The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Spring 1975, Volume 21, Number 2
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

A Study of the Location of Mule Hill

General Kearny's Camp After the Battle of San Pasqual

Images from the Article

INTRODUCTION

In 1970 the late Colonel Berkeley R. Lewis of Vista, California, informed the author he believed the presently accepted location of Mule Hill, where General Stephen Watts Kearny's command camped after the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846, was incorrect. Further discussion with Colonel Lewis and Mr. and Mrs. Cloyd Sorensen of Vista, as well as a brief visit to the site, confirmed this view. Following this a detailed study was made, which shows that Mule Hill at present is improperly designated. Of the many people who cooperated in making this study (see appendix III) the following deserve special thanks:

The U.S. Marine Corps, 3rd Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force-Pacific, which took aerial photographs.

The U.S. Marine Corps 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade Engineers, which furnished skilled operators with metal detection equipment. The City of San Diego, which owns the site and encouraged the investigation.

Mr. Russell E. Belous, then Curator of Western History at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, who supported this study and assisted with the necessary permission.

Mr. George Kritzman, archaeologist, who assisted in the investigation.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

General Stephen Watts Kearny led a force of U.S. Dragoons to California, leaving Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 25 September 1846. Known as the Kearny Column, and guided by scout Kit Carson, the troops reached the California border near the present city of Yuma, Arizona, about 22 November 1846.

The Kearny Column, including about 110 officers and men, a pack train, and two small cannon, marched across the desert to Warner's Ranch, about four miles south of the present Warners Hot Springs, arriving there on 3 December 1846. The column rested at Warner's Ranch while messengers were dispatched to U.S. Navy Commodore Robert F. Stockton, commanding a force at San Diego. Late on 4 December a friendly civilian arrived in the Kearny Column camp and reported a hostile Californian force camped to the west. Kearny set out to engage the contingent.

On 5 December the column moved west to Rancheria Santa Maria, where they met U.S. Marine Corps Captain Archibald H. Gillespie, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward F. Beal, and thirty men bringing dispatches and mail from San Diego. The arrivals brought information that the Californians were about nine miles west of the Kearny camp. Kearny made a night march in order to engage them early on the sixth of December. From a position above the San Pasqual Valley a scouting party was sent to locate the Californians.

Early on the morning of 6 December the Kearny Column made a disorganized, ill-prepared attack on the Californians. This engagement, known as the Battle of San Pasqual, was fought approximately five miles east of the present city of Escondido and several hundred yards southeast of the present San Pasqual Battlefield Marker. The 200 Californians, commanded by Don Andres Pico, were virtually unharmed, but the Kearny Column suffered 31 casualties, including 18 dead, and Kearny himself was painfully wounded. The Kearny Column limped to camp for the night on a hill immediately northwest of the battlefield.

On 7 December the battered Column marched westward toward San Diego, constantly harrassed by the Californians as it moved. That night Kearny's troop camped on Mule Hill, an accessible and readily defended position located about five miles south of the present city of Escondido.

The Californians easily held the Kearny Column on Mule Hill. While trapped there, Kearny's men burned the baggage they could no longer transport, and were reduced to eating what remained of their animal transport, thereby giving the camp site its name of "Mule Hill." Fortunately the Kearny Column was able to get water from the nearby San Dieguito River (sometimes called Santa Ysabel Creek). The wounded Sergeant Cox of the U.S. Dragoons died at the Mule Hill camp and was buried somewhere nearby.

While the Kearny Column was trapped on Mule Hill, scout Kit Carson and Navy Lieutenant Edward F. Beal slipped through the Californian lines and made their way to San Diego to summon relief. On 11 December 1846 a force of 200 U.S. Marines and sailors from San Diego arrived to relieve the Kearny force on Mule Hill. The Californian force simply melted away. That same day the entire United States force marched to San Diego without further incident.

