A Closer Look at Yowlumne History from Early Times to 1934 by Sasha Honig
According to Latta,
Yowlumne territory lay "between Kern Lake and
the Tehachapi Range...Kern Lake and Wheeler Ridge...
[and] the creeks west of Tej—n [Creek] Canyon..."
including the area we now know as the Grapevine
(Ca–ada de las Uvas). (203-205) One of
Latta's maps shows it also stretched along the Kern
River toward the Kern Canyon.) (Latta,
1977: end cover) Put another way,
Yowlumne ancestral land was tucked into a wide strip
running along the Kern River as it emerged from Kern
Canyon, flowed south and split into multiple
channels (which changed course from time to
time.) The Sierra Nevada lay to the
east, the Tehachapis to the south. Rich natural
resources for hunting and gathering lay within this
territory and it is unlikely the Yowlumne went
hungry very often.
The hill on which Woilu rested no longer exists. In the American period, a settler named Reeder built a home on it but in 1898 the Santa Fe Railroad company scraped it down to build a depot there. Workers uncovered bones, grinding bowls, arrowheads and other artifacts but the work went on. Today, construction would have been halted while archaeologists and an Indian monitor did a careful dig and recovered as much cultural information as possible.
Ironically, the depot is no longer there; the company demolished it in the 1970s for a parking lot.
Ir was once believed that Indians did nothing to change nature Š that they took it the way they got it, hunted and gathered from it, but did nothing to change it. Scholars now know they did manipulate it to benefit themselves, the animals, and plants around them. For instance, they routinely staged controlled burns and in doing so, cleaned out debris that would burn so hot it would kill the trees and bushes. They did not know it but were avoiding the catastrophic wildfires we see today. Controlled burning also encouraged new shoots to sprout. Within a week, vegetation would begin to come back.
After fire, elderberry, arrowweed, and buttonwillow shoots would be straight and easy to make into arrow shafts. (Anderson 236-237, 278) Seeds of many California native plants need fire to germinate; heat would make the seed husks explode, a little like popcorn popping, and the seed within was released to find a place to start growing.
The Indians also knew that pruning plants and even periodically cutting them down to the ground (but not uprooting) was beneficial; the plants were freed of dead wood, they were opened to more sunlight, and could grow strong and lush, more nutritious for themselves and the animals who fed on the plants.
The first Spaniards to enter the Valley were neither missionaries nor explorers -- they were deserters from the presidio at San Diego. (Bolton, 1935. 9, 12) In 1772, Pedro Fages came into the Valley from the south to search for these men. He entered via the pass that follows Tejon Creek (not the presently called "Tejon Pass" but farther east. A beautiful view ("buena vista") of a "labyrinth and tulares" shimmered on the valley floor below him. He did not find the refugees and left the valley the way he had come.
The next Spanish explorer to enter the Valley was missionary Father Francisco Garcˇs in 1776. He entered by way of the Tehachapis and went north. He followed an Indian trade trail down to the Kern River (which he called it the "Rio de San Felipe." ) The river was running high (he commented on its great noise) and he would not have been able to cross except for the help of friendly Yowlumne men. His explorations took him out of Yowlumne territory and up to the White River before he turned around. In visiting various Indian villages, he heard of Spaniards who had come into the valley, most likely including the deserters Fages had been after, plus others. Two had been killed by the Indians for their brutality towards them. One, however, had married an Indian woman, settled down, and had a son. Garces did not personally meet him. On his way out of the valley, he crossed the river west of his previous crossing and picked a possible place for a mission up on the heights above the high bluffs that flank the river on the south. (Boyd, Ludeke, & Rump,1982: 2-3)
No mission there ever resulted as a result of Garces' recommendation. Partly this was due to the geographic isolation of the Yowlumne (tucked away beyond the great "labyrinth of lakes and tulares" (see map) and partly it was because Spanish attention was more focused on the western side of the valley and the Buena Vista Lake area (especially the village of Tulamniu). This was where runaway soldiers or mission Indians tended to head.
