Two men who would feature in Santa Clarita Valley history — as allies — held opposing loyalties during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
Both Andrés Pico (as in Pico Canyon) and Edward F. "Ned" Beale (Beale's Cut, Tejon Ranch) played significant roles in the December 1846 Battle of San Pasqual, fought in proximity to an active Kumeyaay Indian village near the present city of Escondido in San Diego County. Bedrock mortars are found throughout the hills surrounding the battlefield, where a California State Historic Park visitors center tells the story of the battle and the broader war (in English and Spanish) and of the indigenous Kumeyaay people.
Pico, commander of Mexican forces in California and brother of the governor, routed the remnants of Stephen W. Kearny's Army of the West, who now numbered only 100 men after Kearny (pronounded "Carney") sent most of his troops home two months earlier in the mistaken belief the war was over. It was a costly error that led to one of the war's bloodiest battles. With wet gunpowder as a rainy night dissolved into a misty morning, Kearny's weary troops were no match for Pico's men who, expert in the use of the lariat and lance from capturing grizzly bears for bull-and-bear fights, used the same skills to dismount and dispatch the Americans. Kearny lost either 21 or 22 men, depending on the source, including those who later succumbed to their wounds, versus maybe one casualty for Pico.
Kearny himself was wounded in the battle, as was the despised Archibald Gillespie, whose ruthlessness at Los Angeles had provoked the latest Californio uprising. (If not for Gillespie, Kearny might have been right: the war might have been over.) The scout Alexander Godey and two other Americans were captured, as was one soldier on Pico's side.
Enter midshipman Ned Beale, who with a contingent of about 20 fighting men and a heavy gun had been sent just prior to the battle by Commodore Robert Stockton, commander of the U.S. Navy at San Diego, to assist Kearny. Beale negotiated a prisoner exchange with Pico (who refused to let Godey go). This was probably the first time Beale and Pico met.
Kearny was determined to press on to San Diego, just 35 miles distant. Pico was equally determined to stop him. Beale carried a message through enemy lines from Kearny to Stockton soliciting reinforcements. The escapade, which Beale made with his Delaware Indian man-servant and the scout Kit Carson, whom Kearny had controversially enlisted, soon achieved legendary proportions as the party reportedly walked barefoot through prickly pear cactus and crawled on their bellies within 20 yards of enemy positions. It also enshrined Beale as the "Hero of San Pasqual."
The message received, Stockton sent reinforcements, and a month later Pico capitulated to U.S. Gen. John Fremont at Cahuenga, across the street from today's Universal City.
The History of the Battle of San Pasqual
The Battle of San Pasqual took place on December 6, 1846 between the United States forces led by Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny and Californios led by Major Andrés Pico. This battle was only one of the military encounters in California in the U.S.-Mexican War, but it proved to be the bloodiest and the one with the most controversial outcome.
To conquer California for the United States, the Army of the West had marched in June-1846 from Fort Leavenworth, in what is now Kansas, across the southern desert where they endured the lack of water, lack of food, and poor condition of their cavalry mounts.
A few days out of Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico, Brigadier General Kearny received erroneous word that California was in American hands and all was secure on the Pacific Coast.
Because of this misinformation, he sent two-thirds of his men back to Santa Fe and continued westward with a force of 100 men. The eastward bound scout, Kit Carson, was pressed into service as a guide for the army troops as they progressed onward.
The journey across the barren desert took its toll on the men and their mounts. When they finally encamped at Santa Maria (now Ramona) on the night of December 5, 1846, they were hungry, exhausted, and stiff from the cold and rain.
Nearby, a Californio force, led by Major Andrés Pico, had encamped at the Native American pueblo of San Pasqual. News of the Californios' presence was brought to Brigadier General Kearny, who sent a nighttime reconnaissance patrol to investigate the Californios' camp. Unfortunately, the presence of the patrol became known because of noises it made. Alerted to the possibility of attack, the Californios prepared for battle.
At dawn on a cold, rainy December 6th, the U.S. Troops rode over the hills between Santa Maria (now Ramona) and San Pasqual to face the Californios in the valley below.
In the resulting battle, the Californios' lances proved to be an overwhelming advantage over the U.S. troops' sabers (cavalry sword) and carbines (rifle) with dampened gunpowder. Eighteen soldiers were killed during the battle; three others died later of wounds, and one was missing in action. Pico reported that only one Californio was killed. This figure is controversial.