 

THE MARCH FROM SAN PASQUAL TO MULE HILL

The location of Mule Hill is partly determined by the route of the Kearny Column's march, but this route was not well described by any of the participants. The site of the Battle of San Pasqual has always been correctly known, and recent fragments of weapons picked up in the area confirm the location. The camp site of the night after the battle is established as being immediately west of the present battlefield marker, and a few ancient medicine bottles of the type used in the 1840s have been found on this hill.

It is known that the Kearny Column headed directly for the old Los Angeles-San Diego trail in order to follow it to San Diego. This road ran parallel to modern U.S. Highway 395 and slightly east of it in this vicinity. A study of maps and aerial photographs reveals there are only two direct easy routes from the San Pasqual Battlefield to the general Mule Hill location. Of the two possible routes to Mule Hill, one approaches the site from the south, and the other from the north. It is known that people inhabited the San Pasqual Mule Hill region when the battle was fought, so it must be recognized that there were well-defined trails and travel routes in use at the time. The first segment of the Kearny Column marched west to Mule Hill down the San Pasqual Valley. U.S. Army Topographical Engineer Lieutenant W. H. Emory, with the Kearny Column, best, but still vaguely, describes this march, and says it began in this direction. This line of march paralleled the modern secondary road which branches southwest from State Highway 78, immediately west of the San Pasqual Battlefield Marker.

After marching several miles west, the Kearny Column turned south. From this point the route could have taken either of two logical courses leading directly to the Los Angeles & San Diego trail. Although the reason for this turn south has been stated as being a brush with the hostile Californians, it is equally likely it was made to keep out of rough little hills at the east end of the San Pasqual Valley.

One of the routes south, the one which would have led them to the south side of the Mule Hill location followed the course of the San Dieguito River. This leads through a narrow and swampy arroyo, a line of march over what is still naturally marshy ground. It was raining in early December, 1846, and part of the disaster at San Pasqual was caused when the wet black gunpowder in Kearny's guns failed to fire. It seems highly unlikely that the exhausted Kearny Column would have marched through this wash because of the soggy nature of the ground and the wet weather. There is no modern road on this route, and no evidence of an old one.

On the other hand, the route which would have taken the Kearny Column to the north side of the Mule Hill location runs along the route of the present San Pasqual Road. This road follows a high and dry course through a low pass in the hills, and all the evidence indicates it has been a road or trail for a very long time. It is also a more direct route to the Los Angeles-San Diego road than the course of the San Dieguito River.

In order to get to the traditionally designated site of Mule Hill, it is necessary to approach from the south, or over the San Dieguito River route. From this approach there are several small hills which might be Mule Hill. One of these small hills is the presently designated Mule Hill.

If the Mule Hill location is approached from the north, the large hill which might be Mule Hill completely hides all the small hills, including the one now identified as Mule Hill. The old Los Angeles-San Diego road and trail ran at the western foot of this large hill.

The entire Mule Hill location, and the Kearny Column's possible routes to it, have been scouted in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and. this reconnaissance tends to prove the approach from the north over San Pasqual Road was the Kearny Column's most practical line of march. Even in dry weather it was difficult to drive this vehicle over the soft ground of the San Dieguito River bed. Walking over the ground is difficult because of its sogginess.

In addition to the terrain evidence, which indicates the large hill is the true Mule Hill site, there are several additional pieces of information to support this conclusion. First, highly skilled topographer Lieutenant Emory set down the exact longitude and latitude of Mule Hill as 117° 03' 29" west and 33° 03' 42" north, and this point registers on the western end of the big hill using the Escondido, California, 1:2400 topographical map.

Another consideration supporting the large hill as the correct site is that the size of Kearny's command, including the men who had joined him from San Diego, amounted to about 125 people, some pack and riding animals, a quantity f baggage, and the two cannon. Placing all f these men, animals and equipment on any of the small hills, including the presently designated Mule Hill site, would have been impossible, even if everyone, including the animals, stood shoulder to shoulder.

