California and the Indian Wars
The Indian War of '56
Extracted from the History of Tulare and Kings Counties, California - History by Eugene L. Menefee and Fred A. Dodge - Historic Record Company - Los Angeles, California, 1913; Transcribed by Sally Kaleta.

In the growth of the settlement Indians materially aided. They were docile, friendly, willing to work and were employed in taking care of stock and in farm and household work. And yet in 1856 the settlers had trouble with them of so serious a nature as to develop into what has been called the "Indian War."

For an account of this we are principally indebted to Stephen Barton, writing in 1874, when the principal actors in the drama were still alive and he had every opportunity to obtain an accurate version of the matter. Additional facts secured through the researches of George W. Stewart in 1884, are linked in with the narrative which we present here.

In the spring of this year there came a rumor that a large band of cattle on Tule river had been stolen by Indians and driven off. Without investigation hurried preparations for war were at once begun. Scores of young bloods were ready to spring to the service of their country at once. Now, the Indians were generally employed by the settlers in farm work of all kinds, in the care of stock and as household servants, and were proving themselves honest and trust­worthy. Therefore, a few of the settlers conceived the idea of hearing both sides of the story and inquired of the Indians what they knew of the stealing, and were soon astonished to find that as a matter of fact, no cattle had been stolen. The Indians said a young man by the name of Packwood had married an Indian girl and that according to their custom her tribe had assembled for a feast. Packwood contributed a yearling calf taken from his
father's herd. Thus dwindled to almost nothing the rumor that five hundred cattle had been stolen.

Nathan Dillon, Wiley Watson, Mr. Kenney and several others, feeling that it was an outrage to drive the Indians to the wall on so slight a pretext, undertook to remonstrate. These men were among the most high-minded and substantial citizens of the county, but their arguments proved without avail. The tribe camped a mile below Visalia were ordered to surrender their arrows and to move their camp up to the western edge of the town. A party of mounted men went to the camp of the Yokos, near Exeter, and with yells and shots dispersed the Indians there, who fled, terror-stricken, to the swamps. A band of ruffians met one Indian on the road near Outside Creek and killed him without provocation.

A crowd of lawless men in Visalia conceived the idea of besieging a camp of about forty unarmed and friendly Indians of all ages and sexes, about two miles east of town, and of putting them to death by night. D. B. James and a few others, hearing of this diabolical scheme, brought the Indians into town where they could receive the protection of those averse to the shedding of innocent blood.

Meantime, the tocsin of war continued to sound. Settlers and miners from distant parts gathered and a military organization was effected under the command of Captain Demasters. These preparations frightened the Indians and they fled to join their companions on Tule river. The command of Demasters, numbering fifty or sixty men, started in pursuit and the same day a party of nine mounted men followed the trail of a band of sixty Tejon Indians, who were traveling southward in the direction of the White river. Captain Demasters' company, after reaching Tule river, continued up the north fork several miles, where columns of smoke pointed out to them the location of the camp. They found the Indians occupying a strong position, which, to their surprise, was well fortified. The location was admirably chosen, and the defences would have done credit to an experienced military engineer. A line of breastworks from two to four feet high, composed of boulders and brush, extended a distance of eighty rods along the face of a hill at the head of a little cove, or plain. Immediately in the front of the position the ground was rough and broken, but to reach it it was necessary to traverse the open plain mentioned, exposed to a fire from behind the fortification. At either end, and in the rear of the defences, was a dense thicket of chaparral extremely difficult to penetrate. The position was defended by a force numbering in the neighborhood of seven hundred warriors.

Demasters, confident of the superiority of his men, small as their numbers were, ordered an attack. To protect themselves against the arrows of the Indians while attempting a breach of this enclosure, a portion of the troops had uniformed themselves in a sort of petticoat made of cluck, padded inside with cotton. The petticoat brigade marched boldly to the fray, but their shields proved more vulnerable than anticipated and the whites made a precipitate retreat to a point about a mile distant to await re-enforcements.

The party of nine men previously spoken of, on the trail of the Tejon Indians, kept in their saddles all day and night, and about daylight on the following morning, near where the village of Ducor is now situated, came upon the Indian camp. The dogs began barking and one of the Indians, painted and decked with feathers, stepped forward to a little knoll that commanded a view in all directions, to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. John W. Williams, afterwards city marshal of Visalia for several years, directed the man nearest
him, who had a rifle, to shoot. The Indian dropped dead, and the Americans charged, firing rapidly at the Indians, who scattered precipitately, leaving five dead. Williams and party then rode back to Tule river to join the force under Demasters. It was the supposition at the time that this party of Tejon Indians had been implicated in cattle stealing in Frazier valley, and had gone on a marauding expedition to White river to massacre the few whites living along the stream; but nothing was heard of them afterwards, and as they had a few women with them, they were probably only returning home to their own tribe.

When the party of whites rejoined the command under Demasters, it was decided to dispatch Williams to Keyesville for assistance. Williams set out immediately, going by way of Lynn's valley, Poso Flat and Greenhorn mountain. At Lynn's valley he changed horses and William Lynn, after whom the valley was named, agreed to accompany him part of the way. During their ride, after dark, through a heavily timbered region, where bears were plentiful, an incident occurred that is worthy of note. After riding a short distance into the forest
they heard a noise behind, and turning, saw a large, black animal following them. Williams was mounted on a fractious mustang which became frightened and darted up the steep mountain side, but floundered back into the trail. Soon they reached a small opening and here they determined to try the effect of a shot at the brute, which followed them persistently. Lynn discharged a load of buckshot and the bear fell at the first fire, greatly to their relief.

