Campo de Cahuenga re-enactment recalls pact that helped create California

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. —  One of California’s most historic sites came alive Sunday with a colorful re-enactment of the 1847 signing of the Articles of Capitulation, which ended hostilities here for the duration of the Mexican-American War.

Campo de Cahuenga, which is across from Universal City Studios, has been called the “most important historic landmark west of the Mississippi” because it was here that one of the final acts of America’s conquest of California was staged. The site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also symbolizes the completion of the United States’ expansion westward from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, according to historians.

Sponsored by the Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Association, the 64th annual re-enactment included lively Flamenco and Mexican folkloric dancers, the thunderous firing of the Howitzer cannon and memorial wreath presentations. Historic artifacts also were displayed.

“It was an honorable settlement to ending the war,” said Deuk Perrin, president of the Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Association, before the ceremony. “Mexico couldn’t hold onto the territories any longer. It was too far and the central government had other worries. ... That’s why there was this unrest that was happening (among the Spanish-speaking Californios) and that’s why the U.S. decided they would build there.”

The Articles of Capitulation was the result of two nations coming together to make peace and find a settlement for the territory, Perrin said.

“What fundamentally happened is that two sovereign nations met here in 1847 — one was Catholic Mexico and the other was the Protestant U.S.,” Cary Adams, another association board member, told people. “Those two countries didn’t always get along too well but what they decided when they got here is that they were going to create a great state of California. In a sense, you can say two nations created a state.”

The agreement that was signed here essentially created “the foundation of California,” he said, and ended the Mexican-American War in this part of the state.

Several historic figures in the momentous signing of the Articles of Capitulation, sometimes called the Campo de Cahuenga Treaty, were portrayed by actors in period costumes at Sunday’s event.

Among them was Doña Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, a widow with at least four sons who met privately with Lt. Col. John C. Fremont after he drove through her town and essentially negotiated the agreement. Fremont was the American military officer and explorer sent by U.S. President James K. Polk to lead an expedition to help them acquire territory in the Southwest.

“I didn’t want my sons to die in a needless war so I asked for five minutes to talk to Fremont at the hotel in Santa Barbara and I got to talk to him for two hours,” Dona Bernarda, who was dressed in a deep red Spanish-style dress and mantilla and was played by Kathleen Rabago of Montebello, told a captive audience.

“I won’t tell you what happened between us — that’s between me and him — however, I did negotiate for him to meet with (General) Andres (Pico) here at this location and there are two plaques with my name” at the site.

After Fremont indicated to Pico, head of the Mexican forces, that he would consider an armistice with conciliatory terms at Campo de Cahuenga, the two drafted the agreement and later met on the porch of the Mission Adobe at the Cahuenga Rancho and Fremont accepted Pico’s sword.

“This was the moment when California, as we know it, really was born,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian said. “When we saw these Articles of Capitulation being signed and saw the generous terms Col. Fremont gave to Gen. Pico, it was an indication, I think, of the commitment they had then to build the California we get to enjoy living in now, a state that is rich with cultural diversity, a state that recognizes the strength of all those who contribute to it.”

Fremont was later appointed governor of the territory and went on to become one of the new state of California’s first two U.S. senators.

The re-enactment used a wooden table that was actually in the original adobe at the time and is said to be the same table used for the actual signing of the agreement.

Jarrell C. Jackman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, said the reenactment “was good living history.” Not only was it among “the best I’ve ever seen — well acted,” he said, but it seemed to be historically accurate.

Brenda Martinez and her husband Robert Negrete of Atwater Village brought their 20-month-old son, Roberto, to the event. Although Negrete had read about the Articles of Capitulation in high school, this was the first time he visited the Campo de Cahuenga site for the reenactment ceremony.

“It’s interesting to come out and see the costumes and to have some history in L.A.,” Negrete said. “People complain that L.A. has no history but, you know, we do.”

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