History of the War with Mexico - H. O. Ladd

The Occupation of California

Across the continental divide—Kearney and Kit Carson—Apache Indians—The Pinos—Conflict with Californians—The first bloodshed—Care for the wounded—Events in California—Insurrection—Conflict of authority—Battle near Los Angeles—Fremont relieved—The homeward route.

General kearney left Santa Fe on the 25th of September on his march to California. To reduce this great province he took with him a force of three hundred dragoons, with baggage and provision wagons containing supplies for sixty-five days. A formidable journey of eleven hundred miles was before him ere he could reach the Pacific coast. It would lead him over the highest mountains in the country, and on trails known only to the guides he might enlist in his service from the Indian tribes through whose country he should pass.

For ten days his route led through the valley of the Rio Grande del Norte. He met no opposition from the inhabitants, who viewed with astonishment an armed force passing quietly through a hostile country, not only without committing depredations, but paying in full for all provisions and forage.

On the 6th of October General Kearney happily met a party of fifteen men led by Kit Carson, who was the bearer of dispatches to Washington announcing the quiet occupation of California by the Americans.

Such tidings could but disappoint and dampen the spirits of Kearney's command. The great object of their adventure was already attained by others. There was, however, much more to be accomplished, and they pushed on to the Pacific. Kit Carson was urged to return as a guide to the expedition over the route he had just traversed. The faithful scout turned his back upon the expected meeting with his family in the eastern settlements after many years of separation, and entered anew upon the arduous journey.

The force was now reduced to one hundred men. The rest of the command, giving up the best part of their outfit to their companions, returned under Major Sumner to winter at Albuquerque. Pack-mules and sumpter-horses were substituted for wagons, and the artillery reduced to a few howitzers.

On the 13th of October the United States mail was brought in to the company for the last time, and all communications were dosed with the East. The next day's march brought them to a celebrated copper-mine in Chihuahua, rich with gold-bearing ore, where the remains of forts and furnaces were in a good state of preservation. As they passed the Gila River they met several Apache chiefs, who sought in vain an alliance with the Americans for the capture of Chihuahua and Sonora. As they entered upon the valley of the San Francisco River, the scenery became wild and rugged, but from the mountains near the Sierra del Buso much rich pasturage was discerned among the valleys and on the highlands. The numerous canyons made the passage with howitzers and pack-mules exceedingly difficult. Sometimes the artillery was precipitated into the deep defiles, and the plains were gullied with numerous arroyos and channels of mountain-torrents.

The Apaches grew more shy of the advancing column as it penetrated farther into the western wilds, watching its progress from distant peaks, but holding no communication with the troops. On the loth of November they passed an extensive ruin, called the Hall of Montezuma, surrounded by lands once irrigated and cultivated. It was bounded on the north by a terrace one hundred yards long and seventy yards wide, from the top of which rose a watch tower in the form of a pyramid eight feet high and twenty-five yards square at the top. Near this ruin were the Pino Indian villages.

The Pino tribe were found to be a peaceable, virtuous, and honest race, sustaining themselves wholly by agriculture, and clothed in woollen and cotton material manufactured by themselves. Their hospitality would not allow them to take compensation for bread and provisions which they freely furnished to the soldiers. They lived in thatched and mud-covered lodges in winter and in temporary arbors in summer, and claimed to be descended from the numerous population of whose habitations there were many relics in the ruins and pieces of pottery which were scattered over the extensive plains where they dwelt.

A ten days' march from these villages brought the expedition to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers. Here the column fell in with a few Californians who reported a body of inhabitants of the province, hostile to the Americans, at Los Angeles. At San Diego was another battalion, numbering two hundred, who were friendly to the new government. A march through a desert for several days now occasioned the troops much suffering and the loss of many animals. While camping at a ranch about sixty miles from San Diego. General Kearney learned that Commodore Stockton with the great part of his naval force was at San Diego. Kearney therefore sent forward a dispatch to Commodore Stockton announcing his approach, and on the 5th of December an escort of thirty-five men, with Captain Gillespie and Lieutenant Beall, of the United States Navy, met General Kearney, and reported in full the operations of the United States forces on the Pacific coast.