Sixty miners from Keyesville armed themselves and accompanied Williams back. On the return the "bear" killed by Lynn was found to be a large black mule owned by a settler. It took $90 to square with the mule's owner, but that was the least of it. For a long time afterwards the mere mention of "bear oil" was sufficient to cause either Williams or Lynn to stand treat and before the joke wore out it had cost them in the neighborhood of $500.

When the Keyesville party arrived the entire force, numbering one hundred and forty, was placed under the command of W. G. Poindexter, sheriff of the county, and a second assault made. During this attack two young Americans, Danielson and St. John, were severely wounded and one other, Thomas Falbert, was shot in the thigh. These were the only whites injured. The attack proved futile and Poindexter ordered his command to fall back. A portion returned to Visalia, the remainder remaining encamped nearby awaiting re-enforcements. Of the force which returned to Visalia Stephen Barton says: "Now commenced one of the most disgraceful scenes connected with the history of this valley. Having
ingloriously fled from the field of battle, this force now sought a cheap plan of retrieving a reputation for heroism by turning on those citizens who had counseled moderation and fair dealing. The Visalia Indians had been compelled to surrender their arms and camp at the edge of town. The same authority which required this now required that those who opposed the war should, at the peril of their own lives, as well as of the lives of the Indians involved, convey the Indians out of the settlement. Dillon, Watson, Keeney, Judge Baker, the Matthews and several others were the men who now found their lives imperiled by the fury of a lawless mob, for no other reason than that of having used words of moderation during a moment of popular frenzy. Dillon gave $10 and a thousand pounds of flour, the Matthews gave flour, and the other parties named gave in proportion and Jim Bell was hired to take a heavy ox team and haul the poor outcasts to Kings river."

The "soldiers" left in camp occupied themselves in searching out and destroying the caches of provisions which the Indians had made at different points along the foothills. These were found without difficulty, as they were usually placed in the forks of oak trees and covered with thatch.

In a few days a company from Millerton, under command of Ira Stroud, and one from Coarse Gold Gulch under command of John L. Hunt, arrived. From Fort Miller was sent a detachment of twenty-five soldiers under Captain Livingston, bringing with them a small howitzer; and from Fort Tejon half as many mounted cavalry under the command of Alonzo Ridley, an Indian sub-agent. Captain Livingston assumed the chief command of the force which now numbered about four hundred and comprised nearly all the able-bodied men of the valley. After all had reached camp a consultation was held and it was agreed to divide the command into four divisions and attack the Indians at daybreak the following morning, from the front, rear and both flanks. Parties were sent out to view the country so that the several divisions might be guided to their respective positions without confusion, and Captain Livingston with his soldiers and about sixty volunteers ascended an eminence commanding the Indian fortification in order to select the most advantageous position for mounting their howitzer.

The Indians unexpectedly made a vigorous attack on this party, precipitating the engagement. Livingston ordered a charge and with his officers, led the men in. They forced their way through the brush, at the same time firing upon the Indians, who became demoralized and fled from their strong position into the mountains where they had left their women and children. The Americans continued the pursuit for several days but, failing to discover another camp or any large body of Indians, retired to the valley. Several dead braves were found inside the fortification and there was evidence of many having been borne off through the brush. This was the last real engagement and the loss to the Indians in killed and wounded from the first breaking out of hostilities was estimated at about one hundred.

Although the whites posted detachments to prevent the Indians from returning to the valley, several parties of mounted Indians succeeded in reaching the plains at night and killed or drove off quite a number of cattle. They also burned a few houses in the foothills, and all but one along the Tule river and Deer creek, thirteen in number, the owners having deserted them for the time being. These raids continued for several weeks, until William Campbell, the sub-agent at Kings river, sought the Indians out in the mountains and found them willing to come to terms. The war had lasted six weeks, when the Indians returned to the valley and they have remained friendly from that time to the present day, although a little more than a decade later, a few murders committed on Tule river caused the government to send troops from San Francisco and force the Indians of that section onto a reservation set apart for them.

George Stewart says: "Thus ended the Tule river war of 1856; a war that might have been prevented had there been an honest desire on the part of the white settlers to do so, and one that brought little glory to those who participated therein. The responsibility cannot now be fixed where it properly belongs. Possibly the Indians were to blame. Certainly the whites were not blameless, and it is too seldom, indeed, that they have been in the many struggles with the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent." The period between 1854 and the beginning of the Civil war was chiefly remarkable for the discovery of gold and the mining excitement and boom following, and for the Indian war of 1856.

D. B. and Brigham James made the first discovery of the precious metal in 1853 at Kern river. A stampede followed in which several thousand miners participated. Nearly all returned disappointed. However, other discoveries at White river, Keyesville, Owens river, in the Slate range and in the Coso district caused other mining booms so that for some seven or eight years there was a large population of miners, and the supplying of their wants became an important feature of business.

Two trails were cut across the Sierra Nevada mountains over which pack trains carrying supplies were sent. A wagon road was also constructed from Visalia through Keyesville to Lone Pine and Fort Independence.

As early as 1858 there were three quartz mills in operation in the Kern river district. These, by the way, had a greater value according to the assessor's figures than all the taxable real estate in the county. A few years later several other stamp mills were constructed to mill the ore of the Coso and Owens river districts and the freighting of supplies became a business of great magnitude.

Unfortunately, while rich strikes were found in all these localities, it appeared that the gold generally was found either in pockets or in leads that "pinched out," and no permanent wealth producing camps resulted.

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Updated 8 February 2016