Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Fuerte de Laguna
A short lived Mexican fortification built
in response by the newly formed Republic of Mexico to the situation
created by the 1781 "Yuma Massacre" of the Fernando
Rivera y Moncada expedition. The 1774 De Anza expedition
opened an overland route from Sonora to Alta California but it
was closed by Yuma Indians in 1781.
In 1822, Mexico attempted to reopen this route.,
The fuerte (fort) was established
in early December 1825 by Alfrez (junior lieutenant) Jose
Antonio Romualdo Pacheco (a native of Guanajato) with a cavalry
force from the Presidio de San Diego, This
fort was located in a swampy between the New River and Bull Head
Slough, west of El Centro near the current town of Westmorland
in Imperial County. The fort was garrisoned only four months
and was never regarrisoned. It was the only fortification built
during the Mexican period in Alta California
During the last week of December 1825,
Alfrez Pacheco's report from the fort predicted completion of
the post in one month. By the end of January, 1826 he was back
in San Diego and apparently a soldier by the name of Ignacio
Delgado was left in charge of the fort. In March, a relief force
was sent from San Diego to complete construction. News soon arrived
at the Presidio of an impending native uprising. On April 26,
the Kamia (or Kumeyaay) Indians of the San Sebastian area attacked
Alfrez Pacheco returned just in time with 25 lanceros
(lancers). Together with the fort's garrison they counterattacked.
Mexican lances, sabers, and a few muzzle loaders faced native
arrows, spears, and clubs Three soldados were killed while
three others received arrow wounds. 28 Indians died in the battle.
With hostile Kamias on the west and Quechan on the east, the
situation at the fort was impossible, so they withdrew to San
Diego, never to return an the first attempt at non-Indian settlement
in the Imperial Valley was all but forgotten.
During the late 1950s a group of archeologists and historians,
associated with the present Imperial Valley College Museum, began
research on the ruins of the Mexican fort. A recorded Mexican
description of the fort reported it as having been 60 feet square
with stone or adobe walls, mud ramps and ledges and crowned by
a thorny ocotillo barricade, Measurements taken in 1958, however,
revealed a structure about 100 feet Square.
More on Jose
Antonio Romualdo Pacheco
by Dr. Dan Krieger
Pacheco died defending the widely despised
centralist Mexican governor of California, Manuel Victoria, at
the First Battle of Cahuenga Pass in 1831. His widow, Ramona
Carrillo Pacheco Wilson was given the Rancho Suey land grant
stretch more than twenty miles along the San Luis Obispo-Santa
Barbara County line by Governor Alvarado. She married Captain
John Wilson, a "perfected" Scot Sea captain from the
China trade whose ship, the Ayachuco is praised by Dana in Two
Years Before the Mast. Wilson raised Pacheco's sons. Jose
Antonio Romualdo Jr. married one of the Lloyd Levis daughters
(attorney for the Central Pacific Railroad's Big Four) and rose
in California Republican Party politics. He was Lieutenant Governor.
when the standing Governor. appointed himself to a vacant U.S.
Senate seat. Romualdo Pacheco, Jr. became the only California
governor of Mexican American descent in the American period,
serving a little under a year's term in 1875
Many thanks to Dr. Dan Krieger, California
Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and Mr. Maurice
Brandy for contributing to this article.
by Justin Ruhge
Fort Romualdo Pacheco was built in an attempt by the Mexican
government to reopen the de Anza trail between the Northern Mexico
presidios and those in Alta California by way of the Yuma Crossing
at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. The original
opening of this trail has been discussed in the foregoing sections
under the de Anza Expedition and the founding of San Francisco.
The events that closed this trail for forty years occurred on
Tuesday, July 17, 1781. The Yuma Native Americans on the west
side of the Colorado River revolted against the settlement of
the Spanish at two new locations at Concepcion and San Pablo
de Bicuner in December 1780 and January 1781 respectively. The
new settlers insulted the Yumas and had much of their best river
bottomlands confiscated by the new intruders. On this Tuesday,
the Yumas attacked without warning and destroyed the new settlements
and killed the priests and many of the villagers and soldiers.
At this very time the expedition from Mexico of Fernando Rivera
y Moncada, Lieutenant Governor of Baja California, was passing
through the Yuma crossing on its way north to found the Presidio
of Santa Barbara. The majority of the expedition cleared the
area but Moncada and the cattle and some soldiers remained on
the east side of the Colorado River. Moncada and his soldiers
were killed in the ensuing battles. A party of soldiers from
San Gabriel Mission who had arrived to aid Moncada in the original
expedition was also killed. In order to verify the news of the
Yuma massacre, two soldiers were dispatched from Altar, Mexico
to the Colorado, and they were either killed or captured.
