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A Camp Discussion—War or Police Clubs—Jack Regrets a Lost Opportunity—Boling’s Soothing Syrup—A Scribe Criticises and Apologises—Indian War Material and its Manufacture—The Fire-stick and its Sacred Uses—Arrival at Head-quarters.

It was not until after we had partaken of a hearty supper and produced our pipes, that the lively hum of conversation and the occasional careless laughter indicated the elastic temperament of some of the hardy, light-hearted, if not light-headed, “boys,” while in camp. The guard was duly detailed, and the signal given to turn in, but not authoritatively; and tired as we were, many of us sat quite late around the camp-fires on that evening. The excitements and disappointments of our recent excursion did not prove to be promoters of sleep; some of us were too tired to sleep until we had somewhat rested from our unusual fatigue. The events of the day—the true method of subduing Indians, and the probable results of the plans proposed by Captain Boling for future operations in this vicinity, were the general topics of conversation among the different groups. This general inclination to discuss the “peace policy” of the commissioners and the plans of our officers, did not arise from anything like a mutinous disposition, nor from any motives having in view the least opposition to any of the measures connected with the campaign in which we were then engaged.

We had expected that this tribe would resist our invasion of their territory and show fight. In this we had been disappointed. The self-confident and experienced mountain men, and the ex-rangers from the Texan plains, felt annoyed that these Indians had escaped when almost within range of our rifles. Our feelings—as a military organization—were irritated by the successful manner in which they had eluded our pursuit, and thrown us from their trail. We had been outwitted by these ignorant Indians; but as individuals, no one seemed inclined to acknowledge it; our lack of success was attributed to the restraints imposed on the free movements of our organization by orders of the commissioners. Although none designed to censure our Captain for his failure, the free speech intimations, that we might have been successful, if Major Savage had remained to aid us with his knowledge, was not soothing to the Captain’s already wounded pride. The popularity of Captain Boling was not affected by our camp-fire discussion. Had a charge, or intimation even, been made by any one of incapacity or neglect of duty in our free expressions, the personal safety of the individual would have been immediately endangered; although no excess of modesty was observed in expressing opinions. Lieut. Chandler was at our own fire, and our officers talked over the solution of the enigma in a quiet conversational tone. The usual cheerful countenance of the Captain had a more serious expression. His attention was as much attracted to the groups around us, as to the remarks of Lt. Chandler.

The energetic Lieutenant was our most rigid disciplinarian when on duty. His fearless impetuosity in the execution of all his duties, made him a favorite with the more reckless spirits; his blunt and earnest manner excited their admiration; for, though possessed of a sublime egotism, he was entirely free from arrogance. Instead of his usual cheerful and agreeable conversation, he was almost morosely taciturn; he refilled his capacious mouth with choice Virginia, and settled back against the wood-pile. After listening to us for a while, he said: “I am heartily sick of this Quaker-style of subduing Indians. So far,—since our muster-in—we have had plenty of hard work and rough experience, with no honor or profit attending it all. We might as well be armed with clubs like any other police.” There was none in our group disposed to dispute the assertion of Chandler. As a body, we were anxiously desirous of bringing the Indian troubles to a close as soon as it could be practically accomplished. Many of us had suffered pecuniarily from the depredations of these Mountain tribes, and had volunteered to aid in subduing them, that we might be able to resume our mining operations in peace. Many of us had left our own profitable private business to engage in these campaigns for the public good, expecting that a vigorous prosecution of the war would soon bring it to a close. I will here say that some sensational newspaper correspondents took it upon themselves to condemn this effort made by the settlers to control these mountain tribes, which had become so dangerous; charging the settlers with having excited a war, and to have involved the government in an unneccessary expense, for the purpose of reaping pecuniary benefits; and that our battalion had been organized to afford occupation to adventurous idlers, for the pay afforded. Knowing the ignorance that obtains in regard to real Indian character, and the mistaken philanthropy that would excuse and probably even protect and lionize murderers, because they were Indians; but little attention was at first paid to these falsely slanderous articles, until one was published, so personally offensive, and with such a false basis of statement, that Captain Boling felt it his duty to call for the name of its author. His name was given by the editor of the paper on a formal demand being made. The Captain then intimated through a friend, that a public retraction of the article was desirable. In due time, the Captain received a very satisfactory apology, and a slip of a published retraction of the offensive correspondence. The investigation developed the fact that the writer—who was an Eastern philanthropist—had been played upon by certain parties in Stockton, who had failed to get the contract to supply the battalion.

