September marks 125 years since the passing of Pio Pico, a Black “Californio” – the term used to describe Hispanic natives of the Californias. Pico was the last sitting governor of Mexican California before the region ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.
Pio de Jesus Pico was born May 5, 1801 in Alta California, a region that was a province of New Spain before becoming a Mexican territory in 1822. Pico’s mother was a “Mulata” – a mixed person of African heritage. His father was a “Mestizo” – a person of Native American and Spanish heritage. Pico’s mother was reportedly linked to the “Pobladores,” the 44 settlers of African, Mexican and Native American descent that founded what is now known as Los Angeles.
Pico rose to prominence after briefly serving as a soldier in the Mexican Army. By way of a grant and other business ventures, he was able to obtain a massive ranch totaling nearly 9,000 acres and became a successful rancher. With his wealth and business ties, Pico involved himself into politics and was elected governor of Alta California in 1845, serving just one year. Accounts state that Pico was not as savvy politically as he was in ranching.
When the southern Mexican territories were ceded to the United States, Pico fled to Mexico briefly but returned to Southern California and became an American citizen. He later opened a lavish three-story hotel in Los Angeles in 1868.
Reports say that Pico was mishandling his money due to a gambling habit which also caused him to be swindled out of his fortune. By the 1890s, Pico’s wealth had all but diminished and he died in poverty on September 11, 1894, unable to combat America’s conquest of Mexican California
Pico Boulevard, a major roadway in Los Angeles, is named after the governor.
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