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A Trip to Los Angelos—Interview with Col. McKee—A Night at Col. Fremont’s Camp—Management of Cattle by the Colonel’s Herdsmen—Back to Los Angelos—Specimen Bricks of the Angel City—An Addition to our Party—Mules versus Bears—Don Vincente—A Silver Mine—Mosquitos—A Dry Bog—Return to Fresno—Muster out of Battalion—A Proposition.
On arriving at head-quarters on the Fresno, with the remnant of the once numerous and defiant band of Yosemite Indians, whose thieving propensities and murderous attacks had made them a dread to miners and “ranche” men; we found a general feeling of confidence that the “Indian war” was ended. The commissioners, with a special escort of U. S. soldiers which had accompanied them from San Francisco, had gone to King’s River to treat with the bands collected for that purpose; and were then to visit the region farther South on their way to Los Angelos, where they expected to meet and co-operate with Gen. Bean, who was stationed with his volunteer force at the Cahon Pass. Major Savage had learned from his Indians, who once more seemed to idolize him, that all the bands in the vicinity of the Kings and Kah-we-ah rivers, had “made peace,” and that the commissioners had started for Te-jon Pass.
Considering the Indian outbreak as completely suppressed, the major at once reported the condition of affairs to the governor, and recommended that the “Mariposa Battalion” be mustered out and honorably discharged from further service. He sent Captain Boling to report in person to the commissioners. I was detailed as one of the Captain’s escort, and Mr. Winchester, a newspaper correspondent, accompanied us. Captain Boling expected to overtake the commissioners at Te-hon Pass.
This trip was in no way objectionable to me, for I was desirous to visit that part of the country with a view of selecting a location, if I found my plans to be practicable. Through the advice of Major Savage, I had in contemplationa design to establish a trading post in the vicinity of Te-hon Pass. In this project, I was assured of the Major’s friendship and co-operation as soon as the battalion was mustered out. He designed to extend his trading operations, and thought that a post in the vicinity of the pass would control the trade destined to spring up on both sides of the mountains. I was provided with recommendations to the commissioners, to use in case I desired a trader’s permit on one of the reservations. The commissioners were while en route prospecting for locations and selections of public lands for the Indians. The object of these selections, was to make the experiment of engaging them in agricultural pursuits under the management of the general government. I had but little confidence that the latter could be made self-supporting wards of the nation; but I was willing in political as in religious affairs, that each zealot should believe that he had discovered a sovereign balm for the wants of humanity. However, self-interest prompted me to be observant of passing events.
I was aware, even at that early day, that the California Indians had become objects of speculation to the “rings” that scented them as legitimate prey. The trip to the Te-jon Pass was made without incident or accident to delay our movements, but on our arrival it was found that the Commissioners had been gone several days, and were probably then in Los Angelos. This we learned from an Indian styled by his “christian name” Don Vincente. This chief was a Mission Indian, and spoke some Spanish. His people, although in appearance hardly equal to the mountain tribes, provided themselves with fruit and vegetables of their own raising.
From “Senor Don Vincente” we obtained roasting ears of corn, melons, etc., which were an agreeable surprise. While on the trip we had found game in abundance, and, surfeited with fresh meat, the vegetables seemed better than any we had ever before eaten. Vincente’s system of irrigation was very complete.
Captain Boling was not anxious to follow the trail of the Commissioners beyond this camp. I had already informed him of my desire to see the Commissioners and make some examination of that locality before our return. He therefore decided to retrace his own steps, but to send me on as a special messenger to the Commissioners.
He instructed me to make all possible despatch to deliver his report and messages, but on my return trip I had liberty to make such delays as suited my convenience. He also wished me to convey a verbal message from Major Savage to Colonel Fremont, to the effect that the Indians congregated at the Fresno were anxiously awaiting the arrival of some of his cattle. Col. Fremont had already made a large contract for supplying them with beef, and was supposed to be in Los Angelos or vicinity, buying up animals for the agencies. My arrangements for following the Commissioners were hardly commenced, before Col. William T. Henderson, and ranchman from near Quartzberg, rode up to our camp. He was an acquaintance, and was on his way to Los Angelos with a King’s River Indian guide. I at once saddled my mule, and taking an extra animal furnished for the occasion, joined Henderson, making the trip a more agreeable and pleasant one than I had anticipated.
