“We Think It Is Ours, For God Gave It To Us First”: A Report on the “Mission Indians, State of California,’ 18 August 1888, Part Three

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As we conclude this post on the remarkable report on the Mission Indians of California, covering tribal groups in southeastern California from San Gorgonio Pass, near Palm Springs, to north of San Diego and mainly concerning the work of Helen Hunt Jackson, the famous author of the novel Ramona, and Los Angeles capitalist and developer Abbot Kinney, best known for his founding of the seaside community of Venice, we’ll look at the numerous exhibits filed with their report and concerning these tribes.

First were the “Saboba,” or Soboba, Indians, who were identified of being a subset of the larger Serrano tribe, and with a population of 157 persons residing at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains in the valley of that name. These natives resided in a village on the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, one of four ranches in the area formerly part of the Mission San Luis Rey in modern Oceanside and granted to members of the Estudillo family of San Diego.

Notably, F.P.F. Temple was a partner in a sawmill project on this rancho just before the collapse and failure of his Temple and Workman bank in 1876 and, a half century later, his son Walter, enjoyed spending vacations at the Soboba Hot Springs resort on the reservation allotted to the natives there.


In 1883, Jackson and Kinney noted that “the Saboba village occupies about 200 acres” on lands owned by M.R. Byrnes of San Bernardino “who proposed to eject the Indians unless the United States Government will buy his whole tract of 700 acres at an exorbitant price.” It was added that the natives “have lived in the place for over a hundred years. They have adobe houses, fenced fields and orchards, and irrigating ditches . . . [and] a never-failing spring” and it was noted surveys for the rancho did not account for their village, which was vulnerable to the fact that “in a country where water is gold” such a parcel could not “be left long in the undisturbed possession of Indians.” The natives were farmers, sheep shearers and wine-makers and were “industrious and peaceable.”

In discussing the heroic work of a white woman teacher from Pennsylvania in the Saboba school, the authors provided transcriptions of two letters from students. Ramon Cavavi, writing to the president, who, in 1883, was Chester A. Arthur (hardly one of our better-known chief executives!), stated

the white people call San Jacinto Rancho their land, and I don’t wan’t them to do it. We think it is ours, for God gave it to us first . . . Will you not come to San Jacinto some time to see us, the school and the people of Saboba village? Many of the people are sick and some have died. We are so poor that we have not enough food for the sick, and sometimes I am afraid that we are all going to die.”

Antonio Leon wrote to Jackson about the “American people that want to drive us away from our own village of Saboba.” While he noted that the teacher said she was sorry about what was happening, she told her student that a new good home would be found for them. This led him to tell Jackson, “it is a very good town for the people. They have all the work done on their gardens . . . my work is very nicely done also.”


The novelist added that the natives “are greatly dispirited and disheartened at the prospect of being driven out of their homes and quoted the chief (she called him a “captain”) as saying “we would rather die right here than move.” Jackson cited the exhibit submitted by Los Angeles attorneys Anson Brunson and G. Wiley Wells, and discussed in the last post, about the undisputed legal rights of the Soboba people.

Additionally, there were two smaller communities nearby left out of the San Jacinto survey, inluding one in Indian Canyon and another unnamed, both of which had excellent water sources through a spring, in the first instance, and a stream in the other. Wheat, apricots and grapes were raised in these places and she noted that “we wrote to the Department [of the Interior] immediately, recommending its being set aside for Indians’ use.”

The Cahuillas were the subject to the third exhibit and they resided 40 miles from the Soboba, “high up among the peaks and spurs of the San Jacinto Mountains, a wild, barren, inaccessible spot” and where the village “was one of the most interesting that we visited.” The people there were “a clear-headed, more individual and independent people than any other we say,” attributed to their past qualities as warfaring and powerful, as well as their isolation in the upper elevations of that range.


It was noted that “there is no white settlement within 10 miles, there being comparatively little to tempt white men into the mountain fastnesses.” Up to 200 residents had adobe houses with reed-thatched roofs (a few had shingled roofs), “and one has the luxury of a floor,” while raising stock was the principal occupation, along with sixteen farm plots with wheat, barley, corn, squash and watermelon, though there would have been more but for a lack of plows. The “curious outdoor granaries” comprised of “huge baskets of twisted and woven twigs” were on poles.