At an adjoining fire a long-haired Texan was ventilating his professed experience in the management of Indians “down thar.” Observing that Captain Boling was within hearing of his criticism, he turned, and without any intentional disrespect, said: “Cap., you orter a let me plunk it to one o’ them red skins up in the cañon thar. I’d a bin good for one, sure; and if I’d a had my way o treatin’ with Injuns, Cap., I reckon I’d a made a few o’ them squawk by this time.”

Captain Boling was suffering from his bruises and sprained wrist, and he evidently was not pleased to hear these liberal criticisms, but knowing the element by which he was surrounded, he did not forget the policy of conciliating it in order to prevent any feelings of discontent from arising so soon after having assumed full command. He therefore quickly replied: “I have no especial regard for these Chow-chillas; you are probably aware of that, Jack; but the orders and instructions of the Commissioners will have to be disregarded if we shoot them down at sight. It would have been almost like deliberate murder to have killed those naked Indians to-day, because, Jack, you know just what you can do with that rifle of yours. If you had fired you knew you was sure to kill; but the Indians did not know the danger there was in coming inside your range. It was lucky for the cowards that you did not shoot.” This allusion to the Texan’s skill with his rifle disposed of the subject as far as he was concerned, for he “turned in,” while a broad grin showed his satisfaction as he replied, “I reckon you’re about on the right trail now, Cap,” and disappeared under his blanket.

Captain Boling sat for some time apparently watching the blazing logs before him. He took no part in the discussion of Indian affairs, which continued to be the engrossing subject among the wakeful ones, whose numbers gradually diminished until Spencer and one or two others beside myself only remained at our fire. The Captain then said: “I do not despair of success in causing this tribe to make peace, although I cannot see any very flattering prospects of our being able to corral them, or force an immediate surrender. They do not seem inclined to fight us, and we cannot follow them among the rocks in those almost impassable cañons with any probability of taking them. Bare-footed they rapidly pass without danger over slippery rocks that we, leather-shod, can only pass at the peril of our lives. My mishap of to-day is but a single illustration of many that would follow were we to attempt to chase them along the dizzy heights they pass over. Being lightly clad, or not at all, they swim the river to and fro at will, and thus render futile any attempt to pursue them up the river, unless we divide the force and beat up on both sides at the same time. I have thought this matter over, and have reached the conclusion that, unless some lucky accident throws them into our hands, I see but one course to pursue, and that is to destroy their camps and supplies, and then return to head-quarters.”

After having had the bandages arranged on his swollen arm he bade us good night, and sought such repose as his bruised limbs and disappointed ambition would permit. Having ended our discussions, we came to the sage conclusion that Captain Boling was in command, and duty required our obedience to his orders. Satisfied with this decision, we readily dropped off to sleep.

The next morning the usual jocular hilarity seemed to prevail in camp. A refreshing slumber had seemingly given renewed vigor to the tired explorers of the rough trail up the cañon. The camp guard assigned to duty at “our ferry” were on duty during the night, so that the breakfast call was promptly responded to with appetites unimpaired. Captain Boling’s arm was dressed and found to be somewhat improved in appearance, though very sore. He would not consent to remain in camp, and ordered his horse to be saddled after breakfast. Before the morning sun had risen we were in our saddles, endeavoring to explore the region north of the San Joaquin. Small detachments were detailed from both companies to explore, on foot, up the South Fork, and the territory adjacent. Upon the return of this command, their report showed that quite a large number of Indians had passed over that stream, though none were seen. A considerable supply of acorns was found and destroyed by this expedition; but after they left the oak table-land, near the fork, they reported the country to the east to be about as forbidding as that on the main river. Captain Boling detailed a few footmen to scatter over the country on the north side, to burn any cachés they might find, while we on horseback swept farther north, towards the Black Ridge. We found the soil soft and yielding, and in places it was with difficulty that our weak, grass-fed animals could pass over the water-soaked land, even after we had dismounted. I thought this boggy ground, hard enough later in the season, another obstacle to a successful pursuit, and so expressed myself to the Captain. I told him that in ’49 I stayed over night with Mr. Livermore of the Livermore Pass, and that now I fully comprehended why he thought the mountain tribes could not be entirely subdued, because, as he said, “they will not fight except sure of victory, and cannot be caught.”