That night, the U.S. forces buried their dead, bound up their wounded, then tried to continue to San Diego the next morning. They were stopped just past Rancho San Bernardo at what came to be called Mule Hill (just above Lake Hodges). There they were besieged by the Californios until the morning of December 11th when additional troops arrived from San Diego to rescue them. The Californios departed when they sighted the U.S. relief column.
The Army of the West, wounded and bedraggled, finally reached San Diego on December 12, 1846.
Beale and Carson Hailing Stockton's Flagship
Monumental sculpture by Isadore Konti, 1910
Fabricated at the Gorham foundry in New York
An Incident of the Mexican War.
The army sent from Santa Fe to occupy California was met and defeated by the Mexicans at San Pasquale. The American forces were driven upon a butte in the desert, on which there was no water and there surrounded by the Mexican forces. Edward F. Beale and Kit Carson, both famous explorers of the West, volunteered to get through the Mexican lines and get reinforcements from Stockton's fleet at San Diego They succeeded in crawling past three cordons of Mexican sentries in the night, and by hiding in ravines in the day and traveling by night they reached Stockton's fleet after enduring great hardships.
Born in Vienna to Hungarian parents, Konti (1862-1938) entered the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts at 16, studied in Rome, and returned to Austria as an architectural sculptor. He moved to America (Chicago) in time to create works for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, then relocated to New York and sculpted for the 1900 Pan American Exposition, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
San Pasqual Battlefield (Overlook Sign)
An Historic Battle: California's bloodiest skirmish of the Mexican-American war was fought in the valley below in the pre-dawn darkness of December 6, 1846. It was here that General S.W. Kearny led United States soldiers against Captain A. Pico's Californios in the Battle of San Pasqual. Although the U.S. lost more soldiers, both sides claimed victory. Kumeyaay oral traditions say American losses would have been greater without their help.
Home of the Kumeyaay: For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay ancestors of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians lived in this region. Significant sites on the landscape held importance for them and were featured in legends and stories. Today several hundred Kumeyaay still live in and near their ancestral homeland.
San Pasqual's name may have come from a Native American word meaning "green valley," or from a Spanish term for holy days. Another possible origin is the traditional Spanish practice of naming places for saints — in this case, Saint Pascal, or San Pascual. After 1846, the Americans kept the name but changed the spelling. The name spelled "Pascual" by the Spanish and Mexicans became "Pasqual" to the Americans.
Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1921 and began reforms to weaken the overly powerful army and church. In California, now under Mexican rule, local citizens clamored for secularization of the missions — transfer of church property to private ownership. The church had intended to distribute mission lands among the Indians after 10 years, but more than 50 years had passed. The Indians were still dependent on the missions, and other people wanted the land.
Secularization of the 21 California missions began in 1834. The vast mission lands were divided into privately owned ranchos; mission cattle were butchered and sold; and more than 15,000 Indians were left homeless.
After the United States declared war on Mexico in May of 1846, Colonel — soon to be General — Stephen Watts Kearny received orders to organize an army to take New Mexico and California. Hundreds of eager volunteers joined Kearny at Fort Leavenworth, and the dragoons set out to drill them into soldiers. A lieutenant watched dubiously:
"I suppose that when they become disciplined — if they ever do become disciplined — they will make tolerably good soldiers. The raw material is good enough, but then it is, in truth, very raw."
When the full Army of the West, some 1,600 men, assembled at Bent's Fort, a young woman wrote in her diary, "The Fort is crowded to overflowing. Col. Kearny has arrived and it seems the world is coming with him.
General Kearny and the Army of the West marched into Santa Fe on August 18, took New Mexico without bloodshed, set up a territorial government, then prepared for the long march to California. Captain Benjamin Moore looked at the road ahead and wrote to his father:
"We have a march before us of 1,300 or 1,400 miles and almost a desert from the beginning to the end of the journey. From all accounts, it is a very severe trip on account of the scarcity of water, grass and game. Some say we will never get through, but I know better."
Leaving most of his troops in Santa Fe, Kearny and 300 dragoons on mules headed west on September 25. A short way out, they met Kit Carson bringing news of California's successful conquest. Kearny sent two-thirds of his dragoons back, and continued on with 100 dragoons, officers, aides, Lieutenant William H. Emory's topographical engineers, and Carson as guide.
