In 1995, the SLP had launched a full-throttled effort to establish exactly where Captain Johnston rode into the first engagement at. Somewhere on the San Pasqual valley floor was this exact location. But where?

With the SLP identifying the correct road the soldiers had descended down the hill upon, and the suspected location now known of the San Pasqual Indian Village, it had two important pieces of the puzzle to work off of in trying to determine the site of where the initial charge had taken place at.

Also, to help in this determination, was to confirm where it had ‘not’ occurred at. The local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast showed on his topographical map at the San Pasqual Battlefield Museum, the descent road as he had thought it was, and the trajectory of the United States Army Dragoons as they charged straight across the valley floor to the north side of the valley, towards where the current battlefield museum is located today.

 

Location of 1st Engagement as depicted at Battlefield Museum (circa 1991) – Courtesy of SPBSLP

 

The SLP took every advantage to in any way validate the local surveyor’s research on where he thought the battle had been fought at, and the locations of such, on the present San Pasqual Valley floor.

The research of professionals and others had shown the SLP that it was virtually impossible to not have artifacts left behind from an event occurring in the historical period. And just as much as locating artifacts told you where an event or location was at, not finding any artifacts at all, equally told you where an event had not occurred at.

In its ongoing efforts to secure a professional archaeological dig by the County or State at sites pertinent to the Battle of San Pasqual, it became important to establish that there were in fact sites left at all and, still containing possible artifacts from the battle. Even one artifact alone, much less several, could indeed perhaps encourage the State or County to mount a professional dig at the site. This, in order to retrieve and, preserve both artifacts and the site itself. This in turn would help in assisting the registering of such site locations of the battle for State and Federal registers.

The SLP established site SLP-S-3 as the location established by the local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast, as where he thought the first engagement took place at involving Captain Johnston’s charge and including such notables involved as Kit Carson and General Kearny.

The SLP then proposed to the State Ranger-in-Charge at the Battlefield Museum, a professional grid sweep be done with metal detectors over the war enthusiast’s proposed location of the 1st engagement site. Following the techniques of Fox and Scott at Little Bighorn, as well as Konrad Schreier’s use of the military at Mule Hill, the SLP was able to obtain the assistance of the United States Marines Corps from Camp Pendleton, California.

On November 30th, 1995, with permission given by the agricultural corporations farming the land at the time and, the operation observed by the State Ranger in-charge of the Battlefield Museum, the SLP conducted a sweep of the war enthusiast’s proposed 1st engagement site, SLP-S-3, assisted by nearly two dozen Marines from the 1st Combat Engineers Battalion, stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton, California.

San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association Historian, Ron Hinrichs, also oversaw the sweep as did, then President of the San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association, Tom Cook, as other members of the Battlefield Volunteer Association looked on.

Armed with state-of-the-art metal detectors, capable of going at least fifteen inches down below the surface in detecting metal objects, they began a sweep of the local land surveyor’s 1st engagement site location. Ironically, some of the Marines involved in the search had themselves been in real wars. Some had actively done sweeps in war-torn areas of the world such as Somalia, and in the Persian Gulf War. They all were preparing to leave soon to Europe, in war torn Bosnia.

When the search was done that day, over 130 items had been retrieved at various depths. All were agriculturally related and most from the 20th century and a few from the 19th century. Not one military related artifact from the Battle of San Pasqual was retrieved.

The local surveyor and Mexican war enthusiast who had identified the site as the 1st engagement site, cited that the location had been on the valley floor and thus subjected to countless floods. This would have washed away, all artifacts from 1846, he said. However, the documentation of a civil war artifact recovered at this site proved this to not be the case.

The SLP did note that it had to be taken into consideration, that the agricultural operations in the valley since the pioneering families arrived, and especially in the 20th century, had removed vast amounts of earth in this area while also adding soil, in some places between three to six feet across the valley floor.

Professionals, who knew this subject matter well, simply said, “They are in the wrong place.” They said that regardless of flooding, if a battle engagement had occurred there, you would still be able to locate and recover artifacts from the battle.

With no credible archaeological evidence to back up the Mexican War enthusiast’s alleged location of the first engagement of the Battle of San Pasqual, the question was then, where was it at?

By 1997, the SLP was able to locate where it suspected the 1st engagement site of the Battle of San Pasqual was at. The site was identified as SLP-TS-4. The site was located based on several specifications but primarily, for two major reasons in particular; where the original caretta road had gone across the valley floor at and, the primary focus and purpose of the initial charge.

The fatal flaw that the local surveyor had made in trying to locate the initial engagement site on the battlefield was not understanding the initial focus and purpose of the charge led by Captain Johnston.

The Mexican War enthusiast, like others, had thought that the Indian Village had laid further east by over a quarter-of-a-mile near Rockwood Peet Canyon and that the soldiers had come down off San Pasqual Hill, charging straight across the valley floor northward, toward where today the Battlefield Museum and San Diego Archaeological Center stands. However, the studies of the SLP found that this had not been the case at all.

