shouted, “Good-bye, cousin. May God bless you.” Then, to Fitch: “And you, Cousin Enrique, take care not to give Josefa reason to regret having joined her lot with yours.”

The sailors rowed out to the Buitre, concealed beyond the bluffs of Point Loma, and the ship sailed south.

It was as if Prince Paris had abducted Helen of Sparta. The news of scandal rampaged up and down the coast. Surely Fitch took Josefa against her will. And if he didn’t, he’d lied. He vowed to become a naturalized citizen but never did. The elopement rankled church authorities almost as much as Josefa’s father, who suffered unthinkable shame. Don Joaquín became so distraught he swore he’d kill Josefa and her kidnapper on sight.

Fitch, Josefa, and an infant son, Enrique Eduardo, returned to San Diego in July 1830. Fitch’s frigate, Leonor, brought sugar, skins of brandy, and 50 convicts to help populate the frontier. Neither husband nor wife — Curate Orrego had married them at Valparaiso — dared come ashore. Her father was so dishonored, townspeople warned her, Joaquín always kept a musket nearby.

Legend has it that Josefa snuck ashore at midnight. When Fitch found her missing, he feared, writes Ella Sterling Mighels, “She must have jumped overboard from her wild despair over her father’s anger against her.”

The next morning, when Josefa reached the garden gate at Casa de Carrillo, legend says she crawled on her knees and begged her father’s forgiveness. She fled, she told Joaquín, to “escape the tyranny” of Echeandia. After much wavering (some accounts even have him pointing the musket at her), Don Joaquín relented. In her Testimonio, written decades later, Josefa remembers her father saying, “I forgive thee, daughter, for it is not thy fault that our governors are despots!”

Only the most glowing accounts mention Don Joaquín forgiving Fitch, and none have Fitch forgiving his father-in-law. Don Joaquín “abused her most shamefully,” Fitch wrote years later, “frequently threatening to flog her and telling her I was a heretic and that she was living with me as a common prostitute.” Fitch said he hoped Don Joaquín would “go to hell.”

Fitch had to sail north — to sell his cargo and unload 25 convicts. Since he refused to leave Josefa in San Diego, she joined him on the long windward passage to Monterrey, where Echeandia had faced a military rebellion the year before and where a similar maelstrom now awaited them both.

When the Leonor anchored at San Pedro, Padre Jose Sanchez, vicar of the territory, ordered Fitch to stand trial at San Gabriel: the wedding raised “serious charges.” Surprised and miffed, Fitch sent his marriage certificate instead.

He arrived at Monterrey in August. The certificate had flaws, he learned: it was torn and blotted; also, they weren’t members of the parish where they were wed. Fiscal José Palomares ordered Echeandia to arrest Fitch. Soldiers locked him in the harbormaster’s office. They kept Josefa under house arrest at John Cooper’s two-story adobe.

In late October, Josefa asked to go to San Gabriel. When Echeandia approved, Palomares declared that the governor had violated ecclesiastical authority. He was a “culprit before God’s tribunal” and must stand trial. Vicar Sanchez agreed but chose not to arrest Echeandia. Instead, he had Fitch moved to San Gabriel in December.

On December 9, the interrogations began. Both Fitch and Josefa vowed that she’d gone voluntarily, that their marriage in Valparaiso was legal (also that she was chaperoned during their 74-day passage and that their son was conceived after they were wed). Weeks of attacks and denials concluded on December 28. Sanchez declared the marriage was “not legitimate, but in spite of the infractions of the law, it was valid.” Fitch and Josefa were now velados — married — and had to perform several acts of contrition.

Although their 19 years together were rocky — in 1835, because she gambled heavily, Fitch began legal steps for a separation — the couple had 12 children.

Fitch died in 1849. He never forgave his father-in-law or his persecutors. He wrote a letter to John Cooper: “All the devils in Hell could not separate us. So all those busybodies who had had too much to say about my marriage being unlawful may go to Hell and f--k spiders, and if you hear any of them speak any more about it please damn their eyes on my account.”

Fitch hated Echeandia as well: “The Mexican authorities were more vicious than a water carrier’s donkey.”

Echeandia may have loved Josefa. Or, as the apple of every eye, she may have assumed that his fierce political passions — and ingrained distrust of Americans — were amatory. As the legend grew, she made Echeandia the villain, possibly stuffing anger at her domineering father into a father figure. Years later, however, she forgave Echeandia “with all my heart.”

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Comments

David Dodd July 22, 2010 @ 2:36 p.m.

Jeff, you're a wonderful historical writer. I demand (DEMAND!) more of this sort of thing. Should you decide to invest the time, you will find many more tales of gringo madness in Alta California. Most of these tales ended in "happily-ever-after", because after all, the gringos were willing to work their tails off in appreciation of those beautiful Mexican maidens from the Rancheros where they found them. You know, the Mexican authorities kept trying to lock them up until their Mexican fathers-in-laws rode into town protesting the detainment of their sons-in-laws.

It's a great part of California history.

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nan shartel July 22, 2010 @ 5:34 p.m.

i loved this convoluted tale of love and betrayal and love...thx Jeff

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MsGrant July 22, 2010 @ 6:34 p.m.

"Although their 19 years together were rocky — in 1835, because she gambled heavily, Fitch began legal steps for a separation — the couple had 12 children"--rocky, indeed....

