Women's History Month: Who is Doña Bernarda Ruiz (1802–1880)?
How Did a Woman Help End the War in California
As the mother of a son born during the Vietnam War, I can understand a mother's apprehension about her son one day entering the war arena. For me, I was terrified. Boys I had grown up with were killed or maimed in war. I would have done anything to keep him safe, as would most mothers. However, Bernarda Ruiz trumped anything I could even imagine, especially since she accomplished what many men could not and she was a woman in the mid-1800s.
A trip back in time
During this time period, the US and Mexico was at war over land each felt ownership. Los Angeles was considered significantly important due to its position on the southern end of the west coast. Of course, the military came in and established control over the area and other strategic locations as well. Problems arose when they became a bit too heavy-handed with the locals.
Californios, Mexicans living in California, had recently fought against Mexican federales who they felt were unfair to them. For the most part, California was a free republic when the US military arrived. Thus, they were not too happy losing the autonomy so recently won and were ready to fight against the new aggressors, even to the point of joining forces with the Mexican army.
As fighting continued in many parts of southern California, US General Fremont brought his troops to Santa Barbara. There he met Doña Bernarda Ruiz.
Who was Bernarda?
Bernarda was an educated young widow with many children, four of them sons. Her sons and she ran a mail delivery service. She was a well-connected and respected member of her community--Santa Barbara. Distressed by the turmoil, especially since her sons decided to fight, she bravely sought out Fremont.
What did she do?
Using her best diplomatic skills, Bernarda convinced Fremont that it would benefit him to make a fair peace with Californios saying, "Would it not be better to make thousands of loyal allies rather than to create a host of potential assassins waiting to kill him?"
Through her connections, she suggested terms of a treaty and brought the two sides together to sign it. She did this by meeting with General Andrés Pico privately informing him or her agreement with Fremont. Pico agreed to meet with Fremont and on January 13, 1847 with Bernarda as witness, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed, essentially ending the war in California. Equally important, this treaty was the template used for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the war between Mexico and the United States.