The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER SIX: The Bloody Lances
A cold December wind was whipping off the snow on the Cuyamaca Mountains when Gen. Kearny and his weary Army of the West arrived at Warner’s Ranch, dragging their two mountain howitzers along the ground as they had done since leaving New Mexico.
It was while they were approaching the Colorado River that they learned that the situation in California had changed drastically since they had met Kit Carson and been assured by him that the Californios would never fight.
First they encountered a group of Mexicans with a large band of horses, which, it turned out, belonged in part to a band of Sonoran horse thieves and in part to couriers of Flores on the way to Sonora to plead for help in the war against the Americans. Next, they captured a Sonoran in whose saddle bags were found dispatches to Gen. Castro describing in detail all that had transpired in California since his flight.
Kearny and his men were not discouraged. The First Dragoons were one of the proudest units of the United States Army and veterans of the frontier, and Kearny himself was a respected and proven commander. They had originally set out for California to fight the enemy, and now, no matter their tired and tattered condition, they were anxious to get about it. They forded the Colorado River a mile and a half south of the Gila junction on November 25, where it was 1500 feet wide, camped, and the next morning, wrapping bundles of grass behind their saddles, and taking “the great highway between Sonora and California,” rounded the base of the white drifting sand dunes just below eastern Imperial Valley, and began crossing the bed of a lost sea at places more than two hundred and fifty feet below sea level. It was the worst stretch of their march of 1600 miles.
The second camp was made at Alamo Mocho, twenty-four miles from the river, south and east of Mexicali, in Lower California, where they had to dig for water. The night was made horrible by the cries of hungry mules. The next day they headed for a salt lake thirty or forty miles away, despite the warnings of the captured Sonorans. The lake evidently was one of the salty flats which occasionally filled with flood water from the Colorado.
“The heavy sand had proved too much for many horses and some mules, and all the efforts of their drivers could bring them no farther than the middle of this dreary desert. About 8 o’clock, as we approached the lake, the stench of dead animals confirmed the reports of the Mexicans and put to flight all hopes of our being able to use the water.
“The basin of the lake, as well as I could judge at night, is about three-quarters of a mile long and half a mile wide. The water had receded to a pool, diminished to one half its size, and the approach to it was through a thick soapy quagmire. It was wholly unfit for man or brute, and we studiously kept the latter from it, thinking that the use of it would but aggravate their thirst.
“One or two of the men came in late, and, rushing to the lake, threw themselves down and took many swallows before discovering their mistake; but the effect was not injurious except that it increased their thirst.
“A few mezquite trees and a chenopodiaceous shrub bordered the lake, and on these our mules munched till they had sufficiently refreshed themselves, when the call to saddle was sounded, and we groped silently our way in the dark. The stoutest animals now began to stagger, and when day dawned, scarcely a man was seen mounted.
“With the sun rose a heavy fog from the southwest, no doubt from the gulf, and sweeping towards us, enveloped us for two or three hours, wetting our blankets and giving relief to the animals. Before it had dispersed we came to a patch of sun-burned grass.”
The weary column had swung north and crossed into what is now the United States, probably just west of Seely, and finally entered the wide gap that led to Carrizo Spring, the first step in a slowly rising climb through the mountains.
The short way to the port of San Diego lay directly over the mountain ridges, but they were impassable for military equipment and wagons. The route for Kearny led a long way around through the Carrizo Corridor, which took them in a northwesterly direction up through dry canyons into a broad green pass that lifted up to Warner’s. Here, several circuitous and difficult trails led to San Diego. From here also a trail led northerly through a series of rich, comparatively flat upland valleys to lush Temecula, from where the trail again branched, one southwest, back toward the San Luis Rey Mission and down to San Diego, and the other going north through open country to Los Angeles.
“When the fog had entirely dispersed we found ourselves entering a gap in the mountains, which had been before us for four days. The plain was crossed, but we had not yet found water. The first valley we reached was dry, and it was not till 12 o’clock, m., that we struck the Cariso (cane) creek, within half a mile of one of its sources, and although so close to the source, the sands had already absorbed much of its water, and left but little running. A mile or two below, the creek entirely disappears.”
They had made fifty-four miles in two days.
“Many animals were left on the road to die of thirst and hunger, in spite of the generous efforts of the men to bring them to the spring. More than one was brought up, by one man tugging at the halter and another pushing up the brute, by placing his shoulder against its buttocks. Our most serious loss, perhaps, was that of one or two fat mares and colts brought with us for food; for before leaving camp, Major Swords found in a concealed place one of the best pack mules slaughtered, and the choice bits cut from his shoulders and flanks, stealthily done by some mess less provident than others.”
