Skip to content

Reservations, Removal, and Reform: The Mission Indian Agents of Southern California, 1878-1903

in stock, ready to be shipped
Original price $36.95 - Original price $36.95
Original price $36.95
$51.99 - $51.99
Current price $51.99
Inseparable from the history of the Indians of Southern California is the role of the Indian agent—a government functionary whose chief duty was, according to the Office of Indian Affairs, to “induce his Indian to labor in civilized pursuits.” Offering a portrait of the Mission Indian agents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Reservations, Removal, and Reform reveals how individual agents interpreted this charge, and how their actions and attitudes affected the lives of the Mission Indians of Southern California.

This book tells the story of the government agents, both special and regular, who served the Mission Indians from 1850 to 1903, with an emphasis on seven regular agents who served from 1878 to 1903. Relying on the agents’ reports and correspondence as well as newspaper articles and court records, authors Valerie Sherer Mathes and Phil Brigandi create a vivid picture of how each man—each a political appointee tasked with implementing ever-changing policies crafted in far-off Washington, D.C.—engaged with the issues and events confronting the Mission Indians, from land tenure and water rights to education, law enforcement, and health care.

Providing a balanced, comprehensive view of the world these agents temporarily inhabited and the people they were called to serve, Reservations, Removal, and Reform deepens and broadens our understanding of the lives and history of the Indians of Southern California.

ISBN-13: 9780806159997

Media Type: Hardcover(First Edition)

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 06-07-2018

Pages: 304

Product Dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Valerie Sherer Mathes, Professor Emerita of City College of San Francisco. Among the books she has authored or edited are Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Legacy and The Indian Reform Letters of Helen Hunt Jackson. Phil Brigandi was an independent scholar who specialized in the history of Southern California, especially Orange County, and for thirty years served as the historian for the Ramona Pageant.

Read an Excerpt



In accordance with instructions received, I have visited those portions of California in which these Indians live; have observed their present mode of life as compared with the past; have investigated carefully conflicts which have arisen between them and the whites respecting settlements on the public lands, and on private land-grants; ... have consulted white citizens whose contact in life with these Indians renders their experience valuable in attempting to devise plans for the benefit of the Indians, as well as also of the whites, ... and have, I trust, devised some plans by which, if approved and carried into effect, both the Indian and the white communities will be materially advanced, morally and physically, in their several and relative conditions.

— Charles A. Wetmore, Report (1875)

Beginning in the 1850s a steady stream of government special agents visited Southern California, all trying to answer the same question — what should be done about the Mission Indians? Charles A. Wetmore was one of the last, and like his predecessors he found mostly farmers and laborers, many living in adobe houses, and often practicing Catholics — a legacy of Franciscan missionary work dating back more than a century. Yet these peaceful people lived in fear. Their population was in decline, and their lands were continually subjected to encroachment by unscrupulous white settlers. What they needed, Wetmore and the other special agents reported back to Washington, were reservations to secure their homes and a regular government agent to look after their needs.

This chapter provides a brief overview of these early special agents — their tours of inspection, their interaction with various Indian leaders, and their recommendations, which ultimately led to the creation of the Mission Indian Agency and a reservation system for Southern California. It was a long, slow process, in part because the federal government's attention was often focused on more warlike tribes in the Southwest and on the Plains.

California passed from Mexican to American control with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, ending the Mexican-American War and marking a change in status for the region's Indians. While the Spanish and Mexican governments had viewed them as citizens, recognizing at least a possessory right to their lands, the new American government would deny them citizenship for generations, with little regard for their land rights. "[T]he location of an Indian family or families on land upon which a white man desires to settle is, in law, no more a bar to such settlement than would be the presence of a stray sheep or cow," the register of the General Land Office in Los Angeles told one special agent in 1873.

In Northern California meanwhile, gold had been discovered within weeks of the treaty's signing, dramatically changing the lives of the Indians in Northern California. Gold seekers rushed in from around the world, many of whom viewed local natives as simply an impediment to their search for wealth. "Extermination was embraced as one sure way of eliminating those obstacles," whether in a mineral or agricultural context, writes historian James Rawls. Indian lands were overrun, crops trampled, scarce water supplies diverted, and occupants driven from their homes. As the Indian population plummeted due to disease, armed attacks, and starvation, the white population soared.

