San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park is a state park in the U.S. state of California, located near the town of Arboretum in Los Angeles County’s Santa Barbara Mountains and across the border from the city of Santa Barbara.
San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park preserves part of the Rancho San Pascual land grant, where on January 9, 1846, American soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Henry Carrick fought against Mexican forces commanded by Jos Francisco Ortega in the Battle of La Concha Canyon during the MexicanAmerican War. It was designated as a National Military Landmark (NML) in 1960.
On December 21, 1945, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1963, the state acquired 590 acres through a long-term lease with the City of Santa Barbara. Additional acreage has been added since then, including portions of two adjoining ranchos, which were separately leased to different parties. A small portion of the battlefield is still privately owned, but most of the park is publicly owned. There are about 1,500 acres total, divided into nine parcels ranging in size from less than 100 acres to more than 2,400 acres.
Most of this area is covered in dense evergreen forest, though there are also stands of coast redwood, Douglas fir, and madrone trees. Wildfire suppression duties have kept fire crews busy over the years, especially around the edges of the park.
Visitors can enter the park via a number of different points, including a trailhead adjacent to Highway 154, a second nearby trailhead, and a third farther up the hill, accessible either directly from Highway 154 or from a dirt road that winds past the Camp Murphy Mountain Bike Trails. Beyond the picnic areas and interpretive center, visitors will find miles of hiking trails leading up to scenic overlooks of the surrounding countryside, and down into the arid landscape below treeline, where desert plants and wildlife thrive.
When the Mexican army attacked on December 27, 1854, in retaliation for the killing of several men at the beginning of the year, they came up the mountain road toward Fort Tejon in three columns. One column passed through an orchard where some of the soldiers became separated from the main body. This detachment of around 200 men was soon engaged by a company of around 40 men from the 3rd Regiment of Californios who were stationed along the road. After a sharp fight, in which many Mexicans were killed, the Americans eventually drove the Mexicans back down the mountain, leaving 150 dead behind.
At least one man died later from his wounds. Another skirmish took place just four days later, on New Year’s Day, when another group of around 120 men from the 3rd Regiment of Californios encountered a similar force of around 200 men. Again, the outnumbered Californios suffered heavy casualties, with approximately 20% of those engaged being killed or wounded. These losses may have been due to the fact that the regiment had only recently arrived from the east, while the larger Mexican force had been fighting in Texas and Arizona for almost a year. Nevertheless, the victory at the Battle of La Concha Canyon helped convince General John C. Frmont to begin his campaign to capture MexicoCity, instead of continuing with his original plan to attack Monterrey. He therefore diverted half of his available troops to the north, leaving only a fraction to guard against possible attacks by other nations, such as England, France, and Spain, all of whom had interests in the region.
As a result, although heavily guarded, the area was left undefended against bands of ruthless highwaymen known as “jayhawkers,” who preyed upon the unprotected populace using the remote trails of the region as a refuge. Jayhawkers robbed and murdered with impunity, and even formed “Hawk Clubs” for protection against the lawless acts of each other. Because of these conditions, very few people lived permanently in the region, and those that did tended to be related to the military. With the end of the war, very little interest was shown in preserving the region as public open space, so much of the property was sold off to private owners, and the forests were allowed to grow back.
Only after repeated requests by local residents, led by preservationist Louise de Kuyper, was any significant amount of the property preserved as a state park. Although she originally intended to limit access to the park, current regulations allow daily visitation by vehicle, with parking becoming increasingly difficult to find in recent years.
Among the wildlife of the park are:
- and otters
- as well as coyotes
- kit foxes
- black-tailed jackrabbits
mostly nonvenomous western fence lizards; rattlesnakes, however, do occur in the vicinity of the campground.
Birds observed at the park included:
- bald eagles
- golden eagles
- blue jays
- herring gulls
- wild turkeys
- ring-necked pheasants
- bighorn sheep
- cottontail rabbits