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David Dodd July 22, 2010 @ 6:41 p.m.

Yeah, Ms. Grant, I caught that too. Awesomesauce. Nineteen effing years and THEN he discovered that she had a gambling problem? Pu-lease ;) 12 kids later? Great stuff.

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nan shartel July 24, 2010 @ 11:12 a.m.

my grams had 12 kids...3 sets of twins...it was the depression and her husband left her to fend for herself

the blaggard!!!

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MsGrant July 24, 2010 @ 2:34 p.m.

You how hear about this all the time. Men left women with all these kids back then and just disappeared. Your gram must have been really something to raise all those kids. How did she do it?

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nan shartel July 24, 2010 @ 5:12 p.m.

i got no idea Grantie...she began picking cotton...took the kids into the field...all the kids stopped being educated...my mom only had a 4th grade education...they migrated to California...i had an auntie that was an RN and she helped her mom...took 2 of the girls

one set of twins died of starvation ..they were born early and slept 2 to a shoe box near the wood stove...my grams rubbed olive oil over them every day...it's nutrients are absorbed thru the skin...

one set was born dead (Flu Babies)

think of grapes of wrath and u lookin at my Okie relatives

Steinbeck thought they were the NOBLE POOR...HAH!!!

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MsGrant July 24, 2010 @ 6:38 p.m.

And they call us the "weaker" sex. Nan, have you kept records of your family history? You could write your own "grapes".

Steinbeck was at least somewhat sympathetic to the plight of women. I just read "The Chrysanthemums". To those suffering during the Great Depression, he tried, but noble was not a good choice of words to those burdened beyond their strength but still did whatever they needed to do to survive. Most were women, not men. Many men wandered during that time, and many women fed them and gave them shelter as they moved from place to place. The women kept our country together and the children fed.

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David Dodd July 24, 2010 @ 6:54 p.m.

@ #8: You know I totally agree. My grandmother might have well as been Ma Joad. Remind me to tell you her story sometime, it was awesome.

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nan shartel July 24, 2010 @ 10:26 p.m.

Grantie everyone wandered during the depression...more kids hobo on freight trains then adults...many times the men left to look for work and never return their heart broken because they couldn't find any

i would like to hear about ur grandmum refried...i hope u write a blog about her soon

Roosevelt saved this country...i wish he was around now...he created jobs where there were none...instead of Unemployment these guys and gals could do city and state improvement work like they did in the 30's

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nan shartel July 24, 2010 @ 10:28 p.m.

like the CCC did...lots of country improvement occurred because of them

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Fred Williams July 25, 2010 @ 12:55 a.m.

To anyone who doesn't like this article, you "may go to Hell and f--k spiders"!

Great article. Great story. Greatest quote!

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MsGrant July 25, 2010 @ 12:43 p.m.

I'd like to hear about both of your grandmas, nan and RFG. It had to have been an awful feeling, to be a man who wants to provide for his family and cannot find any work. People literally died from having their dignity taken away from them. Kids orphaned, left to fend for themselves. Some of this is happening again today. Wall Street has a way of doing that. Maybe it's time to tear down "The Wall".

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David Dodd July 25, 2010 @ 1:14 p.m.

I will certainly write about mine. It's the least I can do. She should have been immortal. All women like her should be immortal. They hoist the World on their shoulders and think nothing of it.

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Jeff Smith July 26, 2010 @ 11:50 a.m.

Refried: If you're going to write the story, then WRITE IT! All day I hear people talking the talk: "I'm gonna write this, I'm writin' that, and it'll be soooooo great," and they talk the idea to death. I don't make demands (unlike some bloggers), but I will say, if the story means that much to you, then WALK THE DAMN WALK. Jeff

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MsGrant July 26, 2010 @ 12:01 p.m.

Refried always walks the walk!! He just wrote an amazing story about a dear friend of his. He said he would, and he did.

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David Dodd July 26, 2010 @ 12:08 p.m.

Well now Jeff, I write PLENTY! Of course, there has to be a context to write this around, and I usually let my head play with a story for a few weeks before attempting it. And, of course, the usual amount of conceit has to work its way into everything or I feel like I haven't done an honest job.

And my demand of you, of course, is simply a high compliment, a term of endearment. Having spent a great deal of time in my youth reading about the early stories of Mexican California, your works in the Reader are quite special to me.

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David Dodd July 26, 2010 @ 12:14 p.m.

I've actually tried to write about my grandmother several times, MsGrant, and I've wound up trashing the stuff every time. It has always come off sounding like I'm making her out to be something she wasn't. Maybe by now I've matured enough as a writer to actually pull it off. I reckon we'll see.

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Jeff Smith July 26, 2010 @ 12:15 p.m.

Refrito: okay, then. I'll call off the Paragraph Police (who rankle when they hear loose talk of writing this or that). J.

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nan shartel July 26, 2010 @ 1:04 p.m.

ya know Refried...ur work is more then just factoids...it's ur soul unraveling brilliantly (hey i like that word) for those of us who treasure reading u

do not listen to these peeps who prompt u to be something other then the writing artist u r

jsmith..be patient...and u'll be glad u have been

Monday mornin' hello RF and Grantie..chin up mi amigo!!!

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MsGrant July 26, 2010 @ 1:11 p.m.

Top o' the afternoon to you, Nan!! I must say, it's a brilliant day!!

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