We ended the last episode with Lt. Edward Beale’s commission to survey a wagon road across northern New Mexico and Arizona, and to test the viability of camels for the use of military equipment transport in the desert southwest. If ever a man was destined for such an adventure it was Edward Beale.
His father, George, had earned a Congressional Medal for Valor during the War of 1812. His mothers father was Commodore Thomas Truxtun (Truxton Arizona was named for Edward Beale’s mother) of the United States Navy. Solicitation from his mother to President Andrew Jackson resulted in Beale being appointed to the Naval School in Philadelphia. Between 1837 and 1842 he served as an apprentice midshipman and sailed to ports as distant as Russia and Brazil. After graduation from the Naval School as a midshipman in 1842, he served on ships that sailed to Europe as well as South America. In 1845 he was reassigned to the squadron of Captain Robert F. Stockton who was tasked with sailing to Texas where the captain was to meet that republics congress and present articles of annexation from the United States government. Serving as Stockton’s private secretary Beale then set sail for California and Oregon on board the Congress.
Beale’s adventures to California were cut short when Captain Stockton gave him secret orders to board a Danish ship, travel to England, and with a disguised identity evaluate British public opinion toward the disputed Oregon border. Upon his return in 1846, a report was made directly to President James Polk. This would prove to be a most adventuresome year for Beale.
His next assignment was to deliver packets, packages, and orders from the naval secretary to Captain Robert F. Stockton who was waiting on board the Congress in Peru. This required sailing to Panama, crossing the isthmus, and then sailing down the coast of South America, a daunting and perilous journey. After joining Stockton in Peru, Beale sailed to Honolulu and then to Monterrey in California. Upon arrival on July 20, 1846 they learned that Mexico and the United States were at war, and continued their voyage south to San Diego. It was here that Beale accepted assignment to serve under Lt. Archibald Gillespie whose small contingent was to join with General Stephen W. Kearny in an assault on San Pasqual on December 6, 1846. During the intense battle the Mexican Army surrounded the American troops necessitating a daring mission to seek reinforcements.
Beale, a Delaware Indian servant, and Kit Carson volunteered, and under cover of darkness made their way through the Mexican lines before making their way to San Diego. This as well as his overland trip to Washington D.C. to deliver dispatches from Captain Stockton in 1847, and his appearance as a defense witness in the court martial trial of John C. Fremont transformed Beale into a nationally recognized celebrity. Six additional cross country exploits in the following two years enhanced his stature greatly. One of these was an incredible adventure from California, across Mexico, and to Washington D.C. where he presented tangible confirmation of the gold strike in the area of Sutter’s Mill.
In 1851, Beale resigned from the Navy and embarked on a dizzying array of endeavors in California. These included leading a survey party for construction of a transcontinental railroad through Colorado and Utah, and into California, and serving as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California.
So, it was not surprising that President Buchanan appointed Beale to lead a survey and construction party into the wilderness of Arizona and New Mexico to build a road that would later serve as the foundation for creation of an American icon – Route 66.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America