Mr. Livermore said he had followed up several raiding parties of Indians who were driving off stock they had stolen from the Ranchos, but only upon one occasion did they make a bold stand, when his party was driven back, overcome by numbers. Captain Boling was silent for some time, and then said: “Perhaps after all I have done these Indians injustice in calling them cowards; probably they feel that they are not called upon to fight and lose any of their braves, when by strategy they can foil and elude us. Human nature is about alike in war as in other things; it is governed by what it conceives to be its interest.”

There were in the country we passed over, some beautiful mountain meadows and most luxuriant forests, and some of the sloping table lands looked like the ornamental parks of an extensive domain. These oak-clad tables and ridges, were the harvest fields of the San Joaquin Indians, and in their vicinity we found an occasional group of deserted huts. These, with their adjacent supplies of acorns, were at once given to the flames. The acorns found and destroyed by the scouting parties, were variously estimated at from eight hundred to one thousand bushels; beside the supply of Piñon pine-nuts and other supplies hoarded for future use. The pine-nuts were not all destroyed by fire; most of them were confiscated, and served as a dessert to many a roast.

From the total amount of acorns estimated to have been destroyed, their supplies were comparatively small, or the number of Indians on the San Joaquin had been, as in other localities, vastly overrated. Our search was thoroughly made—the explorations from day to day, extending from our camps over the whole country to an altitude above the growth of the oaks. During these expeditions, not an Indian was seen after those noticed on the upper San Joaquin; but fresh signs were often discovered and followed, only to be traced to the rocky cañons above where, like deceptive “ignes fatui,” they disappeared.

Being allowed the largest liberty as surgeon to the expedition, I had ample time to examine the various things found in their camps, and obtain from Sandino all the information I could concerning them. The stone arrow-heads and their manufacture, especially interested me. I found considerable quantities of the crude material from which they were made, with many other articles brought from other localities, such as resin, feathers, skins, pumice-stone, salt, etc., used in the manufacture of their implements of war, and for the chase as well as for domestic uses.

At this time but few guns were in the possession of these mountain tribes. Their chief weapons of war and for the chase were bows and arrows. With these they were very expert at short range, and to make their weapons effective were disposed to lay in ambush in war, and upon the trails of their game. Their bows were made from a species of yew peculiar to the West, from cedar and from a spinated evergreen tree, rare in Southern California, which, for want of scientific classification, I gave the name of “nutmeg pine.” It bears a nut resembling in general appearance that agreeable spice, while the covering or pulpy shell looks very much like mace. The nut is, however, strongly impregnated with resin. The leaves are long, hard, and so sharp that the points will pierce the flesh like sharp steel. The wood is stronger and more elastic than either the yew, cedar or fir. It is susceptible of a fine polish. I made a discovery of a small cluster of this species of tree at the foot of the cascades in the cañon, two miles below the Yosemite valley, while engaged in a survey of that locality.* [*I have learned through the kindness of Dr. A. Kellogg, of the California Academy of Sciences, that this tree is now known as the "Torreya Californica."]

The shafts of their arrows are made of reeds, and from different species of wood, but the choicest are made of what is called Indian arrow-wood (Le Hamite). This wood is only found in dark ravines and deep rocky cañons in the mountains, as it seems to require dampness and shade. Its scarcity makes the young shoots of a proper growth a very valuable article of barter between the mountain tribes and those of the valleys and plains. A locality in the Yosemite valley once famous for its supply of this arrow-wood, was the ravine called by the Yosemites “Le-Hamite,” (as we might say “the oaks,” or “the pines,”) but which is now designated as “Indian Cañon.”

