The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1976, Volume 22, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California. By George Harwood Phillips. Berkeley; University of California Press, 1975. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. Notes. 239 pages. $10.95.

Reviewed by Leland E. Bibb, author of “The Location of the Indian Village of Temecula,” Journal of San Diego History Vol. XVIII (Summer 1972) No. 3, and “William Marshall, The Wickedest Man in California: A Reappraisal,” in this issue of the Joumal.

Dr. Phillips has provided students of southern California Indians with a basic reference book around which to build a library. Although scholarly and well-footnoted, it is written for the general reader. As the chronicle of the decline of the Indians after secularization of the missions, it makes a lasting contribution to local history. It is regrettable, though, that it fails to examine that decline in greater depth. Chiefs and Challengers provides a history of the efforts of the Luiseño, Cahuilla, and Cupeño Indians to maintain their separate cultures, independence, and territory against the intrusion of the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans through the early 1860s. What appear lacking in the study are the causes and extent of the decline of the Indians during the Mission period and the effect of that decline on Indian cultures.

The stories of three chiefs, Manuelito Cota, a Luiseño, Antonio Garra, a Cupeño, and Juan Antonio, a Cahuilla, during the 1840s and 1850s were most illustrative of the methods and degree of success of the Indians efforts to resist the foreign intruders.

Phillips has provided the first thorough study of southern California’s major Indian uprising, the Garra Revolt of 1851, in which Antonio Garra attempted to create an Indian alliance to drive the Americans from the region. Since the revolt was a major turning point in relations between the Indians arid Americans it is understandable that it be treated in depth. The greatest value in this is that the Garra Revolt has been a popular subject for authors and historians over the past several decades, but in the process a piecemeal approach has been followed, resulting in much confusion. Phillips has largely remedied this by painstakingly presenting the story of the entire revolt including causes, Indian attacks, retaliatory campaigns, courts martial and the aftermath.

While the overall effect of the book is laudatory, there are some unnecessary points of confusion. For instance, most Indian villages had both an Indian and a Spanish name. While anthropologists tend to use the Indian names for villages, historians have used the name which occurs in the historical literature, usually being the Spanish one. Thus Agua Caliente is used in all historical accounts while anthropologists use the Indian name, Kupa. While Chiefs and Challengers is primarily an historical study, the anthropological names are used. Another point of confusion concerns the names of several Indians. Chief Antonio Garra had a son, usually called Antonino by his contemporaries. Phillips refers to both as Antonio. At the same time he calls Juan Antonio, chief of the Cahuillas, Antonio as well. When all three men are being discussed together it takes great concentration to know just which man is the subject.

However, such points of confusion, other minor errors, and surprisingly, typographical errors, fail to detract from what can only be a major contribution to southern California history and will rank with such classics as Cattle on a Thousand Hills and The Boom of the Eighties. Phillips has succeeded in presenting the entire story with great clarity. Students of the history of southern California and of the Indians in particular will find Chiefs and Challengers required reading.