by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The very interesting and detailed information found in reports published with the annual message of President Franklin Pierce in December 1853 for the House of Representatives and one of which is in the Homestead’s collection, includes some remarkable material about California’s native aboriginal Indians.
As introduced in the first part of this post yesterday, Pierce’s predecessor, Millard Fillmore, appointed former Army officer Edward F. Beale to be the first Superintendent for Indian Affairs in California, replacing more localized agents in the new state. Additionally, Beale was charged with establishing five reservations for about 100,000 natives as California was experiencing high levels of immigration during the height of the Gold Rush. This was under the terms of an appropriations bill passed in March 1853.
Beale headed west from Washington and traveled overland before arriving in Los Angeles that summer where he wrote George Washington Manypenny, head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs about two weeks later about the early stages of his work, including meeting with Benjamin D. Wilson, who came to California with John Rowland, William Workman and others a dozen years prior and who’d been one of the three local agent. Wilson, though replaced by Beale, agreed to help for several months in whatever was needed for the new superintendent to do this work.
We pick up the thread with a 30 September 1853 missive from Beale to Manypenny. In it, he said he left Los Angeles on 30 August and arrived at Tejon Pass, what we now know generally as the Grapevine, a few days later. There, he wrote, he found the local Indians busily at work on farming, an occupation not traditionally done by them but considered essential by whites for integration into American society and for the natives’ survival.
Collecting, he continued, the chiefs and other natives of responsibility in the tribes living in much of the Central Valley (an area he calculated as 115 miles in length and breadth), he had meetings over two days near what became Visalia and informed Manypenny that the Indians agreed to his proposition, namely:
The government should commence with a system of farming and instruction, which should enable them in a few years to support themselves by the produce of their own labor . . . [and] would furnish them with seed of all kinds, and with provisions sufficient to enable them to live until the produce of their own labor should be sufficient to support them. I pointed out to them the impossibility of their remaining any longer a barrier to the rapid development of the State, and of the necessity which existed that they should leave their old homes in the mountains, and settle at some other point where the government would be able to watch over and protect them from the whites, as well as the whites from them.
This extraordinary statement as followed by an admonition that these natives should follow the example of those at the Tejon, much of which then was within Los Angeles County, and their success at farming. While Beale claimed that there was no problem with the aspect of farming and government assistance, there was one major issue and hardly a surprise. That is, “this was their disinclination to leave their old homes and hunting-grounds and to settle so far away from them.” Beale wrote that he assured the Indians that the new reservation would be close to where the council was being held and that this pacified them.
He added that he consulted with Wilson “on whose experience I placed great reliance,” and three Army officers working on surveys for the proposed transcontinental railroad that was finally completed sixteen years later, to locate a suitable site for these natives. The officers were Lt. John G. Parke of the Army’s Corps of Engineers, Lt. Robert S. Williamson an engineer with the Topographical Corps, and Lt. George Stoneman of the Army Dragoons, the latter became a noted Civil War general and later an orchardist in the San Gabriel Valley and a California governor.
In a 4 September letter from the trio to Beale, added to the published reports, they noted that the Four Creeks area was too heavily populated by Americans, so they recommended an area further south between Tejon and the Kern River. This was an area “the most remote from white settlements that can be selected,” avoided the deserts to the east beyond Tehachapi Pass, and was not desired by miners. So, the area in and around Tejon Pass was “by far the most preferable location of any we have seen.”
The officers also agreed that a military post in the pass was wanted for the protection of both natives and whites. The three added that, while it was possible, to relocate Central Valley natives east of the Sierra Nevadas, the weather was too cold in the winter and the soil very difficult to farm compared to the southern extremity of the Central Valley. Additionally, a military installation in eastern California would be far more expensive to maintain.
Beale added, in his late September missive to Manypenny, that the area he’d selected was said to be a Spanish (or Mexican) land grant, but that there were no settlers or evidence of settlement on it. He added that he went ahead and began operations before Congress would act to buy the property, noting that it was virtually impossible to find good land that was either no subject to a pre-American grant or a pre-emption under an 1841 American law.
In addition, he stated that there was no suitable land (well-watered, fertile soil, good timber and near mountains) anywhere from Tejon south to the Mexican border that could be used for a reservation. He added that the proximity to mountains was, despite what he said earlier, “it is not to be supposed, that the habits of a race who have been for ages accustomed to a certain mode of life can be suddenly and entirely changed.”
But, because of the Gold Rush and the population explosion in the north, it was necessary that the Indians of that section be relocated to more thinly populated south, which had little or no mineral resources in comparison. The only other option for a reservation in the south was to acquire a land grant—these, however, being subject to adjudication in the land claims proceedings which were still in their early stages.
After insisting that his “small experiment” of overseeing farmers in the Tejon area was applicable to the larger population of natives from the entirety of the state, Beale felt that, beyond the original $250,000 appropriation, another half million dollars would be required to implement his plan, which he’d previously indicated would take about five years to implement.
In a third letter to Manypenny, dated 10 October, Beale talked about a plan to move 500 Indians from the Feather River area north of Sacramento to Tejon, providing a cost estimate of $125,000, half of the original appropriation from Congress, but for only a tiny fraction of the 100,000 natives in the state. He proposed resettling this small number to the reservation nearly 400 miles away because “to attempt any removal on a large scale during this season would be unwise and impolitic.”
