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Pio Pico - Last Governor of Mexican California

Don Pio Pico in later years. Photo by Schumaker, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Pio de Jesus Pico (1801-1894) was born at the Mission San Gabriel to one of the earliest families in Los Angeles. Ethnically, being of African, Indian and European descent, he foreshadowed the diverse ethnic quilt of the future Los Angeles.

Pico was the last governor of Mexican Alta California before its surrender and final absorption into the United States. His terms as governor were for a very brief period in 1832 and again from March 1845 to July 1846. As governor of Alta California, he moved the provincial capital to Los Angeles. One of the key events during his administration was the finalization of the secularization of California’s missions.

Pico was aghast at the growing number of American immigrants in his province. In 1846, he called for leading citizens to convene in Santa Barbara where he stated:

"We find ourselves suddenly threatened by hordes of Yankee [American] emigrants, who have already begun to flood into our country and whose progress we cannot arrest….Shall we remain supine while these daring strangers are overrunning our fertile plains and gradually outnumbering and displacing us? Shall these incursions go on unchecked, until we shall become strangers in our own land? We cannot successfully oppose them by our own unaided power; and the swelling tide of immigration renders the odds against us more formidable every day."
--A Tour of Duty in California, by Joseph Warren Revere, published by C.S. Francis & Co., 1849


Despite having laws that threatened deportation if American immigrants would not adopt Mexican citizenship and become Catholics, Pico felt powerless to stop the tide. Foreseeing no good outcome to the American influx and frustrated by Mexico City’s inattention, Pico suggested that a French or English annexation might be more acceptable to the Mexican Californian or Californio way of life. Pico's efforts to negotiate annexation by a European power, however, was vehemently opposed by Mariano Vallejo, a Californio military commander and influential leading citizen who was more favorable to the Americans.


Home of Pico House in Whittier at Pio Pico State Historic Park. Courtesy of California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Pico's fears became more real when American troops invaded California in 1846. Unable to obtain a commitment of troops from Mexico City and only able to muster a hundred poorly-armed militiamen, he determined the situation to be near hopeless and decided to flee south. He apparently felt that the Americans would not treat him kindly. Before leaving, he rapidly sold off 12 million acres of public land (including Catalina Island) at ridiculously low prices to raise money for the war and keep as much land out of the hands of Americans as possible. This did nothing, however, to enrich himself.

Pio Pico 1847

Portrait of Pio Pico, 1847. Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.

In 1848, after Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States, Pico returned to his home in Los Angeles. Here he lived as a private citizen, rancher, businessman, hotel owner, and Los Angeles City Councilman. He owned the ranch Rancho de Bartolo or "El Ranchito" in modern-day Whittier (now represented by Pio Pico State Park) and a large home overlooking the Los Angeles Plaza. In 1870, he built Pico House that, for its time, was the largest and most luxurious hotel in Southern California and center of local society. A flood destroyed his beloved El Ranchito in 1884, forcing him to mortgage his remaining properties in order to rebuild.


Pico House at El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Monument. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

Pico’s love for gambling eventually led him to lose everything. When loan sharks took possession of the last of his properties, Pico ended up living on charity and with his daughter Joaquina Pico Moreno. He died in poverty at the age of 93.

Pico and his wife Ygnacia (Nachita Alvarado de Pico) are buried at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead El Campo Santo Cemetery in the City of Industry.

* A Tour of Duty in California, by Joseph Warren Revere, published by C.S. Francis & Co., 1849


Burial tomb at El Campo Santo Cemetery at Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum for Pio and Maria Ygnacia Pico. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.