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Kearny's March to California


KEARNY'S MARCH TO CALIFORNIA. Just after the start of the Mexican-American War in June 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny led the Army of the West out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with orders to march down the Santa Fe Trail into Upper California and take possession of the territory for the United States. His swift, forceful invasion of Mexico's thinly populated northern frontier met no resistance. On 15 August, the Army of the West marched into Las Vegas, New Mexico, and three days later entered Santa Fe. On 25 September, Kearny moved west again, his numbers considerably reduced as his volunteers had turned south into Mexico to join the war there.

On 6 October at Socorro, New Mexico, Kearny met the renowned scout Kit Carson coming east with the news that California was already in American hands. Knowing the worst of the trail lay before him and believing the fighting to be over, Kearny reduced his force to one hundred dragoons and a few hunters, now all mounted on mules, and commandeered the services of a protesting Carson.

The army pushed west along the Gila River, through the harsh Sonoran desert. Halfway there Kearny learned that the Californios had revolted, throwing the Americans out of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The army pushed on under conditions that reduced men and beasts to starvation. Almost dead, they stumbled into eastern California on 2 December. Coming upon a party of Californio horsemen four days later in the Indian village of San Pascual, Kearny attacked—perhaps to get the fresh horses. Recent rains made the Americans' guns useless; the Californios counterattacked with lances and reatas (lassos). In the furious skirmishing, twenty-two Americans died. Kearny himself was wounded. Harassed by the Californios, his army staggered into San Diego on 12 December, where it joined forces with Commodore Robert F. Stockton. On 10 January 1847 Kearny and Stockton marched into Los Angeles and ended the revolt. Kearny never fully recovered from his wounds and died in 1848.


Clarke, Dwight L. Stephen Watts Kearney: Soldier of the West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.


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