Southern California's Indians were spared much of this horror. Those who lived along the major overland trails served as guides to help miners cross the Colorado River, or sold foodstuffs, or even took in laundry. Some of the forty-niners, however, took what they wanted by force and allowed their livestock to break down Indian fences and overrun their cultivated fields. Their diaries are often full of negative comments about the "wild" Indians they met on the desert, although they tended to be kinder toward the villagers who had adopted a more European-style way of life, commenting on their adobe homes, farming activities, and civilized dress.

While these Mission Indians (as they came to be called) were stripped of the few legal rights they had enjoyed under Mexican rule, they were still sometimes expected to meet the responsibilities of the citizenship they were denied, including payment of property taxes. Indian stock was often forcibly taken in lieu of payment, an issue that led to open revolt in San Diego County in late 1851, when Cupeño leader Antonio Garra attempted to unite several tribes to drive out the interlopers. American soldiers and volunteer militiamen marched against the insurgents, and tribal leaders turned on one another to settle old scores or curry favor with their new American rulers. The Garra Uprising was brief and unsuccessful but left a lingering fear among the new settlers that lasted decades.

By 1852 three federal commissioners were already negotiating eighteen treaties with 139 Indian tribes and villages up and down the state. Even before Antonio Garra was executed by a military firing squad, one of the commissioners had met with nearly fifty Southern California tribal leaders at Temecula and Santa Ysabel, where they signed treaties of "Peace and Friendship" recognizing federal authority. Among those who "made their mark" on these treaties were some of the most prominent tribal leaders of the day, including Cahuilla leaders Juan Antonio, who had captured Garra and turned him over to the Americans, "Old" Chief Cabezon from the Coachella Valley, and Juan Bautista from the Cahuilla Valley. Victoriano, the longtime leader at Soboba, signed, as did José Panto of San Pasqual. Other Luiseño leaders came from Pala, Pauma, La Jolla, and Aguanga, as did Kumeyaay headmen from Santa Ysabel, San Dieguito, Sycuan, Jacumba, San Felipe, and even as far away as Vallecito, on the desert.

All eighteen treaties were similar. Indian groups agreed to live on reservations (some 7,488,000 acres' worth), to refrain from fighting with other tribes and local whites in return for food, tools, and livestock, and to accept instruction from teachers, farmers, and carpenters in the ways of the dominant white society. Like federal treaties with eastern tribes, these treaties divested the Indians of much of their land and attempted to convert them into productive, self-sufficient farmers under government control.

American settlers and the California congressional delegation opposed the creation of reservations, claiming they gave away half of the state's mineral and agricultural lands, although in fact, especially in Southern California, the lands were mostly barren and sterile, unfit for farming. Governor John McDougal, who viewed the Indians as a "source of much annoyance," even recommended their relocation out of state, reminiscent of the relocation of eastern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi. Following the lead of the state's congressional delegation, the U.S. Senate in June 1852 rejected the treaties. Because of their potential value as a labor force, however, the Indians were allowed to remain in California.

To regulate Indian affairs, Congress in March 1852 created the California Superintendency, headquartered in San Francisco. Naval Lieutenant Edward E. Beale was appointed as superintendent. Unlike the federal commissioners, who had proposed setting aside several million acres by formal treaties, Beale, inspired by the Franciscan mission system, proposed instead a handful of modest, temporary "military or government" reservations of about seventy-five thousand acres each, protected by a series of military posts. The Indians were invited to settle on these reservations but would not receive title to the land. Indian agents would take over the former role of the padres and teach agricultural and mechanical arts, with the end goal of making the Indians self-sustaining. Beale's "enthusiasm for the mission system may have been influenced by the views of Benjamin D. Wilson, his subagent for Indian affairs in southern California."