Crossing the barren deserts and mountains took over two months. Even the hardy mules dropped from starvation and exhaustion. Just before reaching Warner's Ranch, Kearny's small, weary force learned that the Californios had revolted. They were entering a territory still at war.
California's government, split between Governor Pio Pico in Los Angeles and General Jose Castro in Monterey, united against the Americans. Lacking funds to raise, arm or supply an army, however, the leaders could not rally the reluctant population. Many California-born citizens considered themselves Californios more than Mexicans and offered only half-hearted support of the distant government's war. As the Americans took town after town, Pico and Castro left for Mexico rather than remain to surrender.
After its capture in August, Los Angeles was put under the oppressive Captain Archibald Gillespie. His tyrannical rule angered Los Angeles citizens, who overthrew the American garrison in September. The successful revolt encouraged Californios to mobilize and form a new army under Captain Jose Maria Flores. When Flores was named acting governor and general, Mexican California was again unified under one leader and ready to fight.
By late 1846, most Southern California men were under military orders, but fewer than 200 could be armed and kept in active service. They were divided into three groups: one guarding against Fremont in the north; one around Los Angeles; and the third, under Andrés Pico, keeping watch over the American garrison at San Diego.
Guns and gunpowder were scarce, so the Californios relied on lances and swords, deadly weapons in the hands of these skilled horsemen. Adept lancers aimed for an enemy's side, where they could inflict a severe wound without losing the lance.
On December 3, Captain Gillespie and a company of volunteers rode out from San Diego to meet Kearny. Assuming the Americans were on a foraging expedition, Captain Andrés Pico followed, intending to waylay the hated Gillespie on his return. Pico and about 80 men spent the cold, rainy night of December 5 in the Indian village of San Pascual, near the road they expected Gillespie to travel.
Gillespie brought Kearny news of Pico's presence at San Pascual and Commodore Robert F. Stockton's suggestion, "If you see fit, endeavor to surprise them." With his men eager for action, and Kit Carson's assurance that Californios would not fight, Kearny planned an attack, expecting an easy victory. On the night of December 5, Kearny sent a scouting party to San Pascual while the rest of his trail-weary troops shivered under wet blankets and awaited the call to arms.
December 6, 1846
In the middle of the night, a dog's barking and the sound of hordes and clanking swords awoke the Californio camp at San Pasqual. Pico sent out a patrol which found a dragoon's jacket and a U.S. army blanket. With clear evidence of the enemy presence, the Californios rounded up their horses and prepared for an attack.
Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond reported back to Kearny, admitting that his scouting party had alerted Pico. Although the chance for surprise was lost, the general held to his plan of attack. Leaving part of his force to follow with the baggage, Kearny and about 85 men rode through the dark to the hills overlooking San Pasqual. They arrived, wet and stiff with cold, before daybreak.
1. First Charge
In the darkness, the Californios waiting in the valley below heard the Americans descending the trail. As his men approached level ground, Kearny gave the order to trot, but Captain A.R. Johnston apparently misunderstood and shouted, "Charge!" The Americans galloped off through the morning mist toward the Californio position, the better-mounted advance guard well in the lead. When the first dragoons appeared, the Californios fired, killing Johnston instantly. After a brief skirmish, the Californios pulled back and rode half a mile or more down the valley, a ragged line of Americans in pursuit.
2. Second Charge
Suddenly the Californios wheeled about and charged their pursuers, outflanking the disorganized American column. Superior horses and horsemanship enabled the Californios to thrust their lances with deadly accuracy among the less mobile Americans. Firearms were almost useless — ammunition was damp, defective, or insufficient, and no one had time to reload. Kearny's troops swing guns as clubs and slashed with swords, but they could not escape the long reach of the lance.
In the confusion and hand-to-hand combat, men shouted while horses and mules reared and lunged. Gillespie's volunteers could barely be distinguished from Californios in the dim morning light. Lieutenant Emory fended off an attack on Kearny, saving the wounded general's life, but Lieutenant Hammond died trying to rescue his fatally injured brother-in-law, Captain Moore. Recognizing Gillespie, the Californios closed in on him, but somehow Gillespie survived the attack. More American troops, with two howitzers and a smaller gun, joined the battle. The Californios captured one of the howitzers, then withdrew from the battlefield, leaving the battered Americans to recover their dead and wounded.
