The Silver Dons, 1833-1865

CHAPTER TEN: The Garra Uprising

The county of San Diego, in need of tax money, sent Sheriff Har­aszthy among the Indians in 1850 and he collected $600 in taxes on cattle and other property held by the Diegueño and Luiseño Indians and the small Cupeño tribe living in the vicinity of War­ner’s ranch. The next year the county again levied tax assessments on the Indian property but Gen. Joshua Bean, arriving in San Diego in the summer, advised the Cupeño Indians not to pay. In the dispute that followed the state Attorney General ruled that the assessments were proper and the taxes must be collected. The sheriff visited many of the Indian villages and notified their chiefs that unless the taxes were paid he would return with a large force and seize and sell their cattle. A few tribes responded. To some of the chiefs a time of decision had come. Their best lands were be­ing taken away from them, the missionaries who had protected them, and the missions which had sheltered them, were gone from their lives, and thousands more white men were streaming over the mountain passes. The Indians had no vote and no voice in what was to happen to them.

San Diego had been well-protected up into early 1850. Lt. Col. J. B. Magruder and Company I, 1st Artillery, were stationed at the San Diego Mission, and Maj. Samuel P. Heintzelman and Companies D, H, and L, 2nd Infantry, were at the Yuma post.

Supplying of the men at Fort Yuma by wagon trains across the mountains proved to be impracticable, Maj. Heintzelman recommending that it be done by boat up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California, and in June the troops, with the exceptions of Lt. Sweeny, a corporal and nine enlisted men, were instructed to fall back to Santa Ysabel. >From there they were ordered back to San Diego, where they were divided between New Town and La Playa. In August, the Herald complained that four companies were living in tents and no precautions had been taken to shelter them from the “inclemencies of the approaching winter, nor is there a cent of money available to secure the means for these preparations.” The hoped for barracks at New Town had not materialized, though the depot was in use.

The troops were ordered withdrawn from San Diego, and on November 14, Capt. John W. Davidson’s company of sixteen men, the last at La Playa, left for the Gila River for the relief of Lt. Sweeny’s guard. San Diego virtually was left defenseless, and the people talked of organizing a new militia in event of Indian troubles which always had to be considered as imminent.

Living at Warner’s ranch was Antonio Garra and his son, who went under the same name. The elder Garra had been educated at San Luis Rey Mission and was a willing listener to the whis­pered suggestions of Bill Marshall, the white renegade who had encouraged the Pauma Valley Indians in the murder of the eleven Californios. Marshall assured Garra that the Californios and Mexicans, once a revolt had begun, would come to their assistance against the Americans. Garra dispatched runners to all of the Indian tribes between the coast and the Colorado River, and from the San Joaquin Valley south into the upper country of Baja California. One message went to Juan Antonio, a leader of the Mountain Cahuilla, one of three branches of the Cahuilla Indians who roamed the eastern mountain and desert area of Southern California and who never came under the direct influence of the missions. Juan Antonio, it will be remembered, had helped the Californios in the capture of the Indians who had participated in the Pauma massacre and, on his own initiative, had slaughtered the captives, men, women and children.

In his letter to Juan Antonio, Garra wrote:

“This is an explanation you already know who we are going to do, secure each point of rancherias since this thing is not with their capitanes. My will is for all, Indians and whites, since by the wrongs and damages they have done, it is better to end us at once. Now those of Lower California and of the River are invited; but those of the River will not come soon. They move slow. If we lose this war, all will be lost — the world if we gain this war; then it is forever; never will it stop; this war is for a whole life. Then so advise the white people, that they may take care.”

