Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847
In June 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny rode out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with two thousand soldiers, bound for California. At the time, the nation was hell-bent on expansion: James K. Polk had lately won the presidency by threatening England over the borders in Oregon, while Congress had just voted, in defiance of the Mexican government, to annex Texas. After Mexico declared war on the United States, Kearny’s Army of the West was sent out, carrying orders to occupy Mexican territory. When his expedition ended a year later, the country had doubled in size and now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, fulfilling what many saw as the nation’s unique destiny—and at the same time setting the stage for the American Civil War.
Winston Groom recounts the amazing adventure and danger that Kearny and his troops encountered on the trail. Their story intertwines with those of the famous mountain man Kit Carson; Brigham Young and his Mormon followers fleeing persecution and Illinois; and the ill-fated Donner party, trapped in the snow of the Sierra Nevada. Together, they encounter wild Indians, Mexican armies, political intrigue, dangerous wildlife, gold rushes, and land-grabs. Some returned in glory, others in shackles, and some not at all. But these were the people who helped America fulfill her promise.
Distilling a wealth of letters, journals, and military records, Groom gives us a powerful account that enlivens our understanding of the exciting, if unforgiving, business of country-making.
blamed it on Indians, he said. Many were down to their final morsels and began to eat rats, mice, and insects like the Digger Indians. Others boiled raw cowhide, producing a kind of glue they believed had nutrition. At the Donners’ camp at Alder Creek, twelve-year-old Lemuel Murphy climbed a tree to search for any sign of a rescue party. All he could see was snow. On December 15, the party of seventeen snowshoers—fathers, mothers, boys, and girls, including three without snowshoes—began the
not so fortunate, if that is the word. Breen wrote in his diary: “Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would commence on Milt [Milt Elliott, who had died two weeks earlier] & eat him. I don’t [believe] she had done so yet, it is distressing. [The Donners] told the California folks that they commenced to eat the dead people 4 days ago. I suppose they have done so ere this time.” As the first relief party feebly ground its way down the mountain several of the survivors finally
were eighty-seven emigrants in the Donner train and thirty-nine of them died, five before reaching the mountain pass and the rest on the mountain or trying to get off of it. Most of these last were cannibalized. Throw in Sutter’s two Indians, Luis and Salvador, who had come as rescuers, and you have forty-one souls who perished. That left forty-eight, many of them children, who went on to new lives in California. Over the years journalists and historians tracked most of them down and got them to
infamous Confederate spy, was in the employ of the British ambassador. b Both Herrera and Paredes were generals in the Mexican army. In fact, most of the Mexican presidents of the era were or had been generals, and the transfer of power in Mexico, unlike that in the United States, more often than not was the result of a military coup. CHAPTER THREE The Pathfinder Zachary Taylor wasted little time avenging the April massacre of his reconnaissance patrol. Nor did the newly arrived
that they would no longer be permitted to fight Mexicans. Since Kearny had no clear idea how to get to California, and Carson had just come from there, he told the recently commissioned U.S. Army officer to hand over his dispatches to one of Kearny’s officers and join the general’s staff as chief scout. It was a severe blow to Carson, who had a home, wife, and child in Taos, only a few days away, whom he had not seen in more than a year. He had been looking forward to a well-deserved homecoming,