1st Engagement Site – Theory One (SLP-S-3) (SLP-S-1)

Author: George Hruby

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Neither the SPBSLP or the San Pasqual Battlefield Visitor's Center had any data from Historian Leland Bibb to support his version of the first engagement of the Battle of San Pasqual and its related site locations other than a large Topographical Map displayed at the Visitor's Center.

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Leland Bibb's annotated topographic map

Bibb had identified site SLP-S-1 as where the Indian Village was during the battle. Bibb also identified site SLP-S-3 as where the first engagement of this battle had occured at between the Americans and the Californios.

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Since the SPBSLP had no understanding how Bibb reached his conclusions on these two sites, we began our own investigation. To help us with this were the soldiers themselves, in their own words, in the form of their journals, diaries, letters, and interviews that they gave after the battle. Even photographs taken many years after.


Our first problem was trying to overlay Bibb's proposed site locations with the distances cited by the soldiers themselves. For convenience, if you look at the above battlefield aerial, you will see tiny blue flags. These flags are half-mile markers. The Dragoons involved in this battle were “mounted” soldiers and often calculated their distances in half-mile increments.

Using the above aerial as a reference, here is the distance noted by several of the battle participants, of the distance between the base of San Pasqual Hill to the first engagement. Note the variants in distance between them.

[the] Advance Guard made a furious charge on them when within a quarter of a mile of them.

Major Henry Smith-Turner

We marched down the mountain so soon we arrived on the plain, the shout and charge was commenced from the advance. After running our jaded and broken down mules and horses some ¾ of a mile, the enemy fired on us.

Dr. Griffin

When within a mile of the enemy…

Lt. Emory

Emory makes a second reference to the one mile distance at a later time in the battle:

We met at the foot of the first hill, a mile in the rear of the enemy's first position.

Lt. Emory

It should be noted that Smith-Turner, Griffin, and Emory were all riding with Kearny, directly behind the Advance Guard. By distance alone, Emory places the first engagement right at site SLP-TS-2 or where the SLP site has identified the 1846 Indian Village site. Griffin's and Smith-Turner's distance begin to fall a little more into SLP-S-3, Bibb's proposed site of the first engagement.

For easy orientation of Bibb's 1st engagement site, it is basically on the southeast side of Highway 78, directly in front of the San Pasqual Battlefield Museum.


However, a new problem arises with this location. While today, this location is a plowed field level with the valley floor, in 1846, this plowed field was actually nearly twelve feet higher in elevation, equal to the elevation level of the San Pasqual Indian Cemetery located on the ground of the San Diego Archaeological Center. Another way to understand this, is imagine ¾ of the present plowed field, at the same level as the nearby Indian Cemetery, extending outwards towards the opposite side of the valley. Then, it dropped by nearly 12 feet down into the valley floor. The side embankment may have had tree foliage going down the distance to the valley floor too.

And in the middle of this elevated field, sat the location of the Indian's Adobe Church built in the early 1800's and present at the battle although not one reference is ever made of it. Here is an enhanced magnification of the background, of San Diego Historical Society archive photograph #81:10959, dated 1895 and labeled, “San Pasqual - Ramona's Child Burial Place.”:


Notice the remains of the adobe chapel in the background, and the field extending beyond that before dropping down to the valley floor, and the tops of trees shown. The SLP-Descent road taken by the soldiers that morning can clearly be seen on the opposite side of the valley as it snakes down to the valley floor.

Nowhere in this battle does any participant, either soldier or Californio refer to a 12-foot elevational difference involved in the first engagement. Not one. This would be a very important issue dealing with mounted animals having to move quickly up such an embankment. This would also be a tactical issue for the Californios having their backs against an embankment. And despite several of the Americans referring to elevational differences throughout the battle, not one is mentioned in reference to the first engagement site.

Then, a further issue to site SLP-S-3 being the location of the first engagement is when you start factoring in the supposed site of the Indian Village. Bibb's site has been identified as site SLP-S-1.