Their arrow-shafts are first suitably shaped, and then polished between pieces of pumice stone. This stone was also used in fashioning and polishing their bows, spear-shafts and war clubs. Pumice stone is found in abundance in the volcanic regions of California and Oregon, and east of the Sierra Nevada. The quality of the best observed by me, was much finer and lighter than that seen in the shops as an article of commerce. The arrow heads are secured to the shaft by threads of sinew, and a species of cement used for that and other purposes. The arrow-heads made and in most common use by the California Indians, as well as by many other tribes in the mountain ranges of the West and Southwest, are of the same shape and general appearance, and of similar material, with the exception of obsidian and old junk bottles, as the arrow heads found in all parts of the United States. They have been generally supposed to have been made and used by the pre-historic races that once inhabited this continent. The bow and arrows were in common use by the aborigines when America was first discovered, and their use has been continued to the present time among the tribes whose limited territories were not to any extent intruded upon by the whites.

The Indians of California, unlike those of Southern Mexico and South America, who use the woorara (strychnos toxifera), poison their arrow-heads with the poison of the rattlesnake. Some animal’s liver is saturated with the poison and left until it reaches a state of thorough decomposition, when the barbs are plunged into the festering mass, withdrawn and dried. The gelatinous condition of the liver causes the poison to adhere to the stone, and the strength of the poison is thus preserved for some days. Only those arrow-heads that are inserted into a socket, and held in place by cement, are thus poisoned. These are easily detached after striking an object (the concussion shattering the cement, and the play of the shaft loosening the barb), and are left to rankle in the wound.

According to Russio, however, this practice is now seldom resorted to, except in revenge for some great or fancied injury, or by the more malignant of a tribe, Indian policy seeming to discountenance a former custom.

The introduction of fire arms among them, has been from the frontiers of civilization. The “flint,” or more properly cherty rock, when first quarried, is brittle and readily split and broken into the desired shapes required, even with the rude implements used by the Indians; though it is not probable that any but themselves could use them, as considerable skill seems to be required. The tool commonly used in the manufacture of arrow-heads, is a species of hammer or pick, made by fastening the sharp prong of a deer’s horn to a long stick.

With these instruments of various sizes laminated pieces of rock are separated, such as slate, with quartz in filtrations, and scales are chipped from rocks, volcanic and other glass, with a skill that challenges admiration. Stone hammers, or pieces of hard stone, were secured by withes and used in some of the processes of flaking; and I have been assured that steel implements have been stolen from the miners and used for the same purpose, but I never saw them used. Arrow-heads were found, made from bones, from chert, obsidian or volcanic glass, and even old junk bottles, obtained for the purpose, during their gushing days, from the deserted camps of the libative miners.

The most approved fire-arms are now found among many of the western tribes, where but a few years ago bows and arrows were in common use. Although these hereditary implements of war and of the chase are almost wholly discarded, occasionally an old-fashioned Indian may be seen, armed with his bow and arrows, his fire-stick a foot long, occupying the hole punctured in the lobe of one ear, and his reed-pipe filling the like position in the other, while his skunk-skin pouch contained his kin-ne-kin-nick, a piece of spunk and dry charred cedar, on which a light was obtained by rapid friction with his fire-stick. This method of procuring fire, has, even among the Indians, been superseded by the flint and steel, and they in turn by the labor-saving friction matches.

I have, however, recently witnessed the process of lighting a fire by this primitive process, among the priests of the Winnebago and other eastern tribes, who still use and preserve the fire-stick in making fire for their sacred rites, during which they chant in a traditionary Indian dead language, an interpretation of which they do not pretend they are able to make. The priests told me that bad spirits would interfere with their ministrations if they did not preserve the customs of their fathers, and that the dead language made their ceremonies all the more impressive and awe-inspiring to their auditors.

During our explorations up the San Joaquin and branches, the rapidly melting snow on the mountains above flooded the streams which we were required to cross in our excursions, and we were often compelled from this cause to leave our horses and proceed on foot; hence our work was toilsome and slow.

As soon as Captain Boling was satisfied that we had accomplished, in this locality, all that could be expected of his command, we started for head-quarters. The route selected for our return was by way of “Fine Gold Gulch,” and down the San Joaquin to a camp opposite the site of Fort Miller, that was about being established for the protection of the settlers. This was done upon recommendation of the commissioners.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management