On November 29 they followed the dry sandy bed of Carrizo Creek, riding many miles through thickets:
“The day was intensely hot, and the sand deep; the animals, inflated with water and rushes, gave way by the scores; and, although we advanced only sixteen miles, many did not arrive at camp until 10 o’clock at night. It was a feast day for the wolves (coyotes) which followed in packs close on our track, seizing our deserted brutes and making the air resound with their howls as they battled for the carcasses.”
They reached the “little pools” of Vallecito, where they refreshed themselves on water that was slightly salty, killed a horse for food, and rested for a day. Gen. Kearny conducted the last review of the Army of the West. Capt. Abraham Johnston, who had not long to live, wrote in his notes that “Our men were inspected today. Poor fellows! They are well nigh naked — some of them barefoot — a sorry looking set. A Dandy would think that; in those swarthy sun-burnt faces, a lover of his country will see no signs of quailing. They will be ready for their hour when it comes.”
There were no complaints from such men as Capts. B. D. Moore and Johnston, Lts. Thomas Hammond and Davidson, all of the First Dragoons; or from Lts. Emory and W. H. Warner, of the Topographical Engineers, or Maj. Thomas Swords, of the Quartermaster Corps, and Dr. John S. Griffin, an assistant Army surgeon. The desert and the enemy held no fear, either, for Antoine Robidoux, the trapper and guide, and four other Mountain Men.
For the next two days they trudged through dry Mason and Earthquake Valleys, always over rising land, and drew up into San Felipe Pass, between snow covered mountains. The winter had brought unusually heavy snows, and far to the north, in the Sierra Nevada, the Donner party of immigrants, who had left Independence, Missouri, without knowledge of the start of war, were trapped by blizzards. Thirty-four out of seventy-nine died. Many of the survivors fell to eating the dead. On the night of December 2, Kearny and his force arrived at Warner’s Ranch. At that time Warner lived in a house, which may have been begun by Silvestre de La Portilla or José Antonio Pico, when they had claimed the valley, and it stood a short distance from the hot sulphur springs.
“Our camp was pitched on the road to the Pueblo, leading a little north of west. To the south, down the valley of the Agua Caliente, lay the road to San Diego. Above us was Mr. Warner’s backwoods, American-looking house, built of adobe and covered with a thatched roof…”
Warner grew his crops in the vicinity of his home and grazed his cattle down the valley along the upper stream of the San Luis Rey River, on lands now partly covered by Lake Henshaw.
Warner was not there. He was in custody at San Diego, and Bill Marshall, the deserter from a whaling ship, was in charge and provided the Army with the first fresh meat and vegetables they had had in many weeks. The Englishman Stokes was summoned from Santa Ysabel, and though he proclaimed himself a neutral in the war, agreed to take a message to Stockton asking that reinforcements be sent to meet Kearny somewhere along the road to San Diego.
Sixty miles away and near the coast, Andrés Pico led his seventy to seventy-five men out of Soledad Valley on the road to San Pasqual. They wore the traditional rich and ornamented costumes of the Dons, with leathern cuirasses to protect their bodies, and a serape over one shoulder, and a few perhaps carried the old leather shields with their Castilian heraldry. Gay pennants fluttered from medieval lances. The sight always had awed the Indians, and a little native girl, Felicita, who witnessed the Battle of San Pasqual, related years later to Elizabeth J. Roberts, how they feared the Californios:
“When I was a child I lived here in San Pasqual. Our village was by the Lagunas and the river. There were days when the Mexican soldiers rode through San Pasqual on their beautiful horses. They came from the Presidio at San Diego and carried swords and lances. At sight of them women and children ran to hide in the brush and rocks of the hills, for these men counted our lives of little worth, and we feared them.”
In a clear and cold moonlit night Gillespie and his Volunteers pushed their horses and mules over the rolling mesa between Mission and El Cajon Valleys. He, as Kit Carson, had little respect for the Californios as fighters, and had informed the Secretary of the Navy that they had a “holy horror of the American rifle” and “will never expose themselves to make an attack.”
Much of what is known about the events of those days is found in his official report to Commodore Stockton.
“At 3 o’clock A.M. of the 4th, we arrived at the Rancho in the Cajon Valley, where we encamped to rest and await daylight, to commence the ascent of the mountains, the trail being rocky and of difficult passage for a Field piece. Although it had been reported that the enemy were in considerable numbers about this place, we saw no signs of them, and at 9 o’clock on the 4th, commenced our march for the hills. For the first three leagues, our road passed through pretty valleys, covered with wild oats, here and there interspersed with Oaks and Sycamores of great size and age; it then crossed a ridge of high mountains, completely covered with rocks and stones, a species of white granite. Towards sunset we descended the east side of the mountain, and entered upon the pretty valley of Santa Maria.”
