Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

[Header] Some of the New Books of June.
A Pioneer of Empire
The Life of Edward Fitzgerald Beale by Stephen Bonsal.

Click image to read book.

One of the most interesting books on the exploration of the great West and the Westward movement of the pioneers that preceded the discovery of gold in California is the "Life of Edward Fitzgerald Beale: A Pioneer in the Path of Empire," by Stephen Bonsal, which is brought out by G.P. Putnam's Sons, with sixteen illustrations, many of them from rare old wood cuts. The book has been largely drawn from the diaries of Beale, who was a naval officer of the type of Decatur and Stockton. Beale, who was the grandson of the famous Commodore Truxtun, and the father of Truxtun Beale, was only a young Lieutenant when he first came into prominence by gallantry in the Mexican War. Later he rendered good service by carrying important news from San Pasquale to Commodore Stockton at San Diego, which probably saved General Kearny's army from destruction. For this service Beale was commissioned to carry the official Navy dispatches to Washington, and he made the dangerous trip with Kit Carson, the famous scout. The two had many remarkable adventures and the route that they traveled was so difficult that Beale afterward located the Santa Fe trail as the best way from St. Louis to Southern California.

After Beale's return to California he was chosen to carry Navy dispatches and news of the discovery of gold to Washington. Beale secured many fine specimens of gold nuggets found in Sutter's millrace, and he made the dangerous journey across Mexico to Vera Cruz in record time. He was a celebrity when he reached Mobile, and at Washington his services were set forth in the Senate by the eloquent tongue of Senator Benton.

Afterward Beale was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada, and in this capacity he journeyed across the plains by the central route. His journals are as entertaining as those from which Washington Irving compiled "Bonneville's Adventures." After his work in the Indian Department Beale was appointed Surveyor-General of California and Nevada, and in this capacity he rendered valuable services, one of the best being the advice he gave to President Lincoln not to enforce the draft in California at the outbreak of the Civil War. His work as Surveyor-General gave him an intimate knowledge of California, but before this appointment he had bought large tracts of land near the Tejon pass, in Kern county, where the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada meet, and to this great ranch, on one of the finest sites in California, he retired after his term in office. It was in recognition of his ownership of 200,000 [sic] acres that stretched for eighty miles along the county road that Lincoln made the witty reply that he couldn't reappoint Beale as Surveyor-General because "he became monarch of all he surveyed." Beale for years kept open house on this great ranch, which Charles Nordhoff described as the finest type of the patriarchal California estate. In 1876 Beale, who was then living in Washington at the historic Decatur house, which he purchased, was appointed by President Grant Minister to Austria. Beale survived until 1893, retaining to the end his mental faculties, although his physical powers had begun to wane.

Beale was not a powerful man physically, but, like Kit Carson, he seemed to have a supply of nervous energy that no labor or hardship could exhaust. A sailor is usually of small value ashore, but most of young Beale's service in the Navy was devoted to daredevil deeds on this Coast, which won him fame and promotion at an early age. His first exploit was characteristic. He volunteered to carry to Commodore Stockton at San Diego, through a country swarming with Indians, the news that General Kearny was in great peril at San Pasquale. This commission nearly cost Beale his life, but the prompt warning to Stockton saved Kearny's small force from annihilation by the Mexicans. For his gallantry Beale was commissioned by Stockton to carry dispatches to Washington. He was given Kit Carson for a guide, and the trip which these two made across the plains in the winter of 1846-47 was one of the most remarkable in the annals of Western adventure. The leaders, with a small party of ten men, were followed for 80 miles by a large band of Indians, who vainly tried to outwit Carson in cunning. They did not dare to rush the little party, because they knew the accuracy of the white man's shooting, but the safety of the expedition was due to the coolness and daring of Carson and Beale.

