The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1980, Volume 26, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

First Place Winner, General Division
San Diego History Center 1980 Institute of History

Images from the Article

With the American take-over of California in 1848, the United States government was forced to deal with Indians in California. The complete lack of Indian policy at this early stage is reflected in a letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the California Superintendent, Adam Johnson. In that April 14, 1849 communication the commissioner wrote that very little was known of the condition, population or situation of native Californians. Thus, “no specific instructions relative to them can be given at the present.”1 Superintendent Johnson was ordered to count, scrutinize and otherwise become knowledgeable of the various tribes so that in the future relations and treaties could be intelligently formalized.2

Following this faltering start, the early 1850s witnessed some efforts on the part of the federal government to aid, or at least placate, San Diego native Americans. Following months of bureaucratic manipulations and policy changes, the federal government, acting through the Interior Department, appointed three Indian agents for California in late 1850: Redick McKee, George W. Barbour and Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft. By October 1850, Congress had failed to appropriate any money for the recently appointed agents, which in effect placed the status and authority of the agents in a state of limbo.3

Side-stepping Congressional processes, Interior Secretary A.H.H. Stuart suspended the three agents in late 1850 and instead named them as special treaty commissioners and awarded them a salary of $8.00 per day, plus expenses. Acting on these orders McKee, Barbour and Wozencraft left for California with rather ambiguous orders which included the authority to make treaties and generally be conciliatory to the Indians.4 Recent historians notwithstanding, the three commissioners were not vested with the power to deal with or resolve land cessions or the establishment of any reservations, nor were they given any monies or promises of monies which they could offer the natives.5

Realizing that they had very little to offer the Indians, the commissioners wrote to Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, inquiring into the matter of Indian land right recognition, hoping to receive permission to grant Indians specific lands. The letter was largely a moot and empty gesture; without waiting for a reply, which was never to come, the men began signing treaties on March 19, 1851 without any authority to cede land or to make monetary commitments.

As the treaty commissioners were slowly working their way southward toward San Diego, local native Americans were growing impatient with the seeming inaction of white government officials regarding a proper settlement of land rights. The only activity which local native Americans were aware of were the efforts of a local sheriff to tax them on the same basis as their white neighbors and increased loss of land to white squatters.

In San Diego, Sheriff Agoston Haraszthy decreed that although Indians lacked the rights of citizens they possessed the obligations of citizens, including an obligation to pay taxes. Addressing himself to this issue Haraszthy asserted, “There is no doubt that the possessions, real and personal, of Christianized Indians, are taxable.”6 The efforts of the sheriff to tax the Indians and the concomitant confiscation of land and property combined with a general feeling of anxiety led, in part, to the ill-fated Garra uprising of 1851. The Garra affair represented the first test of the federal government’s position in southern California.

Beginning in November 1851, while the treaty commissioners were in central California two months after Sheriff Haraszthy’s edict on taxation, and continuing until mid-January of 1852, Luiseños and Yumas under the leadership of Antonio Garra fought an unsuccessful battle to oust the Anglo intruders from their lands. Friendly Cahuilla, and Northern Diegueño Indians sided with the Anglos, as did most Luiseños, thus aiding the rapid crushing of the so-called Garra revolt. Garra and other Luiseño leaders were executed; the eastern Yumas, too, were defeated and their chief executed. With the removal of the rebel leaders and the burning of several key villages “southern California returned to normal.”7

In January 1852, Oliver M. Wozencraft, one of the three special treaty commissioners, arrived in San Diego County and made two treaties with local natives.8 On January 5, 1852, Wozencraft completed the Treaty of Temecula with Luiseño and Cahuilla Indians of the north county region. Two days later Wozencraft completed the Treaty of Santa Ysabel with Kumeyaay and Northern Diegueño.9

While at Temecula Wozencraft sought reasons for the recent Garra revolt and why otherwise peaceful natives had begun the armed conflict. Tribal leaders replied that the unjust Haraszthy tax, the failures of General George Kearny to fulfill his promise to secure Indian land rights, the broken promise of treaty commissioner Barbour who had repeatedly told the Indians that he would sign treaties with them and finally, agitation by local Mexican leaders had convinced Garra and others to revolt.10 The Luiseñto and Cahuilla leaders had early come to know the Americans as infidels and untrustworthy, feelings that Wozencraft and his successors would do little to assuage.

