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Mormon Battalion and Warner Ranch

Having just hewed their way through the narrow defile and rocky ridge at Box Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert, the Mormon Battalion camped on a spacious plain now known as Blair Valley. But alas, there was yet another boulder-laden ridge to traverse. On the morning of January 20, 1847, the Battalion chiseled and carved a narrow path into solid rock to get their wagons over the ridge at the north end of the valley. This passage was later used by the San Antonio and San Diego Mail Line that was taken over by the Overland Mail Company under the direction of John Butterfield (1857-1861) as a segment of their route to Yuma. This path later became known as Foot and Walker Pass because the stagecoach passengers had to disembark and walk over the ridge to enable their coach to be pulled and pushed over the rocky gap with ropes and “shoulders to the wheel.”

The Battalion now had a relatively flat and wagon-friendly route across Earthquake Valley to San Felipé, site of an abandoned small Indian village (current Scissors Crossing, junction of Hwy 78 and S2). The Battalion was now finally out of the desert terrain. Here, advance scout Jean Baptiste Charbonneau met up with the Battalion and recommended to the commanding dragoon army officer, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, that since supplies were short in San Diego the Battalion should travel up the San Felipé Valley to Warner’s Ranch. The verdant and wooded San Felipé Valley rose gently toward the heavily oak-wooded summit that opened into a verdant open valley (Valle de San José). A shallow creek, Cañada Buena Vista, flowed through the middle of the valley. The Battalion brought their wagons over the pass and traveled along the far north side of the valley. They followed a trail directly toward the ranch of John Warner where they camped within sight of Warner’s Ranch on January 21, 1847. Here they recouped for two days. The ranch was located on an open plain near the Cupeño Indian village of Agua Caliente, named for a nearby natural hot spring. General Kearny and his 110 dragoons had also stopped at Warner’s Ranch December 2-3, 1846, specifically to obtain fresh horses. This was just days before their bloody battle with Andrés Pico’s Californio cavalry at San Pasqual on December 6, 1846.

Warner Ranch

Jonathan Trumbull Warner had moved from Connecticut in 1830 to California via St. Louis and Santa Fe working as a beaver trapper and fur trader, then a merchant in Los Angeles from 1834-1841. He became a Mexican citizen, changing his name to Juan José, and obtained the Rancho San José de Valle land grant of 6 sq. leagues (27,000 acres) in 1844 from José Antonio Pico who had failed as a rancher on the land. The Mexican government wanted to encourage settlement in remote rural areas, despite it being on Cupeño Indian ancestral land. The grant failed to mention the original Cupeño inhabitants, rather that the land was “vacant and abandoned,” a reference to the structures previously built by the aborigines under the supervision of the Franciscan padres from Mission San Luis Rey (near present day Oceanside). However, contemporary accounts described the land differently as being cultivated for grain and vineyards with cattle being herded, all by the local Cupeños. Warner then sought an additional 4 sq. leagues (18,000 acres) in the Laguna Mountain area, but this request was denied by Governor Pia Pico. This explains the historical discrepancy of Warner’s Ranch being cited as consisting of 44,000 acres.

The original ranch consisted of a crude two-room adobe cabin and a granary built by Indians from the Mission San Luis Rey since Warner’s ranch was in this Mission’s district. Lt. William Emory, the topographical engineer traveling with Gen. Kearny’s vanguard dragoon troops, described Warner’s ranch as follows: “Our camp was pitched on the road to the Pueblo, leading a little north of west. To the south, down the valley of the Agua Caliente, lay the road to San Diego. Above us was Mr. Warner’s backwoods, American-looking house, built of adobe and covered with a thatched roof. Around were the thatched huts of the more than half naked Indians . . . Near the house is the source of the Agua Caliente, a magnificent hot spring of the temperature of 137? Fahrenheit, discharging from the fissure of a granite rock a large volume of water, which for along distance down, charges the air with fumes of sulphuretted hydrogen. Above it and draining down the same valley is a cold spring of the temperature of 45? and without the aid of any mechanical instrument, the cold and warm water may be comingled to suit the temperature of the bather.” Apparently Warner was a hard taskmaster. John Griffin, an army doctor accompanying Gen. Kearny described in his journal that the Cupeños were very hard workers, but also Warner’s treatment was “worse by far than the worst-treated slaves in the United States.” Also, Captain A.R. Johnston of Kearny’s dragoons included in his journal that the Cupeños “are stimulated to work by $3 a month and repeated floggings.” Herds of cattle roamed over the vast verdant range land in the valley. Warner’s Ranch was of great significance to the area during this time period because it was the first established settlement in California providing available fresh food, livestock, produce and a place to repair wagons for travelers on the Southern Emigrant Trail since leaving the Colorado River. Later, additional way stations were built, e.g., the Carrillo, the San Felipé and the Vallecito stage stations as commercial traffic developed.

