By the late 1900’s, amidst some confusion, the road and hill, thought to be the one that General Kearny and his soldiers came down off of, was thought to be at Crane Peak. In the San Pasqual Valley, this was located in the far northeast end of the valley (vicinity of San Pasqual Valley Road and Bandy Canyon Road). This location was intensely studied for almost two years by the SLP. It was concluded that it was not where the road that the soldiers had come down on.
It had been properly established by other various historians, 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 faithful morning. This concurred with other local historians who had already identified this same hill as where the soldiers’ final decent had been made.
A “local surveyor and avid Mexican War enthusiast,” who had helped locate the site of the Snook Adobe, had been allowed to hang on the wall of the Battlefield Museum, a topographical map depicting where he thought that General Kearny and the others had come down the mountain at. A land-surveyor by trade, he dabbled in local history as well.
The road that Kearny’s Army road down San Pasqual Hill on, was what was known as a “caretta” road. While there is historical debate as to exactly when the road was created, by the 1830’s, the road reflected the Spanish occupation of Mexico during the 1700’s and, subsequent use by the Californios, once Mexico gained its independence from Spain in September of 1821.
It had been engineered as a main trade route connecting various Indian settlements inland to settlements along the ocean in both San Diego and Los Angeles. The Spanish and the Mexicans engineered and utilized this road extensively. Referred to as a “Caretta” road, it was built to handle standard two-wheeled Spanish carts of the time, which had a typical four-foot wheel base. Throughout California, including the famous “El Camino Real” (Spanish for the Royal Road or also called, “Road of the Kings”) created in the 1700’s and 1800’s, the roads were engineered going up and down mountains, and passes, by cutting the road along the side of the inclines whenever possible. This basic feature of engineering; bringing a road up or down a steep incline at a much more graduated rate, lessened the descent/incline ratio making the ascent and descent of heavy carts more manageable.
Some of the mountains and passes could quickly become quite perilous if trying to attempt taking a fully loaded caretta, down a steep and perilous decent on a dirt road during a rain storm for example. To counter this, these roads were often buffered to the outside with a manmade berm (facing the edge) to ensure that the cart, should it start sliding, would be stopped from going over the edge. In addition, cutting the road along the side of cliffs and mountains, made the decent or accent as gradual as possible on steep inclines. This, verse going straight up or down a mountain, or pass.
San Pasqual Hill was the hill that General Kearney brought his soldiers down on the morning of December 6, 1846. However, where exactly he brought them down at however, was not really known. Where exactly did the U.S. Army ride down San Pasqual Hill and, onto the valley floor at?
The same local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast had concluded that the road the soldiers had come down San Pasqual Hill on, was on the western side, wrapping around the far side and onto the front, facing the valley floor; and then zig-zagging downward some before then shooting straight down the hill at an 18% incline. The route was then shown going straight across the valley floor towards the current day Battlefield Museum is located.
Four reasons were given for this conclusion:
1. The verbal description given of the decent/accent road as written by John Barlett in 1852. “the road pursued a zigzag course, winding along the side and around the hill”
2. James Freeman’s Survey Notes of the Road done in 1852
3. A “swale” notated by an unknown field survey in 2013
4. A small piece of suspected road (circa. 1800’s) found at the bottom of the hill
But was this the road that the U.S. Dragoons in fact descended down San Pasqual Hill on, that faithful morning?
By 1995, the SLP was well on its way of investigating and validating the Mexican War enthusiast’s theory. However, almost immediately, numerous discrepancies began to emerge. The biggest initial issue was once again, like at Mule Hill, attempting to properly interpret the sketch map of the topographical engineer, Lt. W. H. Emory, done of the battlefield, in December of 1846.
The second biggest issue was understanding that how someone sees today’s modern San Pasqual Valley floor; that it was not how the valley floor looked back in 1846. Before the influx of Euro-American settlers in the latter part of the 1850’s, the valley floor looked quite different. This was especially true of Lt. Emory’s depiction of the Rio Bernardo River, which is today called the San Dieguito River.
There was a natural assumption that the San Dieguito River had always flowed where it is at today, along the north side of the valley floor, trailing Highway-78. But, that was not so in 1846.