Benjamin D. Wilson

A native of Tennessee, Benjamin D. Wilson (1811–1878) came to California in 1841 and married Ramona Yorba, the daughter of a prominent Californio family. He soon joined the ranks of the California rancheros, serving as mayor of Los Angeles before his appointment in September 1852 as Indian subagent for Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties under Superintendent Beale. Wilson was always proud of his efforts on behalf of the Indians, including distributing food, clothing, and farming tools, but he is best remembered for his 1852 government report on the status of Southern California's Native peoples — a report largely ghost-written by Judge Benjamin Hayes, a longtime advocate for the local Indians.

At Wilson's recommendation, Beale appointed Cave J. Couts Sr. as subagent for San Diego County in 1853. Couts had come to California as a soldier in 1848 from his native Tennessee. Like Wilson, Couts married into a prominent Californio family, and he and his family lived at Rancho Guajome, only a few miles from what had been Mission San Luis Rey. Though charged with protecting the Indians, Couts was more often accused of mistreating and even killing both Indians and Mexicans. He resigned his position as subagent in 1856.

Other subagents were appointed to keep an eye on Indian affairs in San Diego County in the 1850s, including W. W. Harvey, rancher John Rains, who had connections at both Temecula and Warner's Ranch, and even Jonathan Trumbull Warner, one of the first American settlers in Southern California, whose San Diego County ranch was a central point in much of the Indian history of the area. As George Phillips notes, these "civilian subagents also implemented their own Indian policy. Appointed with no salary and little oversight, they sometimes engaged in extralegal, if not unethical activities." He describes Couts as one of the most controversial.

For the next several years government officials only occasionally visited the Mission Indians. In 1856 Capt. H. S. Burton, the U.S. Army commander at San Diego, met at Temecula with Juan Antonio, who complained that settlers were already moving onto lands promised them by the 1852 treaties. "We wish the superintendent of Indians to visit us," Antonio informed Burton, "so he can see how we are living; we wish to tell him our wants. Why does he not come to see us as he does the Indians of the Tulare and the north? We want attention as much as they do." Antonio's request went unheeded. As the demands of the Civil War and later Reconstruction dominated the attention of the government, California Indian affairs received even less attention, and in 1873, the California Superintendency system was abolished.

John Quincy Adams Stanley

The condition of the Mission Indians continued to deteriorate as more settlers entered the state. Subagents and special agents were periodically appointed to visit their villages and advise the government on their condition. Because few California superintendents spent much time in Southern California, in the spring of 1865 several prominent citizens of Los Angeles County sent a petition to California Superintendent Austin Wiley, recommending that John Quincy Adams Stanley be appointed a special agent for the south. Stanley, a resident of the county since 1852, was politically active and generally well liked. Like Wilson and Judge Hayes, Stanley had an interest in Southern California's Native peoples, and like many Indians, he spoke Spanish.

In his March 1865 report, Stanley urged that the Mission Indians receive "protection from a vagabond and desperate set of white men and Mexicans, who go among them to sell whisky, and induce them to steal and rob for their benefit." Of more immediate concern, however, was the Indians' inability to feed themselves because of the drought of 1863 and 1864. Stanley strongly recommended that seeds be purchased and he even offered to distribute them, requesting only his expenses. Fortunately, in addition to twenty pounds of melon seeds, thirty pounds of pumpkin seeds, and three thousand pounds of corn and bean seeds, Superintendent Wiley also authorized the purchase of ploughs, harnesses, and hoes.

Aided by Special Agent W. E. Lovett, Stanley handed out a portion of the supplies on April 28 to some fifty Indians at Temecula to enable them to begin planting. Lovett, who praised his companion for the diligence and patience he exhibited as distributing agent, sent out runners with written orders to all the neighboring rancherias (villages) to assemble on May 4 at Temecula for a meeting and a wider distribution of seeds and agricultural implements. Temecula, Stanley explained in his report, was a principal Indian village, which little more than a decade earlier, under the watchful eye of Luiseño leader Pablo Apis, had been in "flourishing condition," cultivating a large tract of land and producing a surplus of wheat, corn, and beans. Apis himself had a personal land grant of some half a league. Since his death around 1853, unscrupulous whites had moved in, distributing whiskey, assaulting Indian women and luring them into prostitution, and forcing many Indian people into a virtual servitude. Without Pablo Apis's wise counsel, some of his heirs had already begun to mortgage their interest in his rancho. Now the Indians at Temecula were idle, neglecting their vineyards and peach and pear orchards, and letting their adobe homes fall into disrepair. The young had moved away to find work on neighboring ranches or in Los Angeles and San Bernardino, leaving behind only the elderly. What these people needed, concluded Stanley, was "a faithful and conscientious agent, who has the will and the power to protect them from the encroachments of the whites."

