In 1991, the location of the Circular Hill depicted by Lt. Emory on his topographical sketch, had been identified by the same “local surveyor and avid Mexican War enthusiast” at the San Pasqual Battlefield Visitor’s Center. He showed the circular hill as being located at 16789 San Pasqual Valley Road where today, the office-trailer facility sits for the Witman Ranch.

This simple circular hill drawn on Lt. Emory’s sketch is one of the most fascinating depictions drawn of the entire battlefield. The reason is that this hill plays no significant role in the battle, unlike for example, the Indian Village or, either of the engagement sites. All it really shows is that at some point after the American soldiers came down, off of San Pasqual Hill, they crossed a water tributary and, rode into their first engagement with the Californios.

The Circular Hill seems to serve no real purpose yet, it is one of the most detailed items drawn by Emory on his sketch of the San Pasqual Battlefield. It is a prominent depiction indeed.

The Circular Hill is seen to buffer the water tributary as well as buffer both the east and western walls of the San Pasqual Valley. Knowing that there is no hill in the middle of the valley floor that is this large, or that buffers both the eastern and western valley walls, it is obvious that what Emory was trying to show us must be interpreted.

The local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast had never published his reason for how he concluded that 16789 San Pasqual Valley Road was in fact Emory’s Circular Hill. However, to his credit, he was not the only local historian to home in on this location. Others had too.


Circular Hill originally identified by the local surveyor and Mexican War Enthusiast – Courtesy of SPBSLP


This is understandable. The San Dieguito River went right by its base just as the circular hill is portrayed on Emory’s sketch. The reenactments of this famous battle were held right next to it at where supposedly the 1st engagement of the battle occurred at. Again, just as Emory denotes it on his sketch.

While the knoll located at 16789 San Pasqual Valley Road seems to lack the extreme roundness and steepness detailed on Emory’s sketch, the local surveyor had an explanation for this. He explained that many years prior, it was reported that the location of 16789 San Pasqual Valley Road was lowered by a few feet when a building was erected on the site. This information appears corroborated. This quote comes from notes taken by local historian Cloyd Sorensen who interviewed San Pasqual Valley Pioneer, Mary Rockwood Peet in 1968:


Mr. Rockwood was once the Road Supervisor in the valley and when they were doing some road work near the San Pasqual Union School they found a grave across from the Indian Cemetery. The road ran between the river and around the side of the hill that at present has been lowered a few feet. Possibly the small round hill that Emory shows on his map as being next to the site of the first battle with the Californians.

Mary Rockwood Peet


Indeed, one could interpret Emory’s sketch using the local surveyor’s knoll as being the same as Emory’s Circular Hill. Besides, where else could such a hill, so prominently depicted in such detail on Emory’s sketch possibly be? So, this is how Emory’s sketch location of the Circular Hill had been interpreted for a long time.

The first thing observed by the SLP of Emory’s depiction of the Circular Hill was how detailed it was, especially in showing size, steepness, and roundness. In fact, the Circular Hill almost rivals in size, the two hills shown south of the 2nd engagement site. To stand on top of San Pasqual Hill and look across the valley at 16789 San Pasqual Valley Road, it simply did not look like a true “hill” at all. It was definitely nothing close to the roundness, steepness, and size shown on Emory’s sketch. It was difficult to imagine Emory making the local war enthusiast’s knoll, look like this on the sketch.

In an interview conducted with William “Bill” Witman in 1993, his take on the hill being lowered “a few feet” was that it was simply “leveled” out to be built on. Looking at the above pictures of the hill, indeed, even a few feet taller, the hill would still not look even close to Emory’s sketch.

To bring this point home even further, an extremely magnified section of an archive photograph found in the San Diego Historical Society Archives, dated 1895, was studied. It is photograph # 81:10959 and labeled, “San Pasqual – Ramona’s Child Burial Place.” When viewing the photograph, a person needs to look closely towards the right-from-center, just behind the adobe wall, at the white structure featuring two chimneys. The white structure with two chimneys is sitting atop the local surveyor’s ‘knoll’. One can see for themselves that even in 1895, before it was “leveled” or “lowered,” how it shows no definitive roundness or steepness as depicted in Emory’s sketch.