What is first noticed on Emory’s sketch is that the soldiers come down off the hill and almost immediately crossed what is drawn as the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River. The road is seen intersecting the river while buffering what we call the “Circular Hill.”
What is noticed missing on Emory’s map, just southeast of “Pico’s 2nd Position,” is no second large water tributary, the Santa Maria Creek, which flows out of the deep Bandy Canyon and westward, parallel with the San Dieguito River, hugging the south side of the valley floor. Even today, both tributaries are often competitive in size and depth as the Santa Maria Creek flows into the San Dieguito River just southwest of the Monument Park.
At the Battle of San Pasqual, both of these tributaries would have been right in front of Lt. Emory as both the river and the creek were right in the area of the second engagement of this battle. Yet, he only draws one as existing all the way towards Mule Hill five miles away. In 1846, did the San Dieguito River flow directly into the Santa Maria Creek thus making one water tributary? Was the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River rerouted later after devastating floods? Was this in the least possible?
If this were so, then it would mean that the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River once flowed along the south side of the valley floor instead of the north side.
So, to even begin to identify locations pertinent to this battlefield, the first necessity was to place where the San Dieguito (Rio Bernardo) River flowed at in December of 1846. Indeed, the river had rerouted itself across the valley floor through the centuries and, through many devastating floods.
The San Diego Historical Society Archives became a wealth of understanding this phenomenon in the San Pasqual Valley. Photographs there of the San Pasqual Valley floor taken in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s after horrific floods, showed catastrophic damage. One particular photograph showed what looked like six different gorges cut through the earth on the valley floor and, any of the six could have been the actual river itself. There was no way to distinguish which one was actually the main river.
Not to make the same mistake that historians had made with American Indian Tribes at Little Bighorn; Euro-Americans had historically discounted the Indian’s accounts of the battle. This changed in the 1980’s when archaeological data now largely supported what the Indians had been saying all along. They had always been telling the truth, but no one would listen. Taking this lesson the SLP sought out the help of San Pasqual Indian Tribe.
San Pasqual Band of Indians Chairwoman, Dorthy M. Tavui, was gracious and generous in the SLP’s search for information, as well as her assistants, Claudina H. Masura and Tilda M. Green.
The San Pasqual Band of Indians were very helpful in allowing the SLP to view early records of their tribe that were recorded around 1911-1912. The documents were very old and some in better condition than others. The collection of early documents appeared to be the beginning of written recollections, recording the early oral histories of their members in the valley before they were removed to a nearby reservation. All the documents were written in Spanish and while some seemed to record legal and financial dealings with the band, other documents were an attempt to record in writing, their oral history. This covered many different historical aspects of their people, from their story of the creation of life, to the Battle of San Pasqual, and their eventual eviction from their lands to the present-day reservation where they remain today in Valley Center, California.
It became apparent that some of the recorded versions of the battle were not first-hand eye witness accounts but rather stories of the event being handed down. However, the SLP was even more interested in something else. While stories of the Battle of San Pasqual may have been handed down through generations, each San Pasqual Indian had solid first-hand witnessing of the geography of the valley floor.
Here, one San Pasqual Indian, while telling the story of the Battle of San Pasqual, makes this observation: [Translated to English]
“A river runs through the middle of this valley. The orientation of this river is east.”
A second Indian from the San Pasqual Band of Indians, is interviewed about his knowledge of the Battle of San Pasqual. His brief version is recorded on page 131 of their record book, believed started in 1911-1912. In this Indian’s account of the battle, he makes this observation: [Translated to English]
“Through the middle of the San Pasqual Valley is a river that is now dry. This year 1848.”
While we know that the battle occurred in 1846 and not 1848, the significance of this statement and the other statement, is that the reference of the river being in the middle of the valley floor and not along the north side as it is today.
If the San Pasqual Indians are telling us that in the 1800’s, the San Dieguito River ran in the “middle” of the valley floor and not on the north side as it does today, what could any of the early San Pasqual Valley pioneer families tell us about where the river once flowed?