Still pursuing his march, General Kearney encountered the next day the first hostile movements of the people he had come to subjugate. One hundred and sixty armed Californians, led by a brother of the late Governor Pico, engaged his troops in a cavalry fight on an open plain. The parties in this conflict were about equal in strength and bravery; but under their skilful leader the Americans, after a sharp conflict with these bold horsemen, who were finely mounted, checked their furious charge and drove them from their position. They had, however, inflicted 'a serious loss upon Kearney's command. The general himself was wounded, and three of his best officers, Captains Johnston and Moore and Lieutenant Hammond, were killed, with fifteen non-commissioned officers and privates. General Kearney, during the long march, had greatly endeared himself to his troops. He walked with his men on foot, giving his own horse to the sick, whose feet were blistered, or who from exhaustion were unable to proceed farther. After this fight he showed the same unselfish regard for his fallen comrades. He was bleeding at three wounds when the surgeon offered to relieve him. "First go and dress the wounds of the soldiers, who require attention more than I do, "he replied, "and when you have done, then come to me." Not long afterward the surgeon saw him fall backward exhausted by the loss of blood, and hastened to restore him and dress his wounds.

Without any further opposition to their march, the column arrived at San Diego on the 12th of December. The Mormon battalion, who with various adventures accomplished the same march under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke, did not reach San Diego till the close of January, 1847.

A junction had now been made at San Diego on the 12th of December between the naval forces under Commodore Stockton and those which were ordered to enter California by the overland route. This was in accordance with Secretary Marcy's instructions under date of June, 1846. The design of the Administration was that the naval forces dispatched to the Pacific should take possession of the ports and towns along the coast before the arrival of Kearney, and convey the arms, ordnance, and provisions needed by him in the subjugation of the province. But California had been reduced to submission more easily than had been expected.

The town of Monterey had been captured without bloodshed by Commodore John D. Sloat, in command of the Pacific squadron, who had without special instructions occupied this place as soon as he heard of the war between his country and Mexico. Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, then stationed on San Francisco Bay near Sonoma with the topographical corps who had accompanied him on the overland route from Missouri early in 1846, had raised the flag of the Union, and aided by a few Californians had taken a few settlements and towns in his vicinity in the name of his government. A volunteer corps of American emigrants, commanded by General Ide and Captain Grigsby, had also begun a revolution under an independent flag at Sacramento, with the intention of co-operating with the United States in capturing the whole country.

Commodore Sloat was succeeded by Commodore Stockton, who had established, by orders from Washington, a temporary civil government in California, and continued the blockade of the bays and ports of San Francisco, Monterey, and San Diego.

Thus the Mexican Government of the province of California had been overturned, the governor himself driven with a part of his forces to the mountains, and the Mexican commander, General Castro, had escaped to Sonora, leaving a proclamation to the inhabitants, promising to return and free the province from its invaders. California was, apparently, in the hands of the Americans, but, at the date of Kearney's arrival in San Diego, December nth, insurrections were in progress in several parts of the province. Los Angeles, the new capital under the American regime, had just been recaptured by six hundred Californians under Don Manana Flores and Don Andres Pico. The Americans had been driven from the interior to the seaboard, and the insurgents were trying to re-establish the former government.

In this condition of affairs, it was determined to march the marine force under Commodore Stockton together with General Kearney's command from Diego against Los Angeles, a distance of one hundred and forty-five miles. This march was begun December 29th, under the joint command of Stockton and Kearney. The force consisted of a detachment of the United States dragoons, a battery of artillery, and sixty volunteer mounted riflemen under Captain Gillespie.

On the 8th of January the insurgents, to the number of six hundred, with four pieces of artillery, disputed the passage of the river San Gabriel. After an action of an hour and a half, the American troops waded through the water without firing a shot till they could charge up the bank, when the insurgents were driven from their position and fled. The next day the Californians concealed themselves in a ravine until the Americans were within gunshot, and then furiously charged upon them, but were again repulsed and defeated. The loss of the United States forces in both engagements was two killed and fifteen wounded. The Californians numbered about eighty in their casualties. On the 10th of January, Los Angeles was again in the possession of the Americans, and the insurgents were driven to the surrounding hills.