Wild reports raced through the hills. It was believed that the Cahuillas were to descend on Los Angeles, and the Yuma and other Colorado River Indians were to cross the mountains and join the Diegueños and Luiseños in wiping out San Diego. Gen. Bean, who had urged the Indians not to pay taxes, now was faced with a major Indian war. As they had done many times in the past, the Dons fled their ranchos for the safety of San Diego. Friendly Indians left their valley and mountain homes and sought the protection of the Whites. Juan Bandini came up from Lower California and reported the Indians far down the peninsula were in a state of rebellion. Because of the shortage of guns and ammu­nition, all blacksmiths were put to work making lances, as had been done before the Battle of San Pasqual.

Warner’s ranch was attacked on the night of November 27. Warner had sent his family away, and he had remained behind with a hired man and an Indian boy who had been placed with him in exchange for a bushel of corn. One hundred Indians sur­rounded the trading post, and Warner and his hired man held them off until their ammunition ran out. They then fled from the ranch house toward horses that had been kept saddled for just such an emergency. Warner and the Indian boy escaped but the hired man was killed. The Indians burned the house, drove off the stock, and then proceeded to the Hot Springs three miles away where they murdered four Americans who had gone there from San Diego to rest. One of them was Levi Slack, merchant partner of E. W. Morse. Four American sheepherders were killed near the Colorado River crossing.

San Diegans prepared to defend the town and a volunteer com­pany was organized under Maj. E. F. Fitzgerald, of the U.S. Army, as commander. Cave J. Couts was named captain and Sheriff Haraszthy, first lieutenant. In a letter to his mother and sister, dated December 2, 1851, Thomas Whaley wrote:

“. . . The tocsin of war Sounds. We momentarily expect to be attacked by the Indians who under their great chief Antonio Garra are swarming by thousands into the South. The town of San Diego is proclaimed under martial law. Every man is enrolled a Soldier. We are but a handful of men numbering not quite a hundred. Already several parties have gone out to fight and this morning thir­teen more leave all of whom will be under the command of Maj. Fitzgerald U.S.A. The party is supplied with ammunitions and rations for thirty days. They are to act only on the defensive till reinforcements arrive from the north. There are only thirty five of us left to protect the town . . . my turn to Stand guard comes rather frequently . . . I have contributed fifty dollars in cash and Some few things towards getting up the expedition.

“. . . The first attack the Indians made was upon the rancho of J. J. Warner, member of our State Legislature, burning his house, Stealing everything belonging to him and murdering a man in his employ. Four men have been murdered upon the Gila and four more Americans from this place at the Springs of the Agua Caliente who had gone there for their health . . . the rancheros are sending their families to town for better protection . . . I am well armed with a brace of Six Shooters and have a horse ready to Saddle at any moment.”

Lt. Sweeny, who had been left with a small body of soldiers at Fort Yuma, was joined by Capt. John W. Davidson and sixteen additional men who had been sent from San Diego as a relief party, and by the parties of Maj. Henry L. Kendrick and Capt. L. Sit­greaves, who had been engaged in exploring the Colorado River. Though they now had thirty men it was decided to abandon the fort on December 6 because of a lack of supplies, and take the road to San Diego. Cave Couts, in a letter to Abel Stearns, reported that Kendrick had found the whole desert frontier ablaze. The mountains were covered with signal fires from Carrizo Creek to Santa Ysabel. An American by the name of Whitley, living at Cockney Bill’s ranch on Volcan Mountain, told Davidson and Sweeny that Indians had collected from Vallecito, San Felipe, San Jose and neighboring mountains to attack the military train but upon seeing the number of soldiers, because of the presence of Capt. Davidson’s men, had given up and now professed only friendship to the Whites.

At San Pasqual they received orders to return to Santa Ysabel, where their forces were joined with those of Majs. Heintzelman and Magruder and about one hundred soldiers who had been quar­tered at Mission San Luis Rey. Sweeny and his men were ordered to protect San Diego, and he took the mountain trail toward El Cajon and arrived on December 21. The populace, especially the women, welcomed them with cheers, Sweeny writing that “they looked upon me as their deliverer from the tender mercies of sav­ages,” who, they said, would have attacked the town if his men had been cut off in the mountains. This was later confirmed. Dur­ing the absence of the Army regulars, a force of recruits had arrived by sea and they also had kept San Diego in a state of un­rest with their drinking and rioting. Their ringleaders had been placed in irons. Sweeny ordered all 250 recruits to line up and he reviewed them without a sidearm of any kind. The soldiers were silent and respectful. A virtual state of mutiny ended.