They camped that night at the ranch home of Stokes situated on the east side of the valley.
Kearny left Warner’s on December 4, in a heavy rain, camping that night at Santa Ysabel, the site of the abandoned asistencia of the San Diego Mission and of the ranch home of Stokes’ father-in-law, José Joaquín Ortega. The Indians from neighboring tribes met with Kearny and offered to aid the Americans. He told them it was best for them to remain neutral. The march was resumed the next morning, with the majordomo of the ranch, a “Sailor Bill,” pressed into unwilling service as a guide. “Sailor Bill” was Bill Williams, the former English sea captain who had been employed by Capt. Fitch in 1841 and later became an Indian agent and was a claimant to Viejas Valley. In the cold of the, San Diego mountains “Sailor Bill” preferred his liquor to a long march.
On the same morning Gillespie left Santa Maria Valley, headed east into the higher mountains:
“Much rain had fallen during the night, and as we began the ascent of the mountains, with direction for Santa Isabel, it poured in torrents, effectually drenching our party. When about half the distance between Sta. Isabel and Sta. Maria, the weather cleared; and at one o’clock, one of the advance returned, reporting that Lieut. Rhusan had met with Gen’1 Kearny’s advance, & had proceeded forward to report my approach. Our Flag was immediately given to the breeze, and displayed for the first time upon those distant mountains; cheering the way-worn soldiers with the sight of the “Stars and Stripes,” where they least expected to meet them.
“I soon joined Gen’1 Kearny, was received with great kindness by himself and officers, and reported to him what you had ordered; giving him all the information in my power, in relation to the state and condition of the Country, and also, said to him, that a force of insurgents under Andrés Pico, was reported to be at San Pascual, and that you advised him “to beat up their camp,” should he feel so disposed. This proposition was received with great pleasure by all parties, particularly, Capt. Moore of 1st Dragoons, who was extremely desirous to meet the Enemy as soon as possible.”
While Gillespie grazed his horses, Kearny’s men moved down into Santa Maria Valley and camped in a grassy, oak-covered valley, presumably at the head of Clevenger Canyon, through which now descends the highway into San Pasqual Valley. Gillespie found them there at night:
“. . .many of the soldiers were lying upon the wet ground, notwithstanding the heavy rain, almost exhausted by their long and arduous march; indeed, the whole force, save the officers, presented an appearance of weariness and fatigue, rarely, if ever, met with upon any other service. The men were without any exception sadly in want of clothing; that which they wore was ragged and torn; they were almost without shoes; and although we were constantly accustomed to much privation and suffering, my men considered their own condition, superior to that of these way-worn soldiers, whose strength and spirit seemed to be entirely gone.”
Far below them, in San Pasqual Valley, Pico’s men slept around camp fires at the squalid Indian village, located along the edge of the hills on the north, convinced that a report of American forces being in the vicinity was false, and that Gillespie had gone out to capture horses and cattle and would drive them back along the San Pasqual road to San Diego, where they could be intercepted and the enemy engaged. Not all of the Californios with Pico have been identified, though it is known that they included Leonard Cota and Tomás Sánchez, as officers, and Ramón Carrillo, Leandro and Ramón Osuna, and José Antonio Serrano.
There were two routes from Santa Maria to San Diego. One led over the lower mountains to Lakeside and Santa Monica, or El Cajon Valley, and then down through Mission Valley, the route over which Gillespie had come. The other led a half dozen miles across rolling hills to the edge of San Pasqual Valley, down the valley to the present area of Lake Hodges, then south across San Bernardo Rancho to Los Peñasquitos Creek, west into Soledad Valley, and then up over Miramar Mesa back of Torrey Pines and down Rose Canyon to the pueblo. Although both routes had been in use for some time, the San Pasqual route was preferred to the Lakeside route because it was less rocky. Both routes had difficult climbs, the San Pasqual route at San Pasqual hill and the Lakeside route in the last mile before reaching the Ramona Valley. Gillespie reported the hill covered with rocks. Rocks were hard on horses’ feet and broke the wheels of wagons.