On paper, the two Wozencraft treaties held some promise. In general, both treaties were formulated along the lines which typified the sixteen other treaties completed by Wozencraft, Barbour and McKee in California during the years 1851 and 1852. The natives agreed to give up their right to the major land areas of California in trade for a set amount of land, promises of educational aid, and a supply of livestock and dry goods.11

In separate analyses of the treaties, historian Harry Kelsey and anthropologist Robert F. Heizer have stressed the fact that in some cases small bands or even extended families were assumed to represent tribes, thus becoming signatories to treaties which they were not authorized to sign and which the commissioners were not authorized to present.12 Heizer concluded that “Taken all together, one cannot imagine a more poorly conceived, more inaccurate, less informed, and less democratic process than the making of the 18 treaties in 1851-52 with the California Indians. It was a farce from beginning to end.”13

When, in the spring of 1852, the treaties were presented to the United States Senate they found little support. Even those men who had hoped for some sort of honest effort on the part of the federal government realized that the eighteen treaties of McKee, Barbour and Wozencraft were not the answer.14 Objections to the 1852 treaties were numerous and vociferous. California representative Joseph W. McCorkle, a Democrat representing Sutter County, addressed the Senate and voiced the fears and anxieties of many white Californians, “The reservations of land which they (the Commissioners) have set aside . . . . comprise, in some cases, the most valuable agricultural and mineral land in the State.”15 McCorkle further asserted that he did not endorse any part of the treaties and was opposed to the policy as a whole.

Echoing McCorkle’s fears, California Governor John Bigler addressed the January 30, 1853 session of the California legislature and suggested that legislators urge the Senate to reject the treaties.16 Acting on the suggestions of Governor Bigler and a special committee report Samuel Purdy, the President of the California Senate, reported on February 11, 1852 that messages were being forwarded “instructing our Senators and requesting our Representatives. . . . to induce the Federal Government to remove the Indians of this State beyond its jurisdiction.”17

Land-hungry whites were seeking ways and means to remove the Indians from potentially valuable land. The last thing they or their legislators desired was a rigid definition of Indian land rights. At a time when the Mexican Californios were fighting exhaustive legal battles to secure their land titles, native Americans had little chance where land title was based on ability to produce written documents and spend years in white-dominated courts.

Voicing the general opinion of most of California’s newspapers, the Los Angeles Star applauded the actions of the California legislature and warned that “to place upon our most fertile soil the most degraded race of Aboriginies [sic] upon the North American Continent . . . . is planting the seeds of future disaster and ruin. . . .”18

The final result of journalistic attacks, legislative protests and political maneuvering was that the United States Senate rejected the 1852 treaties without a lengthy debate. Historian John W. Caughey summed up the failure of the treaties by noting that citizen protest, California legislature pressure and the fear that treaty land might contain gold ensured defeat of the treaties.19

Following Senate rejection of the treaties the main thrust of federal Indian policy in California was to place Indian agents in charge of various tribes and invest them with the task of keeping the peace while spending as little time and money as possible. In an effort to keep tight control over the agents and thus avoid any over-zealous action, the government imposed a wait-and-see policy. In essence, the order of the day was much the same as it had been in 1849. Agents were to complete a census, observe the actions of the various tribes, and maintain friendly relations.

Funds were so scarce in 1852 that Wozencraft was forced to write to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs complaining that he had to borrow money to pay his individual expenses while on government duty.20 Even when funds were approved federal agencies made strange appropriations. Noting that Congress had appropriated $100,000 for California Indians, the Los Angeles Star informed its readers that $25,000 worth of beads had just been received in California and that “the Superintendent is sorely puzzled what use to put them to . . . .”21 Promised livestock, educational aid and dry goods, California Indians were given trade beads.

Lack of funds was to be a problem which plagued various levels of Indian affairs during the entire 1850-1880 period. The effect was devastating to the native Americans and demoralized the few Indian agents who earnestly labored in vain to aid their wards. In February 1853, Benjamin D. Wilson, California Indian agent, appointed judge Benjamin Hayes as temporary sub-agent for San Diego County. Hayes was instructed to visit villages in his district “and make such distributions among the Indians as in your judgment may be done with the limited means that I am prepared to give you for that purpose.”22 As far as can be ascertained, the efforts of Hayes and Wilson were the first earnest, albeit under-funded, attempt on the part of the federal government to alleviate the growing poverty and despair which was beginning to prevail among some native Americans in San Diego County. For the most part, the federal and state governments were preoccupied with pacifying the Northern and Central Indians of California and establishing the grandiose Tejon Reservation just north of Los Angeles.

