Conquering California, Part 14 of 17: The Battle of Rio San Gabriel
This is Part 14 of a 17-part series. There’s no need for embarrassment. Everyone has dementia to some degree. So If you’ve forgotten what happened in the last part, you can follow this link, and get yourself up-to-date.
To start at the beginning, follow this link.
The Battle of Rio San Gabriel
After the Battle of San Pasqual, General Kearny spent several weeks in San Diego, licking his wounds.
Then he decided it was time to retake Los Angeles. But could he? General Jose Maria Flores seemed invincible. Against all odds, he had defeated a force much larger than his, at the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun. There’s no doubt Americans felt a little apprehensive about facing Flores again.
But on December 28, Kearny and Commodore Stockton decided to give it a try. However, unlike in the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun, this time they brought along horses, wagons, and most importantly, six cannons, to take care of that gun. They led a 600-man force on a 120-mile march toward Los Angeles.
General Flores awaited with 300 men and two cannons, while dug in on a 50-foot high bluff above the San Gabriel River. His position was at a key ford of the river, with the intent to block an approach on Los Angeles from the south. It was about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, in the current-day city of Pico Rivera.
On January 8, 1847, they clashed in the Battle of Rio San Gabriel. And Flores proved to be not quite so invincible after all. The six American cannons quickly silenced the two Californio cannons. Flores’ men bravely charged the Americans, but they only had makeshift ammunition, and little gunpowder. They were easily repulsed.
Then Kearny’s men charged, with overwhelming numbers. Flores’ men could not hold out, and withdrew in retreat. The battle lasted just 90 minutes.
Stockton and Kearny’s forces pursued, and on January 10, 1847, encountered Flores’ Californio militia at a place called La Mesa. This is near where the city of Vernon now stands, and is about 4 miles south of Los Angeles.
Here, the Battle of La Mesa, the last battle of the California Campaign, was fought. Within 15 minutes, Flores’ forces were defeated by the overwhelming firepower of American artillery.
Most of his men had had enough. They deserted the battlefield and went home. Flores held a final council, where he transferred command to General Andres Pico. He released all his prisoners, and then fled to Mexico.
The Siege of Los Angeles was over, and within a few days the pueblo was reoccupied.
The Treaty of Cahuenga
Three days after the Battle of La Mesa, on January 13, 1847, General Andres Pico and Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont approached each other alone, in the Cahuenga Pass. This is the present day site of Universal City, and Universal Studios, in the Hollywood Hills. And this was a very apt place, because the scene could have been straight out of a Hollywood movie.
A few weeks earlier, in Santa Barbara, a Californio woman named Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez had all the audacity to ask for ten minutes of Fremont’s time. He went ahead and granted it.
Those ten minutes stretched to two hours. She used every diplomatic skill at her disposal, and urged Fremont to negotiate a generous peace. She held his hand and asked that he agree to pardon Pico, release prisoners, guarantee equal rights for all Californians, and respect property rights.
Fremont felt moved. He was initially suspicious, but finally concluded that her intentions were good. He agreed to keep her wishes in mind, should the opportunity for a peace treaty arise.
Bernarda accompanied Fremont as he continued his march south toward Los Angeles, while reclaiming territory for the United States. On January 12 they came near the camp of General Andres Pico and his formidable lancers, at the Cahuenga Pass. Tensions rose. It seemed a new battle was looming.
Bernarda then left Fremont and traveled alone to Pico’s camp. She told him of the peace agreement that she and Fremont had been discussing. It sounded interesting to Pico, and he agreed to meet with his adversary.
The next day, January 13, 1847, Pico and Fremont approached each other alone, man-to-man. And without firing a shot, they agreed to the peace treaty that Bernarda had been pushing.
The treaty was put to paper, with the first seven articles written almost exactly the way Bernarda had suggested. Fremont and Pico signed it, ending all hostilities and bringing a lasting peace to Alta California.
The Treaty of Cahuenga was also influential in the drafting of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 12, 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War.
A generous peace was guaranteed for both sides. Everyone could return to business as usual. Except that now, Alta California belonged to the United States.
For the U.S. government, the conquest of California was finally complete.
Come on back in a few days, for Part 15: California After Conquest.