by Richard Senate
Remarkable as it is to imagine, once what is today Ventura County was listed as part of the newly formed Territory of Colorado. No, not the present state of Colorado but a newly formed southerly section, split off from the State of California in 1859 and designated as the “Territory of Colorado.” This was one of many plans to break California into two or more sections that started in Mexican Times and continues to this very day. This attempt came closest to success in the chaos of the approaching Civil War and was the brainchild of a remarkable Californian named Andre Pico, the younger brother of Pio Pico, the last Mexican Governor of California under the Mexican Republic. Andre Pico was the owner of the San Fernando Valley.
In the Mexican-American War of 1846-8 he commanded the Mexican California Militia lancers and pro-Mexican Native Americans at the Battle of San Pasqual. He was serving as acting governor when he surrendered to Col. John C. Fremont at the Treaty of Cahuenga pass ending the fighting in California. Andre Pico became an American citizen with full rights and served as member of the California Constitutional convention in Monterrey that formed the new State in 1850.
Andre Pico put forth a Bill in the Assembly to split off the southern counties of the state at the 36th parallel as “the territory of Colorado.” He sighted cultural differences between the peoples of the north and south. The act was passed in 1859 and a local referendum held where 75% of the Southern California voters supported the action. The Governor John B. Weller (a Douglas Democrat) signed the “Pico Bill” and sent it to Washington DC.
The election of 1860 disrupted everything. The New Republican Party put forth “Honest Abe” Lincoln, as the Democrats split into two parties, supporting Douglas and the firebrand secessionist Breckenridge (had the Democrats stayed united, they would have beaten Lincoln and perhaps delayed the Civil War). Republicans in California won the state by less than a thousand votes, Southern California went for Breckenridge with Santa Barbara County (Ventura was part of Santa Barbara at the time) going for Douglas. (Ventura cast all her votes for Lincoln). The looming Civil War and attempts at peace caused the Pico Bill to die in Congress.. When fighting, started after the shelling of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, Andre Pico and other supporters swore allegiance to Abe Lincoln and the Union and the movement to split California became another footnote in history. But such an action could well have changed the history of the west.