With the founding of the Tejon Reservation in 1853, Indian Superintendent Edward F. Beale began channeling money and effort into that project in hopes that it would serve as a showcase and testimony to his efforts to “civilize” the California Indians. According to the Beale plan, Indians were to raise crops, manufacture goods and raise cattle as part of an on-the-job training program which would rapidly turn them into productive members of white society.23

Located in the extreme southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, Tejon served the Tule and Tejon Indians and became a source of anguish to San Diego County Indians, who increasingly felt slighted by the obvious manner in which funds and supplies were expended at Tejon. To San Diego Indians it seemed as though the troublesome Indians of the north were receiving all that was promised in the 1852 treaties, while peaceful natives were left to suffer.

In June 1853 San Diego County received its first permanent Indian subagent, replacing Benjamin Hayes. In a letter dated June 13, 1853, Benjamin Wilson appointed Cave Couts, Sr. of San Luis Rey as Indian sub-agent. In his letter to Couts, Wilson outlined the goals of his program and the limitations. Wilson warned Couts that the government did not have treaty plans nor supplies for the Indians. In spite of these limitations, Wilson told Couts to “protect the Indians in their rights, against impious white men. Settle all disputes amongst themselves; advise with the Indians, encourage them to labor and provide for the maintanance [sic] of their families.”24

As Couts was beginning his tenure as agent, Superintendent Edward F. Beale alienated many San Diego native Americans by reappointing an unpopular and unrespected Indian alcalde. Beale’s reappointment of the aged chieftain, Tomas, met with great disfavor among the Mesa Grande Indians. The Indians petitioned Cave Couts to seek the removal of Tomas and place the more respected and dynamic Panto in his place. Tomas had lost a great deal of respect when he was publicly flogged for stealing.

In May 1854, Couts removed Tomas and appointed Panto as the local alcalde as the Indians had requested. Although his actions were questioned by some local whites, Couts defended his action by pointing out that the well-being and content of the Indians were his main concerns.26 The controversy surrounding Couts’ action was soon forgotten. Couts went on to be appointed permanent Indian sub-agent for San Diego County and Superintendent Beale was replaced by a superintendent who approved of Couts’ earlier move.

The conflict between the deposed Tomas and his successor, Panto, is noteworthy. In later years Indian agents and superintendents often pursued an opposite line in removing alcaldes whom they found personally displeasing and appointing Indians whom they favored, without consulting with tribal leaders. Although a degree of self-determination was allowable in 1854, it was a concept which fell upon hard times in the ensuing years.

Couts, as a federally appointed official, appears to have been an honorable man and served local Indians generally well, although he did have particular quirks which somewhat cloud the picture. A letter printed in the San Diego Herald in 1855 suggested that Couts had been guilty of killing several Indians by using harsh and inhumane methods of punishment.27 One year later in January 1856, H.S. Burton, who was passing through the County on government business, noted that many persons in San Diego County were aware of Couts’ harsh discipline and considered him guilty of killing two Indians in July 1855.28

In 1865 Couts was again accused of mistreating the Indians. Government agent W.E. Lovett went to Couts’ ranch to investigate the matter. Lovett reported that the La Jolla band of Indians thought highly of Couts and that he had never interfered with their rights nor mistreated them. Lovett specifically denied that Couts was guilty of whipping an Indian boy to death, although he did request that Couts refrain from beating his Indian domestics.29 Lyle C. Annable, in his recent study of Couts, defends him against the charges of whipping Indians to death and notes that even if this one case is valid, it remains an isolated blemish on an otherwise distinguished public record.30

In 1854, Thomas J. Henley was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs and he reappointed Cave Couts as sub-agent for San Diego County. As was the case with his predecessor, Henley had little to offer the Indians. When Henley took over the post from Edward F. Beale “the latter had only $1,260 to turn over to Henley.”31 Henley wrote to Couts in June 1855 that he was expected to protect the Indians and keep the peace but warned that, “You are not authorized to expend any money or contract any obligations in the discharge of your duties, for the present.”32 As would be the case with most of the California superintendents, Henley was caught in an economic bind and forced to keep a badly under-funded system going.

