Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847
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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.
his, he said, and he would not leave them to starve and die, and since it was obvious the mules could not make it through the snows, there was nothing else but to return with them to the camp back up the mountain. So said Stanton. Eddy was aghast and furious, and the discussion nearly became violent. But Stanton held the upper hand: he and the two Indians were the only ones who knew how to navigate the fifty miles through the mountains down to Sutter’s Fort. Back at the camp, some remained angry
this were not all that uncommon in the White House of those times. The first news that Polk received about the successful conquest of California came in late April and brought with it a whiff of trouble. “An unfortunate collision has occurred in California,” said the president, “between General Kearny and Commodore Stockton, in regard to precedence in rank. I think General Kearny was right. It appears that Lt. Col. Fremont refused to obey General Kearny, and obeyed Commodore Stockton, and in
Klamaths would rush in, trying to recover the body of their chief, but they were driven off by gunfire. At one point Godey, one of the great mountain men, stepped over to one of the campfires to look at something wrong with his gun and made himself a target. Carson shouted out, “Look at the fool! Look at him, will you!” At this uncivil rebuke, Godey “turned resentfully toward Carson for the epithet bestowed upon him,” Frémont later wrote, noting that Godey was “the most thoroughly insensible to
treated accordingly.” On the seventh they encamped near the entrance to the Ratón, a difficult fifteen-mile pass where Susan Magoffin took a “ramble” through the scenery. “On all sides are stupendous mountains,” she wrote, “forming an entire breast work to our little camp,” as she took in her surroundings, with her faithful dog, Ring, all the while keeping “strict watch for Indians, bear, panther, wolves, &c., and [who] would not even leave my side as if conscious I had no other protector at
balance of the Senate against them. It is worth a brief digression here to trace a series of fateful events that conspired to pitchfork Texas into the Union, Polk into the White House, and a bountiful and seemingly boundless America to the edge of destruction by civil war. By the early 1840s the once negligible American abolitionist movement had built up a considerable head of steam and was fraying nerves on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. What had begun as an initiative to demonstrate the