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California and the Indian Wars
Indian Troubles in the Owens River District
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.



The war of 1856, with its final engagement at Battle Mountain, settled completely all trouble with Indians in Tulare county proper, or that portion lying on this side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. For many years, however, sporadic trouble in the Owens river valley caused much uneasiness to our people. At times these assumed such magnitude that several troops of regular cavalry were employed to subject the fighting red men.

Nearly every Visalian of prominence was at this time interested in either the Coso or Owens river mines. Valuable cargo trains were at all times on the road and the menace to these as well as to the lives of smaller prospecting parties at times assumed serious proportions. These troubles culminated in 1862 and 1863. It is impossible to obtain sufficient data to give a connected account of the different uprisings, but the dangerous character of the warfare and the difficulties in the way of providing protection to settlers and miners may be judged by the following:

In the spring of 1862, Visalians sent a party with stores of arms and ammunition to render assistance and gather information. Warren Wassen reported in part as follows: "Being unable on my arrival at Amora to obtain provisions or transportation for the company organized there to receive the arms sent in my charge, I was compelled to leave them and proceed, accompanied by Lieutenant Noble and his command of fifty mounted men. We arrived at the upper crossing of Owens river on the evening of April 6. On the next morning we met with Colonel G. Evans with Lieutenants French and Oliver; Captain Wynne of his command having been left with seven men to. garrison the stone fort forty miles below. These were under Colonel Mayfield of Visalia.

"It appeared that during the past winter the Indians had been in the habit of killing cattle, which had led to the killing of some Indians, after which the Indians availed themselves of every opportunity to kill whites.

"The whites finally collected their cattle at a point about thirty miles above the lake, fortified themselves and sent messengers to Visalia and Carson for relief. They were reinforced by a party of eighteen men who left Amora on March 28. About noon on the 6th there was a very brisk engagement in which C. J. Pleasants of Amora, Mr. Morrison of Visalia and Sheriff Scott of Mono county were killed. The whites took refuge in an irrigating ditch, whence they fired, inflicting some damage. At night, after the moon went down, the Indians ceased firing and the whites retreated, leaving behind seventeen or eighteen of their horses and considerable ammunition and provisions.

"Colonel Evans the next day met this party and persuaded about forty-five of them to return to the pursuit. The remainder retreated to the fort. Our party joined that of Colonel Evans and we camped that night on the battleground of the previous day. The next day, about noon, the Indians were reported located in a canyon. The command was divided into three columns, one under Colonel Evans, one under Lieutenant Noble and the other under Colonel Mayfield. We proceeded up the mountain, facing a terrific snowstorm which prevented our seeing three yards ahead of us. Failing to find Indians, we returned to camp. After dark the Indians were located by their campfires as being in a canyon about a mile north of the one we had ascended, and in the morning a reconnoitering party, under Sergeant Gillispie, was sent out. After advancing some three hundred yards they were fired upon. Gillispie was instantly killed and Corporal Harris severely wounded.

"Lieutenant Noble was sent to take possession of the mountain to the left of the canyon. This position he gained with difficulty, facing a destructive fire and, unable to maintain it without severe loss, was forced to retreat. Colonel Mayfield, who accompanied him, was killed.

"The whole party under Colonel Evans were forced to retreat down the valley, the Indians following. Colonel Evans, being without provisions, was compelled to return to his former post near Los Angeles. Lieutenant Noble accompanied him as far as the fort for the purpose of escorting the citizens in this direction out of the valley with their stock, which numbered about four thousand head of cattle and twenty-five hundred head of sheep.

" There were not over twenty-five Indians engaged in this fight but they were well armed and from the nature of their position could have held it against any odds."

In the following year numerous other outbreaks occurred. Visalia again despatched a wagon-load of arms to protect the Coso mines. In the skirmishes of this season, the whites were generally successful.

In one battle the Indians posted themselves in a ravine near the lake, whence they were dislodged and utterly defeated after an engagement lasting over four hours. Only a small number made their escape. Of these, "Joaquin Jim," a noted chief, succeeded in reaching a rancheria near Visalia where he was killed while trying to escape capture by a detachment of soldiers sent to bring him in.

In July, 1863, the Owens river Indians were as a body thoroughly subdued. Practically the entire tribe, to the number of nine hundred, were marched to the Tejon Indian reservation. They were escorted by one hundred cavalry men under command of Captains McLaughlin, Noble and Ropes.

Minor outbreaks and outrages continued to occur for a few years following, since which time a lasting peace has ensued.

 

Posted 30 October 2009

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