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California and the Mexican War
The Battle of Olómpali

The Battle of Olómpali was fought on June 24, 1846 in present day Marin County, California. It was the first battle of the Mexican-American War fought in California. The skirmish began when Mexican Colonel José Castro’s forces from Monterey, under the command of Joaquín de la Torre, headed north reacting to the declaration of an independent California Republic in Sonoma ten days earlier. Near Olómpali (north of present day Novato) they met up with troops who had come from Sonoma in hopes of rescuing two American rebels who had been captured and (unbeknownst to their would-be rescuers) shot.[1]

History of Olómpali

The name Olómpali comes from the Coast Miwok language[2] and likely means southern village or southern people[3]. It is estimated to have been in existence since 500 A.D. It was a major Miwok center in 1,200 A.D. and is believed to have been one of the largest settlements in present day Marin County. There were bones found at the site that were dated six thousand years, so the estimated time is controversial. The modern history of Olómpali began with the arrival of Sir Francis Drake's freebooters in 1579[4].

Much of the site history is wrapped into the biography of Camilo Ynitia and the history of the Olompali State Historic Park.


In 1828, expansion of Mission San Rafael Arcángel, just ten miles (16 km) south of Olómpali, was underway. It is reasonable to believe that the Miwoks at Olómpali learned adobe construction methods at this time. In a letter from Padre Amoros, dated 1828, a small house is noted at Olómpali. This is the first of two adobes on the village site. It was the home of the hoipu, or head man, of Olómpali and the father of Camilo Ynitia, who was to be the last hoipu of the village. It is disputed whether the first adobe was dismantled to provide bricks for Camilo's adobe at about 1837. The second adobe, whose remains are still visible, measured 24 x 16 feet, 8 feet (2.4 m) high with 3-foot (0.91 m) thick walls. It had a thatch roof of salt marsh tulles. Its long axis is north-south. An adobe addition was made in 1840. The addition is at right angles and is attached on the west wall to form an "L" -shaped structure of three rooms. This is the only adobe home in Marin county; its remains are protected within Olompali State Historic Park.

In October 1843, General Mariano Vallejo petitioned the governor of the Mexican province of Alta California, Manuel Micheltorena, to grant 8,900 acres (36 km2) to Camilo Ynitia, who had become a Christian. The site of the village became known as Rancho Olómpali.

Ynitia traded wheat with the Russians at Fort Ross and livestock with the Mexicans at Sonoma. He was the only native American holding both Mexican and U.S. government land grants in northern California. Ynitia was a cultural link between the California Indians and the Californios. He was respected as being "fine, intelligent, shrewd, clean-cut, capable, and punctual".

The Battle Itself

During the "Bear Flag Revolt", on June 24 1846, the "Battle of Olómpali" occurred when a violent skirmish broke out between a troop of American Bear Flaggers from Sonoma led by Henry Ford, and a Mexican force of 50 from Monterey, under the command of Joaquin de la Torre, at Ynitia's adobe. This was the only engagement of the Bear Flag Revolt. Bear Flaggers attempted to seize horses from a corral of Californios, who were planning to recapture Sonoma from the Americans who had taken it earlier that week. Two Californios were killed and some wounded.[5]

United States

After California was annexed by the United States following the Mexican War, many land grant holders were forced off their lands by the new government. In 1852 Ynitia sold most of his land to James Black, who later became one of the largest landowners in Marin county.

The history of Rancho Olómpali then became entangled in the lives of James Black, his daughter, Mary, and his daughter's husband, Dr. Galen Burdell, see Olompali State Historic Park.


1. Bernard DeVoto. The Year of Decision: 1846 Boston: Little Brown, 1943, p. 227.
2. "Miwok Indian Tribe". Access Genealogy. Retrieved on 2008-01-13.
3. Olómpali State Historical Park brochure
4. Bear Flag Rising - The Conquest of California, 1846 by Dale L. Walker, A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1999
5. Josiah Royce, California, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2002, p. 63


Posted 1 April 2009

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