into Mexican California, 1830-1840
by Warren A. Beck and Ynez D.
The decade the 1830's saw the Mexican
Californios everywhere on the defensive. From San Fernando to
the Bay Area~missions, ranchos, and towns were subjected to a
constant series of Indian attacks, with large numbers of horses
and cattle being taken and many people killed and injured. Valley
Indians, usually Yokuts but also Miwoks crossed Cholam Pass,
Panoche Pass, Pacheco Pass and Tejon Pass along the riverine
area to raid almost at will. After 1833, hardly a year passed
without reports of such depredations and petitions to the authorities
for help. For example, in 1838 several rancheros were killed
near Monterey by Indians; in 1839 the grain storehouse at Santa
Clara was attacked; and in 1841 Mission San Juan Bautista was
under siege. At San Luis Obispo more than a thousand head of
stock were lost in a single raid.
Mexican authorities met the threat by the old policy of expeditions.
As these forays frequently punished the innocent Indians as well
as the guilty, they made conditions worse. By 1840, the natives
were so strong that such inland expeditions were both costly
and dangerous. In 1833, Governor Jose Figueroa ordered that "from
every presidio a military expedition shall set out each month
and scout those places where the robbers shelter themselves."
In 1840, Governor Juan B. Alvarado ordered a military force to
patrol the mountain passes and prevent the Indians from using
them. And in 1843 it was proposed that a stockade (or fort) be
built in Pacheco Pass; in other words, Hispanic officialdom had
shifted from the offensive to the defensive as the "first"
Californians threatened their very presence.
The basic reason for the Miwok-Yokut raids was the conflict between
the California Indian and white civilization. This first arose
at the missions when neophytes, unhappy with the confinement,
labor, punishment, diet, disease, or just homesick, sought to
return to their native state. From the founding of the first
mission, Spanish authorities had been kept busy returning such
runaways, but as secularization neared in the 1830's and conditions
at the missions became increasingly chaotic, the number fleeing
increased dramatically. Having been trained by the Spanish, these
runaways, such as Estanislao, often provided the wild tribes
with superior leadership. In addition, these neophytes desired
certain items they were used to at the missions, but which now
could only be obtained by raiding.
The heathen or native Indians were at
first peaceful and receptive to the Mexican expeditions. However,
this early hospitality waned when Indian children were taken
for the missions, Indian women were abused by Mexican soldiers,
and as a result of hearing horror stories of mission life from
fugitive neophytes. The atrocities committed against them by
numerous expeditions by Indian auxiliaries as well as by Mexicans,
prompted the valley Indians to embark upon a policy of physical
resistance. Contact with the Hispanic way of life also triggered
a change in the native life style. As Professor Sherburne F.
Cook puts it, "A peaceful, sedentary localized group underwent
conversion into a semi-warlike, seminomadic group." By 1828
the acorn had been replaced by horsemeat as the staple food item.
Perhaps this important dietary change resulted from the influence
of neophytes among them. In any event, the only way to obtain
this basic food was by raiding Hispanic settlements. The horse
made them highly mobile, and in a short time the Indians became
expert cavalrymen whose hit and run tactics created havoc among
the great herds of the 1830's.
To learn more about California History, we suggest
Paperback, Published by the University
Of Oklahoma Press 1975
A good basic book in California history.
An outstanding collection of maps of maps tracing the routes
of early Spanish and Mexican explorers, early Indian wars, the
Bear Flag revolt, and other items of interest to California historians.
This page was
reprinted with permission from Historical Atlas of California,
published in 1975 by the University Of Oklahoma Press
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