As the soldiers charge the Californios in this first engagement, they clearly see the Indian Village to their right. Indeed, Bibb's proposed location (SLP-S-1) would in fact be to their right if they are charging into location SLP-S-3.

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

Private Dunne

From this point on, site SLP-S-1 starts getting more difficult to make fit as the site of the Indian Village in the Battle of San Pasqual. Participants of the battle establish that the village is ½ mile from where the first engagement takes place. Site SLP-S-1 is clearly shown to be outside this distance, nearly ¾ of a mile from where Bibb shows the 1st engagement taking place at. Other issues conflicting with this site being the location of the Indian Village quickly start making themselves known. Dunne again writes:

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

Private Dunne

The important word here is “below.” This is the first indicator that the village is not only to the soldiers right and one-half mile away, but is elevated above where the first engagement is taking place. SLP-S-1 is neither one-half mile away or elevated.

There is also reference from battle participants that the first engagement site is in close proximity with the village. Again, look at Emory's sketch:

They were in an Indian village.

Kit Carson

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

Capt. Gillespie

As far away and due northeast from the proposed 1st engagement site (SLP-S-3) shown by Bibb, there is no way that village is anywhere near where the soldiers are fighting in the 1st engagement nor is it consistent with Emory's sketch.


The SPBSLP also found there was real conflict from a military tactical standpoint, with where the location of the Indian Village is shown by Bibb to be at (SLP-S-1).

Just after the first engagement occurs, the Mexicans begin an immediate retreat back to the village while more Dragoons continue arriving onto the scene. Minutes later, the Californios, with the Dragoons slowly in pursuit, all start heading towards the second engagement site of this battle. Bringing up the rear was Captain Gillespie and about 20 of his Volunteers. Gillespie wants to follow the Dragoons but he observes some Californios still hanging back in their previous position (in the village). Fearing that they might be part of a group threatening to launch an attack to the rear of the Army, he deploys his 20 men between the road and the base of the northwest valley wall. He begins then to sweep the area as they slowly move towards the second engagement site.

We know that several of the Americans involved in this sweep are actually involved going through the village and searching huts. Some of the individuals are Philip Crosthwaite and Lt. Beale (Navy) who are involved in the capture of Pablo Vejar, the only Californio taken prisoner in this battle.

While all of this is going on, Gillespie is wanting to deploy to his “left” and join the rest of the Americans as they continue onto the second engagement site. This much wanted deployment to his “left” frustrates him greatly.

I ordered my men to follow, and dashed forward hoping to reach the left, but before we could get up a second charge was ordered.

… and some of the Enemy having spread over the valley, and as I supposed, with the view of falling upon our rear, I deployed to the left, ordered the men to dismount, and drive them …

Capt. Gillespie

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If you have Captain Gillespie and 20 of his men spread out between site SLP-S-3 (Bibb's 1st engagement site) and site SLP-S-1 (Bibb's Indian Village Site), any deployment “left” would merely be straight into the base of the hills and not moving toward the second engagement site as we know they are.

Further, it is felt that this would not have been tactically sound as Gillespie and his men would literally be moving in the absolute opposite direction almost ¾ of a mile away from the first engagement site and almost 2 ½ miles due northeast of the second engagement site. This would be a very unsound move on the part of Captain Gillespie.

Emory's sketch shows no part of the battle beyond the Circular Hill which seems highly unlikely since there are notable occurrances at the village taking place such as at least two Californios reportedly found hiding in Indian huts and subsequently executed, and at least one prisoner taken.


A formal organization of metal detectists (people who operate metal detectors), in working with both the San Pasqual Battlefield Visitor's Center and the Witman Ranch, employed approximately 50 of its members in a controlled sweep of site SLP-S-3, on the west side of the San Dieguito River in the mid-1990's. Not one artifact from the Battle of San Pasqual was found.

In late 1995, the SPBSLP received assistance from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California and conducted a large scale sweep of the other half of Bibb's proposed 1st engagement site, on the east side of the San Dieguito River. The area covered actually extended even outside the range, east, of the designated site but despite state-of-the-art mine sweeping devices, not one artifact from the Battle of San Pasqual was located.

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