Stanley and Lovett then traveled to Warner's Ranch to visit the Cupeño village of Agua Caliente, or Warner Hot Springs, the best known of the five Indian villages on the forty-four-thousand-acre ranch granted to Jonathan Trumbull Warner by the Mexican government in 1844. (A Connecticut Yankee, Warner Hispanicized his name as Juan José (J. J.) Warner upon receiving Mexican citizenship.) At Agua Caliente, Stanley found the remnants of an extensive village, with the ruins of several large adobe homes as well as "a vineyard of perhaps a thousand grapevines, quite a number of pear and peach trees and other evidences that a large number of Indians had formerly occupied the place." Returning to Temecula, on May 1 Stanley rode over the mountains some ten miles down to the old mission outpost of San Antonio de Pala to visit with Manuelito Cota, who had been appointed "chief" of the Luiseño by Cave Couts in 1853.

Cota was a controversial figure, whose government-appointed leadership was not always accepted by local villagers. The illegitimate son of a Spanish soldier and an Indian girl from Mission San Luis Rey, he cooperated with the Americans but was never fully accepted by any side. In 1846 he was accused of complicity in the Pauma Massacre — the murder of a group of Mexican soldiers who were staying at the Rancho Pauma after their battle with American forces at San Pasqual. For much of the mid-nineteenth century he lived at Agua Tibia, above Pala. Stanley described him as "always truly faithful to the government," a temperate man who opposed liquor, and "an efficient and energetic administrator of the law," who had, however, become unpopular after one of the agents refused to sanction some of his decisions. Cota then resigned, moved to a thirty-acre parcel two miles from the Pala chapel, and was currently acting as a private individual. California Superintendent Charles Maltby, who accompanied Stanley on a later visit to Pala, believed much of the opposition to Cota was due to his anti-liquor stance and his efforts to stop the sale of Indian women into prostitution.

Stanley then returned to Temecula for what was to be the first "major multi-tribal conference with federal officials in the region" for more than a decade. Held on May 4 at Temecula, the gathering gave Stanley and Lovett not only the opportunity to distribute planting seeds and beef cattle, but time to listen to grievances and make an accurate count of the seventeen rancherias in attendance. Lovett's report on the gathering was critical of the treatment of the Mission Indians at the hands of whites, whom he described as vagabonds, often cohabiting with Indian women and fond of liquor. He praised the work of the Franciscan missionaries, noting that "under the mission system the Indians were far better cared for, and were much happier, more industrious, and less vicious than at present." He recalled that some fourteen hundred Indians attended, including "all of the San Luisena [sic], together with most of the Santa Ysabel and the San Diego Indians," and one hundred Cahuillas under Manuel Largo, who controlled most of the Mountain Cahuilla villages.


Excerpted from "Reservations Removal and Reform"
by .
Copyright © 2018 University of Oklahoma Press.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

Chapter 1 Superintendents and Special Agents, 1850-1877 3

Chapter 2 Setting the Stage: Samuel S. Lawson, 1878-1883 29

Chapter 3 The Need for Water: John G. McCallum, 1883-1885 53

Chapter 4 A Brief, Bitter Tenure: John Shirley Ward, 1885-1887 70

Chapter 5 A Show of Force: Joseph W. Preston, 1887-1889 85

Chapter 6 A Controversial Collector: Horatio Nelson Rust, 1889-1893 98

Chapter 7 A Troubled Tenure: Francisco Estudillo, 1893-1897 133

Chapter 8 The Continuing Struggle: Dr. Lucius A. Wright, 1897-1903 160

Epilogue 187

Notes 193

Bibliography 267

Index 281