Captain Johnston’s twelve-men advanced guard had only one function – to secure the horses of the Californios which were believed to be on the edge of the Indian Village. It is important to note the distinction between “edge” of a village and ‘in’ the village. Johnston’s team, from the very beginning was not headed at all towards the village but out and around it to where it thought their horses were being kept.

Upon Captain Johnston going after the horses, there is an automatic assumption by many that then, General Kearny and Captain Moore’s men would have charged the village. However, this all changed in one instant moment when in pre-dawn darkness and fog on the valley floor, two Californios sentries sprung up unexpectedly onto the road in front of Johnston and began to flee.

 

 When within a mile of their camp, we discovered their spies that were out watching the road and our movement. The trot and then gallop was ordered to pursue the spies. 

Kit Carson

 

Captain Johnston then made an instant and fateful decision to pursue the two forward sentries; most likely to stop them from getting back to the village and warning the rest of the Californios. It must be remembered that Johnston nor the others had any idea that the Californios were just up ahead on the road waiting for them.

What is important here is the word ‘road’ associated with the Advance Guard. Also, the road’s connection to the two forward sentries for the Californios. The SLP believes that the two forward Californios sentries were more than likely watching the road, just northwest of the dry riverbed.

We know that the Californios left the Indian Village to ride out to engage the Americans in the early morning darkness. It would have made sense to ride out to the road to do this in Pico’s attempt to cut off the Americans from getting to either San Diego or Los Angeles.

Therefore, the SLP recognized that the road became the now immediate focus of the soldiers and not the Indian Village.

Knowing that the Indian Village had to be to their right, the SLP also knew that it had to be elevated. This was consistent with SLP-S-2, the SLP’s site for the San Pasqual Indian Winter Village in December of 1846.

The SLP then began studying the distances given by battle participants, as how far they rode from the base of San Pasqual Hill to the first engagement:

1 Mile  (EMORY)

¾ Mile (GRIFFIN)

½ Mile (GILLESPIE)

½ Mile (CARSON)

¼ Mile (SMITH-TURNER)

Because of the disparities in the distances given by participants in the event, the SLP averaged the location between ½ and ¾ of a mile from the base of the hill.

The two Californios sentries were riding full-gallop back to Pico, on the ‘road.’ The soldiers remained in columns of twos until just after the Advance Guard takes off on a “Charge.” The bugler then sounded “Charge as Foragers” which is sometimes called a “Prairie Charge” because the soldiers break formation and it becomes a full open charge across the field.

The direction of this attack by the Americans was in the direction of where the Advanced Guard and two Californios sentries were headed. That direction was the same direction as where the road was going – due northwest. Not directly north towards the Indian Village as had been earlier speculated.

If the first engagement of the Battle of San Pasqual started with the caretta “road,” then the SLP focused its attention on that. Once the caretta road came off San Pasqual Hill, where exactly did it go as it crossed the San Pasqual Valley floor? Once this was established, the SLP then could track movements of both the Americans and the Californios.

The route that the old caretta road took from the base of San Pasqual Hill was established by the three earlier mentioned Land Surveyors with the SLP, Jack Hill, Bob Hill, and George Lounsbury. Again, they established the route of the original road based on the survey notes of Freeman in 1853, taken on the SLP-Descent Road. The trajectory, based on a northwest bearing, suddenly brought the old road back up to once again be seen.

 

Caretta Road circa. 1846 – Courtesy of the SPBSLP

 

What was amazing was how identical it was to Lt. Emory’s topographical sketch.

 

Emory’s depiction of the Caretta Road 1846 – Courtesy of National Archives

 

What was immediately evident was that with the correct bearing, one could now see how both the SLP-Road, and Emory’s road, both came down off San Pasqual Hill, brushed past the Circular Hill and, then shot towards the rocky point and onto the northern side of the valley floor. It was noted how the builders of the road wanted to move the road to the north side of the valley floor, most likely because it was the higher elevation of the valley floor. This made sense given the fact that the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River and, the subsequent floods left in its wake, made it more sensible to have the road move immediately to the north side, where higher elevations put the road at less risk to flooding. This being consistent with descriptions given by San Pasqual Indians and early Euro-American pioneering families that settled in the valley.

Knowing that Captain Johnston broke into a charge in pursuit on this road after two Californios forward-sentries on horseback, with General Kearny and Captain Moore’s Dragoons in pursuit, the exact direction of travel was now known and thus, the “charge” that the U.S. Army made upon the Californios that morning in the first engagement.

The SLP applied, from the mouths of battle participants themselves, the distances involved from the base of San Pasqual Hill to the site of the first skirmish. Using an average of between ½ and ¾ of a mile from the base of the hill, due northwest on the road, placed the SLP exactly where the first engagement of the Battle of San Pasqual occurred at.   In addition, when the distance of this first engagement site and the San Pasqual Indian Village were also factored in, it was precise. A triangularization could then be made between the base of the hill, the location of the San Pasqual Indian Village, and the distance factored in moving northwest on the road, to the ½ and ¾ mile-point. All measurements and descriptions matched perfectly with that given by the participants in the battle themselves.