After a stay in the East, where Beale met many prominent men at the home of Senator Thomas H. Benton, he was intrusted [sic] with important dispatches for officers in Santa Fe, California and Oregon, and set out in November with Kit Carson and a small force of soldiers. This was a terrible trip, as the party suffered great hardships on the journey from Santa Fe to Southern California. When he reached this State he found that the United States had instituted a civil government. Soon after came the discovery of gold, destined to revolutionize the whole Coast. Again Beale was selected for the dangerous duty of carrying specimens of the newly discovered California gold to Washington, in order that official Government notice might be made of the value of the placer mines. Beale sailed down to La Paz, in Lower California, and then made his way with one guide across Mexico to Vera Cruz, where he took a sloop-of-war for Mobile. The country swarmed with bandits and the rain fell in torrents. Riding by relays, as though he were carrying important mail, Beale made the journey in record time, but so great was the strain that the mind of his guide gave way, and the man had to be sent back under guard in the diligence. Beale received an ovation on the way from Mobile to Washington and his dispatches set at rest all doubts of the reality of the gold discovery. The practical demonstration of the value of the California discovery led to the greatest gold rush in all history. Beale, however, did not tarry in the East, but returned with dispatches, and incidentally mapped out the Santa Fe trail, which was followed in 1880 by the Santa Fe Railroad. These frequent trips across the country were made in such rapid time as to amaze even Kit Carson, who could never understand how this slender, delicate looking young naval officer, bred in the East, could outride any of the trained scouts and could endure more hardships than the seasoned plainsmen or Indians.

It is impossible in a summary like this to give any idea of the charm of Lieutenant Beale's accounts of his early trips across the plains. The country was then swarming with buffalo and antelope and savage Indians were encountered in many places. It was only by nerve and bluff that a small party could pass safely through this country. Beale traveled over the route which is now so familiar to tourists — the main central line from Omaha to Ogden and then over the Sierra Nevada down into the Sacramento valley. He established a reputation among Indians and scouts as a fearless explorer who always kept his word, but whose commands must be obeyed to the letter.

The same qualities that made Beale a great explorer led to equal success in his new duties as Indian Superintendent. He allowed no graft in this service; he gave all the Indians a square deal, but those who thought they could indulge him in a little scalp-lifting and looting whenever small parties of emigrants were found soon changed their minds. Beale exacted such terrible punishment that even the savage Indians of Arizona were well behaved while he remained in office.

One of Beale's services, which came to nothing, but might well have proved important as a solution of the transportation problem before the days of the overland railroad, was the importation of camels from Egypt for use in transporting supplies across Arizona. Beale got the idea of using the camel as a beast of burden in Arizona from the Abbe Huc's "Travels in China and Tartary," and he was able to infect with his enthusiasm Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War. The camel corps proved its efficiency, but the teamsters, who had been bred to handle pack mules, never liked the camel. These imported animals were allowed to stray away, and for years camels were encountered on the fringe of the Arizona desert. The few survivors, that were sold by the Government, were bought by Beale and used by him on his Tejon ranch. One of the boyish experiences of Truxtun Beale was accompanying his father on a drive from Tejon to Los Angeles, over 100 miles, in a sulky drawn by a tandem team of Syrian camels.

This great Tejon ranch, on which General Beale spent many happy years, was fully described by Charles Nordhoff, who was the first of the Eastern newspaper correspondents to give any adequate idea of the capabilities of California as a fruit-growing State. Nordhoff spent some time on the Tejon ranch and he gave a graphic description of the great extent of the place and of the flock of over 100,000 sheep, which he saw sheared at the rate of 12,000 a week. Beale found the Indians on his lands merely nomadic savages; he trained them to work, he encouraged them to build houses and to live in a civilized way. Nordhoff declares that the transformation of hundreds of these squalid nomads into honest, industrious farm laborers was a great achievement. He says that the condition of the Indians on this estate was far better than on the reservations, upon which the Government spent large sums.

This rapid survey of General Beale's life and achievements will serve its purpose if it induces readers to take up Mr. Bonsal's book and read it carefully. It is a record of an age that seems as far away as that of the Homeric heroes, but, like that Greek period, it is full of the prowess of leaders of men. As interesting as any romance are the adventures of this young naval Lieutenant and his trusty guides and companions, like Kit Carson. What hardships these men endured cheerfully only a few of the surviving pioneers of California can say. The history of the conquest of the great plains and the development of California is a chapter of romance of which we never tire, and one of the best contributions to it is this life of Edward Beale, "a pioneer in the path of empire."


The ideas, terminology and/or image(s) presented here are not condoned by or its affiliates. They do represent the attitudes of the dominant culture at the time they were created, and as such it is hoped they will aid students and scholars to be aware and learn of racial stereotypes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

News story courtesy of Lauren Parker.


• Beale's Cut
• Mexican-American War
• Tejon Ranch


Biography | Beale AFB


San Pasqual Battlefield


Beale Residence, Tejon Ranch, Photo 1888-1900


Full Book 1912
• Book Review 1912



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