On this cold, wet night, one route was open, the other blocked by an enemy force. Kearny sent a small detachment under Lt. Thomas C. Hammond and a native scout, Rafael Machado, attached to Gillespie’s command, to reconnoiter Pico’s camp and determine the number and disposition of his men. The bark of a dog alerted a guard and his shots aroused the sleeping camp. Hammond and his men, swords clanking in the still night, galloped back up the hill. The element of surprise now was gone, but Kearny was determined to move out and engage the enemy and “beat up his camp” as Stockton had suggested. The order to mount was given at 2 o’clock in the morning. His Dragoons went to the head of the column, and Gillespie’s Volunteers, to their disgust, were ordered to the rear, to help guard the baggage. Gillespie tells the story of what followed:
“The weather had cleared, the moon shone as bright as day almost, but the wind coming from the snow covered mountains, made it so cold, we could scarcely hold our bridle reins.
“Our road lay over a mountain which divides the valley of San Pascual from that of Santa Maria, and is about six miles in length. The ascent is quite regular, the road smooth, and has been used by the native Californians for carts. As day dawned, we arrived at the top of the hill, which immediately overlooks the Valley of San Pascual; a halt was ordered and preparations made to engage the Enemy. General Kearny addressed the Dragoons and Riflemen, telling them to “be steady and obey implicitly the orders of their officers; that their Country expected them to do their duty; and that one thrust of the sabre point, was far more effective than any number of cuts.”
“The General told me, that Capt. Moore would direct the charge, and had orders to surround the Indian Village; in the performance of which duty, he wished me to cooperate all in my power; to follow Capt. Moore, and if possible capture every man; to shoot any who might resist or attempt to escape, but make exertions to capture man and horse. Lieutenant Davidson, 1st Dragoons, in command of the Howitzers, was ordered to follow in the rear of my command. Major Swords with his command had not yet come up. The order to march is given. We proceeded down the mountain. The clang of the heavy Dragoon sabres, echoing amongst the hills upon this cold frosty morning, and reverberating from the mountain top back upon the Valley seemed like so many alarm bells to give notice of our approach. The grey light of morn appeared as we approached the valley. We were marching by twos; and as the advance, commanded by Capt. Johnston had reached the plain, the General gave the order to “Trot,” which Capt. Johnston misunderstood for “charge;” a shout, and off dashed the Dragoons at the charge, as fast as their tired, worn out mules and horses could be urged; whilst my command was still upon the hill side, and more than a half mile from the Indian village; the boundaries of which, were clearly shown by the fire that was opened upon the advance, by the Enemy posted in a gulley at the side fronting our approach.”
The charge led down a long hog-back ridge that slopes into the valley to a point about two miles west of the bridge across the Santa Ysabel Creek which becomes the San Dieguito River a few miles further west.
In the valley the alarmed Californios had rounded up their horses, and in a disorganized state awaited what might come. Felicita, the little Indian girl, saw the start of the action:
“. . .we heard the sounds of voices shouting on the mountain side toward Santa Maria; we ran out of our huts to find the cause. The clouds hung so low that at first we could see nothing for the mist, but soon there came the figure of men, like shadows, riding down the mountain. As they drew nearer we saw that they too were soldiers, wearing coats of blue.
“The Mexican soldiers were sitting on their horses, holding their long lances in their hands; they now rode swiftly to meet the soldiers in blue, and soon there came the sounds of battle. But the Indians, in great fear, fled again to the mountains. When we had climbed high above the valley, we hid behind the brush and weeds. Then we looked down and watched. One of our men who had lived at the mission, told us that these strange soldiers from the hills were Americans and that they were fighting to take the land away from the Mexicans. The Mexicans had not been good to the Indians, so we were not sorry to see the new soldiers come against them.”
The first man to fall was Capt. Johnston who had led the charge down the hill. A bullet from the gun of Leandro Osuna struck him in the forehead and he fell dead from his horse. The Americans driving down the hill virtually moved over their dead and wounded and slammed into the lances and bullets of the Californians. Kit Carson’s horse, plunging down the hillside, stumbled and threw Carson to the ground, breaking his rifle. Though Kearny realized a mistake in command had been made, he knew it was too late to change it, and he followed his men into the swirling battle in the half-light of the morning. After a brief but bloody encounter the Californians suddenly turned and retreated across the valley and reorganized behind the little hill on which the San Pasqual Battle Monument now stands.
Capt. Moore, believing the enemy to be in retreat, ordered a second charge. As the Americans followed in a long disorganized line, the Californios swept out from their hiding place. The American Dragoons were cut to pieces. Alone in front, Moore ran up against Andrés Pico, fired one pistol shot and then slashed out at him with a sabre. Leandro Osuna and Dionisio Alipás closed in on Moore and pierced him with their lances. He fell from his horse and was finished off with a pistol shot by Tomás Sánchez.