Col. Henderson afterwards became famous, at least among his friends, as chief instrument under Captain Harry Love, of causing the death of “Joaquin Muriata” and “Three fingered Jack,” and in capturing two or three of Muriata’s band of robbers. On entering the city of Los Angelos, I found Col. McKee at his hotel. Neither Col. Barbour nor Col. Fremont were in the city. Doctor Woozen-croft was in San Francisco. I was cordially received and hospitably entertained by Col. McKee while I made my report, and answered his questions. At his request, I stated a few facts relating to the Yosemite Valley, and he appeared an interested listener; but distinguishing a look of incredulity, when I gave him my estimates of heights, I made the interview as brief as possible. Ascertaining that Col. Fremont was only a few miles from the city, I rode out to his camp, delivered my message, and gave him a general view of the situation in Mariposa county, where his famous estate is situated. I staid over night with him and was hospitably provided for.
The Colonel’s whole bearing was that of an accomplished man of the world, and I felt that I was in the presence of a gentleman of education and refinement. During the morning I watched his vaqueros or herdsman training the cattle preparatory to starting north for their destination. This breaking-in process was accomplished by driving them in a circle over the plain near the camp, and was done to familiarize them with each other, and with the commands of the herdsmen, before attempting to drive them from their native grazing grounds.
On my return to the city I again called on Colonel McKee to see if he had any return message to Major Savage. On my first visit the subject of reservations was not presented. Upon this occasion it was naturally brought up by an allusion to the Colonel’s plan of “christianizing the poor Indians. My doubt of the feasibility of this work was better concealed than were his doubts of my heights of the Yosemite, and with considerable fervor the good old gentle man unfolded his plans for the christianizing of the Indians. His estimate of the number in Mariposa county was simply fabulous, and when I quietly asked him if he supposed there were really so many, he, with some choler, answered, “Why, sir, these figures are official.”
During this conversation, I was informed that the Fresno, King’s River and Te-jon Pass selections would be recommended, although it appeared that the latter was claimed as an old and long disputed Spanish grant. On stating that I had had some idea of locating in the vicinity of the Te-jon Pass as soon as that selection was decided upon, I was advised by Colonel McKee to be in no haste to do so, but was assured of his good will in any application I might make after their policy was established; for, added the Colonel, “Major Savage has already spoken of you as an energetic and efficient person, and one calculated to materially aid us in future work with these Indians.”
Let it suffice here to say, that I never made application for a permit as a licensed trader on any Indian reservation; and I am not yet aware that any of these reservations have afforded the Indians means of self-support. I was somewhat familiar with the management of the Fresno agency, and do not hesitate to say that it was not wholly commendable. I was not personally familiar with that of the Te-jon Pass agricultural management. This was one of the most delightful regions of California; and the region covered by the Mexican or Spanish grant was, in my opinion, intrinsically more valuable than the whole of the celebrated Mariposa estate of Col. Fremont, which had “millions in it.” After a vast amount of money had been expended on this reservation by the general government, I believe it was confirmed as a Spanish or Mexican grant, and finally passed into the possession of General Beal, who was for some years Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California. I never saw General Beal, and therefore was only able to judge of him or his management through his official reports and letters relating to the Indian Affairs of California. These will receive some special notice further on.
My recollections of the interviews with Colonel McKee, are of a most agreeable character. The sincerity with which he advised me with regard to my individual affairs, and the correctness of his representations of the prospective condition of the Tejon Pass, if it should prove a valid Mexican grant, was serviceable to me, and subsequent events verified his judgment. Colonel McKee was a high-minded christian gentleman, but really unsuited to deal with the political element then existing on the Pacific coast. The other two commissioners, Colonel Barbour and Dr. Woozencroft, I never became acquainted with, though upon one occasion I met Colonel Barbour at head-quarters, and received a very favorable impression of his character. In leaving Colonel McKee after my second interview, I could not at once relinquish my design of ultimately establishing myself near the Tejon. Having completed my business, I reported myself to Henderson as ready, and found that he also had been able to despatch his affairs, and had no business to detain him longer. Together we took a stroll through the principal street, and visited some popular resorts. However angelic the unseen portion of this city—of then less than two thousand inhabitants—may have been, it appeared to us as a city of fallen angels with their attendant satellites. Although our observations were made in a dull portion of the day, we witnessed on the street one pugilistic encounter, two shooting affrays, and a reckless disregard of life, and property rights generally, never allowed in a civilized community. We soon discovered that good arms and a firm demeanor were the only passports to respectful consideration.
