Who Was Pio Pico, The Last Governor Of Alta California?



Pio Pico is best known for being the third and final governor of Alta California, a former Mexican region that became California. He was born on May 5, 1801, in Alta California, making him a Black Californio. His father, like his brother Andres Pico, was a career soldier. His paternal grandmother was described as “mulata,” and his grandfather was described as “Mestizo.”

He moved to San Diego sometime after 1819 and served briefly as governor of Alta California in 1832. Pio Pico married Maria Ignacia Alvarado in early 1834 and began a family. While in San Diego, he pursued farming and became an extremely wealthy and influential rancher over the next several decades.


At his peak, he owned approximately 500,000 acres in the territory. His ownership of the acres became the subject of over 100 lawsuits, all of which he successfully defended.


As Alta California became an independent territory in 1845, he was re-elected governor. Prior to the Mexican-American War, he preferred the territory to be under British control rather than a part of the United States. As a result of the War, Pico would flee his position and seek refuge in Baja California. He would beg for military assistance, but to no avail.


In 1848, he returned to California following the Treaty of Guadalupe. He was elected to the Los Angeles Common Council but did not serve, instead focusing on his southern California businesses.


In 1868, Pico used his fortune to construct a large three-story hotel in Los Angeles. With 33 rooms, it was one of the city’s most opulent hotels. It had fallen on hard times by 1900 as a result of a number of factors. One major reason was that the neighborhood was deteriorating. Pico House was taken over by California in 1953 and is now an exhibition hall.

For decades, Pio Pico was the wealthiest rancher in California, known for his extravagant lifestyle. Some bad business decisions, a penchant for gambling, and being the target of schemes were just a few of the blows to his fortune. Pico had to liquidate his property by the early 1880s, and by the early 1890s, he was living in poverty.


He died on September 11, 1894, in his daughter’s home in Los Angeles. He had been approached a year before to be a part of a ‘Last of the California Dons’ exhibition but had declined, preferring to maintain his dignity in his final years.


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