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1848-1850: Indian Unrest

There is a wonderful book all living in the San Joaquin Valley (and foothills) should own: Garden of the Sun, A History of the San Joaquin Valley: 1772-1939. The book is full of interesting events and people who made the history of this “garden of the sun.”Chapter 8, “Bullets, Ballots, and Tongue Lashings,” gives the reader insight into the Indian unrest in the period starting in 1848.

The United States had acquired California by treaty in 1848.

John C. Fremont arrived in the San Joaquin in May 1849, to become a permanent resident of his “Las Mariposas” ranch. He brought with him forty men, of whom the Indians killed six within a few weeks.

During the Mexican War, Fremont had enlisted in his battalion men of all nations. Company H…consisted of twenty-nine Tulare Indians and eleven Walla-Walla tribesmen. This company of forty men foraged for the other soldiers. They stole food, horses, cattle and equipment from the Spanish California ranchers. Their skill caused them to be nicknamed the “Forty Thieves.” One of the Tulare Indians was an important chief named Jose Juarez [aka Jose Jesus and Jose Jerez].

Indian unrest came because of a change of government with no immediate direction, and an influx of gold-seeking immigrants crowding the Indians.

Adam Johnston arrived in California on November 3, 1849, with instructions from the United states Government to study and direct Indian affairs in the interior valleys of California. While he was attempting to familiarize himself with conditions, James Savage had become a trader in the San Joaquin Valley. On October 29, 1850, a great celebration was held at San Francisco in honor of California’s admission to statehood.

Savage took Jose Juarez to these festivities in the hope of duly impressing the chief with the white man’s power and numbers. Heavily armed soldiers, sailors and marines passed in review. A gorgeous pageant moved past. But the chief remained impassive. The booming of cannon produced not a quiver. During much of the time Jose Juarez was in a drunken stupor and the attempts of Savage to control him and his appetite aroused his resentment.

In an attempt to ward off an Indian uprising against the gold seekers, an Indian council was held at Savage’s trading post along the Fresno River. Savage appeared to have the most influence with the Yokuts (the Tulare, Chowchilla and Chukchansi tribes, among others) and Miwoks.

Jose Juarez, Jose Rey, of the Chowchilla Indians, and Vowchester were among the chiefs present. War seemed imminent and Savage called upon Jose Juarez to tell the Indians concerning the great things he had seen and heard on his recent visit to San Francisco.

The resulting speech by Juarez was not to Savage’s liking as Juarez assured his people that the soldiers would not protect the gold seekers. Savage rebuked the chief assuring all that…the white men are all brothers, all of one tribe, and…will come and fight against the Indians.

Jose Rey, an able and dignified chieftain…then spoke eloquently in favor of war: “This is our country; why do the Americans come here? They are good and brave, but they come upon the lands of my people. What do they intend to do? I want to know, and I must know RIGHT NOW! Heretofore my people did not permit any stranger to pass over our country or stop in it, except Mr. Savage—he made us many presents. If you will make us presents, too, you may remain in our country awhile.”

His audience was composed of a few while men including Adam Johnston, the newly appointed Indian Agent for the San Joaquin Valley. This speech was similar to those made on other occasions during previous decades by King Philip, Little Turtle, Logan the Mingo, Red Jacket, Tecumseh, Black Hawk and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. In each case a defeated and broken race was to meet the same tragic fate.

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