Fitzgerald’s Volunteers left San Diego on December 27 reached Agua Caliente and burned the village of the Cupeño Indians, and proceeding to the site of Warner’s store, found nothing but ruins and the bodies of two Indians. Haraszthy went out with a small party and took Marshall and two Indian companions into custody and delivered them to San Diego for a court martial headed by himself. The principal evidence against Marshall came from Indians but it was decided that their testimony could not be accepted before a legal tribunal. Justice was pre-ordained. Gal­lows were erected before the trial began.

The court martial made quick work of Marshall and one of the two Indians captured with him, whose name has been variously given as Juan Verdugo, or Juan Verde or Gerde. The San Diego Herald reported on December 18:

“The trial of these men was concluded on Friday evening last; on Saturday morning, it was announced on the Plaza they were to be executed at 2 o’clock the same day. The Fitzgerald Volunteers were ordered to be on duty at that time to conduct the prisoners to the scaffold, which had been erected a short distance out of town, near the Catholic burying grounds. The graves were dug, and all the preparations made, during the forenoon, for carrying out the sen­tence of the court martial. About 2:00 o’clock the Volunteers were under arms, the people began to gather in considerable numbers about the Plaza and Court House. A Priest (Fr. Juan Holbein) was with the prisoners most of the forenoon and accompanied the men to the gallows, where they received final absolution. They were then informed that a short time would be allowed them, if they wished to make any remarks. Marshall was the first to speak . . . He said he was prepared to die and he hoped that his friends, and the people around him, would forgive him, that he trusted in God’s mercy, and hoped to be pardoned for his many transgressions. He still insisted that he is innocent of the crime by which he was about to die . . .

“Verdugo spoke in Spanish. He acknowledged his guilt and admitted the jus­tice of the sentence passed upon him; said he was ready and willing to yield up his life for forfeit for his crimes and wickedness. The ropes were then adjusted, the priest approached them for the last time . . . repeated the final prayer, ex­tended the crucifix, which each kissed several times, when he descended from the wagon, which immediately moved on, leaving the poor unfortunate wretches suspended about five feet from the ground.”

The hanging took place on December 13, 1851. The site of the executions may have been near the new Catholic church being erected on a site across the river, and burial was in an adjoining cemetery. Warner’s Indian servant boy was found guilty of giving false testimony and sentenced to receive twenty-five lashes.

The United States Army forces, which had established head­quarters at Santa Ysabel, divided into two divisions to take separate routes through the mountains toward the village of Los Coyotes where the Indians had been holding their councils of war, and the one under command of Heintzelman was attacked by In­dians led by a chief named Chapuli. The soldiers concentrated their fire on Chapuli. He was killed, and as the Indians fled up the sides of a mountain, a second chief was shot dead.

The encounter led to the capture of a number of prisoners in the vicinity of Los Coyotes, among them a number known to have taken part in the attack on Warner’s, and after a military trial on the spot, four chieftains were condemned to die, and were executed on Christmas Day while kneeling before their graves. Some eighty Indians witnessed the executions which took place at the site of the village near the creek bed. All traces of the village on the desert route into the mountains first explored by Anza, have disappeared.

