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FAMILY: in and around the Valley | FOR THE KIDS

Reliving a Truce : Reenactment will portray signing of pact ending war with Mexico.

January 08, 1998|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most kids in California learn in the fourth grade that their state was acquired from Mexico, once upon a time. They may even remember from their history lessons that the acquisition happened exactly 150 years ago.

But do they learn how this occurred, and that an event in the Valley was decisive in the matter? On Sunday, kids can see a historical reenactment of that crucial event across from Universal Studios.

Dale Himebaugh has organized a group of "reenactors" to portray the Mexican and American historical figures who made a deal on what is now Lankershim Boulevard to stop shooting and start talking about a 500,000-square-mile land deal.

Himebaugh, a Santa Clarita businessman whose serious hobby involves donning an antique military uniform to experience past wars, will act out the role of a member of the American military contingent that accepted the surrender of the Mexican army in California on Jan. 13, 1847.

Himebaugh's group reenacted that event last January on the exact 150th anniversary and will do so again this Sunday as part of the California Sesquicentennial celebration, a 150th birthday party the state is throwing for itself. (The paperwork required for the final acquisition of California--a treaty worked out in Mexico and Washington--was signed in 1848.)

The fighting that had raged up and down the state back then, and which also involved American troops in action in central Mexico, was "wholly unpopular" in the U.S., Himebaugh says. "It started out popular because we thought it was our (American) destiny to acquire California," he explained. "But [later] people began to rant and rave, 'Why are Americans there dying?' "

The principal historical figures in Sunday's reenactment will be Lt. Col. John C. Fremont and Gen. Andres Pico, each played by actors. The proceedings will include a reading of the surrender document, the Treaty of Cahuenga, which these two officers worked out as a way to stop the bloodshed.

The event will take place at Campo de Cahuenga California State Historical site, a beautiful but hidden little park at 3919 Lankershim Blvd. There will also be fiesta dancing in period costumes.

Guy Weddington McCreary, president of the Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Assn., which is hosting the event, is also leading a movement to have the MTA subway station being built near the site named Campo de Cahuenga to commemorate the event. And he and his fellow Valley historians say there's more to the site's importance than just the end-of-the-fighting story.

Kids will probably be surprised to learn that for Fremont, the American "winner" on that occasion, the signing of the treaty was a bad career move. His political bosses thought he shouldn't have made a deal with the Mexicans and ordered him court-martialed.

Nevertheless, the U.S. forces were happy to carry on the occupation of California without worrying about being shot at by Mexican troops.

It's also little known that the American official, Nicholas Trist, who worked out the formal acquisition treaty in 1848, a year after Fremont got the fighting to stop, was also fired. But that treaty, the 150th anniversary of which will be celebrated this year, went into effect anyway.

(In the fall, PBS will broadcast a new series, "The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48)" describing that period in the manner that events from 1860-65 were covered in the network's Civil War series.)

Whether or not you attend the reenactment, the next time you're driving by the Lankershim Boulevard entrance to Universal Studios, take notice of the little park there. According to McCreary's group, it's where Americans made a deal to take over California--and also lands that are now part of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas. Quite a deal.

BE THERE

"Campo de Cahuenga Treaty Signing Reenactment," part of California's 150th birthday celebration, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 3919 Lankershim Blvd. (across from Universal Studios). Free; directions for parking will be posted. Information: (818) 762-3998.

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