Battle of La Mesa Monument

Battle of La Mesa Monument — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Battle of La Mesa Monument

Battle of La Mesa Memorial

In front of Vernon City Hall, you can visit a memorial to the final battle of the Mexican-American War.

On January 9, 1847 the last California battle of the Mexican-American War was fought across a large swath of land that was part of Rancho San Antonio — known as La Mesa — between the Los Angeles River and San Gabriel River in what is now the city of Vernon.

During this decisive conflict (also known as the Battle of Los Angeles), the American troops, commanded by Commodore Robert Field Stockton and General Stephen Watts Kearny, encountered a force of Californios (a term that has historically referred to native Californians descended from Spanish and Mexican settlers) led by José María Flores.

The quartet of boulders that makes up part of the Battle of La Mesa Memorial in Vernon. Photo from the author’s collection.

Before the Battle of La Mesa

Stockton and Kearney’s American troops were marching to recapture the pueblo of Los Angeles, a strategic and symbolic stronghold that Stockton had captured earlier in the war, on August 13, 1846. After this initial victory, Stockton left behind a garrison of troops, led by Captain Archibald Gillespie, who placed the town under strict martial law. This didn’t sit well with the occupied residents, and Flores’s Californio militia recaptured the city during the Siege of Los Angeles on September 29, 1846. So Stockton marched from San Diego to take back the town he’d captured five months prior.

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The American troops first clashed with the Flores’s Californios on January 8 as they forded the San Gabriel River in modern day Montebello. After crossing the river under fire, the Americans charged the Californio forces, who retreated from the onslaught. After this first battle, known as the Battle of Río San Gabriel, the Americans camped for the night and picked up pursuit of Flores’s troops in the morning.

The Brief but Decisive Battle of La Mesa

After marching for some five miles across Rancho San Antonio, the American troops caught up with and engaged the Californios at La Mesa. This battle didn’t last long.

Stockton had combined his guns into a single battery, and this overwhelmed the Flores’s militia in 15 minutes. Flores then had his men flank Stockton’s troops, but the Californios were repelled. After that routing, most of Flores’s men deserted and his militia broke up. Stockton’s troops then marched right into Los Angeles and hoisted the U.S. Flag.

Three days later, the last Mexican forces surrendered and the Treaty of Cahuenga, declaring a ceasefire between the Americans and Californios, was signed on January 14, 1847.

History of the Battle of La Mesa Memorials

The First Battle of La Mesa Markers

In 1926, a four-rock, four-plaque monument memorializing the battle and significant players in the conflict was placed in front of the headquarters of the Union-Pacific Stockyards at 2450 East Vernon Ave.

The Battle of La Mesa Memorial, 1926. Photo via USC Libraries Special Collection, Dick Whittington Collection.

The central rock was inlaid with two plaques. The top one explains that on this spot “La Battala de la Mesa” was fought between the Americans and Californios on January 9, 1847 while the bottom one is a bronze copy of a map made by a Lieutenant Emory of the battle.

Lieutenant Emory’s map of the Battle of La Mesa. This image is reproduced in bronze on the memorial’s central rock.

The rock on the left, which reads more like propaganda than anything pertaining to this battle, features one plaque honoring Lieutenant Joseph Warren Revere. This was the grandson of Paul Revere, and the plaque identifies him as the individual who lowered the California Republic’s Bear Flag and hoisted the Stars and Stripes at Sonoma, California on July 9, 1846.

The single plaque mounted in the rock on the right is a brief biography of Commodore Stockton.

Another Battle of La Mesa Monument

In 1935, another marker, California Historical Marker No. 167, memorializing the Battle of La Mesa was placed at 4490 Exchange Avenue (at Downey Road; 34.002303,-118.204528). This is said to be where Flores’s men were camped when the Battle of La Mesa broke out.

This location was something of an ignominious placement — the marker was wedged between the railroad tracks (technically on land owned by Union-Pacific Railroad) and a chain-link fence. It was once easily located thanks to a very tall white pole, as seen in a screenshot from Google Street View:

Just left of center you can see what was once the small California Historical Marker No. 167. Photo via Google Street View.

But both marker and identifying pole have gone missing. The marker disappeared sometime in 2012 and the pole was removed in 2018 (when a new marker was installed at Vernon City Hall). All that remains of the marker today is rubble.

Requiem for a historical marker. The remains of California Historical Marker No. 167 (version one).

If you’re interested in seeing what this first marker looked like, you can see a 2007 photo of it on Flickr.

The New, Unified Battle of La Mesa Memorial

Six years after the marker went missing, on January 10, 2018 (missing the 171st anniversary of the battle by one day), a new memorial was established in front of Vernon City Hall, a scant mile-and-a-half from its original location.

The new California Historical Marker No. 167: La Mesa Battlefield. photo from the author’s collection.

In addition to a shiny new California Historical Marker No. 167, the four boulders from 1926 that were located in front of the the Union-Pacific Stockyards were moved to the Vernon City Hall.

The four-boulder, four-plaque monument from 1926 as seen from the top of the Vernon City Hall parking lot.

This new, unified set of plaques was commemorated with actual cannon fire during a dedication ceremony on August 7, 2018.

The monument is open to the public 24 hours a day. Parking is available at the Vernon City Hall.

Battle of La Mesa Memorial

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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