Couts replied to Henley that certain problems needed immediate attention if the government hoped to aid Indians and prevent violence between whites and Indians. Couts suggested that a reservation system be established which would once and for all designate certain public property as Indian land, thus removing it from land which settlers and squatters could preempt. Couts also suggested that a single agent be established with the authority to appoint a single Indian alcalde to oversee the various rancherias and tribes. For his services, this alcalde would receive $30 to $40 per month and official recognition. Couts hoped that Manuelito Cota, a local Luiseño leader whose powers were significantly increased through white support, could fill such a position in reward for his previous faithful service to the United States officials.33

Couts further recommended that he be provided with between $2,000 and $3,000 to purchase agricultural implements and grains so local natives would increase their attempts at farming. Couts’ final suggestion was that the military should disengage itself from all Indian affairs and that one and only one non-military man be appointed Indian agent.34

In general, Couts provided thoughtful and viable solutions to pressing problems. He correctly identified land rights as a major point of disagreement and discontent among the local natives. His desire to appoint a single Indian alcalde was a typical frontier military decision but not one which was compatible with the political structure of the several independent and autonomous bands in southern California.

Couts’ application for a single non-military agent was a pragmatic appeal for a semi-permanent agent who could establish a rapport with Indians and at the same time be the only person responsible to the government. In the past, as Couts reported to Henley, it was not unusual for each and every ranking military man who passed through the area to assert his authority over the Indians and attempt to intimidate them with his military might.

Couts’ request for funds to purchase items for agricultural development was reasonable and one which followed the stated goals of the Indian Affairs office. It had earlier been realized that the Indians of San Diego County were carrying out various levels of agriculture and that with a minimal amount of assistance they could become totally self-sufficient, even in the face of continued loss of land and water rights.

Superintendent Henley evidently considered the suggestions of Couts but failed, for one reason or another, to act upon them. One year after the arrival of Couts’ suggestions, in August 1857, Henley received yet another set of requests from San Diego. Major Blake, the commandant of the military post at San Diego, requested $5,000 worth of supplies for San Diego Indians. Benjamin Hayes notes that Henley who had never been south of Tejon Reservation in his three years in office, refused Blake’s request to help feed the Indians.35

Judge Hayes was not the only person who was aware of Henley’s seeming disregard for San Diego County natives. In an editorial which backed the reappointment of Cave Couts, the San Diego Herald lashed out at Henley, calling him a useless politico and suggesting his removal.36 In April of 1859, Henley was relieved of his duties based on a misappropriation charge and further accusations that he used Indian laborers to construct a private mill on a government reserve, used government funds to purchase supplies for the mill, and loaned out supplies earmarked for the Indians to white laborers who worked on the mill.37

Although Henley may have been one of the more obviously bad administrators, his ineptness was not unique. In his analysis of the fiscal policies of the California Indian superintendency, historian Michael A. Sievers noted that the system was plagued by a multitide of problems. Paramount among these problems were: procrastination of the Indian agents in ordering of supplies; general ineptitude and inexperience on the part of agents; a past record of bad credit; the lack of communication between the California superintendent and Washington; and graft.38 In summary, Sievers concluded that the various California superintendents were not able to pay their own employees, nor establish a viable means of distributing what goods were available, let alone make or implement policies which would actually aid the natives.

Amidst the financial turmoil and mismanagement, H.S. Burton visited the Indians of San Diego County in January 1856 to ascertain their condition and attitudes for a detailed federal report. At San Bernardo, a rancheria near present-day San Pasqual, Burton met with Panto, a captain of the San Pasqual Indians, on January 17 and held a lengthy conversation with him. Burton noted that Panto urgently requested “protection from our government against the encroachments of squatters upon the lands legally granted to his people.”39 Burton investigated Panto’s accusations and discovered that five or six white squatters were taking up the best Indian land and suggested in his report that “this is just and proper occasion for the personal interference of the superintendent of Indian affairs.”40

