Lecture on Gen. Vallejo set for Mission San Francisco Solano

“Vallejo had different ideas (than historian H.H. Bancroft) about the cultural values underlying Mexican California, which were often deprecated by the ‘Yankee’ settlers,” said Kim Bancroft, great-great granddaughter of Bancroft.|

The contentious relationship between Gen. Mariano Guadulupe Vallejo and prominent historian Hubert Howe (H.H.) Bancroft will be explained by Bancroft’s great-great- granddaughter during a public lecture in Sonoma this month.

Kim Bancroft, a freelance writer and an editor, will present “H.P. Bancroft and Mariano Vallejo: A Contested Friendship,” at the Mission San Francisco Solano chapel on Thursday, Jan. 18. It is part of a series of lectures offered by Sonoma Petaluma Parks.

H.H. Bancroft, a native of Granville, Ohio, came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1852 at the age of 19 and eventually developed a bookstore, publishing enterprises and a collection of Western Americana. His original collection of some 60,000 items — which includes books, maps, posters, pamphlets, government documents and oral histories — became the foundation of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

“By the mid-1870s, he realized that he could use the oral histories, or what he called ‘dictations’ of the early experiences of pioneers of all kinds as part of his collection,” Kim said.

Henry Cerruti, H.H. Bancroft’s clerk, began collecting stories of the Mexican “Californios” (Californians). His efforts — along with those of Vallejo, who collected his own stories of Californios for his own extensive history of California — are described in a chapter, “The Two Generals” in Bancroft’s 800-page autobiography, “Literary Industries.”

Vallejo, who served as an officer for the Republic of Mexico, shaped the transition of Alta California from a territory of Mexico to the U.S. state of California. He was central to Sonoma Valley history, from the time he laid out the town of Sonoma in 1835 until his death there in 1890.

“He believed that in providing his own extensive history of California to Bancroft — via weeks of dictations with Cerruti — that Bancroft would publish it in Spanish, thus providing the Mexican version of California’s history,” Kim said. “But instead, Bancroft utilized Vallejo’s stories for his own English version of those years in California’s history.

“Vallejo had different ideas about the cultural values underlying Mexican California, which were often deprecated by the ‘Yankee’ settlers.”

Kim said that when she read more deeply into the attitudes of European settlers, it became obvious how their sense of white supremacy was evident in their characterization of Mexican culture.

“For example, (there is an) overemphasis on the ‘fandango,’ or party, as a metaphor for Mexican peoples’ laissez-faire way of life, indicating that taking it easy was supposedly more important than using the resources at their fingertips,” she said. “That’s just one example of unfair judgments by whites, with many much harsher.”

She said that Vallejo had something to prove in defending his people from the negative depictions he saw and heard.

“He didn’t like that Bancroft took his story and put it to his own purposes,” she said. “He was also a victim, like many Californios, of losing their land. He had many reasons to be bitter, not only toward Bancroft, but toward many Yankees — except the ones that his daughters married!”

Kim said that H.H. Bancroft liked to believe that his relationship with Vallejo was good, but that it actually was contested.

She decided to condense “Literary Industries” into a more readable 250 pages. It was published by Heyday Books in 2014.

Her presentation in Sonoma will be based on the extensive research by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert Senkewicz, who show how H.H. Bancroft essentially took advantage of Vallejo’s trust.

Born in New York City, Kim received a bachelor’s degree in English in Stanford University, with a minor in women’s studies. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in English and a teaching credential from San Francisco State University as well as a doctorate in social and cultural studies from the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley.

“From the time I left college, I worked in various educational setting for 30 years, including working with children in a shelter for battered women, developmentally disabled children in a junior high school and in a high school as an aide,” Kim said.

She then taught in public high schools in San Francisco, at a language center at la Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico, in community colleges, at a charter school and in the School of Education at California State University at Sacramento.

Kim said that much of her teaching revolved around helping students become better writers and critical thinkers in a multicultural context.

“As you can tell from my prior career, academic study of history seems a far cry, but in reality, I’ve always been interested in putting literature and culture in historical context,” she said. “So, if I was teaching about the Romantic poets or the Harlem Renaissance, I referred heavily to what was going on in the world of those writers.”

Similarly, Kim said she always encouraged students to connect their own personal or cultural history to the work that was being studied in their writing.

“My interest in finding a historical context was certainly inspired by having had an illustrious ancestor who was a major historian in his time,” she said. “H.H. Bancroft’s 39 volumes on the history of the Pacific West, stamped ‘Bancroft’s Works,’ were a feature of our family bookshelves and lore.”

Mission San Francisco Solano is located at 114 E. Spain St. in Sonoma. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for Bancroft’s talk, which will begin at 7 p.m. The lecture is free for Sonoma Petaluma Parks staff and docents. The cost is $5 for parks members and $10 for the general public.

Sonoma Petaluma Parks is a nonprofit organization that strives to further the awareness, preservation and interpretation of the California state historic parks in Sonoma and Petaluma for educational purposes.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.