Those involved also reported that Mule Hill was a readily defended position. The large hill is higher than any of the small hills, including the designated Mule Hill site south f it. If the Californians had been on the large hill while Kearny's command occupied any of the smaller hills, the Californians literally could have thrown rocks into Kearny's camp. The Californians were never a serious threat to the Kearny Column's camp on Mule Hill. The large hill would have afforded a camp site which a force such as the Kearny Column's 100 effective troops, armed as they were, could have readily defended against a force the size of the 200 Californians.

The most important evidence pointing to the large hill as the true Mule Hill is that people in the area have artifacts which date from the days of the Kearny Column's adventure, and they point to the large hill as the place where these have been picked up off the surface of the ground. These artifacts include the sorts of fragments which would survive the Kearny Column's baggage burning: hardware from saddles, uniform buttons, hardware from equipment, horseshoe nails, and similar bits and pieces. These people also pointed out that nothing even vaguely similar could be found on any other hill in the general Mule Hill location, and this included the presently designated Mule Hill site.

With these facts considered, it was decided to conduct an archaeological investigation at the Mule Hill location to discover which was the true Mule Hill.

 

THE MULE HILL ARCHAEOLOGICAL TEST

In an effort to firmly establish the true location of Mule Hill it was decided to use electronic metal detectors for an archaeological investigation in the general area. To obtain the most sophisticated of these devices, the U.S. Marine Corps at nearby Camp Pendleton was asked to assist an archaeological reconnaissance team from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in an attempt to locate artifacts left by the Kearny Column.

On the morning of 13 July 1970, skilled Marine Corps personnel, guided by the Museum archaeological team, used the Marine Corps detectors to sweep the small hill previously designated as Mule Hill.

The Marines spent the entire morning carefully scouring the hill; however, everything detected was modern junk: hundreds of bits including .22 rim fire cartridge cases, shotgun shell heads, small nails, modern tin cans, and even a few modern nuts and bolts. (A list of material recovered is in appendix.) The Marines had not been told that it was anticipated no artifacts would be found on the first hill they swept, and they searched it very carefully because they were not finding any of the kind of material they knew was being sought.

At lunch the Marines were told the story of the Battle of San Pasqual and Mule Hill. In their opinion, it would have been impossible for 125 soldiers to defend a position on the hill they had spent the morning sweeping. They agreed that a second small hill on the south side of the location might have held a command of 125 men, so they spent the next few hours sweeping it. Again nothing but modern junk was found, and no object which might have dated from the time the Kearny Column was on Mule Hill.

About mid-afternoon the Marines were asked to move to the large hill and begin sweeping it. In the first few minutes they found artifacts which dated from the Kearny Column's time, and, of course, a lot of the same kind of assorted modern junk found on the other hills. They were able to sweep only a small portion of the big hill that afternoon, but even in the limited time available they found enough material from the era of the Kearny Column to indicate the large hill needed a thorough sweeping.

The next day, July 14, the Marines swept the large hill, an area several times as large as the two small hills covered on the previous day. By the end of the day the Marines had found 105 artifacts which probably dated from the time of the Kearny Column, plus a mass of modern junk.

Most of the artifacts recovered on the large hill were associated with Kearny's animal transport. Forty were bits and pieces of saddle hardware: saddle staples, rings, rivets, hangers, buckles, and similar small metal parts. All this material was clinched, riveted, or burred as it would have been only if it came from saddles which had been burned or destroyed in some way which would leave only the metallic parts. These pieces were widely dispersed over the hill, and their varying nature makes it apparent they came from many saddles of the type used in the 1840s.

There were also some twenty horseshoe nails, some of them clinched as they are when used. It is known that the Kearny Column men had eaten some of their animals, and it is possible that these clinched nails came from the hooves of those butchered.

Other relics dating from the 1840s included regulation military buttons. A single goldwashed naval officer's button of pre-Civil War vintage was found on the hill, and it is known that Navy Lieutenant Beal and other naval officers were with the Kearny Column and the men who relieved it. The fire-scarred remains of a military cross-belt plate f the Mexican . War period was found, as well as other bits f military uniform hardware of the same period. Also recovered were a few items associated with the type of firearms in use at the time f Kearny's stay on Mule Hill, including one fired percussion musket cap of the early very heavy pattern which went out of general use about 1850.

