First View of the Pacific Ocean-Arrival At San Diego Mission-Complimentary Order From Colonel Cooke-General Kearny’s Entry to California-Skirmishes With Californians
Traveling down the river, on the 27th, we arrived at San Luis Rey, a deserted Catholic mission, about noon. One mile below the mission, we ascended a bluff, when the long, long-looked for great Pacific Ocean appeared plain to our view, only about three miles distant. The joy, the cheer that filled our souls, none but worn-out pilgrims nearing a haven of rest can imagine. Prior to leaving Nauvoo, we had talked about and sung of “the great Pacific sea,” and we were now upon its very borders, and its beauty far exceeded our most sanguine expectations. Our joy, however, was not unmixed with sorrow. The next thought was, where, oh where were our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and children whom we had left in the howling wilderness, among savages, or at Nauvoo, subject to the cruelties of the mobs? Had the government we were serving ordered them off the reservation? If so, had it ordered them back, whence they came, to perish by the ruthless mobs it had failed even to rebuke, while the blood of innocence, even of children, cried to heaven for vengeance? Or, if allowed to move on, had they found a resting place where they could dwell in peace until they could raise a crop, or go, unknown, among their enemies and labor to replenish their exhausted store of provisions? We trusted in God that they were in the land of the living somewhere, and hoped we might find them on our return in or near the valley of Great Salt Lake, within the limits of California, then a Mexican State, but this was only hope. We comforted ourselves with the fact that it was the “Lord’s business to provide for His Saints,” and that He was “not slack concerning His promises.” Amid it all, we went on our way rejoicing.
An express from General Kearny directed that we take quarters in a Catholic mission, five miles from San Diego.
As nearly all our beeves were lost on the night of the 27th, the Colonel gave orders to gather up more on the march; but as he did not direct how many were to be gathered, our Indian scouts brought to our camp, the next morning, several hundred, probably ten times as many as we had lost; this caused a good deal of merriment at their expense.
Traveling in sight of the ocean, the clear bright sunshine, with the mildness of the atmosphere, combined to increase the enjoyment of the scene before us. We no longer suffered from the monotonous hardships of the deserts and cold atmosphere of the snow-capped mountains. January there, seemed as pleasant as May in the northern States, and the wild oats, grass, mustard and other vegetable growths were as forward as we had been used to seeing them in June. The birds sang sweetly and all nature seemed to smile and join in praise to the Giver of all good; but the crowning satisfaction of all to us was that we had succeeded in making the great national highway across the American desert, nearly filled our mission, and hoped soon to join our families and the Saints, for whom, as well as our country, we were living martyrs.
Much of the soil over which we passed was very rich, and the vegetable growth exceedingly luxuriant. The water was clear and good, being mainly cold mountain streams, somewhat warmed by the brilliant rays of the sun in the middle of the day.
On the 29th of January the Battalion came in sight of the long talked-of San Diego. Our camp was located a mile below the Catholic Mission and some four or five miles from the seaport town of San Diego, where General Kearny was quartered. The Colonel rode down in the evening and reported to the General.
The buildings, of the old Catholic Mission of San Diego, were dilapidated, and only used by a few rather filthy Indians The olive, date and some ornamental trees were found in the garden of the mission.
While encamped there we learned, for the first time, our commander’s real sentiments towards the Battalion. His extremely strict discipline and stern, morose appearance and acts had led to a query whether he would do us justice in any respect. Even when nearing Tucson he hardly knew whether to trust to our courage and fidelity or not. At that time, a soldier, passing, heard him ask Major Cloud whether he thought he (Cooke) could rely on these “Mormons” in case of an attack. The Major unhesitatingly replied: “The Battalion will follow where you dare to lead,” which he proved very satisfactorily to be true. This distrust is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that though having no personal acquaintance with the “Mormons” previous to meeting the Battalion at Santa Fe, he was very much prejudiced against them from the reports he had heard of their character.
But after about 1,400 miles travel, during 104 days, under the painful circumstances already enumerated, his feelings had materially changed, and he, accordingly, issued the following:
“HEAD QUARTERS MORMON BATTALION,
MISSION OF SAN DIEGO,
January 30, 1847.
(Orders No. 1.)
“The Lieutenant-Colonel commanding congratulates the Battalion on their safe arrival on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and the conclusion of their march of over two thousand miles.
History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry. Half of it has been through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for want of water, there is no living creature. There, with almost hopeless labor we have dug deep wells, which the future traveler will enjoy. Without a guide who had traversed them, we have ventured into trackless table-lands where water was not found for several marches. With crowbar and pick and axe in hand, we have worked our way over mountains, which seemed to defy aught save the wild goat, and hewed a passage through a chasm of living rock more narrow than our wagons. To bring these first wagons to the Pacific, we have preserved the strength of our mules by herding them over large tracts, which you have laboriously guarded without loss. The garrison of four presidios of Sonora concentrated within the walls of Tucson, gave us no pause. We drove them out, with their artillery, but our intercourse with the citizens was unmarked by a single act of injustice. Thus, marching half naked and half fed, and living upon wild animals, we have discovered and made a road of great value to our country.
“Arrived at the first settlement of California, after a single day’s rest, you cheerfully turned off from the route to this point of promised repose, to enter upon a campaign, and meet, as we supposed, the approach of an enemy; and this too, without even salt to season your sole subsistence of fresh meat.
“Lieutenants A. J. Smith and George Stoneman, of the First Dragoons, have shared and given valuable aid in all these labors.