Meanwhile Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, with a hundred men, had been making a forced march from Santa Barbara to San Fernandino, in the hope of co-operating with General Kearney. He met Pico with a few insurgents, and, not knowing what had transpired, received him in surrender on terms which secured him from the consequences of his broken parole. As military commander of California, on the 12th of January he proclaimed a cessation of hostilities, and commissioners of peace, appointed by Fremont and Pico, made a treaty which promised tranquillity to California and ended the revolution under Flores.

General Kearney and Commodore Stockton now returned with their forces to San Diego. To accomplish this march of one hundred and fifty miles and leave none of his command behind, Kearney walked the whole distance on the hot, dusty road with his common soldiers, while an exhausted private rode his horse. On the 25th of January he sent Captain Emory to Washington via the Isthmus, as bearer of dispatches relating to the subjugation of California.

About this time the Mormon battalion arrived. Taking a route through Sonora they intersected Kearney's trail at the Pino Indian settlement. Here the chief of this honest tribe delivered to Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke, in command of this detachment, twenty-two mules which General Kearney had abandoned at different places, and also a letter and a bale of Indian goods which Kearney had left for Cooke when he should arrive. "The Sonorans," said the chief, "have endeavored several times to prevail on me, both by promises and threats, to deliver this property up to them, but I would let none of them have it, except my friend General Kearney or some of his people." In commendation for this, the chief and his tribe were promised the friendship and good opinion of the Americans.

This chief told their visitors that their first parents were caught up to heaven, and from that time God lost sight of them, and they wandered to the West; that they came from the rising sun. He assured General Kearney "that God had placed him over his people, and he endeavored to do his best for them. He gave them good advice, and they had fathers and grandfathers who gave them good advice also. They were told to take nothing but what belonged to them, and ever to speak the truth, desiring to be at peace with every one."

On the arrival of the Mormon detachment, General Kearney proceeded to Monterey to settle important questions in the government of California and harmonize conflicting authority. Commodore Shubrick had now succeeded Commodore Stockton in the naval command. Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, in command of the California battalion, under appointment of Stockton, was acting as temporary governor at Los Angeles, while Kearney's command of the newly arrived Mormon troops was at San Diego.

At Monterey the naval officers recognized the authority of General Kearney as given by his instructions from Washington. On the 1st of March he therefore assumed the governorship, and issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of California, promising to them protection for their religious institutions, their persons and property, reparation of losses to individuals incurred by the enforced occupation of California by the United States, and freeing them from all further allegiance to Mexico, whose rule had involved them in great domestic convulsions. He assured them of a speedy territorial government under which they should enjoy the rights of American citizens, and closed this appeal with these auspicious words:

"Americans and Californians! from henceforth one people! Let us then indulge one desire, one hope; let that be for the peace and tranquillity of our country. Let us unite like brothers, and mutually strive for the improvement and advancement of this one beautiful country, which within a short period cannot fail to be not only beautiful, but also prosperous and happy."

Governor Fremont was now summoned to yield up the state papers and muster his California troops into the United States service. This they refused to enter, and Colonel Fremont was relieved from command by Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke, by orders of General Kearney, who had proceeded to Los Angeles on the 12th of May. United States troops were now stationed at San Diego, San Luis Rey, Los Angeles, and Monterey. The ports of Guyamas and Mazatlan were blockaded by the naval squadron under Commodore Biddle. Then, leaving California in the control of Colonel R. B. Mason, commander-in-chief of the United States forces and temporary governor, General Kearney set out on the 31st of May to return overland to the United States by the way of the Southern Pass and Fort Leavenworth. In his party of forty men were Colonel Fremont and his topographical corps. They arrived at Leavenworth on the 22nd of August. Thence General Kearney proceeded to Washington, and soon joined General Scott's division of the army in southern Mexico.