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Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny was man ahead of his time. In 1846, he was commissioned to lead the Army of the West in the American takeover of Mexico’s land in the Southwest and California, which added almost a third to America’s current territory.
While this achievement is controversial, it was also bloodless. Not a shot was fired during Kearny’s conquest.
Additionally, Kearny exercised modern principles by respecting cultural diversity and human rights in the Southwest. As military governor, he established a civil government, created the Kearny code, or a new legal system that incorporated existing Mexican law, including land grants.
Kearny also provided a bill of rights and guaranteed religious freedom.
Despite his accomplishments and diplomacy, Kearny has been largely forgotten. However, his great-great-granddaughter, Stephanie Kearny, is placing him back in the history spotlight.
She will be discussing her ancestor during the upcoming Los Alamos Historical Society lecture at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fuller Lodge.
Stephanie said she became interested in studying Kearny because of her family tie to the man. She explained she is named after him, plus her family has a portrait of Kearny and looking at him, Stephanie said she always thought, “He looked a decent man.”
Additionally, Stephanie said she has an interest in history, and while the invasion is controversial, “I feel we should know history and come to our own conclusions,” she said.
She added her great-great-grandfather’s story is great to tell. “For me, it is sort of a complicated story that shows the ups and downs of the human condition.”
It is also a story that is relevant today. Stephanie said history tends to recycle itself and have a lot of parallels.
Kearny’s life also reveals lessons the modern world can learn from. Stephanie said her relative emphasized thinking in the long-term rather than the short-term. He also stressed the need for people to join together rather than imposing their views on others.
She said she is eager to participate in the historical society’s lecture series because, “I always enjoy talking with people who are interested in history.”
Stephanie and her husband have lived in New Mexico for 20 years. Her background is in economics and finances, but she has also taught English to university students in Tunisia, North Africa.
Her long-time interest in Kearny lead her to contribute to the book, “Winning the West: General Stephen Watts Kearny’s Letter 1846-1847,” which was published in 1998.
She has lectured across the country.