The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1997, Volume 43, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Reviews

Indians and Indian Agents: The Origins of the Reservation System in California, 1849-1852.

by George Harwood Phillips. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Illustrations. Maps. Bibliography. Notes. xviii + 238 pages. $27.95 cloth.

Reviewed by Richard L. Carrico, Instructor American Indian Studies, San Diego State University, and Mesa Community College, author of Strangers in a Stolen Land (1987) and co-author with Florence Shipek, “Indian Labor in San Diego County 1850-1900” in Alice Littlefield and Martha C. Knack (ed.) Native Americans and Wage Labor (1996).

In this, the second book in a proposed trilogy, George Harwood Phillips provides a much needed review and analysis of the early American treaty and reservation system in California between 1849 and 1852. While the time range may seem narrow, the work offers a far ranging scope that finds its roots in earlier decades and sets the stage for the decades that followed.

When compared with previous works, the book provides a much fuller examination of federal Indian policy to include the framers of the policies and the men who were charged with implementing the policies. Phillips’ analysis goes beyond depicting the Indians as mere pawns or leaves tossed in the turgid waters of federal and state policies. Instead, for the most part, Phillips gives a voice to the too often silent “others,” the California Indian. While some may view Phillips’ approach to the federal treaty commissioners as that of an apologist, he gives the reader substantial food for thought regarding these men’s pioneering efforts.

In the maiden book in his projected trilogy, Indians and Intruders in Central California, Phillips clearly delimits his field of play and focuses on the geographic setting provided in his title. By contrast, the title and introduction for the current work is somewhat disingenuous. The reader is led to expect more expansive and inclusive discussion of California as a whole than Phillips actually delivers. Indeed, as is so often the case in works on early California, there are little signs of life south of Tejon. Clearly the emphasis in on the Central Valley and the Tejon region. As an example, the native peoples of what is now San Diego and Orange Counties are barely mentioned. This in spite of the fact that two of the eighteen treaties were signed with people of this area, that the ill-fated Garra Revolt of 1851 was a significant force in shaping the politics and federal reactions of the time, and that thousands of Indian people (Kumeyaay, Luiseno, Cahuilla, and Cupeno) were affected by the treaties and policies under discussion. Perhaps Phillips is saving the southern region and the establishment of reservations in the south after 1870 for the third book.

For students of California Indian history, this books will neatly fit several niches. At the undergraduate and graduate level, the book can help fill the current gap in well-researched literature on the topic. For the serious scholar, the book is evocative and will stir some debate over the role of the Indians as resistive people who were not simply acted upon by outside forces. As with his previous works, George Harwood Phillips has brought to life what he calls the “zone of interaction” between Indians and Anglo-Americans. California historians and others seeking to understand the current reservation system and Indian policies would do well to take the journey through that tumultuous zone guided by this important book.