Lt. Hammond, following close upon Moore, went down with lance thrusts between his ribs. The rifles of the Americans failed to fire because of wet cartridges. Some of the Dragoons were lassoed and hauled from their mules and horses, to be stabbed to death. Their tired mounts could not cope with the fresh and spirited California horses. Gillespie tells the story:
“After a pursuit of over a mile and a half, the Dragoons came upon the Enemy in the open plain, where they made a stand, evidently having observed the scattered position of our force. As we came up, I saw a party of some twenty-five or thirty Dragoons, slowly turning before a superior force of the Enemy. Sword in hand I dashed forward to them crying, “Rally men, for God’s sake rally, show a front, don’t turn your backs, face them, face them, follow me,” but to no effect; their brave leader had fallen, pierced by many lances; their travel worn horses being incapable of any more exertion, themselves chilled by the cold, their limbs stiffened by their clothing, soaked by the rain of the night previous; and being almost surrounded, they were completely panic stricken; the best men of this command, having already fallen in unequal combat. Instead of the Dragoons heeding my efforts to rally them, they passed my left, when I fell in upon the center of the Enemy, and was immediately surrounded and saluted with the cry of recognition, “Ya, es Gillespie, adentro hombres, adentro.” “There is Gillespie, at him men, at him!” “
Gillespie was recognized as the American commander who had made life so unpleasant at Los Angeles for the pleasure-loving Californios.
“Four lances were darted at me instantly, which being parried, the fifth and sixth quickly followed, accompanied by the discharge of an Escopeta, almost into my face. At this moment I noticed a lance “in rest” coming from the front and when leaning over the neck of my horse, parrying the charge, I was struck on the back of the neck by another lance, at the collar of my coat, with such force, as to be thrown clear from my saddle to the ground, with my sabre under me. As I attempted to rise I received a thrust from a lance behind me, striking above the heart, making a severe gash open to the lungs. I turned my face in the direction of my assailant, when, one of the Enemy riding at full speed, charged upon me, dashed his lance at my face, struck and cutting my upper lip, broke a front tooth, and threw me upon my back, as his horse jumped over me.”
In the panic of those few minutes, Kearny, fighting alone, as were most of his men, was lanced three times, in an arm and in the buttocks, and was saved from certain death by Emory who drove off another attacker. One of the two howitzers was lassoed and hauled away. The Sutter gun and the other howitzer were brought into play and Gillespie managed to fire one himself by using his cigar lighter, before he collapsed on the field. The American retreat was halted, and the Californios temporarily scattered. As day dawned, the smoke cleared away, and Emory wrote:
“. . .we commenced collecting our dead and wounded. We found eighteen of our officers and men were killed on the field, and thirteen wounded. Amongst the killed were Captains Moore and Johnston, and Lt. Hammond of the 1st Dragoons. The general, Capt. Gillespie, Capt. Gibson, Lt. Warner, and Mr. Robideaux badly wounded.”
The Indian village was scoured for the dead and wounded:
“The first object which met my eye was the manly figure of Capt. Johnston. He was perfectly lifeless, a ball having passed directly through the centre of his head.
“The work of plundering the dead had already commenced; his watch was gone, nothing being left of it but a fragment of the gold chain by which it was suspended from his neck… Captain Johnston and one dragoon were the only persons either killed or wounded on our side in the fight by firearms.”
Gillespie reported that of the total American force of 153 men, not more than 45 had borne the brunt of the fight. Only one Californian, Francisco Lara, had been killed, though twelve had been wounded, one of whom later died. One was captured by Philip Crosthwaite, a volunteer who came with Gillespie’s force. He was Pablo Vejar.
The Americans moved over to the north side of the valley, up on a long hill, and in the notes of Stanley, the artist-draftsman with the Kearny force, we find:
“At first General Kearny thought to move on the same day. The dead were lashed on mules, and remained two hours or more in that posture. It was a sad and melancholy picture. We soon found, however, that our wounded were unable to travel. The mules were released of their packs, and the men engaged in fortifying the place for the night. During the day the enemy were in sight curveting their horses, keeping our camp in constant excitement. Three of Captain Gillespie’s volunteers started with dispatches to Commodore Stockton. The dead were buried at night and ambulances made for the wounded ….”
Late that night, the dead were buried in a single grave.
“When night closed in, the bodies of the dead were buried under a willow to the east of our camp, with no other accompaniment than the howling of the myriads of wolves attracted by the smell. Thus were put to rest together, and forever, a band of brave and heroic men. The long march of 2,000 miles had brought our little command, both officers and men, to know each other well. Community of hardships, dangers, and privations, had produced relations of mutual regard which caused their loss to sink deeply in our memories.”