Continuing his inquiry, Burton met with Manuel Cota who, upon the death in 1855 of Chief Pablo Apis and with Couts’ backing, assumed control over most of the major Luiseño villages including Pauma, Potrero and Temecula. Burton learned that Cota was displeased with the multiplicity of Indian agents and sub-agents. Cota stated that every government agent or military officer who entered the area warned him against listening to, or following, orders from any other government official. Addressing himself to the inaction of Superintendent Henley, Cota brought up the frequently expressed sentiment that the government was concerned only with the northern Indians and chose to ignore the friendly Indians of San Diego County. The irate chief inquired of Superintendent Henley, “Why does he not come to see us as well as the Indians of the Tulare and the Indians of the north, we claim his attention as much as they do.”41

In June of the same year Lt. Burton met with Chief Panto to inquire how conditions were among the Northern Diegueño. Since his appointment by Couts and the ouster of old Tomas, Panto had witnessed a deterioration of his people and expressed a feeling of hopelessness. Tomas echoed Manuel Cota’s concern that the war-like northern Indians were receiving great quantities of aid whereas the peaceful San Diego County Indians were allowed to go hungry and forced to sit helpless as the gradual influx of whites upon their ancient homeland continued.42

Remembering the 1852 treaties, which he had signed, Tomas asked Burton what had become of the promises of Commissioner Wolzencraft. Burton replied to Tomas that the treaties were not ever going to be honored nor were the promises to be fulfilled. Burton’s report was sympathetic to the plight of the Indians and his suggestion that the superintendent should act was a valid one and one which perhaps raised the spirit and morale of the disenchanted Indians, at least temporarily.

Burton’s efforts failed. Within ten years Panto and the San Pasqual Indians were forced by local officials to totally abandon their lands without ever being officially informed that the treaty they had signed in good faith in 1852 had been rejected and locked away in a government safe. The Mesa Grande band under Tomas were further harassed and increasingly lost land to white squatters.

As the 1850s drew to a close the Commissioner of Indian Affairs admitted that the previous ten years of effort had been less than successful and that “The management of our Indian Affairs in California has been embarrassed with a great variety of difficulties. Neither the government of the United States nor the State of California recognizes in the Indians any right of exclusive occupancy to any specific lands.”43 In a period that was characterized by a steady influx of white settlers into southern California, the federal government was unwilling, or at best unable, to formulate, let alone enforce, a consistent policy which would guarantee the native Americans’ land rights.

Having assayed the Indian situation in California and the government’s ineffectual efforts at aiding the Indians throughout the 1850s, Special Agent J. Ross Browne lamented their loss of land and quipped that “The idea, strange as it may appear, never occurred to them (the Indians) that they were suffering for the great cause of civilization, which, in the natural course of things, must exterminate Indians.”44

During the early 1860s the federal government began to make increased overtures toward native Americans. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War the priorities of the government turned toward crushing the Southern insurrection. The report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1861 noted that as a result of the war, John P.H. Wentworth, California Indian Affairs Commissioner, lacked the funds to visit the tribes of San Bernardino and San Diego. The report noted that a cutoff of funds might seriously impair the possiblity of keeping Indians contented and peaceful.45 In his annual report for 1865 Special Agent W.E. Lovett rationalized the adverse effect of the Civil War on native Americans of San Diego County. Although they were nearly forgotten, “the civil war . . . . is a sufficient excuse for this apparent neglect.”46

Fears of various state and federal officials regarding the loyalty of the San Diego County Indians were ill-founded and were to a large degree based on the activites of many Indian groups in the Southern states who saw the Civil War as a chance to either escape from the burden of the white man or to side with Southerners in hope that they would later be afforded better treatment than they had previously received.47 The Indians in southern California remained relatively quiet throughout the war and maintained their loyalty.

