There are no Civil War battlefields in California. In fact, no evidence of even a minor skirmish between Union and Confederate forces can be found here. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, many of those with southern leanings formed small groups: some with the intent of causing local trouble and some with the intent of joining Confederate forces in Texas. The incident at Minter’s Ranch had to do with the latter group and traced back to a vote taken by the California State Assembly on a resolution in support of Abraham Lincoln and the Union.
On that day, members of the California Assembly shouted out their vote either in favor or against the resolution. Those against the resolution were mostly southern sympathizers. Some members were allowed to give a reason for their vote. Dan Showalter, however, was denied his request to give his reason. When he loudly insisted that he be allowed to give his reason – Assemblyman Charles Piercy stood and strongly voiced his objection. Showalter then took the floor and denounced Piercy and stated, [that he had] “nothing but contempt for the gentleman from San Bernardino”.
Piercy immediately demanded a retraction. Showalter refused to give a retraction not once but twice. That night, at home, seething from the insult on his person, Piercy penned a letter challenging Showalter to a duel. Upon receipt of the letter, as expected, Showalter wrote his acceptance with “rifles at 40 paces”.
Piercy had been the sheriff of San Bernardino County for a short time before running for an open seat on the assembly. Showalter represented Mariposa County and had been a miner and strong supporter of southern causes.
The manly art of dueling had been around for a long time as a way for a gentleman to restore his honor assuming his willingness to accept the possible outcome. Dueling had been outlawed in California so the two men agreed on a location that would not attract the law.
Things didn’t go according to plan on the morning of May 25, 1861. The Marin County Sheriff arrived at the site selected for the duel and when Showalter showed up he was arrested and taken to the county jail. A few hours later the local judge dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence that a duel was about to occur. The Fairfax Estate, in Marine County, had been chosen as an alternate site for the contest, and upon release from the Marin County Jail, Showalter hurried to the gathering in time for lunch.
After a meal, hosted by Charles Fairfax, the two men took their assigned places on the field of honor measured and marked at 40 paces. It was reported that both men stood tall and wore long dark coats and wide brimmed hats that shaded their eyes. They loaded and checked their rifles and stood facing each other ready for the signal to fire. After the word “fire” was given they had until the count of three to pull the trigger. Showalter fired first and missed. Then on the count of two, Piercy fired and he also missed.
The men reloaded their rifles and again prepared for the signal. This time both men fired on the count of one. Piercy dropped to the ground with a head wound and died within minutes. His shot had gone wide. After giving a short eulogy over his fallen opponent, Showalter, along with his seconds and friends, left the estate having participated in the last duel fought in the state of California.
Men bound for Texas began their migration from California before war was declared. Well-mounted and armed, they moved in small organized groups of less than 30. Their routes varied. A few went by way of the Mojave Road crossing the Colorado River near Fort Mojave. Some went by way of the Bradshaw Trail that crossed the Colorado near Blythe. However, most of them went the southern route along the Butterfield Stage Road crossing into Mexico and bypassing U.S. troops garrisoned at Fort Yuma.
The Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, comprised of 60 men, a sizeable herd of horse and mules, and a few small wagons, left Los Angeles on the 16th of June, 1861. The group included General Albert Sidney Johnston and Major Louis A. Armistead. These two officers had resigned their Union commissions and would face charges of treason if captured. The leaders chose the southern Butterfield route along which local worthies, sympathetic to the southern cause, gave cover and warning about the location of Union troops.
General George Wright, commander of the Union Army’s Pacific Department, sat in shocked amazement when word reached him that a group of such number had crossed such distance without detection. . Troops were immediately assigned to checkpoints along the road with orders to thwart further passage along what the General termed, “the rebel’s underground railroad”.
Camp Wright, located on the trail in eastern San Diego County, was soon garrisoned by elements of the 2nd infantry. Major Edwin Rigg was given command and had barely set his tent posts when word arrived that 16 to 20 men were on the way led by Dan Showalter.
A letter giving the number and location of the group had fallen into the hands of soldiers who stopped and searched a rider who was on his way to San Diego.
After the duel, Showalter became a fugitive and headed for Los Angeles – a town teaming with rebels ready for action. Eventually, he joined a group of like-minded men willing to leave for Texas. They took the southern route from Los Angeles to Rancho del Chino then on to Temecula where they rested a day and prepare for the desert crossing.
Rigg sent a detachment to search and find these men. When the troops reached Temecula, they found that the group had left that area the day before and were headed east on the “Trail of the Padres”.
From Pala Mission the rebels followed along the San Luis Rey River avoiding the wagon road and military checkpoints finally reaching Minter’s Ranch where they camped for the night.
Late that evening the army located the rebels and prepared to attack at first light.
Without a shot being fired, Lt. Wellman and 24 troopers rode into the midst of the 18 men still in their bedrolls. When questioned, they claimed to be miners on their way to mines in Mexico. Wellman told them that if they would sign an oath of loyalty to the Union, they could be on their way. Showalter and some of the others resisted, but somehow the lieutenant got the men to stack their weapons and accompany him to Camp Wright.
After lengthy questioning, Major Rigg determined that these men were indeed bound for Texas to join southern forces. Under heavy armed guards, they were “forthwith” taken to the Territorial Prison at Fort Yuma. To the disgust of Showalter, the incident at Minter’s Ranch had ended without a whimper.
After serving five months in prison and signing a loyalty oath, the men were give a mount, a rifle and released from prison with the understanding that they would return to their homes in California. As one would expect, most of the men rode on to Texas to join the Confederacy.
Lt. Col. Daniel Showalter, 4th Arizona Cavalry, led his regiment in actions to drive Union troops out of Southern Texas. He had a drinking problem and was finally relieved of duty for being unable to command his men in the fighting around Palmetto Hill. After the Civil War, he moved to Mexico and managed a hotel in Mazatlan. He died in 1866 of injuries resulting from a bar fight.
The two officers who had ridden with the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles became outstanding leaders of southern troops and widely celebrated in the annals of the Civil War. General Albert Sidney Johnston commanded all Confederate forces from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and was killed at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. General Lewis A. Armistead died leading his brigade at Pickett’s assault, Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
One other member of “Showalter’s Rebels” deserves special mention. After release from the Yuma prison, William (Frog) Edwards decided to fight Union forces nearer at hand rather than head for Texas. A small detachment of soldiers from Fort Yuma had gathered near a store in the mining settlement of La Paz, (Arizona) located on the Colorado River. Edwards had watched the men leave a boat and walk toward the store allowing him time to set up an ambush.
Some writers claim that three soldiers were killed. Others claim that more soldiers were killed or wounded including a civilian bystander. The army searched up and down the river and out onto the desert but Williams was never captured.