Yuma casualties were to far exceed those
of the Spaniards. The Spanish suffered a total of about 100 killed,
approximately 60 men, 20 women and 20 children. The 60 men consisted
of four friars, about 36 soldiers and 20 civilians. The Yumas
held at least 74 persons captive.
During September to December 1781, Pedro
Fages led two expeditions from Sonora, which negotiated the release
of all 72 known captives and recovered the bodies of the four
friars. His troops extracted heavy losses from the Yumas who
nevertheless remained unsubdued. Alta California Governor Felipe
de Neve led another punitive expedition from September to October
1782 from San Gabriel, which met Jossef Romeu's troops from Sonora
at the Yuma Crossing. The Yumas were elusive but the Spanish
managed to kill 108 Yumas, take 85 prisoners, and recover 1,048
horses. The efforts during those two expeditions were punitive
and did not reopen the Yuma Crossing or restore the two settlements.
Mexico won independence from Spain in
1821. Emperor Agustin de Iturbide "ruled" from May
19, 1822 to February 19, 1823. Emperor Iturbide was concerned
over alleged foreign threats to California. He sent Agustin Fernandez
de San Vicente to California in 1822. Fernandez reported that
the Anza route should be reopened at once to protect the distant
province. Father Felix Caballero of the San Miguel and Santa
Catarina Missions in Baja California was sent by Fernandez to
open a trail below the Yumas to Sonora. Leaving Santa Catarina
on April 14, 1823 with two Native Americans, cattle and horses,
they reached the Colorado quickly, near its mouth. With a Cocopah
guide they circled south of the Yumas, followed the Gila, and
arrived at Arizpe late in May 1823.
Governor Antonio Narbona of Sonora sent
Captain Jose Romero and ten soldiers from Tucson to escort Caballero
back to Baja California. They went north to the Gila, followed
it west and cut across the Gila Range and the Tinajas Altas pass
to the mouth of the Colorado. Cajuines where Quamaya Native Americans
greeted them with a pretense of friendship and the roundtrip
appeared to be a near success. With the river in flood during
July, the Quamayas helped make rafts to carry equipment across.
Then in midstream they tried to drown the Caballero-Romero party,
stole their horses and drove them back to the east bank. Almost
without clothing and poorly armed, the Spanish reached Santa
Catarina on July 6, 1823. It appears that this was the first
recorded trip from Sonora to California since the 1780s.
Later in that year, Romero tried to get
to Arizona from San Gabriel by a northern route but the party
became confused in the Mojave Desert and straggled back to its
starting point with little accomplished. Ten days later, Jalchedun
Native Americans from Sonora, sent to locate Romero, reached
San Gabriel after swiftly passing over the route he had sought
without success. This was early in February 1824.
Almost accidentally, the central desert
was crossed to the Yumas two months later. Santiago Arguello
and twenty-four soldiers from San Diego pursued Native American
horse thieves into the mountains, followed them through Warner's
Pass, down the San Felipe Valley, through the Carrizo Corridor
to the desert, and to the river only three days from San Diego.
While they did not obtain their objectives of getting the horses
or punishing the Native Americans, they had proven that the river
could be reached from the coast with remarkable speed in April
1824. Romero at San Gabriel tried twice to get permission to
return to Sonora by land but was refused by the governor.
Meanwhile Jose Figueroa had succeeded
Narbona as Governor of Sonora. Figueroa was intent on bringing
the warring Pimas, Cocomaricopas, and Yumas together peaceably
so the Sonora-California route might be reestablished permanently.
When a meeting scheduled with the chiefs at Arizpe failed in
1825, Figueroa decided to lead a force to the river and determine
if the Yumas were peaceable. Further, he hoped to get Romero
back to Sonora. From Tucson, October 26, 1825 the governor and
400 soldiers approached the Yuma Crossing by way of the Gila.
Cautiously sending scouts ahead to see if they would be received
well, Figueroa finally reached the river on November 16, 1825.
They camped across the Colorado from the ruins of Mission Concepcion.
Cargo Muchachos, the Yuma chief, appeared
friendly and conferred with Figueroa. He accepted presents and
told Figueroa that he would gladly assist in getting a message
to Romero so they could meet at the Yuma Crossing. Still, Figueroa
was wary. He sent Jose Cocomaricopa and twenty men to carry the
word to Romero, intending to await his arrival before returning
to Sonora. Instead he learned that the Yaqui Native Americans
were rebelling and on November 19th had to return to care for
that problem. A small force was left at Agua Caliente to greet
Romero and word was sent to Governor Jose Maria de Echeandia
of Alta California requesting 150 men to garrison the Colorado.
Lastly, he sent another message to Romero so he would know the
changes in plans.