Note white structure with two chimneys to left of adobe wall towards right of pic. Same is sitting on top of initially identified “Circular Hill” – Courtesy of SPBSLP


The next issue with the SLP was that it was now known that the San Dieguito River did not flow by the base of this knoll in 1846. It flowed down the middle of the valley floor, cutting southward and, merging with the Santa Maria Creek on the other side of the valley floor. There is no evidence to show that the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River in 1846 flowed on the north side of the San Pasqual Valley floor, where the Battlefield Museum is today located. Geologists, the San Pasqual Indians, and early White Settler families in the San Pasqual Valley, will testify that the river originally flowed down the middle of the valley floor and eventually southward toward the Santa Maria Creek before being permanently routed along the north side of the valley floor. The permanent routing of where the river is today, was a result in-part, for flood control purposes, in an effort to protect the farmers in the valley from their fields being wiped out by occasional flooding by the river.

Even Lt. Emory’s topo sketch clearly shows the river buffering the south side of the valley floor along San Pasqual Hill and not the north side. Once the caretta road crosses over the river on a northwest bearing and, moving towards and parallel along the northern side of the valley floor, the river is clearly seen staying way south of the caretta road. Not on the north side of the valley floor as the local surveyor and avid Mexican War enthusiast was claiming.

Emory shows it is the caretta road that hugs the northern side of the valley floor, not the river. Again, there is no evidence to support that the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River ever flowed on the north side of the river in 1846.

The first step for the SLP was to identify the correct location of the descent road that Kearny’s soldiers took coming down San Pasqual Hill. Once the correct road was established by the SLP, it almost immediately led to the finding of the true “Circular Hill.”


SLP-Circular Hill or known as the “First Hill” as seen from SLP-Descent Road. Photo courtesy of SPBSLP


The resemblance of the circular hill sketched by Emory was remarkable!

The SLP-Circular Hill lied directly below the SLP-Descent Road. In other words, General Kearny and his soldiers saw this tall, steep, and very rounded hill as they made the slow descent down San Pasqual Hill on the morning of December 6, 1846.


Looking south from Battlefield Museum, SLP-Circular Hill is seen (trees on top) just below SLP-Descent Road as it winds down San Pasqual Hill. Photo courtesy of SPBSLP


On Emory’s topographical sketch shown earlier, you can see how massive of a formation it truly is. No wonder a topographical engineer with the Army would sketch it as large and detailed as he did.


Comparison photos showing “local surveyor’s” circular hill (L) and Circular Hill identified by SLBSLP (R)


However, if the hill was not an important location or, had some sort of relevance to the battle, why did Emory exert so much effort in the hill’s detail and prominence on his map? The SLP believes there are two reasons.

The SLP believes this hill is the “first hill,” as referenced by two separate military officers, from two separate branches of the military. At least two officers involved in the Battle of San Pasqual, refer to the same hill. Both refer to it as the “first hill.” It is apparent that it is the same hill, located at the base of the larger San Pasqual Hill.


 … and one [Californio] even followed almost to the top of the first hill. 

Capt. Gillespie


 The general directed me to take a party of men and go back for Major Swords and his party. We met at the foot of the first hill, a mile in the rear of the enemy’s first position. 

Lt. Emory


The SLP believed that the “first hill” they were referring to is the first hill at the base of San Pasqual Hill, now referred to as the SLP-Circular Hill. There is no other hill at the base of San Pasqual Hill where the descent road drops down onto the valley floor.

Indeed, if officers from different branches of service are referring to this same hill as a reference point during this battle, and evidenced by their later reports, this was surely a hill that Emory would have wanted to document.

The other reason that Emory put so much detail into this circular hill is that it is part of a vortex (if you will) into the theater of war. Emory probably started his sketch at the beginning, where they start descending down San Pasqual Hill. It is from this descent down onto the valley floor that they are almost instantly thrust into the Battle of San Pasqual. A very large event, both militarily and politically speaking, especially when considering how many dead and wounded Americans resulted from same.

Emory started out in large detail showing how they descended the hill, surrounded with three primary initial landmarks:

  • The Circular Hill
  • The water tributary between them and the Circular Hill
  • The tail-end of the road that finally dropped them down onto the valley floor

The mistake is how this part of Emory’s sketch is interpreted.

Careful research of Emory’s sketch showing the road descending down San Pasqual Hill onto the valley floor, shows us something, although very subtle, also very dramatic. It is a ninety-degree turn. This is a rare feature for Emory on this sketch.