At San Diego Fitzgerald’s Volunteers were reinforced by volun­teers brought by boat from San Francisco, who were dubbed “The Hounds,” in memory of the hoodlums who had so terrorized the northern city. Organized as the Rangers, at the call of the gover­nor to assist if needed at San Diego, they had been ordered disbanded with news of the success of the military. But they came anyway. They wrought more harm and misery on San Diego than did the Indians. With no enemy to fight, they camped in Mission Valley and ranged through Old Town on drunken sprees and threatened to sack the town. The authorities sent an appeal to Lt. Sweeny, at the old barracks at La Playa, and he led a sergeant and eighteen men into Old Town. That same afternoon, Philip Crosth­waite, a sergeant of Fitzgerald’s Volunteers, engaged in a row with one of the Hounds identified as a Lt. Watkins. Both were wounded in an exchange of gunfire on the street, and Crosthwaite barely escaped death, retreating under a heavy fire from other members of the Hounds. Sweeny ordered his soldiers to form in the Plaza, and he writes “it was the general opinion that if my men had not been present that day the streets of San Diego would have been drenched in blood.” Watkins’ leg had to be amputated, and it was presented to Crosthwaite as a trophy of war. The sol­diers remained on guard in Old Town until the Indian war had ended, and the Hounds had been loaded up and shipped back to San Francisco.

The general uprising did not materialize, however, because of the failure of the Cahuilla Indians as a whole to follow the lead of the men from Los Coyotes, and because of a change of heart on the part of the Yumas who had pledged their cooperation to Garra. The Yumas and Cocopas had halted their own inter-tribal wars long enough to unite for the intended attack on San Diego, but soon fell out, the Yumas even turning on each other in a fight over the division of the abandoned sheep of the four American herders murdered on the desert. Fortunately for the Whites, the Indians lacked the ability to pursue an objective.

At Los Angeles, Joshua Bean led thirty-five men who were to combine forces with a group of Mormons from San Bernardino and some Californios under Andrés Pico. Meanwhile, Juan Antonio, upon the urging of a mountain man, and after serious reflection as to the future of the Indians, decided to again cast his lot with the Whites. He laid an ambush for Garra, invited him to a confer­ence, and took him prisoner. Garra was turned over to the military. Garra’s son and ten followers soon also surrendered themselves to Juan Antonio.

Garra’s son and four other Indians were hastily executed at Chino, San Bernardino County, but the elder Garra was taken to San Diego, where he was tried before a militia court martial, headed by Gen. Bean, on charges of treason, murder and robbery. He acknowledged guilt only in the murders of the American sheep­herders, and testified that the raid on Warner’s was made by a small band of Cahuilla Indians, that he was not with them, and that he had not taken part in, or ordered, the murders of the four San Diegans at the Hot Springs. Indian witnesses, accepted in this court, gave conflicting testimony, but the burden of evi­dence seemed to show that Garra had ordered the attacks, but, in a sudden seizure of fear, had feigned illness and had not taken part in them.

Though Indian witnesses had testified that Marshall and the Indian hanged with him had consulted with Garra just before the murders, Garra denied they had been involved in any way. In­stead, he insisted that two Californios, Joaquín Ortega and José Antonio Estudillo, had encouraged the Indian uprisings in the hope of getting rid of the Americans. These accusations were de­nied, and according to memoirs of participants, which included the leading people of San Diego, were conclusively refuted.

Garra was found guilty of murder and theft on January 17, 1852, and sentenced to be shot. Before the execution Lt. Sweeny talked with Garra in his cell. He wrote that Garra acknowledged that he had induced the Yumas, Cocopas and Cuchanos to unite against the Americans, and that he had urged that a party of 400 be sent against Sweeny’s camp at Fort Yuma, to cut him off, and then they were to join in a general descent on the settlements.

Though Sweeny had refused to sit on the court martial, ruling that it was a state matter, and would not let his soldiers carry out the execution, he did provide arms and ammunition for the citi­zens’ militia. On the same day that the verdict was returned, Garra was marched from his cell at the head of an execution squad of ten men, to a freshly dug grave in the Catholic cemetery. A large crowd was on hand. He was asked if he had anything to confess. He answered: “Gentlemen, I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and expect yours in return.” He was blindfolded, told to kneel, and the order to fire was given.

