During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), a future Union General of the U.S. Civil War, W. T. Sherman, was stationed in various locations around the California front. Sherman’s main base was at Monterey, but he also traveled up and down the Saunas River and ventured into the wooded foothills of the Gavillano Mountain.
In that mountainous location, Sherman and his party found shelter in the home of a Señor Gomez. The man lived in a two-story adobe home with a fenced-in front yard. The U.S. soldiers arrived at Gomez’s property just as dusk began to fall. Señor Gomez was sitting down for dinner when Sherman and his companions tethered their horses to the fence around the front of the home.
Gomez invited the soldiers into his home and divided the meal (luckily a large portion) between himself and his guests. Sherman eagerly received a dish of rabbit, slathered in a wonderful-smelling red sauce. As an east coast American, Sherman, who had been born in Ohio and was later stationed in the U.S. southern states, believed the red sauce to be derived from tomatoes. Without any caution, Sherman gulped down a large spoonful of the rabbit in the sauce, expecting a taste of mild and watery tomato paste. The horrifying realization only occurred after the sauce was swallowed—it was pure red pepper. Here are Sherman’s own words on the embarrassing situation:
“The allowance, though ample for one, was rather short for three, and I thought the Spanish grandiloquent politeness of Gomez, who was fat and old, was not over-cordial. However, down we sat, and I was helped to a dish of rabbit, with what I thought to be an abundant sauce of tomato. Taking a good mouthful, I felt as though I had taken liquid fire; the tomato was chile colorado, or red pepper, of the purest kind. It nearly killed me, and I saw Gomez’ eyes twinkle, for he saw that his share of supper was increased—I contented myself with bits of the meat, and an abundant supply of tortillas.”
- Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman by W. T. Sherman. Delaware: Renaissance Classics, 2012.