The next big break to this mystery came with a meeting with Mr. William Witman, President of the Witman Ranch in San Pasqual. Mr. Witman, began farming in the San Pasqual Valley in the 1950’s. During the meeting, a high altitude aerial photograph taken of the San Pasqual Valley floor was noticed on the wall. What was noticed odd, was that snaking through the agricultural fields, underneath the dark fertile top soil was this almost fluid path of white sand seen traveling the course of the valley floor. You could see it traveling south in front of San Pasqual Hill and straight into the Santa Maria Creek.
Mr. Witman was questioned as to what was being seen? He said that from this high-up aerial taken of the valley floor in 1939, you could still see where the San Dieguito River originally flowed through the valley. “It didn’t use to flow where it does today,” he said. He went on to say that any of the “old timers” from the valley could tell you that the river used to flow on the south side of the valley, not the north. He explained that was because the lowest point of elevation was found on the south side of the valley. Water always flows to the lowest point. He said that across the last century, the river was finally channeled along the north side for flood control so that the rest of the valley floor could be built up for agricultural purposes. Indeed, some areas may have three to six feet of top-soil above the actual ground.
What was most interesting was that the hidden, sandy path of the original river route flowed right into the Santa Maria Creek. Indeed, when connected, they both formed just one long water tributary. Was this the original path of the San Dieguito River (Rio Bernardo) on the day of December 6, 1846? If so, it is understandable that on a day of such historic proportions, that a young Army Lieutenant, while passing through under such conditions, would have sketched the river just as he saw it … one long, running tributary, along the southern end of the valley floor.
Another indication that the San Dieguito River (Rio Bernardo) was running on the south side of the valley floor at San Pasqual Hill, is an early account referring to the river near the base of the hill.
”… crossing the San Pasqual River again, we reached the base of the hill, or rather mountain, of the same name, the terror of all travelers when accompanied by wagons.”
John Russell Bartlett
May 9, 1850
Like the San Pasqual Indians, the early Euro-American pioneering families that began settling in San Pasqual Valley in the 1850’s, they too passed down their history, both orally and in writing. Common knowledge among the valley’s early pioneering families was that the road that General Kearny and his men had descended upon that faithful morning in 1846, was directly behind the old San Pasqual Schoolhouse. Though now covered in sagebrush and long left to neglect, the road is still there today.
In the book, “San Pasqual – A Crack In The Hills,” written by Mary Rockwood Peet, she 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.” She grew up in the San Pasqual Valley from one of the first pioneering families that moved there in the late 1800’s.
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.”
The remains of the Old San Pasqual Schoolhouse, built in 1882, can still be seen today directly across the valley floor from the Battlefield Museum, slightly due southeast, on the south side, along Bandy Canyon Road and, just east of Burkhard Hill Road.
The purported route by the local surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast, was shown on his topographical map hanging at the Battlefield Museum. It depicted Kearny and his soldiers wrapping around the mountain from around the back side of San Pasqual Hill and, then zig-zagging down the front northwest face of San Pasqual Hill at an 18% incline. The SLP however, now focused its attention instead on the old road coming down the hill, from behind where the old San Pasqual Schoolhouse was located.
The SLP began several years of research of San Pasqual Hill and any evidence of road systems exhibited there predating the 1850’s when the first American settlers began arriving into the area. Extensive research in the San Diego Archives revealed a recorded photograph taken either late 1800’s or early 1900’s of San Pasqual Hill. It was covered entirely in groves with roads zig-zagging back and forth as is standard in California groves. The groves and any evidence thereof have long since been gone.
Designated the SLP-Descent Road, the investigation continued into this particular road behind the Old San Pasqual Schoolhouse as in fact, being the actual road that General Kearny and his soldiers rode down into the Battle of San Pasqual on.
What is important to understand is that the soldiers were following an old caretta road winding its way through various Indian establishments, eventually connecting with the main road systems that tied together all the old California Missions together. This road’s primary function was trade and commerce.
What is noted on the SLP-Decent 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 and down this steep incline. Cutting such a road along the side of a hill vs. straight up, and berming it as well, is consistent with Caretta roads built in early California.