Fugitivism was a major concern to missionaries who believed that once an Indian was baptized, it was his obligation to remain at the mission to continue receiving instruction in the faith (along with various vocational skills.) Just as in a Spanish family, a minor child could not reject the authority of the father, the neophyte ("one new in the faith') could not reject the authority of the missionary padre. By running away, mission fugitives showed that they did indeed reject mission authority. It was inevitable that troops of soldiers (sometimes accompanied by other, more loyal neophytes) came after them. The Yowlumne were well aware of them of these invasions of Yokuts territory sometimes joined with their neighbors in aggressive action against the Spanish.
In 1790, for example, the Yowlumne and other valley Indians attacked a party of soldiers who were chasing a mission refugee; the Yokuts were out to avenge atrocities committed by military deserters. The Indians killed two soldiers and made off with gear and a horse. This may have been the first horse in the southern valley. It is thought that the Indian refugee sought by the soldiers was with the Yokuts and that he taught them about how to use the gear and ride a horse. (Phillips, 1993. 41-43)
In 1807, the Yowlumne had a notable victory over a group of soldiers under Gabriel Moraga who came into the Valley after mission runaways. The Yowlumne attacked and killed killed two soldiers and this time stole 100 horses; the soldiers retreated. (Phillips, 1993: 51)
A few generations ago, Yokuts were described as a docile, non-warlike people, but newer research has revised this view; instead it is shown that Yokuts resisted Spanish or Mexican invasions, sometimes with violence sometimes not. Sometimes they took the initiative in attacking (as in 1790 and 1807), sometimes they indirectly struck at coastal settlements by stealing their livestock, especially horses. (Wallace, 460) In the long run, the indirect approach had the most potential for permanent harm to the coastal population.
The missions and ranchos were considerably weakened by this constant loss of animals. Given enough time, the ŅHorse Thief IndiansÓ would have bled the coastal herds dry and weakened the Hispanic hold on California.
The flight of mission converts (neophytes) continued to be heavy, especially to the Yokuts town of Tulamniu on Buena Vista Lake. In 1818, the same Father Payeras strongly condemned Tulamniu as "a republic of Hell and a diabolical union of apostates [unbelievers] ..." (Phillips, 1993: 59)
Many of these ex-mission converts settled down among the Yokuts and many of them helped plan and carry out horse raids. They knew the lay of the land, they knew where to go and how to go about a successful raid. These neophytes changed valley cultures by showing interior people that horseflesh as good to eat Š and horses were good to ride. Everyone, including women, learned to ride horseback. (Phillips, 1993. 60)
By 1845, there were an estimated 40,000 wild horses in the Central Valley, more than local Indians could ever ride or eat. Raids might have had a touch of revenge about them , (Hurtado, 1990. 2-11) but also horse theft was good business. As early as 1818, Father President Mariano Payeras commented tthat "Fairs are held at which horses stolen from the missions are put up for sale." (Phillips, 1993. 60)
other more northern San Joaquin and Sacramento
Valley tribes) sold to mountain men and to Eastern
Sierra Indians who traded them into western Nevada
whence they were passed farther along into the Great
Basin . (Layton, 1981. 131-137) A
popular exchange place for horse trading was the
Humboldt Sink, Nevada. Indian tribes from as
far away as Idaho came to the Humboldt Sink to get
At some point, he fled and by 1851 was headman of the Yowlumne village of Tsineuhiu, upriver from Woilu, not far from Gordon's Ferry. (Phillips, 2004. 37. ) His name is prominent in the history of the Yowlumne in the American period, as will be seen.