Kit Carson escaped the lances, and years later, when his exploits were ridiculed in a cynical age, Lt. Beale came to his defense and wrote that “I remember when we lay side by side on the bloody battlefield all night, when you mourned like a woman, and would not be comforted, not for those who had fallen but for the sad hearts of women at home when the sad tale would be told.”
The “wolves” to which Emory referred so many times were coyotes. With Kearny in great suffering, Capt. H. S. Turner, his aide-de-camp, took command and sent three couriers from the Volunteers to Commodore Stockton at San Diego, informing him of what had happened and asking assistance. Two of those sent were Alexis Godey and Thomas Burgess. The third probably was an Indian. Duvall in the log of the Cyane mentions that the Indian who had gone out and brought back the sheep for the besieged Americans at San Diego also was the one who later carried a message to Kearny, was captured by the Mexicans and badly treated.
The first inkling of the tragedy, however, was taken to San Diego by Capt. Stokes, who had heard reports while enroute back to his ranch. But he was vague as to details, and no alarm was sounded.
Stretchers, or ambulances, to carry the wounded were made of willow and buffalo robes, in frontier fashion, with one end suspended from a mule and the other dragging on the ground. In the morning the march toward San Diego was resumed, with Kearny back in the saddle and in command, the column passing along a route taking them over the hills on the north side of the valley. It was a painful day for the wounded. That mid-afternoon, after a trek of about five miles, they turned back toward the valley and reached Rancho San Bernardo and the ranch home of Edward Snook. It was deserted except for a few Indians. The site is just east of Highway 395 at the north end of the Lake Hodges crossing. Here they killed chickens to feed the wounded and rounded up some cattle.
After a short rest they moved into the valley. The enemy reappeared from a ravine, attempted an encirclement, which failed, and thirty or forty of them then took positions on a small hill commanding the road. Emory and six or eight men were sent to dislodge them, which they did, amid considerable gunfire. But the Army of the West could go no further. The cattle had been stampeded, and the wounded were in dire need of rest and treatment, and unless help arrived, they surely would all be lost.
They dragged themselves up on the rocky hill, which can be seen from Highway 395, and barricaded themselves behind battlements erected with rocks. They bored holes in the river bed for water and killed the fattest of the mules for food. This rocky point now is known as “Mule Hill.” The following morning a messenger with a flag of truce appeared and disclosed that Andrés Pico had captured four Americans and wished to exchange them for a like number of Californians. The three couriers to Stockton had gotten through but had been captured on attempting to return. As the Americans held but one captive, only Burgess was able to rejoin the Volunteers on Mule Hill. Pico also passed along some goods for Gillespie which had been sent out from San Diego with the couriers.
The message asking for help had been oddly matter-of-fact, lacking a sense of urgency, and while Stockton later said he had begun immediate preparations to send assistance, all available horses had been taken by Gillespie and some delay was necessary. On their way back to San Pasqual Valley, and just before their capture, Godey and Burgess committed the contents of the message to memory and cached the paper in an oak tree. It was found years later by one of Juan Bandini’s vaqueros, and what is believed to be a copy is in the Huntington Library. It reads:
“Sir: Your letter by Lt. Godoy communicating to me the sad Intelligence of the fight which took place yesterday at early dawn, reached me last night, and I would have instantly sent a detachment to aid you but unfortunately every horse that could travel had been sent with the riflemen, and left us without any means to transport our Artillery. We have not an Animal in the Garrison that can go two leagues, besides we have no conveyances or means of any kind to transport the wounded. Under these circumstances and especially because Mr. Godoy says you have effective force enough to defend yourselves in camp or to march to San Diego, I have thought it most wise to postpone the march of my men till I can hear from you again as they will only consume provisions without being of any use. Mr. Godoy returns to you Immediately with this. Faithfully, Your obt St. R. F. Stockton. To H. S. Turner, Captain U.S.A., Cmdg at Camp Near San Pasqual.”
With the situation on Mule Hill now desperate, it was decided to send another plea for help. Kit Carson, Lt. Beale and an Indian volunteered to try and get through the enemy lines to San Diego, twenty-nine miles distant. An Indian had accompanied Beale from San Diego as a servant, and Frémont in his memoirs identifies him as the one who went with Carson and Beale.