The authorities seemed too indifferent or too timid to maintain order, or punish the offenders against law. Satisfied that the “City of Angels” could exhibit more unadulterated wickedness than any other town in the State at that time, we shook the dust from our feet, and in order to get an early start the next morning, rode out to the vicinity of Col. Fremont’s camp. Our party was increased by the addition of two gentlemen, who joined us for protection and guidance. The name of one of them has escaped my memory; the other was Doctor Bigelow, of Detroit, Michigan, a geologist, who at one time was engaged in a geological survey of a portion of Lake Superior. We left our camp before sunrise, Henderson and myself riding in advance; our guests, Indian and pack-mule bringing up the rear. This order of traveling was maintained as a matter of convenience, for being well mounted, Henderson and myself were able to secure deer, antelope and a supply of smaller game, without hardly leaving the trail or delaying our progress.
Among the foot-hills of the mountain slopes we saw several black bears cross the trail ahead, but not being out of meat, we did not urgently solicit their company. We did, however, once have our appetite aroused for “bar meat,” but failed to supply the material for the feast. Halting for a rest at the foot of a ravine, and being very thirsty, we followed the indications to water exhibited by our mules. These were secured while we explored the brushy ravine for the water-hole. As we reached the desired water, two fat cubs came waddling out of the pool, and ran into a clump of dwarf willow.
Congratulating each other on the prospect of roast cub for supper, we tried to get a shot with our revolvers, but a rousing demonstration from the parental bear, which suddenly appeared, alarmed our cautiousness, and we retreated hurriedly, but in good order, to the place where we had carelessly left our rifles. Hastily mounting, we returned the compliment by at once charging on the bear and her cubs, which were now endeavoring to escape.
As we approached near enough for the mules to see and scent the game, they halted, and commenced marking time. Neither spurs or the butts of our rifles could persuade them to make a forward movement. Thinking I might secure a cub that stood temporarily in sight, I raised my rifle, but in so doing slackened the reins, when with the ease and celerity of a well-drilled soldier, my mule came to an “about face,” and instantly left that locality. Henderson’s mule became unmanageable, and after a lusty “we-haw! we-haw!” followed me, while the affrighted bear family scram bled off in search of a place of security. Pulling up as soon as we could control our frightened animals, Henderson congratulated me on possessing one so active on a retreat, while I complimented the intelligence of his own, which would not voluntarily endanger his master.
After a hearty laugh at our comic illustration of a bear hunt, it was mutually agreed that a mule was not reliable in a charge upon bruin.
A mule may be the equal of a horse in intelligence, but his inferiority of spirit and courage in times of danger prevents his becoming a favorite, except as a beast for work or mountain travel.
On arriving at the rancheria of the chief Vincente, I induced Henderson to stop and explore the country. The luscious watermelons and abundant supplies of vegetables were strong arguments in favor of a few days’ rest for our animals and recreation for ourselves. In the meantime Doctor Bigelow had told us of a traditional silver mine that he had been informed existed somewhere in the locality of the Tejon. I found the pompous old chief fond of displaying his knowledge of agriculture, which was really considerable, and I complimented him upon his success, as was deserved.
After paying him for the things liberally supplied our party, and which with a show of Spanish courtesy he intimated he had given us because he was “a good Christian"—though he frequently crossed himself while expressing his fear of “witches” or demons—I opened up the subject of the old silver mine. I designated it as some kind of a mine that had once been worked by an Englishman. We were told by “Don Vincente” that such a mine had been discovered many years before, by white men, who, after working it for awhile, had been driven off or killed; “but for the love of God” he could not tell which. We expressed a wish to visit the old mine, and asked permission of the chief. He told us it was not in the territory claimed by him, and he was thankful that it was not, as the location was haunted. When asked if he would furnish us a guide, who should be well paid for his service, he answered, “Go, and God go with you, but none of my people shall go, for it would bring upon us evil.” We were shown the mouth of the ravine, after some persuasion, but no argument or inducement could procure a guide to the mine.
“Don Vincente,” like all the Mission Indians of California, I found to be strongly imbued with the superstitions of the wild tribes, and a firm believer in the power of human departed spirits to harm the living. Many, like those of the east, believed that the wizards or sorcerers could put a spell upon a victim, that if not disenchanted would soon carry him to his grave.
