Eccentric Dr. Edward Bale wins by losing
First of two parts
Dr. Edward Turner Bale made a splash upon arrival in Mexican California in 1837 as one of the few who made it to shore when the British sailing ship "H.M.S. Harriett" was wrecked on the rocks entering Monterey Bay.
Born in 1810, Bale came from a large but financially modest family. After obtaining the minimal training available to would-be physicians and surgeons to be allowed to practice medicine, he signed on as the ship's physician with the owners of the Harriett.
This position would provide an income without requiring him to build a practice, would increase his experience and open up a career in the new world for an ambitious 27-year-old without connections to wealthy patients or institutions, and without a degree in medicine.
In Monterey, the California provincial capital, Bale soon ingratiated himself with Mariano Vallejo, who had recently been sent to Sonoma to establish a pueblo under civil control. Vallejo's charge was also to secularize the San Francisco de Solano mission and to command the military in California. Vallejo, desperate for a medical man to serve his troops, appointed Bale "surgeon in chief" of the Mexican army in California. As an additional convenience and source of income, Bale was granted a local license to conduct a pharmacy in Monterey.
It soon became apparent that the congenial physician regularly swilled snorts of whiskey and wine, but claimed he never let his imbibing interfere with the performance of his medical tasks. In easy-going California that could be overlooked, but when it was discovered that Bale's pharmacy was selling liquor, which was specifically prohibited under the terms of his drugstore license, he was fined and his license was put in jeopardy.
Nevertheless, Bale began courting teenager Maria Ygnazia Soberanes, daughter of Mariano Vallejo's sister, Maria Isadora Vallejo and her husband, Mariano Soberanes. As family patriarch, Vallejo gave his permission to the marriage of Dr. Bale and Mariano's niece, Maria.
Immediately after Bale converted to Catholicism, he and Maria Soberanes were wed on March 21, 1839. Then Bale and his youthful bride moved to Sonoma where Vallejo was headquartered.
Once in the Valley, it did not take long for Bale to get his ego in a twist and find himself in big trouble.
He soon interpreted uncle Salvador Vallejo's hug of his niece, Maria Bale, as an unwanted sexual advance. The doctor was quick to call Salvador a lecher to anyone who would listen. Salvador, something of a hot-head himself, responded by attacking Bale with a bullwhip. The abashed Bale was prepared to turn this confrontation into a full-scale feud, so he fetched his pistol and went hunting for the younger Vallejo.
Spotting Salvador as he walked along a Sonoma street with Mexican pioneer Cayetano Juarez, Bale fired twice, missing Salvador, but giving Juarez a superficial wound. Bale quickly mounted his horse and rode out of town. He was tracked down by Chief Solano, who often acted as a marshal for Mariano Vallejo, and was delivered to Alcalde José Berryessa.
Thanks to the intervention of the British consul in Monterey on behalf of English-born Bale, charges against him were dropped on orders from Mexican Gov. Manuel Micheltorena. However, Sonoma was not the healthiest home base for Bale.
So in June 1841, General Vallejo worked out a land grant for the Bales in Napa Valley, consisting of 17,962 acres between Calistoga and modern-day Yountville. The property was named Rancho Carne Humana (translation: "human flesh"), and the Bales were able to take immediate possession, the good doctor having officially become a Mexican citizen in March 1841.
Besides ranching, Bale built a sawmill with Indian labor on the Napa River and a small grist mill to grind wheat into flour for grain growers in the area.
In 1845 he began construction of a larger grist mill, using American builders paid with real property. The new mill was particularly powerful because the water source, Mill Creek, was engineered to flow through ditches and a wooden flume to fall from a height onto the paddles of the waterwheel which turned the heavy grinding stones. The mill also became a community center in the St. Helena and Calistoga growing agricultural regions.
The Bale Mill was completed in early 1846 and was in full operation when 20 American rebels rendezvoused there in June 1846 and were joined by 13 more recruits, mostly friends of Bale. From the mill they rode over the hills to capture Sonoma and its leaders, including the Vallejo brothers. This time it would be the Vallejos who were going to be arrested - by the Bear Flaggers of the 25-day California Republic.
Besides the prosperity gained from raising cattle and, especially, operating the mill, Bale was always looking for a means to increase his wealth. He was caught up in the gold fever in 1848 and headed for the mining fields in the Sierra Nevada. There he supposedly contracted one of the epidemics that swept the goldfields and could not shake it, despite his personal medical knowledge, since it was probably stomach cancer. He declined and died on Oct. 9, 1849, aged 41, leaving a young widow with underage sons and daughters, including Caroline Bale.
The Bale land grant and his mills would be the scene of the continuing saga of pioneer life that has influenced the continuing history of Sonoma and Napa Valleys in the 160 years since the passing of the erratic Bale.
In the next episode Charles Krug enters center stage.