The other road shown by the local land surveyor and war enthusiast, simply put, …. is not there. Both infrared and archaeological surveys show no trace of any zig-zag road coming around the west face of San Pasqual Hill.
Even if so, it would fail to show any features consistent with caretta roads, especially in how it goes straight up a steep incline rather than cutting up the side with a more gradual increase over distance. In addition, it does not show the well-fortified berms or wheel-indentations seen on the SLP-Decent 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-Decent 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 built for carts with a four-foot wheel base.
The other proposed road measured in locations between the top and bottom of the hill, varied at locations between seven-feet, eight-feet, and ten-feet wide, and was unbermed. This would typically be associated with motorized vehicles.
The SLP continued to study both proposed descent road theories and locations, in an effort to validate one or the other. During its investigation, it came across another powerful discovery.
At the San Diego Historical Society Archives sits photograph #81:10959. The old faded archive photograph is labeled, “San Pasqual – Ramona’s Child Burial Place.” It is dated ‘1895’. The photograph is taken inside the San Pasqual Indian Cemetery that is today located at the San Diego Archaeological Center, 16666 San Pasqual Valley Road in Escondido. 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 look for the zig-zag road. However, the road wasn’t there. The only road clearly seen descending San Pasqual hill from the top of the ridge line, down to the valley floor, is the one road now identified as the SLP-Decent 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 early 1990’s there was not the modern technology that exists today, such as digital imagery. Still in use was 35mm film and the use of darkrooms.
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-Decent Road.
Today, this same photograph has been digitalized and scanned in at extremely high resolution. It clearly shows no road wrapping around the west side San Pasqual hill and zig-zagging down the front of the hill. The road does not exist.
The only single road observed coming down San Pasqual Hill in the historical photograph is the SLP-Descent Road, consistent with Lt. W. H. Emory’s topographical sketch and eye-witness accounts from early Euro-American pioneering families that settled in the valley.
The SLP then formulized that perhaps the road had long disappeared through neglect and the SLP-Descent Road was a new and modern road down the hill when the photograph was taken in 1895. To test this theory, a study was conducted using infrared imagery of San Pasqual Hill.
Infrared imagery had become a unique tool in the early 1980’s, utilized by researchers in discovering prehistoric and historic road systems in the Southwestern United States. This led to quite a few discoveries in such places as Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and the prehistoric roads systems used by the Anasazi’s.
Although old roads can eventually disappear, get buried and grown over with vegetation across centuries, their linier features can still be clearly seen today through infrared photography. Infrared reads heat definition and, the linear roads create a heat signature that is different from the surrounding earth. Roads that can be buried deep can still be clearly seen coming through on an infrared photograph. While this is today used extensively in worldwide research often targeting prehistoric and ancient road systems, on San Pasqual Hill, being that it was a relatively new road existing during the Historic Period and only a couple of centuries old, it would clearly be visible.
However, study of San Pasqual Hill showed absolutely no trace of the local land surveyor’s zig-zag road coming down the front of the hill. Even with groves having one time been produced there on the hill, the road would still be visible on infrared. In the very least, pieces of it. Yet, there was absolutely no trace at all.
However, the SLD-Descent Road was clearly visible on Infrared.
It was observed that both, in the 1895 archive photograph and the infrared photograph of San Pasqual Hill, only one road was shown to exist – the SLP-Descent Road.
If one ascends San Pasqual Hill from its base on the SLP-Descent Road, they find themselves headed upward at first, then go off to the left, then to the right, then back to the left and then back to the right, … as the road zig-zags itself up and around the backside of San Pasqual Hill. This is consistent with early descriptions of the road including that of John Bartlett in 1852 and used as pretext by the local land surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast.
“ …. the road pursued a zigzag course, winding along the side and around the hill.”
Further studies were recommended by the SLP for future studies of possible remains of the original SLP-Descent Road where it may have hugged the west side of the “Circular Hill” before dropping onto the valley floor directly.
This may have been where the original road dropped Kearny’s men onto the valley floor at, forcing them immediately to cross down and back up from the dry riverbed of the Rio Bernardo (San Dieguito) River and then forward on the road. However, further studies are needed in this area.