Three months later, according to the Alta California, a San Luis Rey Indian named Cosmos was led into Los Angeles, with a riata around his neck, by a group of Indians eager to collect the rewards offered for the capture of those who had taken part in the Garra uprising. Cosmos reputedly confessed to taking part in the killing of the four Americans at Agua Caliente and gave authorities the names of seven San Luiseño and four Cahuilla Indians who also had participated. That night he hanged himself in his cell, using a peg driven high in the adobe wall. His captors, led by one named John the Baptist, collect their rewards of cloth and trinkets, ate four beeves, and celebrated with a dance.

The executions broke the rebellious spirit of the Indians, and though many incidents were yet to occur, especially along the Colorado, they no longer were to present a major threat, and the Diegueños and Luiseños, probably numbering about 5000, and the Yumas, about 3000, were hastily driven down a path toward near-extinction. Edward F. Beale, who had taken part in the Bat­tle of San Pasqual, was appointed Indian agent for Southern California in 1852, and Cave Couts as sub-agent for San Diego. A report on the Indians, compiled by B. D. Wilson, agent for Califor­nia, reported that the value of the missions and their property, exclusive of land, had been five million dollars in 1834, and “that so much property should have passed from the mission Indians in the short space of six months, without any known agency of theirs, is an event calculated to leave an impression upon the minds of reflecting men, long after the actors in such a wholesale confisca­tion shall be forgotten.” An appropriation for the protection of the California Indians was reduced in Congress from $120,000 to $20,000 and Sen. William M. Gwyn of California warned that “if this is to be the policy of the government towards this people, it will form a dark page in our history, if it does not bring ven­geance from heaven upon us as a nation.”

California entered a period of lawlessness that exceeded that of the settlement of the Western Plains two decades later. Historian Bancroft is authority for a statement that 4200 murders were com­mitted in California between 1849 and 1854. Bandits wandered the countryside. Gen. Bean, the first American mayor of San Diego and a commander of the state militia, himself did not live long. He was fatally shot under mysterious circumstances while riding to his home at San Gabriel from a tight-rope walking exhibition. A poor shoemaker of San Gabriel, who was identified as a member of Solomon Pico’s gang of bandits, was hanged for the crime. Years later, according to Bancroft, someone else confessed to the murder.

The general’s brother, Roy, fled from some escapade at San Ga­briel and in San Diego engaged in another quarrel in which he wounded a man named John Collins. Bean and Collins had chal­lenged each other with pistols, but Collins was shot while fleeing on his horse. Both were indicted by the grand jury on charges of sending and accepting challenges and of assault with intent to commit murder. Bean escaped by digging his way out of the jail and fled to Texas, where he nominated himself a judge and became known as the “Law West of the Pecos.” Two others also were in­dicted for sending challenges to duels, and one of them, George H. Davis, was also accused of refusing to fight.

The grand jury despaired of enforcing law and order. A report issued on April 13, 1852, and signed by Lewis A. Franklin, as fore­man, deplored the prevalence of drunkenness, even among public officials who they said “oftentimes rend the air with their wild shouts of drunkenness, or, mounted on some fiery steed, bound here and there in mad disorder, while another pertinaciously clings to your button-hole, to resist which freedom, a violent and abusive tongue would spit its venom upon you.” The jury could not refrain from “naming the proprietors of those dens of iniquity who slyly vend poison to the half-savage Indian and his depraved mis­tress” and said they were Don Juan María Marrón, Don José Jesús Moreno, and Mrs. Snook, “who all have low groggeries, where at any hour of day or night, the lazy and indolent In­dians congregate.”

The streets of the town were described as being filled with rub­bish and garbage, and cattle roaming through them at will, and the surrounding countryside disfigured with native huts which were eyesores and the hiding places of idle, pilfering Indians. The bane of the community, however, was the practice of a transient element going about armed with pistols and bowie knives.