90° turn depicted by Lt. Emory on Topo-Sketch of Descent Road down San Pasqual Hill – Courtesy of SPBSLP


The trail, running along top of San Pasqual Hill, is a ridgeline riding the very top of the mountain. On any aerial or map, the top of the hill shows equal volume of earth descending down the slopes of the south and northern sides, as the top of the ridgeline rides the very center. How would the caretta road be depicted if it went down the northern side of San Pasqual Hill?

What Emory clearly shows us is much more darkened ink area denoted to the right side of the descending hill, versus, the much less use of darkened area and ink utilized to the left. This is done intentionally as it shows more of the hill to their left as they are descending down the SLP-Descent Road (caretta road) and, the existing steep embankment to their right.


Infrared photograph showing the wash and caretta road ,as both emptied at bottom into the Rio Bernardo riverbed at its base – Courtesy of SPBSLP


The water tributary shown dividing the Circular Hill on Emory’s sketch has been thought to be the San Dieguito (Rio Bernardo) River however, the SLP didn’t think that was what Emory was trying to show.

Emory had started the sketch, originally drawing in very large scale their descent down San Pasqual Hill. He showed the trail (caretta road) with the very large wash to their right as they were coming down the hill, running between them and the Circular Hill. The wash is extensive in size and after several days of rain, would have been very pronounced.

If you study Emory’s sketch, after the 90-degree turn, the soldiers drop straight down, brushing right pass the Circular Hill. Then they cross over the water tributary which on Emory’s sketch, flows all the way towards Mule Hill and is later identified as the Rio Bernardo. Also striking with the SLP-Circular Hill and 90° turn, seen on the SLP Descent Road, is that as this road then drops straight down and pass the Circular Hill, it holds a bearing due northwest as we know the caretta road did across the valley floor and towards the “rocky point.”

When you look at a modern aerial of this same exact location, it fits almost perfectly with Emory’s sketch. The large wash is still there. They had to cross over it while descending the hill and, it was also down below them at the hill’s base. You can see how this wash hugs the base of the Circular Hill still, and how the road (after the 90-degree turn) brings them right down to it where they would have had to then cross it.

The exact cross-point, over or thru, the dry wash or riverbed is unknown but further research may put it in very close proximity. The river of course has been rerouted and, an asphalt road now runs by the base of San Pasqual Hill today but, further analysis and study of the trajectory of the SLP-Descent Road and where it meets the valley floor, might finally reveal the clues needed.

In 1846, this large wash emptied right into the San Dieguito (Rio Bernardo) River which was at the base of the hill and buffered right up against the Circular Hill. Both merged as one, as the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River flowed right into the Santa Maria Creek and onward towards Mule Hill. The huge wash, Rio Bernardo River, and the Santa Maria Creek were in fact, all one main water system moving westward down the valley floor toward the ocean. This is why it appears as one tributary, running due southwest.

What is also significant is that Emory’s sketch does not go at all beyond the Circular Hill due eastward. There is nothing on Emory’s sketch to suggest that anything at all exists beyond the Circular Hill due east. The truth is we don’t know, nor have any evidence to suggest, that Emory had the time, ability, or knowledge to be aware of anything eastward, in the opposite direction of the battle. All of Emory’s attention and, everything that occurred at the Battle of San Pasqual is due north and west of San Pasqual Hill as depicted on his sketch. This is what his sketch shows.

Returning back to the Circular Hill, one guess has been that Emory may have started his sketch in the upper-right hand corner of the parchment paper. He began to detail in a very large scale, the initial descent down the hill and into the 1st engagement of the battle when, he recognized that he was not going to have enough room to sketch in everything else pertaining to the battle. So, he begins to scale down so that he can fit it all on the one sheet of paper that he is working with.

You can see this as he compresses the entire 1st engagement location and Indian Village from the base of San Pasqual Hill on the sketch. This despite, we know from the soldiers themselves of much movement and happenings at this location, including covering distances from ½ to 1 mile or more. In fact, it seems as if Emory committed more space and ink on his sketch to the high elevational mountains in the background, which were not involved in the battle at all.


San Diego Historical Society Archives Photograph shows both reputed “Circular Hills” (circa 1895) – Courtesy of SPBSLP


The SLP believed that the large circular hill located at the base of San Pasqual Hill is indeed the “first hill” referenced by military officers in this battle and is the circular hill depicted by Emory on his sketch of the battlefield.