The Battalion at Warner’s Ranch

The Battalion welcomed their stay at Warner’s Ranch. Here they enjoyed their first full meal since being on ¼ rations after leaving Tucson. Rations of the abundant, cheap beef per day ($1.16 to $3.50/cow), were increased to 4 lbs, albeit still without salt. Warner kept the hides from the butchered cattle as they were of greater value as a commercial commodity for the ranch than the meat. William Coray, William Hyde and Nathaniel Jones bought a hog from Warner and the Coray’s recorded that they thought they had never tasted anything so good. Soaking in the hot springs provided the soldiers a refreshing therapy to their aching muscles and revitalization of their spirits. The soldiers were also entertained by the cattle roping skills of the Indian vaqueros using their reatas to lasso the cattle from horseback with great accuracy.

The Battalion left Warner’s Ranch on January 23, 1847, but instead of continuing to San Diego, Lt. Col. Cooke, ordered the Battalion to march to Los Angeles to assist General Kearny there. Cooke hoped to intercept some Californio forces moving east down the Sonora Road (Emigrant Trail) from the battles in Los Angeles and engage in the glory of combat for which he had been trained. However at Temecula, a U.S. dragoon courier caught up with the Battalion with directions from General Kearny for the Battalion to proceed directly to San Diego as originally ordered, since hostilities in Los Angeles had been quelled and were under control. This news lifted the spirits of the Battalion soldiers because this meant they would most likely not have to engage in combat as promised by Brigham Young at their enlistment.

Post-Battalion Structures at “Warner’s Ranch”

Warner’s Trading Post – 1849
In 1849, two years after the departure of the Battalion from his original ranch site, Warner built an adobe brick trading post with an adobe foundation (suggestive of a temporary structure) on the northern hillside above the Buena Vista Creek about 4-5 miles south from his original homestead. This new building was near the trail junction of the southern road to San Diego and the northern route to Temecula and Los Angeles. This trading post served the Southern Emigrant Trail traffic until 1851 when it was burned down in the Cupeño Indian revolt against oppressive conditions and government imposed taxes on their land and cattle. The insurrection was led by Cupeño Chief Antonio Garra to drive out all white settlers from their ancestral homeland. Journal entries from settlers passing through noted adobe walls on the hillside. The Carrillo’s probably rebuilt on this site, using stones for a foundation (protects adobe bricks from ground moisture) but later abandoned it. An authorized archeological excavation in 2004 located and uncovered the foundation of this house and a collection of period-correct artifacts, but mainly from the 1850’s, possibly from use by the Carrillo’s.

Carrillo Stagecoach Station – 1857
Doña Vicenta Sepúlveda de Yorba de Carrillo was the wife of Don José Ramón Carrillo, a Californio who had fought under General Castro in Los Angeles and then with Andrés Pico at the Battle of San Pasqual against invading American forces. She became the grantee of a 4 league section of land in the Valle de San José from a land dispute involving the Portilla land grant of 1836, issued 8 years before the Warner land grant of 1844. In 1857 Doña Carrillo built a house in the area on the southern side of the Buena Vista creek close to the San Diego road junction. This house served as a stage coach stop for the Butterfield Stage Line and the Overland Mail Express. This house, now under reclamation and restoration along with an adjacent barn, is located on Hwy S2 just east of the junction with Hwy 79.

Kimble-Wilson Store – 1862
In 1862 Cyrus Kimble built an adobe store about a mile east of the Carrillo House on the same side of the creek in the Buena Vista valley. This store, located across from a stand of cottonwood trees, became a popular stop for travelers on the stagecoach road. After Kimble was murdered on his way to Los Angeles in 1865, Henry Wilson took over operation of the store which also served as a stable, schoolhouse, meeting place and post office from 1871-1908. Today, the remains of the dilapidated house, also on Hwy S2, is sorely in need of restoration and is fenced in for protection. The house was mismarked as Warner’s Ranch House by a historical plaque erected in 1930, but long since removed.

Warner Ranch House Landmark Plaque
The California State Registered Landmark No. 311 plaque entitled the “Warner Ranch House” was erected in 1964 at the site of the Carrillo Ranch House on Hwy S2. This marker from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and Historical Committee incorrectly states that General Kearny and the Mormon Battalion passed here in 1846 and 1847, respectively, and that Warner built the house. Actually the building was built by Doña Carrillo in 1857, 10 years after Kearny and the Battalion marched to the north of the Buena Vista valley and camped 4-5 miles further to the north closer to the hot springs at Warner’s original homestead ranch. The information on this marker is a good example of the value of continuing historical research unearthing new information to provide accuracy and correct previously held misperceptions and historical errors concerning this historical rich area of San Diego County.