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A volunteer dons 19th-century military garb at San Pasqual Battlefield State Park in Escondido. On Dec. 2, the park commemorated the 172nd anniversary of the Mexican-American War battle, the only one fought in what is now San Diego County. Courtesy photo
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Volunteer group helps celebrate Battle of San Pasqual

ESCONDIDO —  Volunteers and history buffs gathered at San Pasqual Battlefield State Park on Dec. 2 to help commemorate the 172nd anniversary of the deadly the 1846 Battle of San Pasqual.

The battle, part of the larger Mexican-American War, represented the only conflict fought within San Diego County. The event has become known as San Pasqual Battle Day.

The educational afternoon featured a mock military encampment, a living history theatrical production and battle re-enactments complete with an 1841-style cannon and time-period muskets.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Kearny

But most of all, it served as a history lesson of a battle few residents might realize happened right in their own backyards.

The Dec. 6, 1846, Battle of San Pasqual saw 17 American troops perish and 13 wounded, with 12 Californio soldiers wounded, as well.

The clash occurred between the Californios — those who lived on a land-grant area doled out by the Mexican government in what is today the state of California — and American soldiers.

Californios saw the movement of American troops coming by way of New Mexico to San Diego as encroachment upon their territory, which currently sits at 15808 San Pasqual Valley Road in Escondido.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Kearny and opposition leader Capt. Andrés Pico both claimed victory and the outcome remains in dispute by historians today. 

Kearny, who led the cavalry known as the First Dragoons into the Battle of San Pasqual, is now the namesake of the San Diego neighborhood and community known as Kearny Mesa.

Escondido resident Don Coates, the vice president of the San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association, said he believes it is important for San Pasqual Battle Day to take place annually because of the takeaway lessons the battle offers.

“I really, really enjoy history,” Coates said. “It’s important to me, so I like to be able to do living history. This particular state park and this event is real California history. This is a real event and it happened here in San Diego and most people don’t know that we had a real battle in San Diego. And so I like to educate and preserve that history.”

The San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association had several people serving as historical re-enactment figures, including Coates himself.

Coates took part in the closing ceremony, which featured a cannon fire, a reading of the list of the fallen in the battle and then the subsequent playing of the military hymn, “Taps.”

Those who fought and perished in the Battle of San Pasqual are buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Coates said the memorial  serves as a sobering reminder of why it is important to study and learn history.

“The old saying is,  ‘Those who don’t learn from the history are doomed to repeat its failures.’ And that’s why we keep this event alive and (is) one of the big draws of staying involved in this history,” Coates said.

San Pasqual Battlefield Park is administered, funded and maintained by the California State Parks system.

There is a small museum on-site, which teaches the history of the site and the area around it. It has a mile-long hiking trail offering scenic views of the historic and mountainous San Pasqual Valley.

Also on-site is the San Diego Archaeological Center, which serves as both a research facility and a museum with only a $2 admission fee or $5 per family.

The San Pasqual Battlefield Volunteer Association’s re-enactment crew is available for school field trips to the park.

The volunteer group also has living history re-enactments the first Saturday of every month, firing a cannon twice, once at 11:30 a.m. and then again at 1:30 p.m.

The park is open daily for hiking from dawn to sundown and the museum is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from October to March and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April to September.