The border between the coastal missions and the interior tribes was never a firm line separating them. It was very porous, with soldiers and Indians frequently crossing it for one reason or another. Still, the natural landscape was not much tampered with in the Spanish and Mexican periods
about to change starting in the 1820s, as Americans
fur trappers (who also included British and French
Canadians), miners, stockmen, canal builders, and
agriculturalists flocked into the Central
Emeterio was not alone in continuing to raid, treaty or not; many other Yokuts tribes doing the same which only inflamed passions against them more. Governor Bigler responded by authorizing and supplying vigilante groups to pursue the raiders. (Phillips, 2004: 43-44)
Many protested that the most valuable mining and agricultural land in the state was being given away, lost forever to white settlement. A "general and exterminating war" was the only alternative, others said. Whites felt they had "no security for either life or property and so "the whole damn race" should be killed off. ( Hoopes, "Redick McKee" 198)
Howls of protest against the treaties went up among white miners, settlers, businessmen, and politicians; savage verbal attacks were hurled at the commissioners and the treaties. The governor himself complained the treaties were "calculated to produce constant collisions" between whites and Indians; he believe the two simply could never live together. (Phillips, 2004. 43-44)
Some believed the alternative to expensive wars of extermination would be: mass removal of California's Indians from the state. (Phillips, 2004: 57-59) Where would they go? Perhaps backers of this idea were thinking of how the sCherokees had been removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) only 13 or 14 years before; thousands died on the ŅTrail of Tears.Ó The Cherokees were a sophisticated people, one of the Seven Civilized Tribes of the southern United States; if their journey was devastating to them, how much more so it would have been to the California Indians. What percentage of California Indians would have died on a similar forced march can only be guessed
In 1852, Governor John Bigler was in favor of removal but due to political pressure, he became a believer in of extermination; we must, he said, protect "the people from the incursions of merciless and savage enemies." (Hoopes, "Redick McKee" 212) (Continued horsetheft by Emeterio and others only fueled the fires against the Indians.)
In the end, the treaties were never ratified by the U.S. Senate even though it was the same Senate that had authorized and paid for neotiation of those very same treaties. The Senate put the treaties under seal to hide their existence (Who We Are, BIA: n.d.) . They did not become public until 1905. ("California Treaties..." Pechanga Band: n.d.) Thus, political pressure from California almost succeeded in suppressing this chapter in the state's history (and with it, the history of the Yowlumne people).
The millions of acres promised the Indians would never become reservations, yet whites still demanded they be brought under control, one way or another. Many Indian ŅwarsÓ were naught but campaigns of extermination; the removal idea died hard: as late as 1859, removal to the interior of
Baja California was advocated; the U.S. Government would have to buy Baja California first, however. (Phillips, 2004 236) The federal government had no policy of reservations, but something had to be done. They simply could not take up much land.
However, Edward Fitzgerald Beale believed he had the answer: small reservations backed up by nearby forts. The reservation would be patterned after Spanish missions where Indian residents would taught useful skills such as farming, creating irrigation systems, herding cattle and sheep, etc. It was a mission without the religion. This was not an original idea with him, but he was a good politician and he got Congressional support and funding for five reservations in California.
He began by locating a small reservation in Tejon Canyon, on Tej—n Creek) (15 miles east of the present Tejon Pass). It was originally called the Tejon Farm but in a smart political move, he renamed it the Sebastian Reservation after the chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. William K. Sebastian. He got the money he needed along with the title of Superintendant for Indian Affairs of California and Nevada. The reservations were supposed to be located on federal public lands but Beale located the Sebastian on a Mexican land grant, the Rancho el Tej—n. i.e. private land. A government Land Commission was investigating the validity of all Mexican land grants; those found to be invalid would become public land. Beale was taking advantage of the rancho not having clear title.
Operations began in 1853. By mid-1854, an estimated 400 Indians lived at the reservation ; by mid-1856, the population nearly 700.
them were approximately 67 Yowlumne, led
there by Emeterio. They joined other residents
in growing corn and wheat on common reservation land
plus other crops such as beans and melons on their
own garden plots. (Phillips, 2004: 126-126,
170-172) Some of the headmen of other tribes,
like Emeterio, had once been at Spanish missions and
were already familiar with farming, digging ditches
for irrigation, building adobe houses, caring for
In 1863, a change of events began which would have serious implications for the future of the Sebastian Reservation.