The patience of the people was at an end, when a luckless dere­lict and troublemaker by the name of James Robinson, known generally as “Yankee Jim,” and two companions had the misfor­tune of climaxing a series of misdemeanors by stealing a rowboat belonging to Joseph C. Stewart and Enos Wall. Though it was found abandoned a short time later, Yankee Jim was taken into custody, a grand jury, with Cave Couts as foreman, met and pro­nounced the theft a capital crime, and the Court of Sessions, after a trial returned a verdict on August 18, 1852, sentenced him to death by hanging. Yankee Jim was described as a French Cana­dian, six feet and three inches tall, and perhaps to justify the sentence, a legend grew in later years that he had committed many murders upon hapless victims in the gold fields. On September 18 Yankee Jim was taken in a wagon to the present site of the Whaley House, where a scaffold had been erected from two beams and an iron crossbar. He was ordered to stand, the rope was fastened about his neck, and the wagon driven off: His companions were sentenced to the state prison. Other lawbreakers were taken out and flogged.

Adventurous Americans embarked on filibustering expeditions into Lower California. They ostensibly had as their objective the annexation of Lower California to the United States, and in this they were encouraged by Juan Bandini, who had moved his opera­tions from San Diego into Mexican territory, and was interested in copper mining. Though gold had been found in a creel emptying into Mission Valley in 1851, the reports of gold in Lower California started a stampede of idlers and adventur­ers from San Diego.

Two of them, identified only as Vanness and McDonald, spent several weeks in San Diego trying to organize a looting party, and Cave Couts, in a letter dated March 10, said he intervened to save Vanness from being hanged, which “the following day I regretted.” Vanness and McDonald were slain in Lower California. San Diego had its own Vigilante Committees and in the same letter Couts reported that a horse thief had been taken from the jail and given fifty lashes on his bare back, and that a few days before, Franklin, who had been foreman on the grand jury, and Col. Magruder, had had a fist fight in the Plaza. “Fought some 15 min. & no damage; next day, the Col. whaled him all over the Plaza with a stick; and since that, F. has been running about trying to find a civil officer to sue him – not one is to be found.”

A large military force was sent back to the Colorado River and a number of engagements were fought with the Yuma and Cocopa Indians. In one engagement, forty soldiers were ambushed, fought all night against two hundred Indians, had a sergeant and eight men killed. The villages of the Indians were burned and their crops destroyed. A stubborn, difficult war in the tangled growth of the river channels continued for months, but, in the end, the re­sistance and power of the Yumas were broken. Their long rule of the lower Colorado River, which had defied the authority of Spain and Mexico, was at an end. The heat and the months of lonely guard duty at the dreary post at Fort Yuma, wore down the sol­diers, and many deserted, some to die in the desert and others to be slain by wandering Indians. Lt. Col. Louis S. Craig, in charge of a military escort for a new boundary survey party, was murdered by two deserters near Sackett’s Wells east of Carrizo Springs, after he had laid down his weapons and offered to inter­cede on their behalf. The killers were captured near Temecula by Indians who had been alerted by military couriers. Bound hand and foot, they were packed off to San Diego and handed over to Maj. Magruder at the Mission, where they were hanged.

Wagons from San Diego, pushed and tugged over the difficult mountain trails, continued to supply the little fort until the day when a steamer finally would make its way up the Colorado from the Gulf of California. In November a series of earthquake shocks opened the earth in many directions, sent steam gushers into the sky, hurled chunks of Chimney Rock to the ground with clouds of dust, jumped the level of the river a foot in some places, in others left fish to die in dry channels. But even before the shocks had fully subsided, a column of smoke was seen in the distance. It her­alded the approach of the steamboat Uncle Sam, which docked below Fort Yuma on December 3, 1852. She had been fourteen days puffing up from the gulf and her arrival, according to a letter in the San Francisco Herald from a correspondent at Yuma, created as much excitement as had Fulton’s steamboat on the Hudson. River boats would supply Fort Yuma and Arizona points for many years.