New Jersey native Stephen W. Kearny was born in 1794, joined the army during the War of 1812, and served in a variety of frontier duties in the decades after that war. By 1846, he was colonel in command of the 1st United States Dragoon Regiment. When war broke out between the United States and Mexico, Kearny was promoted to Brigadier General, with orders to gather an army of volunteers around his unit and head down the Santa Fe Trail to seize the Mexican province of New Mexico.
His campaign was swift and bloodless. He captured Santa Fe on August 18, 1846, and promptly established a territorial government in the province, over the protest of Texas officials who claimed the region as their own. He then led the bulk of his army of down the Rio Grande and then west toward California. Believing that organized resistance there had ceased, Kearny sent most of his command off to other posts and arrived near Los Angeles, just in time to help suppress a severe revolt against U.S. control. Kearny was slightly wounded at the Mexican victory of San Pascual, but was able to restore U.S. control by the middle of January 1847.
With peace restored, Kearny ordered Captain John C. Frémont to relinquish command of California to him, sparking an enormous contest between the two officers, which ended with Frémont’s court martial and resignation from the army. Kearny served as military governor until the summer of 1847, when he traveled to Washington D.C., hailed as the conqueror of California. Kearney received brevet promotion to major general and reassignment to command the garrison at Vera Cruz. After contracting malaria, Kearny returned to the U.S. and died in St. Louis in 1848.