In 1863, the Land Commission confirmed the Rancho El Tejon landgrant to Ignacio del Valle and Josˇ Antonio Aguirre. This meant the reservation was squarely on private, not public land as it should have been.
In early 1864 Congress closed the Sebastian reservation and later in the year also shut down nearby Fort Tejon.
In 1865, Edward F. Beale bought Rancho Tejon from the Mexican grantees, del Valle and Aguirre.
In 1866, Beale also bought Rancho Castac, on which Fort Tejon was located. (" Fort Tejon State Historic Park:" 2007) What did the future hold for the Indians of Sebastian Reservation?
year or so earlier, when it was apparent the Tejon
land grant might be upheld, one Sebastian subagent
declared it would be only right for the federal
government to honor the spirit of 1851 treaties by
purchasing land for the Indians. His
superintendent was not interested -- and neither was
Beale, the land's new owner.
One might think Beale would not wish to disturb the reservation he himself had established. Perhaps he would give the land to the federal government or perhaps he would sell it to the federal government. He wished neither. The land was well watered and fertile and he planned to hold on to it.
He would rent or lease land to the government but only as a favor. This was now his private land ; neither the Indians nor the U.S. government had a claim. (Ironically, Mexican law would have been far more liberal toward the Indians; the terms of the original Rancho El Tejon grant of 1843 included the passage: "They [the grantees] must not prevent the cultivation and other benefits the Indians have established in the place." (Frank and Goldberg, 2010: 32)
While some of the Sebastian Indians were the original peoples who had always lived on Tejon Creek, many were valley peoples whom Beale had lured to the reservation only a short time before, like the Yowlumne. Beale now stated he would not demand the Indians leave his land -- but he would prefer it. (Phillips, 2004 . 247).
The improvements (buildings, cultivated fields, orchards, irrigation ditches, etc.) they had made on the land were now his as were the land and buildings at Fort Tejon. Moreover, reservation cattle now became his. The present 270,00 acre Tejon Ranch was formed by Beale from four Mexican land grants: Ranchos La Liebre (1855) ,El Tejon and Los Alamos y Agua Caliente (1865), and Castac ( 1866).
Beale was well on his way to becoming one of California's greatest land barons whereas the Indians on Sebastian were either homeless unless they either stayed as Mr. Beale's employees or let themselves be uprooted again and be moved to the Tule River Reservation.
Three hundred families chose to remain on the ranch (Phillips, 2004: 250) where they worked as vaqueros, sheep herders, sheep shearers, etc.
Two hundred people chose to leave the Sebastian Reservation for the Tule River Reservation ( Five Views, n.d.), near Porterville ; the land there was on traditional Yowlumne and Koyeti Yokuts territory, which may have been comforting. (Frank & Goldberg, 2010: 31)
In 1873, the reservation was moved to its present location in the Sierra foothills. As time went on, the population of the Tule River Reservation became a mixture of tribes: Yowlumne, Koyeti and Tachi Yokuts, Paiutes from the Owens Valley, Western Mono, Tubatulabal and others. Each group had its own language but the Yowlumne language became the lingua franca, understood by all. (Wallace, 460) Continued strength of Yowlumne culture was evident in the continuance of the hereditary office of winatun (chief's messenger) for several generations. (Frank & Goldberg, 2010: 172) As late as 1949, three full-blooded Yowlumne were still alive, according to Frank Latta. (280)
In 1934, the federal government reorganized the reservation population into a single, federally recognized tribe, the Tule River Indian Tribe. The various individual groups of Yokuts, Western Mono, etc. gave up their old tribal identities officially-- but today a cultural revival is underway, funded by casino revenues. Classes are being taught in the in Yowlumne language and other traditional folkways. (Frank & Goldberg, 2010: 190, 252)
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September 23, 2013
© Sasha Honig