“Thus, volunteers, you have exhibited some high and essential qualities of veterans. But much remains undone. Soon, you will turn your attention to the drill, to system and order, to forms also, which are all necessary to the soldier.
LIEUT. COLONEL P. ST. GEORGE COOKE.
P. C. MERRILL, Adjutant.”
The foregoing order (one of those simple acts of justice so rarely done to “Mormons”) which was not read until February 4th, six days after it was written, was cheered heartily by the Battalion.
A few words, now, about the brave and generous General S. F. Kearney, will not be inappropriate, as, by his orders, we followed on his trail from Leavenworth to Santa Fe, and thence to San Diego, in accordance with the stipulations of our enlistment, under Captain James Allen, of company I, First Dragoons.
After taking Santa Fe, in New Mexico, the General was informed, on what he supposed good authority, that California had been subjugated to the American arms; hence he discharged, or otherwise distributed his entire brigade, except an escort of one hundred picked men to accompany him to California, and the Mormon Battalion, an independent corps, attached to his command, by orders from Washington. His escort was mainly as follows: Captain H. S. Turner, First Dragoons; Lieutenant W. H. Emory, Topographical Engineers, and Captain A. R. Johnston, First Dragoons, A. D. C.; one hundred men of the First Dragoons, commanded by Captain Ben. Moore, and Lieutenant T. C. Hammond, all mounted on mules; also two mountain howitzers, in charge of Lieutenant J. W. Davidson, First Dragoons. The baggage was packed on mules from where he left his wagons on the Rio Del Norte.
He was at first ordered to California to take possession of the same in the name of the United States and thereby become Governor and Commander-in-chief of the State, then under Mexican rule. Subsequent events will show that, although the Californians had been whipped they were not conquered, and the General and small escort had some severe battles, with serious results before reaching the coast.
The General did not learn his mistake until he reached Warner’s rancho, in Lower California, on the second of December, 1846. He had run short of provisions, and avers that seven of his men ate, at a single meal, a fat, full-grown sheep. Here an Englishman by the name of Stokes, who claimed to be neutral, informed the General that Commodore Stockton had possession of San Diego and that the enemy were in possession of the country from there to Santa Barbara. As he stated he was going to San Diego next morning, Kearny gave him a letter to the Commodore.
The mules in possession of Kearny’s troops being poor and jaded, he saw the necessity of securing fresh animals before engaging in battle with the enemy. On learning that there was a band of horses and mules belonging to the Mexican General, Flores, about fifteen miles distant, on the road to Los Angeles, Lieutenant Davidson and fifteen men, accompanied by Carson, were sent to capture them. They returned with their booty next day, December 3rd, at noon. But the animals, being wild, were not of much service.
The following is copied from the General’s official report: “Having learned from Captain Gillespie, of the volunteers, that there was an armed party of Californians at San Pascual, three leagues distant, * * I sent Lieutenant Hammond, First Dragoons, with a few men to make a reconnoissance of them. He returned at two in the morning of the 6th inst., reporting that he had found the party in the place mentioned, and that he had been seen, though not pursued, by them. I then determined that I would march for and attack them by break of day; arrangements were accordingly made for the purpose. My aid-de-camp, Captain Johnston, First Dragoons, was assigned to the command of the advanced guard of twelve dragoons, mounted on the best horses we had; then followed about fifty dragoons and Captain Moore, mounted, with few exceptions, on the tired mules they had ridden from Santa Fe, ten hundred and fifty miles. * * As the day, December 6th, dawned, we approached the enemy at San Pascual, who were already in the saddle; Captain Johnston made a furious charge upon them with his advanced guard, and was, in a short time after, supported by the dragoons, soon after which the enemy gave way, having kept up, from the beginning, a continual fire upon us. Upon the retreat of the enemy, Captain Moore led off rapidly in pursuit, accompanied by the dragoons, mounted on horses, and followed, though slowly, by those on their tired mules.
“The enemy, well mounted and among the best horsemen in the world, after retreating about half a mile, and seeing an interval between Captain Moore, with his advance, and the dragoons coming to his support, rallied their whole force, charged with their lances, and, on account of their greatly superior numbers, but few of us in front remained untouched;
“Their number was thirty-eight, all of whom, save two, were killed or wounded. For five minutes, they held the ground from us, when, our men coming up, we again drove them, and they fled from the field not to return to it, which we occupied and encamped upon. A most melancholy duty now remains for me: it is to report the death of my aid-de-camp, Captain Johnston, who was shot dead at the commencement of the action; of Captain Moore, who was lanced just previous to the final retreat of the enemy; and of Lieutenant Hammond, also lanced, who survived but a few hours. We also had killed, two sergeants, two corporals and ten privates of the First Dragoons; one private of the volunteers, and one engaged in the topographical department. Among the wounded, are myself, (in two places), Lieutenant Warner, topographical engineer (in three places), Captain Gillespie and Captain Gibson, of the volunteers (the former in three places), one sergeant, bugler and nine privates of the dragoons; many of them receiving from two to ten lance wounds, most of them when unhorsed and incapable of resistance. The enemy proved to be a party of about one hundred and sixty Californians, under Andreas Pico, brother of the late governor.
“Our provisions were exhausted, our horses dead, and mules on their last legs; and our men now reduced to one-third their number, were ragged, worn down by fatigue, and emaciated.
“On the morning of the 7th, having made ambulances for our wounded, we proceeded on our march, when the enemy showed themselves occupying the hills in our front, which they left as we approached, till reaching San Bernardo; a party of them took possession of a hill near to it and maintained their position until attacked by our advance, who quickly drove them from it, killing and wounding five of their numbers with no loss on our part.”