News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

Shop Hansen Surfboards
News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

Shop Surf Gear at HansenSurf.com
physicians-mutual-dental-insurance-banners

Historically Speaking: The Strange Battle for California’s Governor

By Tom Morrow

One of California’s most controversial characters was Stephen Watts Kearny, a brigadier general in the U.S. Army. Kearny, (as in San Diego’s Kearny Mesa community), was an experienced military leader who served in the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Mexican-American War.
Explorer/surveyor Lt. Col. John C. Fremont, preparing for one of his famed trips to California, tried to have issued a small cannon from Kearny’s command at Fort Riley, Kansas. Kearny refused the request, but Fremont took the cannon anyway, quickly making an enemy.
On Sept. 25, 1846, during Mexican-American War, Kearny set out for California. On his way he encountered the famed guide Kit Carson, a scout for Fremont’s California Battalion. Carson was carrying messages back to Washington to tell President Polk California was under U.S. control. Kearny learned from Carson California was under the command of Commodore Robert F. Stockton fleet in San Diego Bay as well as Frémont’s California Battalion in Los Angeles and Northern San Diego County.
In spite of Fremont’s orders, Kearny made Carson return to guide him and his troops back to California while he sent revised messages east with a different courier. Assuming there would be no hostile encounters, Kearny sent 200 dragoons back to Santa Fe believing California was secure.
But on a wet Dec. 6, 1846, Kearny’s troops encountered Andrés Pico (Californio Gov. Pio Pico’s brother) and a force of about 150 Californio Lancers, which began the Battle of San Pasqual, just south of present-day Escondido.
With most of his men mounted on weary untrained mules, Kearney’s fool-hearty command executed an uncoordinated attack on Pico’s force, but the U.S. troops found most of their powder wet and pistols and carbines would not fire. They soon found their mules and cavalry sabers were poor defense against Californio Lancers mounted on well-trained horses.
Kearny’s column, along with the small force suffered siege and pending defeat. About 18 men of Kearny’s force were killed; retreating to a hill top, (today known as “Mule Hill” which is alongside Interstate 15), to dry their powder and treat their wounded while they were surrounded. Kearny had been slightly wounded.
Kit Carson slipped away through Pico’s men at night, returning to San Diego for help. Commodore Stockton sent a combined force of U.S. Marine and U.S. Navy bluejacket sailors rescued Kearny’s column as the newly-arrived U.S. forces quickly drove out the Californios.
In Jan. 20, 1847, facing a a combined force of about 600 men consisting of Kearny’s dragoons, Stockton’s marines and sailors, and two companies of Frémont’s California Battalion, the Mexican forces in California capitulated to Fremont, and the Treaty of Cahuenga ended the fighting in California.
The hatred between Fremont and Kearny re-emerged after the treaty as to who would be military governor. Kearny claimed command despite the fact he was equal in rank to Admiral Stockton and that California was brought under U.S. control by Stockton’s naval forces and Fremont’s troops. Unfortunately, the War Department had not worked out a protocol for who would be in charge. Stockton had appointed Frémont military governor of California, which infuriated Kearny, believing he should be governor.
With all his Army reinforcements behind him, Kearny assumed command, appointed his own territorial military governor and ordered Frémont to resign and accompany him back to Fort Leavenworth for court martial regarding the cannon “theft” and insubordination.
A court martial convicted Frémont and ordered that he receive a dishonorable discharge, but President James Polk quickly commuted Frémont’s sentence due to services he had rendered over his career.
Frémont resigned his commission and later was elected one of the first U.S. senators from California. In 1856, Fremont was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party. Later, during the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed Fremont general in command of the Army of the West in St. Louis. After a number of unsuccessful campaigns, U.S. Grant relieved him of command.
In 1873, Fremont was appointment territorial governor of Arizona. He died on Jan. 13, 1890, of peritonitis at his home in New York City.
Kearny remained military governor of California until May 31, 1848, when he set out overland across the California Trail to Washington, D.C. and was welcomed as a hero. During the aftermath of the Mexican War, he was appointed governor of Veracruz, and later of Mexico City. He also received a promotion to major general in September 1848, over the heated opposition of Fremont’s father-in-law, U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton.
After contracting yellow fever in Veracruz, Kearny died in October 1848 at the age of 54. He buried in a National Historic Landmark cemetery in St. Louis. Today, he is the namesake of Kearny, Arizona and Kearney, (pronounced “kar-ney”) Nebraska, along with dozens of streets, and schools across the nation.


My latest novel, “In The Shadow of The Fox” and all my other books are available in both print and e-book formats at Amazon.com.

Activate Search
Historically Speaking: The Strange Battle for California’s Governor