Noting that Special Agent Lovett had visited the Indians of San Diego County, the Wilmington Journal reported that Indians had cut a liberty pole and had hoisted an American flag to its top to display their patriotism. Addressing the problem of rebel activities among the Indians the Journal noted, “It is astonishing that these tribes have behaved so well considering the pernicious teachings they have received from vile secessionists in their midst.”48 To ensure that secessionists or other Southern sympathizers were kept on the defensive, Ramon Carrillo, an influential rancher near Temecula, had a group of Cahuilla warriors roam the adjacent mountains in search of insurgents.49

Although San Diego County did not witness any Indian uprisings or armed conflict during the Civil War, white anxieties heightened when the gradually declining Indians sporadically asserted their rights to lands and sought to maintain their livelihood by whatever means left open to them, including theft. Cave J. Couts wrote to Ephraim Morse in 1864 that Francisco, general of the Luiseño, was causing trouble and should be removed from his position.50

A year later, Agent Lovett reported that Francisco had resigned from his chieftainship and that Manuel Cota had been appointed. Perhaps Cave Couts, through Morse, had persuaded officials that Francisco was unsuitable.51 Although Lovett used the word “resigned” regarding Francisco’s actions, the Wilmington Journal indicated that he had been removed.

The years immediately following the Civil War were devoted to the reconstruction of the South, developing a foreign policy and reassuring the Southern and Plains Indians that the United States had their best interest at heart. In southern California little was done to appease or to significantly aid the rapidly declining native Americans, although some effort was made.

Never a major recipient of government supplies or monies, San Diego County natives did receive some badly needed aid in the spring of 1865. Realizing that the drought of 1864-65 had wiped out the usually productive farms of the Indians, Indian Agent J.Q.A. Stanley requested that the government furnish plows and seeds for thoses rancherias most in need. In his request Stanley noted that Indians were being sold cheap whiskey by certain Mexicans who in turn induced Indians to steal in order to purchase more liquor. In concluding his March 28, 1865 communication, Stanley stressed that the past season had been severe for natives and that some were migrating to white settlements where they were forced to beg for a meager living.53

Upon receipt of Stanley’s urgent letter of request, Austin Wiley, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, acted promptly. He forwarded to Stanley twelve plows, twelve plow harnesses, twelve dozen hoes, twenty pounds of melon seed and thirty pounds of pumpkin seed.54 Since corn and beans cost less at Los Angeles than at the Indian Affairs headquarters at San Francisco, Wiley requested that Stanley purchase those seeds directly at Los Angeles.

By April 28, 1865 Agent Stanley was in the field distributing a portion of the goods to Luiseño villages near San Luis Rey. On May 1, Stanley arrived at Pala to assess the condition of Indians of that village. Stanley found the Temecula Indians generally satisfied but still disgruntled over the recent removal of Chief Francisco and the reappointment of Manuel Cota.55

Following the meeting at Pala, Stanley traveled to Temecula and called a general council of all Indians from the surrounding area. According to Stanley, eight or ten Luiseño captains met at Temecula along with 100 Cahuillas led by Manuel Largo.56 On the following day, May 5, a party of over 100 Diegueños led by aged Tomas arrived at Temecula. By May 8th, Stanley had completed the distribution of goods, thus marking the first time that the government had made a large-scale contribution to the welfare of Indians of San Diego County.

The villages present at the Temecula meeting were: Potrero, Agua Grande [sic], San Ygnacio, Temecula, San Luis Rey, Coyotes, Santa Rosa, La Jolla, Laboba [sic], Pala, Pauma, Cholo, San Ysidro, Agua Caliente [sic], La Puerta de la Cruz and Puerta Chiquita. W.E. Lovett noted that ten Diegueño rancherias were unable to attend the meeting because of the great distance and recommended that these villages should be called together for a future conference.56

Special Agent Lovett reported that over 1400 Indians had attended the Temecula meeting and that they had brought with them a census of their population, and accounts of their livestock and produce, marked by cuts in long strips of wood. Besides receiving goods, each family came forth and presented their grievances.

Although the majority of the complaints were minor, Lovett did note that some were serious. Cahuillas from San Timoteo complained that during the smallpox epidemic of 1862-63 they had fled from their lands to escape the disease. In their absence nearby whites moved onto Indian land and claimed possession, thus forcing the Cahuillas to become even more nomadic and more likely to commit depredations against whites.

A similar problem was faced by Luiseños at Pejamo, a seasonal village near Temecula. When the Indians had left the village for their summer foraging rounds, local whites led by men named Breeze and Woolfe had entered the village, set fire to Indian huts, took possession of the land and the nearby water supply. Lovett suggested to the Indian Affairs Commissioner that whites involved in the San Timoteo and Pejamo affairs be punished and that the land be restored to its rightful owners.57

The needs of the San Diego County Indians, Lovett said, were few, although prompt and just treatment was needed. Specifically, he recommended that clothing, seeds, and agricultural implements be provided, that liquor traders be driven off and that mission churches be restored as a means of ensuring the spiritual welfare of the Indians. Lovett officially ignored the problem of land rights and white squatters.

