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Published: January 17th 2013
LAS VEGAS PLAZA
The original adobe upon which Kearny issued the proclamation that brought New Mexico into the United States has long since returned to dust. It once stood on land now occupied by the music store.
Stephen Watts Kearny was one of the premier antebellum military officers in the Army. He was born in Newark, NJ in 1794. When the War of 1812 broke out he dropped out of school at Columbia University and joined up with the New York Militia as an 18 year old first lieutenant. Once his military career was established he married Mary Radford, who the stepdaughter of William Clark. Kearny was a man of capable organizational ability and established the frontier cavalry among other things, but as subsequent events would demonstrate he was a much more adept blowhard that he ever was a fighting man. When war with Mexico broke out in 1846 Kearny was a brigadier general at Fort Leavenworth when orders came down directing him to advance with the Army of the West to California securing New Mexico along the way. The Army of the West was about 2500 men strong. It contained two regiments of Missouri Mounted Infantry 1600 strong commanded by Colonels Alexander Doniphan and Sterling Price. They were supported by a battery of artillery about 100 strong and 300 men of the U S. First Dragoons. The Mormon Battalion of
Take I15 north from San Diego to exit 27 in Escondido. Turn right on Bear Valley Expressway and then make a quick left on Beethoven into the shopping mall parking lot. Park by the bad Mexican restaurant on the corner, cross the expressway and find the trilhead to Mule Hill. The site has been preserved, but is right beside the freeway. The hill and interpretive signs are 0.4 miles south of the trailhead. There is visitor center at San Pascual Battlefield but I do not any pictures there. It was closed during my visit due to a recent wildfire. To get there from Mule Hill go north out of the parking lot on the expressway 0.35 mile to San Pascual Rd. Turn right and go about 3.5 miles to Hwy 78. The battle field is about a quarter mile away to the right.
about 500 under Col Phillip St George Cooke doddered along separately in their civilian clothes. The Mormon officers brought along their plural wives and children numbering somewhere around 80. The Army entered Las Vegas in mid-August and Kearny got up on the roof of one of the adobes lining the plaza on the east side and proclaimed that henceforth New Mexico was part of the United States, not Mexico. They then went on to Santa Fe and General Kearny set up a civil and military government. The trader, Charles Bent, was set up as the civil governor, and Col Sterling Price at the head of his regiment was set up as military governor. Col Doniphan went down to capture El Paso, and in September Gen Kearny set off to conquer California with the 300 men of the First Dragoons. They did not get far along their way when they met Kit Carson bound for Washington DC with dispatches from Fremont and Commodore Stockton in California. The dispatches stated that the American flag had been raised without opposition in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Monterey, and that California had been secured to the United States. Kearny decided to send 200 of the dragoons back to Santa Fe as defense against depredations by the Navajo. He then commandeered Carson as a guide and sent the dispatches eastward in the able hands of Tom Fitzpatrick. Carson did not want to return to California and did not warm to the leadership of Gen Kearny. The Gila River was nearby and it was a reliable source of water across the burning desert as far as the Colorado River. The Upper Gila passes through a deep canyon strewn with boulders, brush, and rattlers. Travel along that route was beyond brutal and is still inaccessible, but Kearny was now in a rush to reach California before the war was over. Carson was glad to take him that way even though there were much gentler routes that would have been quicker. The entire command was in sorry shape by time they crossed the Colorado, and water was scarce to west for a hundred miles. It would have to be packed on worn out mules, and many of the men would have to walk. The command was in near desperate condition as they approached the little community of San Pascual about 35 miles northeast of San Diego. Scouting ahead Carson observed a force of well mounted Mexican lancers busily snoozing their way through the lazy afternoon of December 5. In his broad experience among them Carson knew that Mexicans wouldn’t fight and with some luck those horses could be stolen. Kearny held the same opinion as Carson did about the willingness of Mexicans to fight. After all, he had taken the entire province of New Mexico without having fired a single round. He was embarrassed to ride in to San Diego in such a bedraggled state and badly wanted those fine horses. As the advance crept forward early the next morning they spooked a village dog and that dog started right in raising hell in blue streak. The lancers were alerted and came out to investigate and found an army jacket left on the field as the horse thieves retreated. Although he had lost the initiative of surprise Kearney still thought the Mexicans would not fight and the horses could still be taken. Little did he know that the force he faced that wet morning was not an ordinary bunch of peons, but proud Californios that were well trained and ably led by the governor’s own brother Andres Pico. They hungered for battle with the American intruder. Kearny’s attack quickly fell apart because of poor communications, wet powder, and because his livestock was in no condition to charge an enemy. Sadly he was to learn that a cavalry saber was no match for a lance. He was disgracefully routed with about 20% casualties. Some of his best officers were killed, and Kearny himself was jerked off his mount with a reata, and jabbed through the gizzle with a lance. It was a fairly serious and painful injury. The dragoons retreated to lick their wounds and bury their dead. The lancers rode off laughing to get reinforcements and finish the job. Kearny’s problems in California had just begun. On the morning of Dec 7 they had struggled along another few miles and found themselves confronted with those lancers once again, this time in greater numbers. The Americans retreated to a defensive position on high ground and were put under siege without water. That position was to become known affectionately as Mule Hill. Raw mule meat nearing putrefaction would soon become all that was to be eaten. On the second night Carson slipped off the hill and through the lancers line and made his way barefoot to San Diego. He returned a few days later with reinforcements from the Navy and Kearny marched triumphantly on to his destination. On January 13 the fighting came to an end in California with the Mexican surrender at Los Angeles. Many Californios favored their own republic independent of Mexico. It would be a pretty short dream for them. Gold would soon be discovered at Sutter’s Mill, a flood of immigration would follow and California would be admitted to statehood. Kearny, in the meantime, presumed that he should be military governor of California. Commodore Stockton took exception since both held equivalent rank, and the Navy had not suffered an inglorious defeat. It would lead to bitter rivalry between the two of them. Stockton appointed Fremont to be the governor and made it stick for the time being. Kearny ordered Fremont to step down as his superior officer, but Fremont refused. The political gridlock was broken when additional troops arrived from New York by sea. By virtue of superior numbers Kearney gained military control and Stockton went on to other duties. Kearny had Fremont arrested on charges of insubordination and taken to Fort Leavenworth for court-martial proceedings. He was convicted on that charge, of course, but the conviction was overturned by Presidential decree. Fremont resigned his commission in disgust and went on to further misdeeds. In 1856 he would be the first Republican candidate for the Presidency himself. Kearny was offered a political appointment in Mexico and resigned his commission to accept it. He took sick and died in 1848.
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