Leaving our extra animals in the care of Vincente, we took our course towards the mouth of the ravine pointed out to us, southwest of the Tejon. After a tedious and difficult search, a discovery of some float mineral was made, and following up these indications, we found some very rude furnaces, and a long distance above discovered the mine, which had evidently been abandoned for years. We procured some of the best specimens of the ore, and being unable to determine its value, forwarded some to assayers in San Francisco. Doctor Bigelow pronounced the mineral to be that of antimony, but said that it might possibly contain some of the precious metals, but it was quite evident that he placed but little commercial value upon the mine. The reports finally received from the assayers were very unfavorable, and our visions of untold wealth vanished with the smoke of the assay.
On our return from the exploration of the “Silver Mine,” we carefully concealed our discovery from Vincente and his people, and avoided exciting their curiosity. Our animals were rested, and in an improved condition, for the grass was rich and abundant. Don Vincente was as much delighted with our presents of tobacco and trinkets, which we had carried with us for such occasions, as any of the “Gentile” nations would have been. We took our departure from the hospitalities of the Mission Chief without having had any occurrence to divert the mutually friendly feelings that had been fostered in our intercourse. We had designed, on starting from the rancheria of Don Vincente, to leave the direct trail to Mariposa, and explore the lake region of the Tulare valley. Unfortunately for the success of this undertaking, we made our first camp too near the marshy shore of Kern Lake. We had selected the camp ground for the convenience of water and fresh grass for our animals, but as night closed in, the mosquitoes swarmed from the surrounding territory, making such vigorous charges upon us and our animals, that we were forced to retreat from their persistent attacks, and take refuge on the high land away from the vicinity of the Tule or Bullrush marshes. Having no desire to continue the acquaintance of the inhabitants who had thronged to welcome our approach, our ambition for making further exploration was so much weakened, that we silently permitted our mules to take their course towards the direct trail. Col. Henderson declared that the mosquitoes on these lakes were larger, more numerous, and in greater variety, than in the swamps of Louisiana, and Doctor Bigelow said that hitherto he had rather prided himself, as a Michigander, on the earnest character of those of Michigan, but that in future, he should be willing to accept as a standard of all the possibilities of mosquito growth, those that had reluctantly parted with us at Kern Lake. Keeping the rich alluvial low lands on our left, we crossed a strip of alkali plain, through which our animals floundered as if in an ash heap. This Henderson designated as a “dry bog.” Deviating still farther to the right to avoid this, an old trail was struck, either Indian or animal, which led us into the main trail usually traveled up and down the valley. At the crossing of one of the numerous mountain streams, we found a good camping place on a beautiful table overlooking this rich territory, where we would be secure from the assaults of enemies.
After a refreshing bath in the cool waters of the stream, we slept the sleep of the blessed, and mosquitoes once more became to us unknown objects of torture. The next morning we found ourselves refreshed and buoyant.
Our animals, like ourselves, seemed to feel in elevated spirits, and as we vaulted into our saddles at an early hour, they moved rapidly along in the cool and bracing air. As we rode, drove after drove of antelope and elk were seen, and one small band of mustangs approached from the west, when, after vainly neighing to our mules, they turned and galloped back toward their favorite resort, the west side of the valley. Sometimes, with a halting look of scrutiny, a coyote would cross our trail, but their near vicinity was always recognized by our vigilant mules with a snort and pause in their gait, that was probably designed to intimate to us that it might be another bear. We beguiled the time in discussing the amazing fertility of the country we were traversing, and the probability of its future occupancy. At the present time, thriving cities and immense wheat fields occupy localities where in 1851 game and wild mustangs roamed almost undisturbed by the white man’s tread, or the flash or gleam of his unerring rifle. There is still room for the enterprising settler, and the upper end of the San Joaquin Valley may yet be called the sportsman’s paradise. The lakes and streams swarm with fish, and are the resort of water-fowl, and deer, elk and antelope are still plentiful in secluded localities.
