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L.A. Then and Now

3 Battles That Forever Changed the Southland

November 12, 2000|Cecilia Rasmussen

The Americans took cover against the river's west embankment as they exchanged gunfire. Meanwhile, one of the Americans' four heavy cannons was hung up in quicksand amid the willows and mustard on the river's east bank. While Stockton's men provided cover, he helped pull the 9-pounder to safety.

Within half an hour, the Californios' guns fell silent. The Americans rose and swarmed up and over the embankment. The Californios charged in one long line with their red blankets, black hats and bright sabers glittering.

An hour and 20 minutes later, the Americans had taken the bluff and silenced the enemy's guns. Both forces totaled about four dead and 16 wounded. In celebration of the victory, the Navy band struck up "Hail, Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle."

(Two cannons and a plaque at Bluff Road and Washington Boulevard in Montebello pay testimony to the Battle of San Gabriel.)

With no means to pursue their well-mounted opponents, the horseless Americans camped along the river bluff within sight of their enemy, about a mile distant.

On Jan. 9, the next morning, the Californios lay in wait about six miles away, near the pueblo's stockyards at present-day Downey Road and Packers Avenue in Vernon.

After 15 minutes of exchanging cannon fire with the invaders, the Californios made a horseshoe formation and surrounded the Americans. The Californio cavalry, 10 horsemen wide, three rows deep, released blood-curdling shrieks as it charged in what became the final battle for Los Angeles.

"Steady! Pick your men, boys. . . . Fire!" shouted Kearny.

"Front rank, kneel!" he commanded, as the second rank rose, took aim and fired. Horses and men tumbled to the ground. The American formation held. When the smoke cleared 2 1/2 hours later, the Americans had five wounded men. At least one Californio was dead and 20 to 40 more were wounded.

The next morning, Jan. 10, William Workman carried a flag of truce and surrendered the Californios' "dear City of Angels." Los Angeles had fallen for the second and last time. A peace treaty was signed three days later.

All that remains to recall how all that followed was made possible is three big rocks that now sit in front of Vernon City Hall.

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