San Pasqual Hill — Descent Road

Author: George Hruby



As far as site locations are concerned, the Battle of San Pasqual started with the American Soldiers descending San Pasqual Hill in pre-dawn darkness on the morning of December 6, 1846. Starting with this very first location, there has been much controversy. By the early 1900's, amidst some confusion, the road and hill thought to be the one that General Kearny and his soldiers came down was Crane Peak located in the far northeast end of the valley. By 1991, it had been properly established that San Pasqual Hill, in middle of the valley and southeast of the San Pasqual Battlefield Visitor's Center, was the hill that the Americans rode down that fateful morning. Also by 1991, Historian Leland Bibb had established the road that the soldiers had descended the hill on. This changed by 1996 when the SPBSLP established that road did not exist before 1895.

Specification - 1

San Pasqual cemetery 1895 archive photo

At the San Diego Historical Society Archives sits photograph #81:10959. It is labeled, “San Pasqual - Ramona's Child Burial Place” and it is dated 1895. The photograph is taken inside the San Pasqual Indian Cemetery that is today located at the San Diego Archaeological Center. The photographer took the picture facing outward, southeast across the valley. You can clearly see the hills on the opposite side of the valley floor including San Pasqual Hill. This produced a unique opportunity. To take the photograph under magnification and view the Bibb-Descent Road. However, the road wasn't there. The only road descending from the top of the ridge line down to the valley floor is the one road now identified as the SLP-Descent Road.

To further authenticate this fact, the photograph was taken to the Photo Laboratory at the Photo Darkroom in Escondido, California and studied by the owner and photographic lab expert, Robert J. Hill. In the laboratory, the photograph's background was blown-up in size, done in segments, and studied. Hill confirmed that the San Pasqual Hill has no road seen coming down it except for one road only, the SLP-Descent Road.

San Pasqual cemetery archive photo magnified showing adobe with SLP-Descent road seen in background.

With photographic evidence to now support the SLP-Descent Road as the route that the Americans descended down into the valley on in 1846, the SPBSLP dug even further for more evidence to support this theory.

Two interesting features exist and both are interesting because they can only happen if you are on the SLP-Descent Road. Neither works if you are on the Bibb-Descent Road.

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The first is the surveyor in 1853 who stood on the road ascending San Pasqual Hill from the valley floor. His field notes recorded the following:

Road from San Diego to Santa Ysabel ascends the mountain, course S.E. & N.W.
40.00 Set ¼ Deposited 6 stones 3x3. Raised mound with trench as per instructions.
80.00 Set post corner of Secs. 3x4. Deposited rock 5x5. Raised mound with trench as per instructions. E ½ mountainous 3rd rate W ½ level 1st rate.

The SPBSLP Survey-Engineer Team established Site # SLP-S-14 as the location where this surveyor stood in 1853 to obtain the above set of coordinates in his field notes. It should be noted that this location is found on the SLP-Descent Road, not the Bibb-Descent Road. In addition, the Survey-Engineer Team has established that this exact location is accurate within a 50' radius. The Bibb-Descent Road is approximately 75' from this location and outside the 50' accuracy range of SLP-S-14 site.

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The second interesting item to note is in the book, “San Pasqual - A Crack In The Hills,” which was written by Mary Rockwood Peet. She grew up in the San Pasqual Valley from one of the first pioneering families that moved there in the late 1800's. Mary Rockwood Peet writes:

As previously stated, in early times the only road between San Pasqual and Santa Maria Valley was by Highland Valley or a sort of trail back of the old school.

This is consistent with archive photograph #81:10959 (shown above) which indeed, only shows one road leading out of the valley on San Pasqual Hill and indeed, it is directly behind the school house. San Pasqual Battle Historian Cloyd Sorensen interviewed Mary Rockwood Peet in 1968. During the interview, he asked her about which road General Kearny had come down into the valley on in 1846. She answered,

The oldest road from the valley to Ramona is seen just behind the closed adobe school house that stands on the south side of the valley. It is highly possible that this road or part of the road was used by Kearny on his journey from the Santa Maria Valley into San Pasqual just before the battle, …

(Click on picture to enlarge)

Old schoolhouse viewed from SLP-Descent Road, January 2010

The above picture is taken while standing on the SLP-Descent Road looking down on the old adobe school house referred to by Mary Rockwood Peet. It stands on the south side of the San Pasqual Valley just underneath the SLP-Descent Road. It should be noted that you cannot see the old adobe school house from the Bibb-Descent Road nor is the Bibb-Descent Road anywhere near the school house.

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Finally, what must be understood is that the soldiers were following an old carreta road winding its way through various Indian establishments, eventually connecting with the main road systems that tied together all of the old California Missions. Its primary function was trade and commerce. It was called a “Carreta Road” because the road was originally built for ox-drawn carts. The carts were called carettas and were often crudely built. The wheels were made of wood and the carts had a wheel base of 4-feet.

What is noted on the SLP-Descent Road is that even today still, one can see how the exterior side of the road was well bermed. This would have helped prevent carts that were moving up or down the dangerously steep incline during rain, from sliding and possibly going over the edge. You can tell that the berm following this road was well managed. Indeed, nearly 200 years later, the berm is still highly visible. Not only did the carts carry goods in them for trade and sale but also people traveled inside of them, often visiting friends and relatives in other villages. Safety would have been important in moving carts up this steep incline. Cutting such a road along the side of a hill vs. straight up, and berming it as well, is consistent with Carreta roads built in early California.

The Bibb-Descent Road does not show any features consistent with caretta roads, especially in how it goes straight up a steep incline rather then cutting up the side with a more gradual incline increase over distance. In addition, it does not show the well fortified berms seen on the SLP-Descent Road that would have been purposeful for “carts” which was the purpose of the road in the first place.

Also interestingly noted is that the SLP-Descent Road, measured in locations between the top and bottom of the hill, stays between five-feet and six-feet wide. Again, consistent with a Caretta Road.

The Bibb-Descent Road, measured in locations between the top and bottom of the hill, varied at locations between seven-feet, eight-feet, and ten-feet wide.

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