The federal government was unable and unwilling to stop white squatters from settling on Indian land and was unable to control whites who were manipulating native Americans for their own personal gain. As was the case in many western Indian communities, a whole body of devious and shrewd Indian traders settled on or near the Indian rancherias and began their sordid business. Although Indian traders had been in San Diego County since the late 1830s, the problem was becoming intense by the mid 1860s. Superintendent B.C. Whiting reported that “. . . . These invaders are selling liquor to the Indians and trading with them. They have already got away with most of their oxen and cattle, horses, grains, beans and other property . . . . There are but a few of them who have teams left with which to cultivate the ground and put in a crop for the ensuing years.”58

To a large degree the do-nothing attitude of the federal government was advocated and appreciated by the white land owners, newspaper editors and would-be landowners. Government Indian policy was shaped by public opinion and by newspapers reflecting their readers’ views. As the native Americans protested the loss of their lands, southern California whites increased their agitation for Anglo control of all available lands. To some whites the rapidly decreasing Indian population was positively desirable and not related to American expansion.

The San Francisco Alta reported that since 1851 over 22,000 Indians had died and that “The Indians (had) abandoned their habits of regular industry, and began to die off rapidly . . . . most of the survivors are living away from the whites in a condition little superior to savagism.”59 Yet, the Alta boasted that since the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo “we have no reason, as Americans, to be ashamed of work which we have done in California.”60 Evidently the editors saw no meaningful correlation between white empire building and the death of 22,000 native Californians.

In the fifteen years between statehood and the end of the Civil War, local native Americans were given a low priority and relegated to suffering with a policy which was ambiguous, unevenly applied and seriously underfunded.61 Federal government Indian policy during the 1850-1865 period can be summarized as first, five years of near-total ignorance then later, five years of faltering tokenism and finally, five years of Civil War-spawned inattention. At a time when reservations were being established throughout the country and genuine efforts were made to aid some native groups, Indians throughout San Diego County were ignored, neglected and denied basic land rights.

The end result of this ill-conceived policy was that people were largely ignored at a time when their very existence was threatened. Although the neglect may be considered, in some case, benign, the end result was just as painfully real.


1. U.S. Congress, Senate, Luke Lea to Adam Johnson, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1849, S. Doc. 4, 33rd Cong., Spec. sess., 1849, p. 2,

2. Ibid.

3. Harry Kelsey, “The California Indian Treaty Myth,” Southern California Quarterly, 55 (Fall 1973) pp. 229-300.

4. Ibid., p. 230.

5. Ibid., pp. 230-231.

6. San Diego Herald, September 9, 1851.

7. John Walton Caughey, California, 2nd edition (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1946), p. 382.

8. San Diego Herald, January 10, 1852; Dr. O.M. Wozencraft, “Statement,” 1877, Indian Affairs 1849-1850, C-D 204, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, pp. 10-13.

9. San Diego Herald, January 10, 1852; Charles Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties 5 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1929) pp. 1127-1128.

10. U.S., Congress, Senate, Oliver M. Wozencraft to Luke Lea, Middle District, California, February 18, 1852, S. Exec. Doc. 4, 33rd Cong., Spec. Sess., 1852, pp. 287-288.

11. Robert F. Heizer, The Eighteen Unratified Treaties of 1851-52 (Berkeley: Archaeological Research Facility, 1972) pp. 50-56. Alban W. Hooper, Indian Affairs and their Administration, 1849-1860 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932) pp. 44-45.

12. Kelsey, “Treaty Myth,” p. 231; Heizer, Unratified Treaties, pp. 4-5.

13. Heizer, Unratified Treaties,p. 5.

14. Kelsey, “Treaty Myth,” pp. 4-5.

15. Congressional Globe, March 26, 1852, p. 890.

16. California Legislature, Governor John Bigler, “Special Message to the Senate and Assembly of the State of California,” January 30, 1852. Journal of the Third Session of the Legislature of California (G.K. Fitch and Co., and V.E. Geiger and Co., State Printers, 1852) p. 80.

