Many readers of this blog may know Mule Hill if for no other reason than that it serves as my cover page. I use it because of its historical significance as the scene of the final engagement in the Battle of San Pasqual, bloodiest battle in the U.S.-Mexican War. There U.S. troops under General Kearny were besieged by Mexican forces under General Pico until they were rescued by reinforcements from the coast.
I also use the image because it presents a snapshot of what most of San Diego County looked like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before urbanization transformed the land. Mule Hill remains in its natural state, preserved today as part of the San Dieguito River Park.
A plaque just off Highway 15, erected in 1950, gives a brief description of Mule Hill’s historical significance. A reference to the Americans occupying “this hill” implies that it refers to the immediately surrounding landscape. But it turned out that for a while a lot of researchers and visitors were climbing the wrong hill, so to speak.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the actual site of Mule Hill was established. It took a survey led by archaeologists, historians, and U. S. Marine engineers under the direction of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The survey employed aerial mapping and metal detectors among other methods. These methods led to the discovery of artifacts including military clothing items and swords matching materials used by Kearny’s men. They just didn’t find them in the area then designated as Mule Hill, but on a larger hill further west. As survey leader Konrad Schreier stated in a 1975 article written for The Journal of San Diego History; “The evidence demonstrates that the site now designated as Mule Hill is not the correct hill, and that the large hill with the two prominent rock outcrops on its western end is the true Mule Hill.”
Today a plaque and other signage stand in front of the actual site. So what you’re looking at up above, and what you’ll see if you visit there, is truly historic Mule Hill.
Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Los Angeles newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History, and the archives of the San Diego Archaeological Center.
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