California and the Indian Wars:
Miwok-Yokut Raids into Mexican California, 1830-1840
by Warren A. Beck and Ynez D. Hasse
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 reading
Historical Atlas of California
by Warren A. Beck and Ynez D. Hasse
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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Updated 8 February 2016