One very interesting piece was the remains of a spur of the type the U.S. Army used in the 1840s which had been bent out of shape as if to destroy it. Among the most convincing pieces were a complete horse bit f a "Pelham" type obsolete by 1850, and the side bar from a second identical bit. These bits were of the pattern the Kearny Column would have had for pack animals.

All the material from the pre-Civil War period described above was found within four inches f the surface, and much of it in association with what appeared to be the remains of fires. It apparently had been covered by the natural effects f time. Only two artifacts were found which apparently had been deliberately buried: two lengths of broken saber blades. One f these was found a foot deep, the other about a foot and a half deep, and very close to each other under what appeared to be the remains of a good sized campfire beneath the shelter of a large rock overhang. These were welcome finds since they proved how well the mine detectors were working. These blade pieces do not conform to any regulation U.S. pattern; however, army officers of the 1840s did not necessarily carry regulation sabers. These were probably swords of dead officers, or officers' swords destroyed to prevent possible capture by the Californians.

An unsuccessful search was made for the grave of U.S. Dragoon Sergeant Cox who died and was buried on or near Mule Hill. His body could not be found when the dead from the Battle of San Pasqual were reinterred some years after the fight. The Marines commented that, under the conditions which prevailed on rocky Mule Hill when Sergeant Cox died, they believed the soldiers would have buried him in the soft ground at the foot of the hill.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The evidence demonstrates that the site now designated as Mule Hill is not the correct hill, and that the large hill with the two prominent rock outcrops on its western end is the true Mule Hill. The evidence further shows that the Kearny Column camp was on the large hill in the area immediately to the east f the two big rock outcrops since three-quarters of the artifacts of the period were found in this area. The study f the Kearny Column march route places it along the dry road route described, and the route approaching from the north could have taken Kearny only to the large hill since he could not see the small hills from this aspect. The artifacts found on the large hill are the remains of the baggage which the Kearny Column burned on Mule Hill to prevent its falling into the hands of the Californians in the event they had to surrender. In addition, the large hill is the only one in the general Mule Hill area big enough to have afforded a readily defended campsite for the 125 men f the Kearny Column, their remaining animals, baggage, and two cannon. Finally, the latitude and longitude f the Mule Hill camp site, as recorded by Lieutenant Emory, are further prof that this is the true Mule Hill.

It is recommended that the current recorded location of Mule Hill be changed to the large hill. Because the Mule Hill location is still very much as it was when the Kearny Column camped there in 1846, this area should be set aside by its owner, the City of San Diego, as an historical site, and be preserved in its present relatively natural condition. Because of its rough and rocky nature, this land is suitable only for grazing livestock which would not affect its future use as a public park or picnic ground.

The relics thus far recovered, including those found by others, probably do not represent all that was left when the Kearny Column's baggage was burned. The absence of such artifacts as major parts of firearms, edged weapons, and similar large metal items very valuable in California in 1846 seems to confirm this conclusion. Such material may have been buried under the large rocks on the Mule Hill camp site after it had been burned so the Californians could not find it. Another archaeological investigation of the site should be undertaken with special efforts to explore under the large boulders in the hope of finding more material. This was not done at the time of the investigation because of the lack of time and equipment necessary to shift the large rocks.

