Californians and the Military
José de la Guerra y Noriega
Military Commander of Santa Barbara
By Michael R. Hardwick
Don José De la Guerra y Noriega, universally known among the Californians of his time as "El Capitan", was born March 6, 1779, in the hamlet of Novales, Santander, Spain. He was the son of an old established Spanish family. As a boy he wished to be a friar. At the age of 13 José went to Mexico City to live with his maternal uncle Pedro Gonzales de Noriega, a wealthy merchant.

In 1793 he began working for Lt. Col. Manuel Cárcaba who was the first habilitado general or paymaster general of the presidial troops of the Californias. In 1798 he was appointed as a cadet at the Presidio of San Diego. In 1800, Cadet De la Guerra was made alférez or ensign of the presidial company of Monterey. From 1802 to 1807 Don José served Monterey as ensign, lieutenant, habilitado, adminstrator of mail, and in 1804 as acting comandante. In 1804 he married Antonia Carrillo, daughter of Raimundo Carrillo. In 1806 Don José was made lieutenant of the presidio "de la cannal de Santa Barbara", succeeding Don Felipe de Goycoechea. From 1807 until 1815, he served at San Diego as lieutenant, habilitado, and acting comandante. From Dec. 31, 1815, to 1827 Don José served at Santa Barbara both as lieutenant and captain, becoming captain in 1817. He succeeded José Darío Arguello, who was promoted to the governorship of Lower California. Don José became a Deputy (Diputado) to the Mexican National Congress in 1827. He served as presidio comandante at Santa Barbara until 1842, retiring after 52 years of service in the army.

By grant and purchase, José de la Guerra became owner of great tracts of land in California of over ½ million acres, extending from the southern line of San Luis Obispo County to the Southern line of the present County of Ventura. Other grants were in Marin and Sacramento Counties. Ranchos included: Simi, Las Posas, El Conejo, San Julian ("Rancho Nacional"), and Los Alamos.

Don José passed away Feb. 18, 1858 and was buried in Santa Barbara at the Old Mission.
References: Fr. Joseph A. Thompson. OFM, El Gran Capitan, José De la Guerra, Franciscan Fathers of California, Cabrera & Sons, Los Angeles, 1961
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Updated 8 February 2016