There was also a missive from Beale to a pair of California’s representatives in Congress, Senator William H. Gwin and House member Milton Latham, in which the superintendent stated that he’d “met with great and unexpected difficulties” and asked for support for his work from the two men. He repeated that there was no decent land south of Stockton that wasn’t tied up in a pre-American grant to pre-emption and asked if he could buy land before Congressional approval with the sanction of Gwin and Latham. The two men, through Gwin, agreed to Beale’s proposal.
The other senator from California, John B. Weller, sent a separate letter on 2 October, lamenting that the plan specified in the March act, which was the only way “for preserving the Indians of this State from destruction” could not be carried out because
unless they can be gathered together, and placed under military protection, we shall have a bloody war, which will result in the extermination of the race. The Indians should be withdrawn as much as possible from the white population, and taught to rely upon their own labor and industry for their support.
While offering his warm support for Beale’s efforts, Weller, who would later be governor, was clear in saying he opposed reservations as large as called for in the law. This was because 125,000 acres for five reservations would take land away for agriculture, which was to be, in the senator’s view, the backbone of the state’s economy. Weller preferred reservations of 8,000 acres each for 5,000 natives, this number being “as many as you can assemble or settle upon any of your reservations.”
Weller did agree that Beale should find lands under the claims process and that, once the claim was adjudicated, then compensation by the federal government to the claimants provided. He concluded by warning, “these reservations should be made so as [to] interfere as little as possible with the settlements which have been made by our [white] people.”
Congress member John A. McDougal, a future senator, sent his views to Beale on 14 October. He, also, acknowledged Beale’s travails and agreed with his plans. He expressed confidence in the superintendent’s knowledge and abilities and “your entire devotion to the duties of your office and the public interests.” He, “with great pleasure,” offered Beale to “lend my aid to carry out such course as you indicate.”
On 18 November, Manypenny replied to three of Beale’s communications and stated that one was not received. He was brusque in stating that the appropriations specified in the March law were clear in their application and amounts and “it is not therefore within the province of this office to direct otherwise.”
Directly and bluntly addressing Beale’s predilection for action outside the bounds of his commission after the passage of the law and his appointment as superintendent, Manypenny cautioned that “if the wants and necessities of the Indians will not admit of their being colonized or concentrated upon a less number than five reservations” or fewer than 25,000 acres for each as called for in the legislation
it would seem prudent that you should postpone for the present all action touching the practical operations of the “plan” and await further legislation on the part of Congress. Under no circumstances can the department sanction the purchase of any lands or claims laid thereto for the purposes indicated.
The commissioner concluded by reminding Beale that, despite the fact that “you cannot too highly estimate the importance of placing your ‘plan’ in successful operation,” Beale was to continue “conforming your action in all respects to the requirement of the law and your instructions on the subject.”
The reports then ended and are representative of what was so tragic and problematic with the federal government’s policies and actions in dealing with the native peoples of California. Legislation approved in far-away Washington and the on-the-ground operations of Beale clearly show the disconnect.
Beyond that, the general policy of removal, as was the case elsewhere in the country, was entirely based on the premise that the natives could simply be moved elsewhere. While Beale acknowledged this problem, he also advocated a plan that sounded very similar to that of the Spanish missions: five years and $750,000 to resettle and train the Indians to be farmers more in accordance with American standards.
In later years, Beale pressed ahead with the Tejon reservation and Fort Tejon was built as recommended. His tenure as superintendent ended in 1856 and he became a brigadier general in the state militia, which allowed him to negotiate treaties with tribes. The next year, President Buchanan appointed Beale to survey a wagon road from New Mexico to the Colorado River and a camel corps was initiated as part of the Beale Wagon Road project—this being an unusual element of military history in the American West.
Under President Lincoln, in 1861, Beale secured another federal appointment as surveyor general for California and, when Fort Tejon was shuttered in 1864, Beale acquired the property and the surrounding Rancho El Tejon, part owned by Jonathan Temple from 1857. Tejon with three other ranchos (Castec, La Liebre and Los Alamos) were joined to create a massive property owned by Beale and partner Robert S. Baker.
Later, Beale returned to his hometown of Washington and served as ambassador to Austria-Hungary during the Grant administration. He retained his ownership of Tejon and made regular visits. In addition, he had interests in what became Santa Monica, where a proposed town before that coastal settlement was established was to be named for Beale’s son Truxtun.
Beale’s partner, Baker, meanwhile, married Arcadia Bandini de Stearns, the widow of the prominent early American resident of Los Angeles, Abel Stearns. The Baker Block was built where Stearns’ adobe once stood on Main Street, where the 101 Freeway runs today, in Los Angeles and Baker built the Hotel Arcadia, a landmark of long standing in Santa Monica.
Finally, in 1872, Beale and Baker acquired 5,000 acres of Rancho La Puente from William Workman and Peregrine Fitzhugh, who acquired that land from Workman three years before but decided to sell it in conjunction with Workman. This property, located in what is now portions of Walnut and West Covina, was used as grazing land by Beale and Baker until the 1890s and as sold after Beale died in 1893 and Baker the following year.