Under cover of night they slipped out through the enemy lines. Carson’s own story follows:
“As soon as dark we started on our mission. In crawling over the rocks and brush our shoes making noise, we took them off; fastened them under our belts. We had to crawl about two miles. We could see three rows of sentinels, all ahorseback, we would often have to pass within 20 yards of one. We got through, but had the misfortune to have lost our shoes, had to travel over a country covered with prickly pear and rocks, barefoot.”
During the day they remained in hiding in a gorge, perhaps Peñasquitos Gorge, and at night, when within twelve miles of San Diego, separated, to multiply the chances of getting in. The customary evening ball was under way at the Bandini house, and the band of the USS Congress was playing in the Plaza when the Indian servant reached Old Town with the sad news of Kearny’s perilous situation. Carson arrived soon after. Beale came in later, in such a condition he had to be carried before Stockton.
On Mule Hill, meanwhile, Sgt. John Cox died of his wounds and was buried on the hill and his grave covered with heavy rocks. The enemy attempted to drive a herd of wild horses through the camp and cause a stampede. The herd was turned aside but several were killed to provide a happy change of diet. The baggage was ordered destroyed to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy. At the end of three days on the hill, Dr. Griffin thought the wounded had progressed enough where all but two could ride, and the order was given to resume the march the next morning. They were certain that Beale and Carson had not gotten through. During the night a guard heard voices — English voices.
“It was a detachment of 100 tars and 80 marines under Lt. Gray, sent to meet us by Commodore Stockton, from whom we learned that Lt. Beale, Carson and the Indian had arrived safely at San Diego. The detachment left San Diego on the night of the 9th, cached themselves during the day of the 10th, and joined us on the night of that day. These gallant fellows busied themselves till day, distributing their provisions and clothes to our naked and hungry people.”
In two days, on Dec. 12, the battered Army accompanied by Lt. Andrew F. V. Gray of the USS Congress and 180 men arrived at San Diego, and Emory wrote:
“At this place we were in view of the fort overlooking the town of San Diego and the barren waste which surrounds it . . . the town consists of a few adobe houses, two or three of which only have plank floors . . . the rain fell in torrents as we entered the town, and it was my singular fate here, as in Santa Fe, to be quartered in the calaboose, a miserable hut, of one room, some 40x30 feet square. A huge old gun was mounted in this hovel, looking through an embrasure to the westward . . . we preferred the open air and the muddy plaza, saturated with all sorts of filth, to this wretched hole ….”
The “calaboose” probably was the town hall in the Plaza. A different view of their arrival at San Diego was given by Dr. Griffin:
“We all arose freshened with the idea of reaching St. Diego today, and thus finishing this long weary march. We left and marched into St. Diego around 4 p.m., where we received the warmest welcome and kindest attention from our naval friends. I found everything so far as it was in the power of the surgeon’s post prepared for my wounded men, and every attention that a warm and generous heart extended to the poor fellows. The Congress and Portsmouth were laying at anchor in the bay and the town of St. Diego garrisoned by the crew and marines from these two ships.”
To Gen. Kearny, San Pasqual had been a victory. The enemy had fled and the battlefield had been cleared. Two more Dragoons died in San Diego making twenty-one in all. One Volunteer also was listed as having been killed. As for the Californios, they divided into small bands and faded into the hills, a few of them giving up the fight and entering San Diego under flags of truce. Felipa Osuna Marrón tells how her husband became so embittered with his own people that he asked to be allowed to return to San Diego from his ranch at Agua Hedionda. With Felipa and her husband, under the protection of a white flag, came a number of men who had participated in the Battle of San Pasqual. One of them was her brother, Leandro Osuna, who had killed Capt. Johnston, and another was Jesus Machado. She said the flag of her brother’s lance was stained with blood and at first the Americans seemed hostile, but nothing happened.
But, as Dr. Griffin wrote. The “enemy have the country and we have no communication with our friends in the north. The Sonorians are running off all the cattle and horses, and the fact is the country will have nothing in it after the war is over.”
There was a sad aftermath to the tragedy of San Pasqual that left a legacy of sorrow in a little divided community. Hayes wrote:
“Some families of San Diego yet mourn for the relatives who were killed by the San Luis Rey Indians in 1846. The day is remembered only as between dia de la Virgen (December 8th) and that of Guadalupe (December 12th). It was immediately after the Battle of San Pasqual . . . it is unknown and inexplicable what may have led the Indians to strike this terrible blow at persons living amongst them, on terms of greatest confidence.”
Men who had wet their lances with the blood of American soldiers themselves were slaughtered and certainly in a moment of savage retribution by Indians whose lands they had taken.