17. California Legislature, “President of the Senate Samuel Purding seeking rejection of In dian Treaties,” February 11, 1852. Journal of the Third Session of the Legislature of California (G.K. Fitch and Co., and V.E. Geiger and Co., State Printers, 1852) p. 106.

18. Los Angeles Star, March 13, 1852

19. Benjamin D. Wilson, The Indians of Southern California in 1852, ed. John W. Caughey (San Marino: Huntington Library Press, 1953) p. xxv.

20. Wozencraft to Lea, p. 289.

21. Los Angeles Star, December 18, 1852.

22. Heizer, Unratified Treaties, p. 5; Wilson, Indians of California, p. 16.

23. Hooper, Indian Affairs, pp. 45-46.

24. San Diego Herald, June 23, 1855.

25. Ibid., March 18, 1854.

26. Ibid., May 13, 1854.

27. Ibid., July 14, 1855.

28. U.S. Congress, House, H.S. Burton to Major E.D. Townsend, Mission San Diego, January 27, 1856, Report on the Mission Indians. H. Exec. Doc. 76, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess., 1856, p. 115.

29. California, Journals of Senate and Assembly of the Sixteenth Session of the Legislature, Report of W.E. Lovett, Special Indian Agent to Austin Wiley (O.M. Clayes, State Printer, 1866) 3:4.

30. Lyle C. Anaable, “The Life and Times of Cave Johnson Couts, San Diego County Pioneer” (Master’s Thesis, San Diego State University, 1965) pp. 73-74.

31. Hooper, Indian Affairs, p. 56.

32. San Diego Herald, June 23, 1855.

33. Cave J. Couts to Col. Thomas J. Henley, July 7, 1856. Reprinted in San Diego Herald, August 2, 1856.

34. Ibid.

35. Benjamin Ignatius Hayes, Pioneer Notes, ed. Marjorie T. Wolcot (Los Angeles: Private Printing, 1929) p. 161.

36. San Diego Herald, August 2, 1856.

37. Michael A. Sievers, “Malfeasance or Indirection? Administration of the California Indian Superintendency’s Business Affairs,” Southern California Quarterly, 56:3 (Fall 1974) p. 280.

38. Ibid., pp. 277-280.

39. Burton to Townsend, p. 114.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid., p. 115.

42. U.S. Congress, House, H.S. Burton to Capt. D.R. Jones, Mission San Diego, June 15, 1856, p. 127.

43. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1859, p. 6.

44. John Ross Browne, The Tribes of California (Colt Press, 1944) p. 8.

45. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1865, p. 141-144.

46. Annual Report 1865, Lovett to Wiley, May 1865, p. 122.

47. For an example of such fears of disloyalty see William Coffin to Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, October 21, 1861 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1959), Series 1, No. 12573, p. 1. 48. Wilmington Journal, May 13, 1865.

49. Lt. Thomas E. Turner to Major W.S. Ketchum, San Bernardino, October 5, 1861. Typescript on file San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection.

50. Cave J. Couts to Ephraim Morse, Guajome, May 28, 1864, Ephraim Morse letter file, San Diego History Center Library.

51. Annual Report 1865, Lovett to Wiley, May 1865, p. 123.

52. Wilmington Journal, May 13, 1865.

53. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1865, J.Q.A. Stanley to Austin Wiley, March 28, 1865, p. 287.

54. Annual Report 1865, Austin Wiley to William P. Dole, April 12, 1865, pp. 286-287.

55. U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1865, J.Q.A. Stanley to Austin Wiley, May 19, 1865, p. 295.

56. California Legislature, Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly, 16th Sess., 1866, “Report of W.E. Lovett, Special Indian Agent, to Austin Wiley, Superintendent of In dian Affairs in California, ” p. 5.

57. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

58. B.C. Whiting quoted in Marjorie McMorrow Rustvold, “San Pasqual Valley: From Rancheria to Greenbelt,” (Master’s Thesis, San Diego State University, 1968) p. 96.

59. San Diego Herald, June 26, 1869, Quoting the San Francisco Alta.

60. Ibid.

61. William Henry Ellison has provided a concise overall account of the Federal Indian policy in California during the 1846-1860 period in his “The Federal Indian Policy in California, 1846-1860,” Mississippi Historical Review, 9:37-67.