From Temecula Valley to Mission San Luis Rey
The two day stopover at Warner Ranch provided the Mormon Battalion a much needed recuperation time following their arduous journey across the arid terrain from the Colorado River and out of the Anza-Borrego desert. At Warner Ranch, in addition to the local Cupeños, was a small band of 10 Indians from the Mission San Luis Rey who had sought refuge from a battle they had with Californio troops in Temecula. Their leader, Chief Antonis, requested permission from Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, to attach themselves with the Battalion on the journey to Temecula to bury their dead. Cooke consented and assigned them to be scouts and herders of the Battalion’s cattle.
Dutifully, the Battalion left Warner Ranch on January 23, 1847 and continued on their march, traveling northward to provide additional troops to aid General Kearny in the conquest of Los Angeles instead of south to San Diego. Cooke reasoned that with John Frémont and his California Volunteers descending on Pueblo de Los Angeles from the north and Kearny with his dragoons from the south, advancing northward would enable his Battalion to intercept Californio troops attempting to escape to the east. The Battalion soldiers were upset with this decision. Marching to Los Angeles meant the potential for armed conflict with Californio forces, which is the “active operations” Cooke was eager for as a trained army officer, but the Battalion was not of the same persuasion.
Their northward march took the Battalion through a dry, rocky valley flanked by the Palomar Mountains to the west. They passed through Aguanga and after a total of 25 miles from Warner Ranch, around dusk, the Battalion set up camp in the Radec Valley which was next to the junction of the Temecula and Seco Creeks at the foot of Wild Horse Peak. Here the Battalion experienced a heavy rain storm and high winds that were accelerated through the narrow mountain valleys that added to the storm’s severity. Pitched tents were blown over, campfires extinguished and the soldiers with their gear were drenched. They moved camp about 4 miles down the Temecula Creek where there was grass for the livestock, trees, wood and better shelter for the troops. This campsite is now covered by Vail Lake. Cooke noted in his journal that a “raging torrent” occurred behind them on January 24.
With blankets, clothes, weapons, supplies soaked from the storm, a senior priesthood leader (Quorum of the Seventy), Pvt. Levi Hancock likened this storm to the one experienced by Zion’s Camp at Fish River except this one lacked thunder. He recorded in his journal,”. . .the words came to me just as Joseph said them this storm serves for a ramble to keep off the dogs (referring to the Missouri mobsters) and I could not get it out of my mind and I said that the Lord would not suffer any of them (Californio armed troops) to kill us as they did Carney’s men (Dec. 6, 1846 Battle of San Pasqual) with this cause the authoraties had profesied saifety [sic] and God would deliver. . . .”. Hancock used this dampening occasion to call the soldiers to repentance. Hancock was concerned that God had opened the heavens to bring his wrath upon the Battalion in this manner because Brigham Young had promised they would not die in battle, but would be spared in spite of their wickedness. The nature of their supposed evil-doings is not elucidated, but speculation might conjure up such negative activities as swearing, card playing, idleness, shirking duty or chores, backbiting, ill-temperament, un-Christian-like actions or behavior, petty theft, not praying or reading their scriptures regularly.
Robert Whitworth, an adventurous 16-year old English teenager who had enlisted into Co. E at Ft. Leavenworth, recorded in his journal a description of his going on guard duty. His entry captures some of the hardship and misery of performing routine military sentry duty endured by the Battalion soldiers. “The Corporal of the guard went to place us on post, and I was the last one. It was pitch dark and rained a perfect Streak. We had a swamp to cross before he could put me on post. . . . At last he went ahead, and I followed him, thigh deep in water and sometimes waist deep. After a quarter of a mile of this delightful travelling, he put me on post, where I had to walk pretty smart to keep from freezing. Two hours was the regular time for a man to be on post, but it was three hours and no sign of any one to relieve me. . . . However they did come at last. And I retired to Sleep in wet blankets untill [sic] morning determined to stand no more guard that night.”
The storm passed over and January 25, 1847 was a clear day as the Battalion traveled into the Temecula valley which was described as a beautiful lush and verdant valley. However, the Battalion also encountered the potential for battle as they came across a large number of potential hostiles, lined as though in a battle array, numbering somewhere between 200-500. Lt. Col. Cooke readied the Battalion for a skirmish, but it soon became evident that they had come across the village of friendly Temecula Indians who had also initially mistaken the Battalion for Californio troops, with whom they had just recently engaged in a deadly battle. The Temeculas were readying their dead for burial. Robert Whitworth’s journal entry reveals an interesting perspective on this incident. “Our Captain was in high Spirits at the prospect of a brush. He rode along the ranks telling to Aim Low, Aim at the crotch. . . . but it turned out that the Indians did not want to fight, they had come out to pay their respects. We were not sorry, for to play with Rifle and ball and bows and arrows is a dangerous game.”
South to San Diego
On January 25 an express dragoon courier from General Kearny reached the Battalion and informed them that since hostilities had ceased in Los Angeles they were to proceed south to San Diego as per their original orders. This news brought delight and relief to the Battalion. The soldiers recalled Brigham Young’s promise that they would not have to fight with the enemy and they were grateful for this change in direction.
The Battalion moved out of the Temecula valley via a difficult high mountain pass (immediately east behind the current Border Patrol Station on Fwy 15). According to Pvt. Guy Keysor, “We left this beautiful valley by ascending an extreme bad high hill up which we had almost to carry the wagons by hand.” Their descent from the pass brought the Battalion to a level valley which they followed through the current town of Rainbow and uneventfully down to the San Luis Rey River basin.
San Luis Rey
Pvt. Henry Bigler captured the dangers and challenges of fording a stream in his journal entry. “While fording a creek the water being high from the late rains and the current swift as a mill-tail and the fording bad, every officer got a complete ducking, except the Colonel. Their mules fell from under them and footmen waded, the whole Battalion was completely wet.”
Making their way through the quicksand and marshy terrain of the San Luis Rey River, but serenaded by song birds, the Battalion arrived at the magnificently impressive, but abandoned Mission San Luis Rey de Francia east of present day Oceanside on Hwy 76. The Battalion was able to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time from a bluff about a mile from the Mission. It was January 27, 1847, two days from achieving their long awaited destination of San Diego.
Mission San Luis Rey
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798 and was the largest of the 21 Alta California Catholic missions, subsequently identified as “King of the Missions”. It had been abandoned in 1832 when the missions were secularized by the Mexican government and the working padres vacated the site. Due to its palacial construction and abundant rooms, enclosed courtyard and surrounding farmland and orchards, General Kearny designed Mission San Luis Rey as the initial garrison post for the Battalion. After spending only two days at the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the Battalion returned to the Mission San Luis Rey on February 3, 1847. It was here that the Battalion soldiers finally received formal army drill instruction and infantry training for 1-1/2 months under Lt. Col. Cooke.
On March 14, Co. B was assigned garrison duty in San Diego and Co. A, C, D, E were ordered to Los Angeles. Army Dragoon Lt. Stoneman was given command over Co. C Dragoons previously stationed at San Diego and 32 ill Battalion soldiers under Lt. Oman, Co. A who remained at the Mission. This unit served garrison and patrol duty at San Luis Rey until mid July 1847 when Co. B and the San Luis Rey garrison of the Battalion were ordered to Los Angeles for formal discharge from their one year of volunteer Army service.