Fleeing from the field of battle, with the appearance of Lt. Gray’s rescue expedition, a number of the Califormos went to Pauma Valley, in the shadow of Palomar Mountains about forty-two miles northeast of San Diego, on the upper San Luis Rey River, four miles west of the Pala Mission and about fifteen miles southwest of Warner’s. This was the ranch of José Antonio Serrano, though a number of other Californios, including Juan María Osuna, José Aguilar and Bonifacio Lopez, had sent cattle there for grazing to keep them from falling into the hands of Americans.
A report reaching San Diego a few days later that Indians had killed eleven Mexicans was discounted, and Dr. Griffin in his diary noted that “the best versed in California affairs believe these men were killed in the action of the 6th, and that the Mexicans complained of the red skins to conceal their own loss.”
Little by little the details began to come out. A small tribe of Luiseño Indians lived in the valley, with Manuelito Cota as their chief. Serrano, who understood a little of their language, overheard two women discussing an attack, and while he warned his companions who were resting at the ranch, he evidently didn’t take it too seriously, and left that day with his son, Jesús, and his brother-in-law, José Aguilar, to join his family at Pala.
Eleven men were left at the ranch. Hayes wrote:
“The well-known General Manuelito Cota, was supposed to have been at the head of this sudden movement of his people. The inmates of the ranch house were asleep, when he knocked at the door. Recognizing his voice, José María Alvarado opened the door, against every remonstrations of the rest. The Indians rushed in, seized their victims, took them . . . to Potrero and Agua Caliente, and put them to death in the most cruel manner. It is to be hoped the imagination of surviving kinsmen has exaggerated the terrors of this scene as it still is related by them.”
The captured men were first put on exhibition at Agua Caliente, for the benefit of the Cupeños of Warner’s, the Cahuillas of the eastern mountain and desert areas, and the Luiseños of the San Luis Rey Mission lands. Manuelito, in a change of heart, wanted to set the captives free. His companion, Pablo Apis, was against it. Here the story becomes more murky, obscured by legend and old hates. Counsel was sought from two persons, an American, Bill Marshall, the seafaring deserter of Warner’s, and a Mexican renegade named Yguera who had married a Cupeño woman. It was Marshall who is believed to have influenced the Luiseños to kill their captives, by arguing that the American conquerors would be greatly pleased.
The disbelief that had failed to alarm Serrano and Aguilar turned to fear when they returned to Pauma and learned what had transpired. They picked up the trail and followed it to Agua Caliente, from where they sent an appeal for help to Bill Williams, at Santa Ysabel, and the chief of the Santa Ysabel Indians, Ignacio. Williams first sent an Indian with an offer to ransom the prisoners with cattle but, that failing, went himself and saw them lying bound around a fire. He was warned to be off, or he, too, might die.
There are two versions of the manner of their deaths. One is that they were forced to stand and then were shot full of arrows. The other is that they were lanced to death with spears heated in the fire. The story is told that young Santiago Alipás, only thirteen years old, alone remained calm in the face of death, and was rewarded with execution by gunfire. The bodies were piled in a heap and the Indians danced around them all night. The bodies, except those of Santiago Osuna, youngest son of Juan María Osuna, and Alvarado, were secretly buried. The persistence of legend is that the bodies of Osuna and Alvarado were turned over to an old Indian woman, who had been a servant for their families, and she buried them separately, and then walked to San Diego with the sad news.
The others who died were Manuel Serrano, brother of José Antonio; Ramón Aguilar, José López, his son-in-law, Francisco Basualdo, two men from Los Angeles named Domínguez and Estacio Ruiz, Juan de la Cruz of Lower California, and an unidentified man from New Mexico.
There were attempts to link Kearny with the massacre, in regard to advice he had given to representatives of the Indians at Santa Ysabel, when they expressed a willingness to aid the American cause. He told them to remain neutral, though Manuelito insisted years later that Kearny also said they had a right to defend themselves from any acts on the part of the Mexicans. Marshall’s part in the affair emerged only slowly, and his punishment was yet a few years away.
Return to Books.
THE SILVER DONS
Ch. 1 California in 1830
Ch. 2 The Lash of Greed
Ch. 3 Winds of Change
Ch. 4 Rise of the Ranchos
Ch. 5 A Manifest Destiny
Ch. 6 The Bloody Lances
Ch. 7 End of the Pueblo
Ch. 8 The Burning Trail
Ch. 9 Life on a Frontier
Ch. 10 The Garra Uprising
Ch. 11 Empires of Cattle
Ch. 12 The West is Linked
Ch. 13 Chasing the Whale
Ch. 14 Journey of Death
Ch. 15 Last of the Dons