The Americans remained close to the battlefield during the day while Dr. John S Griffin tended the casualties. He reported 17 dead and an equal number wounded. Later deaths from injuries brought the American toll to 22. Californio accounts vary, but they may have had one dead and a dozen more wounded; one man, Pablo Vejar, was captured.
With General Kearny disabled, Captain Henry S. Turner took command and sent messengers to San Diego seeking help. Pico's men stayed nearby and also appealed for reinforcements. After dark, the Americans buried their dead under a willow tree, then spent a cold, uncomfortable night on the rocky ground.
4. December 7, 1846
"Day dawned on the most tattered and ill-fed detachment of men that ever the United States mustered under her colors," wrote Lieutenant Emory. Kearny recovered enough to resume command, and the column slowly got underway with the wounded men on mule- or horse-drawn litters. Shadowed by Pico's troops, the Americans marched through the low hills toward San Diego.
Kearny's men had just commandeered a small herd of cattle at Rancho San Bernardo when the next attack came. One group of Californios stampeded the cattle, while another occupied a hill overlooking the road ahead. After a small party of dragoons cleared the hill, Kearny decided to halt there for the night.
5. Mule Hill
During the night, the Californios surrounded the hill, and the Americans awoke on December 8 under siege. They dug for water and killed mules for food, naming the camp Mule Hill in honor of their food supply. That day, the Californios captured the messengers returning from San Diego, then exchanged one of them for Pablo Vejar, Kearny's prisoner. Learning that San Diego could not sent help, Kit Carson, Midshipman Edward Beale, and an Indian slipped through the lines after dark to deliver a more urgent plea.
Sergeant John Cox died in the night and was buried nearby. Over the next two days, most of the wounded recovered enough to plan an escape attempt, but then a relief party finally arrived. The Americans found Pico's men gone, possibly summoned by Governor Flores. The road to San Diego was open. On December 12, General Kearny and the remnants of the Army of the West reached the end of their long march.
Within weeks, the war in California was over. A brief skirmish on the Santa Clara plain brought a truce in Northern California. In the south, the Americans won a battle at San Gabriel on January 8 and the Battle of La Mesa on January 9, then retook Los Angeles. On January 13, 1847, Andrés Pico signed the Articles of Capitulation at Cahuenga Pass. After almost 80 years of Spanish and Mexican occupation, California was in American hands.
Fallen U.S. Soldiers Monument
The State of California Honors with This Monument the American Soldiers Who, Under the Leadership of Brig.-Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, Captain Abraham R. Johnston, Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Edward F. Beale U.S.N., and Kit Carson, the Scout, Gave Their Lives in the Battles of San Pasqual Between the Americans and Mexicans, December 6-10, 1846.
Captain Abraham R. Johnston
Captain Benjamin D. Moore
Lieutenant Thos. C. Hammond
Sgt. John Cox
Corp. Wm. C. West
Pvt. Geo. Ashmead
Pvt. Jos. T. Campbell
Pvt. John Dunlop
Pvt. Wm. Dalton
Pvt. Wm. C. Leckey
Pvt. Samuel T. Rapole
Pvt. Jos. B. Kennedy
1st Sgt. Otis L. Moore
Sgt. Wm. Whitness
Corp. Geo. Ramsdale
Pvt. David W. Johnson
Pvt. Wm. C. Gholston
Pvt. Wm. H. Fiel
Pvt. Robt. S. Gregory
Pvt. Henry Baker
Pvt. Francis Menard
This Monument Erected and Dedicated in the Year 1925.
(Back:) This Battleground Donated to the State of California by Wm. G. Henshaw, Col. Ed Fletcher, E.H. Webb
Battlefield of San Pasqual
December 6, 1846
Brigadier General S.W. Kearny Commanded United States Forces
Originally Marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution of California in 1924
New Plaque Dedicated October 23, 1923
By Rincon Del Diablo Chapter & District XIV CSSDAR
While marching to the conquest and occupation of California during the Mexican war, a detachment of 1st U.S. Dragoons, under command of Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, was met on this site by native California lancers*, under the command of Gen. Andrés Pico. In this battle, fought on December 6, 1846. Severe losses were incurred by the American forces. The native Californians withdrew after Kearny had rallied his men on the field. Gallant action on the part of both forces characterized the Battle of San Pasqual, one of the significant actions during the Mexican War of 1846-1848.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 533
Plaque placed by the California State Park Commission
December 6, 1962.
* Mexican Californians (Californios), not Native Americans.