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Olompali’s Tragic History

Olompali Village

Olompali, translated from the Miwok as “southern people” or “southern village,” lies just north of Novato, directly off Highway 101. It’s a state park these days but goes way back as the site of a large Miwok village, then the only California land grant made to a Native American, then sold to a pioneer family named Burdell whose magnificent old house became a hippie commune before it burned down in the late 1960s. 

A low-down murder by Kit Carson committed near Olompali led to the Battle of Olompali between a rag tag militia of Bear Flaggers and a Mexican army force of about 50 troops. Shots were exchanged and one Mexican was killed.

John Charles Fremont (1813-1890) was an American explorer, army officer, and politician. He mapped the Oregon Trail (1843-1844), was selected as one of the first U.S. senators from California (1850), and received the Republican Party nomination as candidate for the U.S. presidency (1856) but was defeated by James Buchanan (1791-1868).

When Fremont was in the neighborhood in 1846, Olompali was the property of Camilo Ynitia, a Miwok educated at Mission San Rafael. Ynitia had obtained a land grant from the Mexicans for several thousand acres at Olompali where he successfully grew wheat and raised horses. Fremont and his U.S. Army company had made their way south from Oregon with the aim of attaching California to the United States.

General Vallejo, who had a summer place just up the road in East Petaluma but whose primary home was in Sonoma, had declared that Bernardino Four-Fingered Jack Garcia “was the wickedest man that California had produced up to that time.” Which was 1846 when Garcia, a nominal citizen of Mexico, murdered four of John Fremont’s freebooting men near modern day Sebastopol whose “bodies presented a most shocking spectacle, bearing the marks of horrible mutilation, their throats cut, and their bowels ripped open; and other indignities perpetrated of a nature too disgusting and obscene to relate.”  The indignities suffered by Fremont’s men meant they had their private parts cut off and stuffed into their mouths, a desecration that was to re-occur in the American Civil War, World War Two, and by both sides in Vietnam.

Fremont, apart from his mission to make California part of the United States, was also looking for Four-Fingered Jack to finish him off or “do him up” as murders were euphemized at the time.

When Fremont’s grizzled soldiers got to Sonoma, they were met by a motley gang of drunks and miscellaneous freebooters who had taken General Vallejo prisoner. After drinking up the general’s wine cellar, the drunks had made a flag with a rough depiction of a pig on it they said looked like a grizzly bear and had declared California independent of Mexico. This was the Bear Flag Revolt. 

Kit Carson

Kit Carson was Fremont’s premier hitman and aide de camp, and a very tough guy who once eluded the Mexican army by walking barefoot through hostile territory from Salinas to LA. Fremont and Carson were fresh off retaliatory murders of an unknown number of Klamath Indians, several of whom had attacked them one night while Fremont and Company slept near present-day Klamath Falls. Kit Carson would write that the Klamath tribes were the bravest, fiercest Indians he killed anywhere in the country, and he’d fought Indians all over the West, including the Apaches of New Mexico where Carson eventually made his home near Taos.

When Fremont got word that Four Fingered Jack and a small Californio army — native Californians loyal to Mexico — were at Olompali, Fremont made the short ride down from Sonoma hoping to avenge Four-Finger’s murders of his four men in Sebastopol. 

The twin 20-year-old De Haro brothers and their uncle, Jose de los Reyes Berryessa, memorialized today by De Haro Street on Potrero Hill in San Francisco and a Napa County lake, had rowed over from San Francisco, then still called Yerba Buena, to see what was up at Olompali, scouting the scene for the main body of Mexican troops at San Francisco under a combat-averse Californio general named Castro. Castro had sent the three to negotiate with Fremont. 

Fremont saw the trio of would-be negotiators rowing toward Point San Pablo (more or less out where the Marin County Dump is now), and dispatched Carson, Granville Swift and Sam Neal to ride out and confront the would-be negotiators when they got ashore.

Carson and two other Fremonters, on Fremont’s orders, shot and killed the two boys and their uncle as they stepped out of their rowboat. Fremont blamed Indians for the killings. The great historian of early California, George Bancroft, called the killings of the De Haros and Berryessa “cowardly.” 

Soon after commenced the Battle of Olompali on June 24th, 1846, the only fight of the Bear Flag Rebellion, a running gun battle with Fremont’s ragtag army in pursuit of Castro’s ragtag army. One Mexican, Manuel Cantua was killed.

In 1853 Ynitia deeded a portion of Olompali to his adopted daughter and her husband, John Pinkston, a freed black man, one of nine Marin County men at the time licensed to sell liquor. 

Fremont and Carson never did catch up with Four Fingered Jack, but both died celebrated as heroes for their sanguine work achieving statehood for California. 


  1. Gabriel April 1, 2023

    Our history can be savagery and gruesome at times, but I am amazed when I drive through Sonoma County, how all the names of state parks and lakes, tunnels and highways are named after people of our past.

  2. DPK April 1, 2023


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