We reached the Fresno in safety without interrupting incidents, and without further attempt at exploration. Colonel Henderson, Doctor Bigelow, and his companion du voyage, after a short halt passed on to Quartzberg, while I stopped over to make my report to the Major. To my extreme surprise, Major Savage questioned me as to the cause of my tardiness, saying he had been expecting me for two or three days past, and that the cattle were now within the valley and would in a short time be at the reservation. After sufficiently enjoying my astonishment at his knowledge of my movements and those of Fremont’s herders, he informed me that his old power and influence over the Indians had been re-established, and that reports came to him from the different chiefs of all important events transpiring in their territory. He soon satisfied me that through a judicious distribution of presents to the runners, and the esteem in which he was held by the chiefs, he was able to watch the proceedings of strangers, for every movement of our party had been reported to him in detail. I was cordially received by the Major, as a guest in his new trading house, which he had erected during our absence. We discussed the probable future of the management of Indian affairs in California, and the incidents of my trip to Los Angelos. The Major informed me that the battalion had been mustered out of service during my absence (on July 25th, 1851), but that my interests had been properly represented and cared for, as far as he had been able to act with out my presence. But in order to receive compensation as interpreter and for extra medical services, it was discovered that separate accounts and vouchers would be required, which he and Captain Boling would at any time certify. The major then informed me that he had made his arrangements to recommence his trading operations on as large a scale as might be required. That he could make more as a trader than as an employe of government, and at the same time be free from their cares and anxieties. He advised me to take a subordinate position until I should be able to decide upon a better location. He said he could make my position a profitable one if I desired to remain with him.
The major gave me a general insight into his future plans, and some of the sources of his expected profits. After this conversation, I gave up all idea of establishing at the Tejon or any where else as a government trader. Having been so long absent from my private business, which I had left under the management of a partner; I made this a sufficient excuse for my departure the next morning and for my inability to accept the major’s kindly offer. As I was leaving, the major said: “I was in hopes to have secured your services, and still think you may change your mind. If you do, ride over at once and you will find a place open for you.
This confidence and friendship I felt demanded some return, and I frankly said; “Major Savage, you are surrounded by combinations that I don’t like. Sharp men are endeavoring to use you as a tool to work their gold mine. Beside this, you have hangers-on here that are capable of cutting your throat.” Contrary to my expectation the Major was not in the least offended at my frankness; on the contrary, he thanked me for my interest and said: “Doc, while you study books, I study men. I am not often very much deceived, and I perfectly understand the present situation, but let those laugh who win. If I can make good my losses by the Indians out of the Indians, I am going to do it. I was the best friend the Indians had, and they would have destroyed me. Now that they once more call me “Chief,” they shall build me up. I will be just to them, as I have been merciful, for after all, they are but poor ignorant beings, but my losses must be made good.” Bidding the Major good morning, I left him with many kindly feelings, and as I rode on my solitary way to Mariposa, I thought of his many noble qualities, his manly courage, his generous hospitality, his unyielding devotion to friends, and his kindness to immigrant strangers. These all passed in review before my mind, and then, I reversed the picture to see if anything was out of proportion, in the picture I had drawn of my hero. There were very serious defects, but such as would naturally result from a misdirected education, and a strong will, but they were capable of becoming virtues. As to the Major’s kindly offer, although I appreciated his feeling’s towards me, I could not accept it.
With many others, I had joined in the operations against the Indians from conscientious motives and in good faith to chastise them for the numerous murders and frequent robberies they were committing. Our object was to compel them to keep the peace, that we might be permitted to live undisturbed by their depredations. We had sufficient general intelligence and knowledge of their character to know that we were looked upon as trespassers on their territory, but were unwilling to abandon our search for gold, or submit to their frequent demands for an ever-increasing tribute. Beside other property, I had lost four valuable horses, which were taken to satisfy their appetites Neither Bonner’s nor Vanderbilt’s love for horses, was ever greater than was that of those mountain Indians. No horse was considered too valuable for them to eat. Notwithstanding all this sense of injury done to my personal interests, I could not justify myself in joining any scheme to wrong them, or rather, the government; and it was too plainly evident that no damages could be obtained for losses, except through the California Indian Ring that was now pretty well established. During the operations of the Battalion, the plans of the Ring were laid, and it was determined that when the war should be ended, “a vigorous peace policy” should be inaugurated. Estimates of the probable number of Indians that it would be necessary to provide for in Mariposa county alone, accidentally fell under my observation, and I at once saw that it was the design to deceive the government and the people in regard to the actual number, in order to obtain from Congress large appropriations. These estimates were cited as official by Col. McKee, and were ten times more than the truth would warrant. Major Savage justified his course in using the opportunity to make himself whole again, while acting as a trader, and in aiding others to secure “a good thing,” by the sophism that he was not responsible for the action of the commissioners or of Congress.
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