 

SLP-TS-4 – 1st Engagement Site (Note ½ mile flag-markers shown from base to site and from site to Indian Village)

 

Note the site of the Indian Village highlighted in green, fits both the distance (note half-mile marker flag) and elevational difference as noted by Private Dunne:

 

 Charging at the first charge, the Indian Village lay to our right. 

 … at about half a mile below the Indian Village, the fight commenced. 

Private Dunne

 

Both SLP-TS-2 and SLP-TS-4 are consistent with Gillespie’s distance from the hill and first engagement site:

 

 … whilst my command was still upon the hillside, and more than a half mile from the Indian Village; … 

 … and more than a half mile from the Indian Village; the boundaries of which were clearly shown by the fire that was opened up upon the advance, by the enemy posted in a gully at the side fronting our approach. 

Capt. Gillespie

 

SLP-TS-2 as the Indian site is also consistent with the distance given by a civilian traveling with Kearny’s group:

 

 The enemy were encamped about a mile from the declivity of the mountain over which we came, … 

Doniphan

 

In the archives of the San Pasqual Band of Indians, an account of the battle was recorded from one of their own, named Alifoncia Dura. The San Pasqual Indian reported that at a young age, he had been called to the Mission of San Diego whereupon he had been a slave to the Spaniards there. He later returned to San Pasqual in time to witness the Battle of San Pasqual. Dura referred to it as the “revolution.”

 

In time I returned to the valley of San Pasqual and was able to see the revolution of 1848 in San Pasqual California. The war was fought in the middle of the Ranch of San Pasqual. In the Indian language this hill is called “Gajaña” or “Yajaña.” The troops of General Step Kearny came down to the Valley of San Pasqual on the south side, on the 6th day of December in the year of 1848, at four o’clock in the morning. Don Andres Pico-de-Puler took charge and proclaimed himself commander, leader of the poor ranchers. He did this in order to repel the forces from San Pasqual Valley. The Captain Andres Pico awaits at “Gajaña” or “Yajaña” on this day, December 6, 1848 at four o’clock in the morning.

Alifoncia Dura

 

While Dura incorrectly stated the year as 1848 instead of 1846, what immediately stood out to the SLP was his description of the battle occurring in the “middle of the Ranch of San Pasqual” and not up against the north side of the valley floor as had been suggested. This eye-witness account further corroborated the 1st engagement site SLP-TS-4 as where the battle initially occurred out on the valley floor and consistent with moving on a northwest bearing along the caretta road.

 

* * *

 

What is important to understand about the first engagement is that once the Californios opened up with a volley of gunfire and there is an initial clash between both forces, the Californios retreat.

In predawn darkness and fog on the valley floor, the soldiers heard the enemy’s horses taking off everywhere. Emory shows on his topo, Pico and his forces basically blocking the road and flanked by his men on both the north and south sides of the road. Not being a highly trained military force but rather a bunch of Mexican cowboys fighting for their lands, it is most probable that some of them, in the chaos of the moment, broke and fled northwest along the road while some others fled back into the village where they had initially come from. This deduction is based on two factors:

  1. Captain Moore maintained a pursuit towards the rocky point, along the road and due northwest.
  1. As Dragoons then struggled to keep up with their Captain (Moore), there was a fear of other Californios seen on their flank (Indian Village), perhaps trying to sweep around from their rear as they all headed towards the rocky point and to a second engagement. As a result, a contingent of men were ordered by Captain Gillespie to sweep the village of any remaining Californios as the rest continued towards the point.

Pico had decided to take off for around the ‘rocky point’ (where the San Pasqual Battlefield Monument is at Highway 78 & Santa Ysabel Road). For a short amount of time, the Americans believed that the remaining Californios in the Indian Village had retreated there to make a stand.

 

 They retreated to their camp. 

Kit Carson

 

 On my left however from the flashing of the guns I could see that there was a considerable row, and in a few moments the enemy broke and, we found they had made a stand in front of a Rancho. This was called St. Pasqual. 

Dr. Griffin

 

Dr. Griffin actually goes on in some detail of this “stand” and subsequent actions that continue to occur in the first engagement before he finally tells us of the Californios then taking off again, this time towards the second engagement site.

 

 The enemy continued to retreat for about ½ mile further … 

Dr. Griffin

 

Captain Gillespie echoes this same observation:

 

 … until seeing the enemy retreat from the position at the village. 

Capt. Gillespie

 

This initial retreat back towards the village is why one of the Pico’s Captains, 44 year old Pablo Vejar, is captured there during a sweep by Gillespie’s men.

This initial retreat by some of the Californios to the Village and then their secondary retreat towards the “point” makes it highly unlikely that the San Pasqual Indian Village was located at site SLP-S-1 but rather at SLP-TS-2.

Also, this explained why a field survey conducted by the SLP of the local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast’s 1st engagement site failed to yield even one artifact from the event. The first engagement site was located at SLP-TS-4.

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