The Mexican War enthusiast, who was also a land surveyor by trade, used as the strongest argument for his theory on the zig-zag road coming around and down the western side of San Pasqual Hill, the survey notes of James Freeman in 1853, taken just seven years after the Battle of San Pasqual. This was the oldest known survey ever taken of the caretta road at San Pasqual Hill. This became ground-zero for the SLP with the first credible evidence of exactly where this road had existed just several years after the battle and, before Euro-American settlers began to settle in the valley and start adding new roads.
For this part of the project, the SLP had three topographical engineers review the same survey notes taken of the same caretta road. The same survey notes that the local land surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast had used and had based his location of the decent road with. The three engineers were Jack Hill, Vice-President and Land Surveyor with Hunsaker & Associates of San Diego; and Richard B. Hill (no relation to Jack Hill) and George P. Lounsbury, both Land Surveyors with R.B. Hill & Associates of Vista. Gary Greenberg of Hunsaker and Associates was the G.I.S. Technician involved.
The team reviewed many other archive documents in addition to Freeman’s notes taken in 1853 and 1854. This included early aerials taken in San Diego in 1928 (housed in the San Diego Archives) as well as the earliest known road maps including involving San Pasqual Hill such as the 1872 Santa Maria Map done by the General Land Office and housed in San Francisco at the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office.
Their most important goal was to establish for the SLP, where exactly James Freeman was most likely standing when he recorded the location of the caretta during his ascent of same.
Freeman had recorded:
“Road from San Diego to Santa Ysabel ascends the mountain, course S.E. & N.W. 40.00 Set ¼ Sec.post Deposited 6 stones 3×3. Raised mound with trench as per instructions. 80.00 Set post corner of Secs. 3×4. Deposited rock 5×5. Raised mound with trench as per instructions. E ½ mountainous 3rd rate W ½ level 1st rate.”
SLP Survey-Engineers, Jack Hill, Richard Hill, and George Lounsbury, while standing right where the government surveyor stood in 1853, accurate within a fifty-foot radius, put them on their way up the SLP-Descent Road behind the Old San Pasqual School House. This became the first designated site by the SLP on the battlefield, hereby designated as site SLP-S-14. It was noted that the zigzag road, as proposed by the local land surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast, was seventy-five feet away and outside the established accuracy radius of the 1853 survey reading.
In addition, he showed the decent road coming off of San Pasqual Hill and bearing due north towards the location of the present-day battlefield museum and San Diego Archaeological Center. However, all three land surveyors with the SLP, stood at the location where Freeman had notated the road to be. They established that the road did not bear north, directly across the valley floor as shown on the topographical map at the Battlefield Museum. Rather, the road had a bearing due northwest, towards and past the “rocky point,” where today sits a park commemorating the battle. It is located on Highway-78 and Santa Ysabel Road.
The bearing of this once famous caretta road would become very important later. As one can see, the establishment of its location on San Pasqual Hill and its direction of travel as it came off of the mountain is identical to that depicted by Lt. W.H. Emory, sketched in 1846.
The SLP had now established enough credible evidence to petition for a formal field survey by the State and County, to designate the SLP-Descent Road, (SLP-S-14), as the actual road that Kearny and his men had ridden down on in December of 1846.
This descent road down the hill was supported by archaeological evidence, consistent of engineering typical of a caretta road existing in 1846. It was witnessed as the road known to the valley’s first pioneering families as having been the road that General Kearny had indeed taken to descend onto the valley floor. Infrared imagery validated the road’s existence and route, as did archive photography from 1895, showing it as the only road coming down the north face of San Pasqual. Likewise, infrared photography, archive photography and, the lacking of any solid archaeological evidence, debunked the local land surveyor and Mexican War enthusiast’s creation of a zigzag road coming around the west side of the hill which simply put, was not there.
And finally, solid confirmation from three Land Surveyors who were in receipt of all documents utilized by the war enthusiast, confirming that the location of the caretta road at San Pasqual Hill was indeed behind the Old San Pasqual School House and identified as SLP-S-14. This based on the land survey reading taken by James Freeman and recorded in 1853.