Romero received the news from Jose Cocomaricopa
and Governor Echeandia assigned laborers to help open the trail.
Lieutenant Romualdo Pacheco was to go with Romero and build a
fort in San Gorgonio Pass. With the Arguello crossing of early
1824 as an incentive, Romero and Pacheco argued that the southern
route was preferable, that the Yumas seemed friendly, and that
the fort might not be needed. Still, the expedition reduced to
thirty-four men, poor and insufficient provisions, and with poor
riding animals, left San Gabriel late in November. With Jose
Cocomaricopa deserting in his impatience to get the party started,
Romero used Julian Valdez as guide. They reached the Colorado
somewhere near present day Blythe and Pacheco assisted the crossing.
Romero finally reached Sonora, almost two and one half years
since going west with Farther Caballero.
Pacheco and the rest headed southwest
to the de Anza Trail and sent word ahead to Echeandia that they
had not built the San Gorgonio Fort because the southern trail
seemed more promising. At "Laguna Chapala" a shallow
lake next to the New River channel, Pacheco and his soldiers
and laborers built a structure and temporary fort to make that
short Arguello route even safer. Pacheco reached San Diego after
mid-February, 1826. Echeandia, under date of February 16th, reported
to the Minister of War in Mexico on the new route to the river
and the fort and shelter then being constructed. An escort of
soldiers and laborers were to finish the work in March. After
that time Echeandia planned to open a mail service via the new
post in the desert to Sonora and hoped that his next orders concerning
California might reach him over that route. Echeandia closed
his report by commending the vigor and valor of Pacheco for opening
a route through the Cahuillas, reporting in detail on the region,
and putting up buildings to make the trail secure.
Apparently Echeandia had sent a communiqué
dated January 29th to Figueroa in Arizpe, telling of Pacheco's
progress in the desert. It must have been based on the word sent
to Echeandia by Pacheco from the Laguna Chapala camp. From Arizpe
on March 30th, Figueroa wrote to Echeandia that they would have
to reward the Native Americans and take their chances with them
until the Mexico City government decided how to handle the situation
on a permanent basis. Figueroa was not too sure of Yuma friendship.
It was not from the Yumas, however, that
trouble came. At Santa Ysabel, west of Warner's Pass, Juan Maria
Ibarra wrote to Echeandia of an attack by more than 100 San Felipe
Valley Native Americans on the Santa Ysabel outpost in the morning
of April 5, 1826. Ibarra and some Native American allies pursued
the attackers into the San Felipe Valley, killing twenty-eight
of them. Ibarra apologized for only sending twenty pairs of ears
from the Native Americans since his men were very tired from
the half day battle. An attacker was taken prisoner, held at
Santa Ysabel for a couple of weeks, and then executed on April
23rd. The war continued to the next day, with San Felipe Native
Americans loyal to Mexico killing eighteen of the "Jaqui"
and keeping the thirty-six ears for celebration.
On April 26th Native Americans from the
San Sebastian area, part of the wide-spreading Kumeyaay peoples
of present day San Diego County, assaulted Fort Pacheco. This
battle brought death to three defenders and three others were
wounded. With no assurance that the disorders would end soon,
the fort was abandoned and its small garrison was removed to
San Diego. Pressed between the unpredictable Yumas and the intermittent
hostility of the Native Americans to the west, there is no record
that Fort Pacheco was reactivated after April 1826.
Romualdo Pacheco was a native of Guanajuato,
Mexico. He arrived in Alta California in 1825 as an aide to Governor
Echeandia whom he accompanied on the trip north. He became Comandante
of the Monterey and Santa Barbara Presidios. Pacheco was killed
at the Battle of Cahuenga on December 4, 1831.
In 1826, the first American trappers came
into California. Jedediah Smith, the pioneer, came through Mojave
country to the north of the de Anza area. The Pattie party got
to Santa Catarina Mission in Baja California the next year, and
then to San Diego. Ewing Young came to the Colorado in 1826,
reached the Yuma Crossing late that year or early in 1827, and
was the first American to meet the Yumas. They were still friendly,
in the same year that Figueroa was having his doubts about them.
On this same visit to the Colorado, the party with Young traversed
the entire length of the Grand Canyon before returning to Santa
Fe. Again, they were the American pioneers.
Ewing Young again set out from Santa Fe
and Taos late in the summer of 1829. Kit Carson was with this
expedition. They crossed the Colorado into Mojave country and
got to San Gabriel Mission in 1830.
These and other "Mountain Men"
expeditions did not often cross the Imperial Valley. Their fortunes
and misfortunes with the various Native American groups varied
from one time to another. However, they did show that getting
into California from New Mexico, Arizona, and
Sonora was increasingly common after the war of 1826, which closed
Fort Pacheco. Perhaps it was a lack of interest in the land route,
as increasing sea contacts were made in the next decades, which
led Mexico and California to ignore it for the rest of the Mexican
regime. On the other hand, the American interest in the overland
routes increased almost steadily in the 1830s and 1840s well
before the war of 1846 to 1848 with Mexico.
