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The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt


It is a somewhat singular coincidence that, evidently through Adam M. Johnston’s official communications and other sources of information respecting the struggle that was progressing in Mariposa County, Governor McDougal issued a letter bearing the same date as Burney’s—January 13, 1851—authorizing the Sheriff of Mariposa County to call out one hundred able-bodied men (militia), with which to meet the pressing exigencies of the times.

At the same time he sent an appealing message to the State Legislature, then in session, asking for means to meet such pressing emergencies; also a communication addressed to the Indian Commissioners, appointed by the General Government, for cooperation. The same day a dispatch was sent to General Persifer F. Smith, commanding the Pacific Division of the United States Army, informing him of the Indian disturbances, and asking what aid might be expected from his department, the number of effective troops to be relied on, whether there could be furnished arms and ammunition to volunteers, and if so the character and number of arms and ammunition, concluding with the question: “Will you deem it advisable to cooperate in the present emergency?”

There seems to be no published response to this last inquiry; nevertheless, it is a matter of record that the State assumed the responsibility for the disbursements of this war, tho the expenses were afterward shouldered by the United States Government.

Appearing most anxious that no delay on his part should cause unnecessary loss of life or property, the Governor immediately dispatched Colonel J. Neely Johnson, an officer on his Staff, to the United States Indian Commissioners, Messrs. Wozencraft, McKee and Barbour, with offers of safe conduct to the scene of the disturbances, accompanied with the assurance that: “Colonel Johnson will afford you every facility in his power, and cooperate with you in all measures necessary to insure a return of those friendly feelings which are so desirable to us and so essential to the happiness of both whites and Indians.” This offer was cordially accepted by the United States Indian Commissioners, who, under the escort of Colonel J. Neely Johnson and a small body of State troops, set out on their peaceful mission.

While the volunteers were enjoying sweet repose, a new excitement made its advent among them; it came as a great revelation, for it was an order from His Excellency Governor John McDougal to Major Burney (dated January 13, 1851), to enlist one hundred men. By a subsequent order, January 24, 1851, the number was increased to two hundred able-bodied militia. They were to be organized at the earliest practicable moment into independent companies, not to exceed four, and, under officers of their own selection, to proceed at once to punish the offending tribes.

The full complement of organized volunteers, numbering two hundred and four, rank and file, reported to Major Burney at Savage’s old store near Agua Fria, February 10, 1851, equipped, mounted and ready for service. It was known as the Mariposa Battalion. At the election of officers, Burney, to whom the honor of commanding the force naturally belonged, magnanimously declined to be a candidate. He explained that his duties as Sheriff of so large a county were too pressing; but Captain Howard and others realized that this was an act of diplomacy, for the purpose of insuring harmony by avoiding a clash with jealous and ambitious rivals.

This resulted in the election of James D. Savage as commander, not because of his military knowledge, but on account of his knowledge of the habits, customs, haunts, and language of the Indians, as well as of the country they would have to traverse. M. B. Lewis was elected Adjutant; Doctor A. Bronson, Surgeon, later succeeded by Doctor Lewis Leach; Assistant-Surgeons, Doctors Pfifer and Black.

The battalion was divided into three companies, A, B and C. The Captains commanding were: John I. Kuykendall, Company A; John Bowling, Company B; William Dill, Company C. The First Lieutenants were: John I. Scott, Company A; Reuben Chandler, Company B; Hugh W. Farrell, Company C, with Robert E. Russell as Sergeant-Major. Provisions and baggage wagons were provided by the State, but the troops supplied their own horses and equipment. Their first headquarters was a meadow near Mariposa Creek, fifteen miles from the town of Mariposa. Here they were daily drilled and put through all the preparatory exercises necessary for efficient military service.

Major Savage was in the height of his glory as head of the government troops. He had reached his goal, and gained his revenge upon Chief Josť Juarez. From the time that he made himself unpopular with the two Indian Chiefs, he had sought by published statements to make it appear that every depredation, whether committed by Americans, Mexicans, or persons of any other nationality, was always done by Indians.

When the red men saw that Savage was exciting the white men against them, they fled to the mountains for safety. At this time Captain Howard had many Indians working on his ranch. One was a Chief named Falis. He had a friend living near, named Sapianna, who was unusually bright and a gifted orator, and who placed great confidence in Howard. Sapianna said to him one day: “Savage is responsible for all the hard feelings which have arisen between the white men and the red.”

While the four squads were busy making preparations and sending out occasional scouting parties to look for the enemy—who, judging by the many horse and cattle thefts, must have been amazingly near—the dawn of a new era was breaking. Strong humanitarian influences were at work on behalf of a nobler policy toward the Indians. Letters and other forms of communication were being continually received by the Executive. They were written by persons holding official positions, and set forth new views on the Indian question. Among them was the following from General Thomas B. Eastland:


That the Indians have been more “sinned against than sinning,” since the settling of California by the whites, is the opinion of many old inhabitants, as well as miners, who have lived in their midst and watched the rise and progress of the many disturbances that have occurred. They are naturally inoffensive, and perhaps less warlike than any other tribes on the continent; indeed, they have not even the resources necessary for defense; the bow and arrow are their only arms; they are destitute of animals even for transportation purposes; they have no means of support within themselves, save the transitory fruits of the season, some few esculent plants and acorns, the latter being garnered up for their winter supplies, by which they must stay or starve; they are to a man almost in a state of nature, without a single comfort in the way of clothing, and during the cold months huddle together in their holes, as their only protection against the inclemency of the weather; in fact, all their habits are peaceful, and in their whole character it is not discoverable that naturally they possess the first element of a war-like people; but the germ of a hostile spirit has been created in them, that without some prompt and decisive action on the part of the General Government will grow and spread among them a deadly hate toward the whites, which ere long may cause our frontier to be marked with lines of blood. If they are apt scholars they will not only be taught how to fight, but in time will muster many warriors, each with his firelock and butcher-knife, taken from the bodies of murdered white men.