 

Artifacts Recovered from the Designated Mule Hill Site

APPENDIX I

Artifacts Recovered from the Designated Mule Hill Site

1 - 2 3/4ths inch diameter steel ring with nine links of galvanized steel chain attached. Modern.
1 - 5/8ths modern steel cap screw 2 3/4ths inches long.
1 - 7 inch very rusted modern bolt with nut and washer.
1 - 5/8ths inch modern steel bolt 16 1/2 inches long.
8 - bone fragments, probably cow.
7 - scraps of modern iron wire (many others discarded).
6 - modern 1 3/4ths inch modern wire staples (many others discarded).
2 - Rusted fragments of a pair of relatively modern scissors.
5 - modern wire nails (others discarded).
3 - rusted fragments of iron wire.
1 - fragment of a square cut iron nail.
5 - fired bullets from modern firearms.
1 - fired modern center fire cartridge case.
1 - unfired modern .22 long rifle rim fire cartridge.
28 - modern metallic shotgun shell heads (fired).
1 - aluminum base from a modern automotive electric light bulb.
1 - rusted modern metallic bottle cap.
8 - fragments of modern tin cans (others discarded).
1 - fragment of a modern high tension electric power glass insulator (other modern glass and ceramic fragments discarded).
1 - old, empty, rusty Olympia beer can. Quantities of miscellaneous junk (tin cans, iron wire, copper wire, bolts, automotive parts, etc.) and many fragments of old electric powerline glass and ceramic insulators found on the surface of this hill were discarded or left in place. All the above material actually dug out of the ground.
The second hill was littered with the same general type of junk mentioned above, and the buried junk was also the same type. No old artifacts were found on either of these hills.

 

Artifacts Recovered from Large Hill at Mule Hill Location

APPENDIX II

Artifacts recovered from Large Hill at Mule Hill Location

3 - rusted fragments of heavy tin cans, c. 1850.
2 - rusted fragments of a broken flintlock pistol spring.
1 - U.S. Army type iron spur, rusted and bent (1840's type).
1 - 15 inch piece of tip end of saber blade, U.S. Army type, badly rusted and buried 15-18 inches deep.
1 - 8 inch piece of tip end of saber blade, general U.S. Army type, badly rusted and buried 10-12 inches deep.
2 - rusted iron saddle staples, old U.S. Army type, 2 inches long.
1 - rusted iron saddle staple. Old U.S. Army type, 1 inch long.
1 - 1 3/16ths brass loops, iron tongue "D" type military haversack buckle or type used by U.S. Army.
1- 1 3/16ths iron "D" type military haversack buckle, old U.S. Army type.
20 - iron horseshoe nails, all badly rusted, and some clinched.
2 - 1 1/2 inch diameter iron saddle rings, rusted, one with clinched staple still attached.
1 - 1 3/4ths inch diameter iron saddle ring, rusted, eye still attached.
9 - saddle rivets, iron, rusted.
5 - unidentified iron fragments.
2 - saddle cantle "U" staples 2 inches and riveted, old U.S. Army type and very rusted.
1 - complete "Pelham" curb and side-bar bit of 1840's type.
1 - side bar for identical bit to above.
2 - unidentified two piece sheet metal fabrications 5 1/4 inches long and very well made.
3 - fired complete modern shotgun shell casting.
8 - old style iron harness buckles, all rusted and one only a fragment.
1 - iron musket worm, rusted.
2 - stamped iron trouser buttons, 4 hole, 11/16ths inch diameter of type used by U.S. Army in 1840's and 50's.
1 - pre-Civil War U.S. Navy officer's button, 9/16ths inch diameter.
1 - fragment U.S. Army 1840's cross belt plate, brass, burned.
1 - musket or pistol ball, lead 1/2 inch diameter.
1 - tired copper musket cap of old heavy pattern discarded about 1850.
12 - complete and fragmentary hand-cut iron nails, all used and rusty.
1 - fragment of cast iron possibly from a hand mill.
1 - fragment of melted "pot metal" (non-ferrous but not lead or brass).
1 - iron horseshoe of undeterminable age.
1 - brass or bronze band from a muzzle-loading pistol in good condition.
1 - antique type hand made wood screw.
10 - fragments of fabrications of iron wire of antique type.
7 - modern 1 3/4ths inch iron wire staples.
1 - iron chisel of undetermined age.
5 - fragments of modern copper wire (others discarded).
4 - fragments of modern iron wire (others discarded).
1 - large lot of fragments of modern tin cans (others discarded).
1 - "H-C Const" brass tool check. 1- modern metallic plate nut.
1 - modern 7/16ths bolt with lock washer, rusted iron.
47 - fired modern metallic shotgun shell heads.
5 - fired modern center fire metallic cartridge cases.
8 - fired modern rim fire cartridge cases.
4 - fired modern bullets.
3 - modern plastic shotgun shell wads (others discarded).
1 - fragment of a burst modern shotgun barrel.
4 - fragments of glass green bottle.
1 - modern glass percolator top.
1 - fragment modern glass (many others discarded, all brown and green type bottle glass.)
4 - bone fragments, probably native wild animals of larger size.
6 - large fragments of a cast iron cooking pot, possibly a "Dutch Oven" of undetermined age and apparently deliberately broken into small bits.
1 - milk can lid, iron and burned so tin plating has run and lumped.

