David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
San Diego County Indians as Farmers and Wage Earners. By Ted Couro. Ramona: Pioneer Historical Society, 1975. Illustrations. 11 pages. $1.50.
Reviewed by Richard L. Carrico, archaeological and historical consultant, San Diego. Carrico has taught at Palomar Community College and Patrick Henry Adult School. He has published articles in the Journal of San Diego History and the San Diego County Archaeological Society Occasional Papers.
Until recent years the California Indian has been portrayed in two widely disparate and equally erroneous ways. One presentation could be labelled as “the native as a noble savage.” The noble savage concept portrays the Indian as a strange almost non-human race of wilderness noblemen who live, or lived, in perfect and idyllic harmony with nature. In the last hundred years the noble savage concept has been presented in various forms ranging from Helen Hunt Jackson’s Century of Dishonor and Ramona to the more recent film diatribes of Tom McLaughlin, Billy Jack and The Master Gunfighter.
A second portrayal of the California Indian has been that of the “Digger Indian.” Aided by early travelogues which noted that native Californians procured food by digging up worms, bulbs and vermin, this view shows the Indian as a degraded, impoverished savage. Works such as Hubert H. Bancroft’s Native Races (1883) and early anthropological studies present this digger image.
Recent historians and scholars have done much to alter these largely erroneous views of California’s first people. George Phillips’ Chiefs and Challengers (1975) and Florence Shipek’s The Autobiography of Delfina Cuero (1970) have helped to present a much needed and more humanistic portrayal of Southern California native life.
Of a less scholarly nature, as memoirs often are, San Diego County Indians as Farmers and Wage Earners by Ted Couro, provides insights and views of the local Diegueños which have not been previously published. In less than ten pages the late Ted Couro offers us a personal view of his Diegueño relatives and friends as honest hard-working wage earners in the late 19th and early 20th century. Names of important Diegueño families dot this clearly composed and inexpensive pamphlet (including LaChappa, Couro and Calac).
Although this brief work is not one which serious scholars can greatly utilize, it is nevertheless an important contribution to the growing body of honest and accurate portrayals of the native peoples of Southern California. Had the author provided a better chronological framework and elaborated on white-Indian relations regarding labor, this work would have made a more valuable contribution. One might also criticize the editors of the monograph for not providing a brief background of the Diegueño people or at least a historical sketch.
The publishers of this work, the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society, are to be lauded for their efforts at recording a significant piece of local history. One hopes they will follow up on their promise to publish additional historical material.