I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s obedient servant,

Thomas B. Eastland.    
Brig. Gen. 1st. Division, Cal. Ma., Comm’g.

Apparently the majority of the Americans strongly objected to the formation of the Mariposa Battalion, which was solely for the purpose of combating inoffensive tribes, who had not the resources necessary for defense. Many thoughtful contributors to the press foresaw a growing and deadly hatred toward the white man, which would in time bring about terrific bloodshed. Such well considered sentiments carried with them the force of conclusive argument, and gave full strength to the moulding of a more generous future for the campaign. Governor McDougal gave much anxious thought to this all-absorbing question, and held earnest conferences on it with influential members of both Senate and Assembly, and with other State officials.

Effectual conferences between the Governor of the State and the Indian Commissioners sent out by the General Government, frequently took place; they resulted in the adoption of a more just and more benignant policy toward the Indians. Finally it was agreed by the State Executive that the United States Indian Commissioners, Messrs. Wozencraft, McKee and Barbour, in the interest of humanity, should take over full command of the State troops, then in the field near Mariposa. Therefore, instructions were sent to Major James Savage, ordering him to suspend all active hostile demonstrations against the red men until further notice.

Thus it happened that while the Mariposa Militia was doing strenuous training exercises, the Indian agents were selecting stores adapted to the red men’s tastes and general needs. They also engaged the services of peaceful Indians as messengers and interpreters, feeling that through these men they could more readily find access to the hearts of the Indians. When all things were in readiness for the proposed peace campaign, the United States Indian Commissioners, under the escort of Colonel Neely Johnson and a small detachment of State troops, repaired as rapidly as possible to the camp of the Mariposa Battalion.

After receiving a cordial and somewhat informal welcome, Colonel Johnson delivered the following sensible address before the battalion:

Soldiers and Gentlemen: Your operations as a military organization will henceforth he under the direction of the United States Commissioners. Under their orders you are now assigned to the duty of subduing such Indian tribes as could not otherwise be induced to make treaties with them and at once cease hostilities and depredations. Your officers will make all reports to the Commissioners. Your orders and instructions will hereafter be issued by them. Your soldierly and manly appearance is a sufficient guarantee that their orders will be conscientiously carried out.

While I do not hesitate to denounce the Indians for the murders and robberies committed by them, we should not forget that there may perhaps be circumstances which, if taken into consideration, might to some extent excuse their hostility to the whites. They probably feel that they themselves are the aggrieved party, looking upon us as trespassers upon their territory, invaders of their country, seeking to dispossess them of their homes. It may be that they class us with the Spanish invaders of Mexico and California, whose cruelties in civilizing and Christianizing them are still traditionally fresh in their memories.

As I am soon to leave you, I will now bid you good-by, with the hope that your actions will be in harmony with the wishes of the Commissioners, and that in the performance of your duties, you will in all cases observe mercy where severity is not justly demanded.

Around this time the Indian Agent called upon Captain Howard and asked him to take fifteen or twenty men as a bodyguard, go to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, find two tribes who had fled there when they saw the white men turning against them, and bring them back to live peacefully on the Tuolumne Reservation.

Knowing that these were Mission Indians and not really hostile, Captain Howard eventually decided to take only his secretary with him, a young French-Canadian named Logan, who was able to converse in the Spanish language. It did not take the two men long to reach the wigwams, where they obtained an interview with the two Chiefs, Hauhau and New Mexicano. William informed them that the Government had agreed to give them food and blankets, providing they came back to the Reservation. This little heart-to-heart talk, assisted by his friendship and personality, brought about the return of the two tribes to the Tuolumne a few days after Howard’s visit.

On another occasion a large number of Indians revolted through a misunderstanding with the whites, and all started for the mountains. Captain Howard, learning of their intentions, went ahead, and waited for them on a narrow trail that overlooked the river. As the red men approached this point of the journey he stood in the middle of the trail and commanded them to halt. They could easily have thrown him into the river, but his kind voice and known friendship made them earnest listeners to his Spanish speech. He asked them to return with him, and he would answer for their happiness. They followed him back to the Reservation, and another uprising was quelled.

The taking over of the command of the State troops by the Commissioners resulted in the sending of peace messengers to the numerous Indian settlements. Among the messengers was one named Russio, who seems to have been preeminently qualified for this service. His discriminating comprehension of the Indian viewpoint, his superior intelligence, and his convincingly persuasive manners, were invaluable to the Commissioners in their efforts to establish peace relations. Accompanied by another named Sandino, he visited the nearest Indian village, where he depicted in graphic terms the invincible power of the whites, and the wonderful gifts of blankets, provisions and ornaments that were ready for distribution among the Indian women and children, if they would only make friends with their white neighbors. In this way many were induced to talk with the Commissioners, and finally agreed to live on the Reservations, providing the whites left them in peace.

There still remained some unfriendly Indians, presumably influenced by Josť Rey. One day Russio said:

“The Indians in the deep rocky valley on the Merced River do not wish for peace, and will not come to see the Chiefs sent by the Great Father to make treaties. They think the white men cannot find their hiding places, therefore they cannot be driven out. In this big deep valley one Indian is more than ten white men, and the hiding places are many; if the white men should come near them they will throw rocks upon them. These tribes in the great valley are strong and lawless, like grizzlies; we are afraid to go to this valley, for many witches are there.”

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