November 29, 1861: Near Mesa Grande
Bill Virden, The Affair at Minter’s Ranch:
The one lone example of what might be termed contact between the Union and Confederate forces took place in San Diego County, in the Mesa Grande region. This was the capture of the “Showalter Party” by a detachment of the First Cavalry, California Volunteers, from Camp Wright, in the early winter of 1861….Maj. Edwin A. Rigg gave the location as “John Winter’s Ranch”; actually it was the Minter Ranch (now the Angel Ranch), about two and a half miles southwesterly, as the hawk flies, from Henshaw Dam.
Many Californians, of Southern background and sympathies, left for the Confederate states in the early stages of the war, to join the rebel army, and had little trouble in getting through. Among them were judge David S. Terry, who had killed Senator David C. Broderick in the notorious Broderick-Terry duel in 1859, and another outstanding secessionist, Daniel Showalter.
Like Terry, Showalter, a State Assemblyman from Mariposa County, had killed his adversary in a duel….It was the last political duel in California.
Determined to put a stop to the more or less steady stream of secessionists going back to join the Confederate Army, Brig. Gen. George Wright, commanding the Union Army’s Pacific Department and California District, greatly strengthened Fort Yuma….To further curtail the rebel “underground railway” a camp was established at Warner’s Ranch on Oct. 18,1861, with Major Rigg in command. On Nov. 22 it was moved to the Aguanga/Oak Grove area, and Rigg named it Camp Wright, in honor of the department commander.
Showalter started for Texas, to join the Confederate Army, at about the same time. His party numbered 18 men, all mounted and well armed. He had no desire, however, to meet any great strength of Union forces, and so, after reaching Temecula, he and his men dropped down into the valley of the San Luis Rey and began making their way southeast through the mountains, carefully avoiding the newly-established Camp Wright.
Word of the movement of a sizable party of armed men having come to Major Rigg, he deployed his forces from Camp Wright, then less than a week old….It was this unit which made the capture, as his report states:
Early on the morning of the 29th I discovered the party that I went in search of. They were encamped at John Winter’s (sic) ranch. I saddled up and proceeded with my detachment to their camp, and proceeded to question them as to their business, destination and purpose, to which I received the following reply: That their destination was Sonora, Mexico…. I then asked them if they would go peacefully with me to Oak Grove….
[At Camp Wright] they were examined, and the next Army “express” to Colonel Carleton…contained not only the incriminating letters found on each man, but their oaths of allegiance and signed statements, and the somewhat voluminous reports of Major Rigg, Second Lt. Wellman and the other officers whose detachments had taken part in the affair….
The Showalter party was sent on to the prison at Fort Yuma, where they spent several months. Then, apparently having convinced the authorities that their oaths of allegiance were actually worth the paper they were written on, and that they were mere peaceful miners bound for Sonora, they were released, and probably soon were joining the Southern forces.