The Mormon Battalion camped
at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in late 1846. Then the Army
initiated small garrisons here to provide protection for travelers
through the area. A camp was established on the San Luis River,
about two miles from the coast and some 35 miles northwest of
San Diego. It was abandoned on June 23, 1849. On April 18, 1850,
however, a new post was established at Mission San Luis Rey.
The troops were withdrawn in June 1852. The church and mission,
just south of the U.S. Marines' Camp Pendleton, have been restored
and the ruins of the soldiers' barracks are on the site located
three and a half miles east of Oceanside. One military historian
claims that only one site served both camps.
by Colonel Herbert
M. Hart, USMC (retired)
Council on America's Military Past
"Require from the
soldiers personal labor in erecting the necessary buildings,
without murmuring at site or work, and with implicit obedience
to Padre Lasuen," ordered Governor Borico in 1798 when guard
detachment was provided to protect new mission. Average of 16
soldiers lived here even after padres were ousted in 1835, but
were unable to prevent looting and gradual stripping of mission
buildings. No Indian attacks took place during mission days,
possibly because it was most successful of all missions with
several hundred converts living around it.
1850 sketch by H.M.T. Powell shows the barracks in good condition.
Taken from : Mission San Luis Rey: A Pocket History, by
Each mission was established
with three cooperating entities: civil, religious, and military.
Although not a fort, or presidio, the barracks housed the military
arm of the mission system. Between five and eleven Spanish soldiers
assigned to protect this mission resided in these barracks. The
building had several apartments and a tower. The barracks were
located in front of the Mission. U.S. Army occupation used tents
and mission buildings in 1847-49 and 1850-52, was mainly to provide
protection to travelers between San Diego and Los Angeles. When
the mission was abandoned, the barracks fell into ruins. Today
a fence surrounds the area where the barracks once stood, guarding
the remnants of the centuries old structure.
"This immense mission
structure, with an imposing church in an angle, built about 60
years previously, was found in good condition," reported
General Philip St. George Cooke when he camped Mormon Battalion
at San Luis Rey in January, 1846. "The battalion found ample
quarters . . and immediately commenced a thorough instruction
of the battalion in tactics." Without books, Cooke found
this difficult "teaching and drilling officers half the
day, and superintencling, in the other half, their efforts to
impart what they had imperfectly learned." Battalion left
the mission in April. One soldier died, was buried in church
Sailors turned soldiers
may not have liked the unaccustomed routine of being plodding
infantrymen, but at Camp San Luis Rey they found that it had
at least one advantage.
The story was told by
Ordinary Seaman Joseph T. Downey in The Cruise of the Portsmouth.
This was a personal account of the tribulations of the 200 shipboard
sailors and Marines who joined Kearney's advance in Los Angeles.
More enthusiastic than
effective, the seagoing troopers bad swung out of San Diego on
December 28, 1846, "with a cheer that made the heavens ring."
They had not been daunted by Commodore Stockton's inglorious
attempts to make "Horse Marines" out of their brethren
in the Corps. Nor were they discouraged when their oxen gave
out before they had crossed the dry San Diego river beds. Men
replaced oxen as the prime movers for the 30 or 40 wagons during
the five day bike to San Luis Rey where new oxen were obtained.
"One of those ancient
and massive structures found all over Mexico and California,"
San Luis Rey impressed Downey as "at once wonderful and
pleasing to the weary traveler." Although "the gardens
and fountains were overgrown and choked with weeds, tall grass
and mud," the men found 11 some splendid vineyards close
by the mission, and more grateful than all to us, there was found
after inspection a quantity of good wine, which was served out
to us, at the rate of a pint to each man in the evening and the
same quantity on the next morning."
The landing force was
quartered in the square next to the mission. Care was taken to
respect the 50 year old adobe buildings. This respect did not
prevent the party from memorializing its visit by "leaving
as mementoes the names and effigies of our separate ships, done
in charcoal upon the whitewashed walls of each separate companies
It also did not prevent
"some lawless fellows, who certainly deserve not the name
of men" from breaking into the church. Downey said that
"a deep stain" was cast "upon our little army"
when these men stole "a lot of the gold and silver utensils
used in the celebration of the rites of this sect and feloniously
carried them off and sold them at the pueblo."
Punishment of other culprits
was the occasion that revealed that the soldiers lot was not
all bad. It also established that the landing force, as a ground
command, was to be governed by the Rules of the Army rather than
The incident started when
an officer from USS Cyane instructed a petty officer to
fashion a set of 11 cat of nine tails" to punish several
men for minor infractions. General Kearny heard about the plan
and "cooly walked into the room, and taking up the articles
in question, he asked in his easy manner what they were and what
they were for," wrote Downey.
"'Then,' said Lt.
H ------- - why General, them are cats and are for the punishment
of sailors when they are unruly.'
"'Well, well,' says
the General, deliberately taking out his knife and cutting the
cats to pieces, 'if you find it impossible to curb your jacks,
without resort to these things, allow me to tell you, that you
shall punish none of my jacks with any such articles, and allow
me to inform you at the same time young man, that every Jack
in this battalion, is heart and soul mine.' When having finished
cutting off the tails, he deliberately threw the handle into
the fire, and turning on his heel, left the young officer, with
something very like a flea in his ear."
Commodore Stockton supported
Kearney's actions. This won for both officers the approval of
the Tars of the Pacific Squadron. When the expedition left after
an overnight stay at San Luis Rey, the sailors were calling Kearny
"Our Old Soldier" and Stockton, "Fighting Bob."
The sailors "had now found out beyond all question that
there were at least two along, and big bugs too, to whom we could
appeal in case of need."
Mission San Luis Rey,
when Bartlett's border survey commission visited it in 1852,
impressed Bartlett, "with such a range of buildings and
cultivated grounds, a prince or a nabob might luxuriate to his
heart's content." In absence of "the officer in command,"
commission "was hospitably entertained by the sergeant in
charge." At that time Army had "placed a file of soldiers
here to protect the property and keep off plunderers and squatters."
Mission San Luis Rey de
Francia was described in diary of Mormon soldier, Nathaniel V.
Jones: "The whole front is about 10,200 feet in length.
There was a beautiful piazza which was separated by beautiful
turned arches about 10 feet in width and two and a half feet
thick . . . The building covered nearly four acres of ground
. . . It is the best building I have seen in California."
Dimensions were not quite accurate in Jones' report, actual frontage
was 600 feet and buildings covered 6.5 acres. Returned to Catholic
Church in 1865, it was used in 1892 as refuge from Mexico's religious
To find out more about
the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia visit the mission's Web Page