During the Mexican-American War several
American parties came to the Yuma area, most still finding the
Yumas peaceable. The major expeditions of Stephen Watts Kearny,
Philip St. George Cooke, and Lawrence P. Graham all went by way
of the Yuma Crossing and across the desert on variations of the
de Anza route into the Carrizo Corridor and up the San Felipe
Valley. By the end of the war this southern route was rather
well established, especially due to the work of the Cooke expedition.
But the increasing American migration upset the Yumas and late
in the 1840s they became unpredictable again. The gold rush of
1849 which led Cave Couts to set up "Camp Salvation"
at Calexico to aid desert crossers, added to the Yuma unrest.
Late in November 1850, Major Samuel Heintzelman and sixty troopers
came to the Yuma Crossing, set up Camp Yuma at the site of the
1780 Fort Concepcion, and within two years got the Yumas to end
If any of the increasing number of travelers
after 1826 saw Fort Pacheco on the New River Channel and wrote
about it, nothing has been reported. With the growth of the southern
California population in the 1880s and the increasing number
of visits to the deserts no one reported stumbling onto the fort.
But in 1891, two prospectors were forced to seek high ground
during a flood of the New River. On June 24th, they were surprised
to find a rude fort. This was twenty-five miles north and east
of Indian Wells. The fort, which had been long abandoned, was
300 feet square, its walls six feet high, and inside of it were
ruins of a house and the charred remains of some heavy wagons.
Nearby was a pool of water fed by a spring in which were fish.
The prospectors, W.W. Webb and L. N. Gridley, escaped the flood
and reached San Diego early in July.
The Imperial Press on May 4, 1901 reported
on the Fort and speculated that it had been used by U. S. soldiers
to protect the mails carried across the desert by stages in the
1850s and 1860s. A year later the same paper commented on a new
find near the old Fort. S. D. Yokem found a charred mesquite
post and human bones and teeth just below the surface of the
soil, 300 feet north of the old Fort and six miles west of Imperial.
Dr. J. W. Oakley found what he thought was a white glass crucifix,
melted by fire near the post. After speculating that maybe a
Catholic priest had been burned at the stake, the Imperial Press
noted other artifacts found nearby. These included a piece of
a razor, a large knife, perhaps a file, part of a wagon axletree,
and a copper utensil. The article also commented on the location
of the Fort, in a crescent formed by a curve in the New River,
where water could be obtained at any time from a shallow well.
Other scattered bits of information indicate
that the Fort was an object of much conjecture among early Imperial
Valley settlers. They varied as to the dimensions and presence
of structures in the interior but most stated that it had an
opening to the east, some gun emplacements at the corners, and
ramps to the gun posts. The walls were about six feet high and
a moat or ditch surrounded the structure.
Fort Romualdo Pacheco site monument is located three miles west
of Imperial across the New River on the South Side of S28. U.S.
Geological Survey Map.
Detail of the Fort Pacheco location as presented by the Imperial
City College Museum, Imperial, California.
In 1968 members of the Imperial Valley
College Museum took films of the site and the walls, which were
then about waist high and two to three feet thick. Then a grader
leveled the site so it could be used for agricultural purposes
and the remains of the Fort were pushed into the New River.
The Imperial Valley College Museum began
excavating on the site in February 1978 under archaeologist Jay
von Werlhof. They found remains of the ditch. In March 1979 excavators
from the museum located the rest of the ditch and were able to
establish that the fort was about 140 feet square. Though the
remains had been destroyed, the archaeologists concluded that
the site was the Pacheco Fort of 1825 to 1826, the only Mexican
fort built in Alta California.
Through the efforts of the Imperial Valley
College Museum and the Dr. Eugene K. Chamberlin, "Grand
Noble Historian" of Squibob Chapter 1853 of E CLAMPUS VITAS,
the Fort site was designated a Registered Historical Landmark
No. 944 by the State of California Historical Resources Commission.
A monument and plaque were erected on the site at Clampout No.
38 on October 2-4, 1981.
References: The following
articles were excerpted for the above history: Fort Romualdo
Pacheco 1825-1826 by Dr. Eugene K. Chamberlin, Grand Noble Historian
of Squibob Chapter 1853 of E CLAMPUS VITUS, 1981. Miramar College,
San Diego, California; Evidence Supporting the Establishment
of a Mexican Military Outpost in 1826 in the Colorado Desert
by Tirzo Gonzalez, July 1979, Imperial City College Museum.
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