This is the type of container top which would be used on the tin cans the U.S. Army used to pack water on animals in most of the nineteenth century.

The surface of this site was littered with modern junk as were all the surrounding hills (tin cans, iron wire, barbed wire, copper wire, nuts, bolts, etc.) which were not picked up. All the material on the above list was actually dug out of the ground, and, unless otherwise stated, within four inches of the surface.

 

APPENDIX III Participants in the Mule Hill Investigation

Volunteers:

Cloyd Sorensen, Suzanne Sorensen, Maureen Buckley, Peter Buckley, Robert Buckley, Col. Berkeley R. Lewis

Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History:

George Kritzman, Logan Smith, Russell E. Belous, Bea Belous, Nancy B. Schreier, Konrad F. Schreier, III, Douglas B. Schreier, Konrad F. Schreier, Jr.

Co., B., 11th Engineer Battalion, 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Fleet Marine Force, Camp Pendleton, California:

1st Lt. D.T. Dicken, MSgt. Harley W. Smith, Cpl. James L. Granville, Cpl. Stanford M. Hoisten, L/Cpl. Robert W. Collier, L/Cpl. Ronnie F. Whely, PFC Steven M. Rahn,

U.S. Marine Company Reconnaissance Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force-Pacific, El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, California: LTC R. E. Percival, commanding, and the pilots and other personnel of the squadron.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brackett, Albert G. History of the United States Cavalry New York: Argonaut Press, 1965 (reprint of 1855 edition). Clarke, Dwight L. "San Pasqual: California's Most Famous Battleground," Southern California Quarterly, XLIV (June, 1962),159-67.

Clarke, Dwight L. "A Correction," Southern California Quarterly, XLIV (December, 1962), 348.

Coy, Owen C. The Battle of San Pasqual Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1921.

Coy, Owen C. Personal papers and research notes, Archives, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

Emory, W. H. Notes of a Military Reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California Senate

Exec. Doc. 41, 33rd Cong., 1st sess. (1848)

Hughes, John T. Doniphan's Expedition Topeka: W. E. Connelley, 1907 (includes Kearny correspondence).

Schreier, Konrad F., Jr. "Kearny at San Pasqual," Terra: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, II (Winter, 1973),28-31.

Schreier, Konrad F., Jr. "Tracking Mule Hill," Periodical: Council on Abandoned Military Posts, IV (Fall-Winter, 1972), 19-22.

Woodward, Arthur, "Lances at San Pasqual," California Historical Society Quarterly, XXV (December, 1946), 289-308, and XXVI (March, 1947), 21-62.

 

 


Konrad F. Schreier, Jr., is a military and technological historian and consultant, an author, and a lecturer. After serving in World War II he completed his education, and from 1951 to 1967 he was a research and development engineer in industry. Always interested in military and technological history, he then left the engineering profession to work full time in the history field. His credits include numerous popular magazine articles, several books on special aspects of U.S. Military History and motion picture and TV work including being resident historian on 20th Century Fox's film TORA! TORA! TORA! He is a Research Associate in Military History on the staff of the History Division of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Harry Kelsey, head of this division, gave his kind permission to the article. Illustrations provided by the author.