Stating that the women were well-dressed and the children particularly so, it was added that the Cahuilla’s faces “had an animation and look of intellectual keenness very uncommon among the Southern California Indians.” Again, the indigenous were not aware of surveyed lines of ranches in their reservation, but investigation found that the village and the spring on which it relied were outside the boundaries. While most of the land was considered barren and worthless, “the Cahuillas, however, are satisfied with it. They love the country and would not exchange it for fertile valleys below.” They wanted specificity on what denoted their land from those of whites and asked for agricultural materials for their farms.

A story was related in which a pair of Latinos named Machado built an adobe, which was supposed to be the property of the Cahuilla when they left, but Anglos later claimed it, while some natives “journeyed to Los Angeles to find out” the ownership and were told that one claimant did not own the house and land as averred. Also told was the tragedy of the killing of the native Juan Diego by Sam Temple (no relation to the Temples of Los Angeles) over a horse that Temple claimed the Indian stole from him, though it was almost certainly accidental as the native left his own animal at Temple’s place. Moreover, Temple’s self-defense claim was accepted without interviewing Indians and it was generally agreed that no white man could be tried in court on only native testimony.


There was also a description of the school, with some fifty students, with it noted that the white woman who taught and lived there also served when “the Indians come to her with every perplexity and trouble; call on her for nursing when they are ill; for food when they are destitute.” Again, the natives were praised for having “good brains, [and] are keen, quick, and persevering” with the children advancing quicker than white children would inthe two years since the school operned. Moreover, the living quarters for the widowed teacher and her daughter were such that a storm the prior winter forced the pair to shovel snow out of their dwelling all night.

The fourth exhibit was on the indigenous people at Warner’s Ranch, with two land grants to Jonathan Trumbull “Juan José” Warner totaling some 45,000 acres, but “the whole property is now in the possession of Governor Downey, of Los Angeles,” this being John G. Downey, a druggist, real estate speculator and Republican governor of the state during the Civil War. Yet, it was stated that “there are said to be several conflicting claims yet unsettled.” Five native villages of Luiseños and Diegueños were there, though Agua Caliente was the largest and “has long been the most flourishing” and was a reservation until a presidential executive order of 1875 for 1,120 acres rescinded that designation five years later because the patent for one of the ranches was issued and it was unclear if the village was within the bounds. The chief held other documents attesting to the Indians’ right to their lands, but it was stated “it is not to be wondered at that these Agua Caliente Indians find it difficult to-day to put any faith in white men’s promises.”

While it was added that “the Indians have been in constant anxiety and terror” about their future, the exhibit noted, “Governor Downey has been considerate and humane in his course toward then [them], and towards all the Indians on his estate,” as was his superintendent. Still, the concern that eviction could come at any time filled the Indians with dread, even as they made industrious use of the land they occupied, including renting out their adobe dwellings to those seeking the curative effects of the hot mineral springs. Further discussion concerned stock raising and agriculture and the native school, with a German woman having a piano and she and her charges singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” even as the children were “unaware how little applicable to their own situation was its strains of exultant joy and freedom.”


Finally, Jackson and Kinney related a story of how a native named Domingo had a fenced wheat field of 50 acres, but an Italian ordered his sheepherder to break the fence and let his animals graze, destroying the entire crop. After much effort, the authors managed to secure an order for two white men to inspect the field and recommend damages (a mere 10% of what was expected), though at least Jackson and Kinney received a letter from the Italian reporting he’d reached a settlement with Domingo. Without their intervention, however, “the Indian would never have recovered a cent” and “this is by no means an exceptional instance.”

For the San Ysidro Indians, a tribe of some 75 Luiseños, the writers encountered their captain, Pablo, in Los Angeles, where the federal court commissioner, Henry T. Lee, possessed a “kindness and humane sympathy in dealing with all Indian matters” for which he deserved high praise. Pablo walked three days to get to the Angel City to plead for his people after Chatham Helm squatted on their lands including some of their cultivated fields and water supply, shot a native in purported “self-defense” and was followed by Armin Cloos, another “homesteader” who sold his claim to widow Pamela Hagar, who did not realize the questionable status of the property. Cloos’ filing was held invalid and Helm’s patent was reversed with he moving to Downey, the former governor’s city, where he died in 1905.

In the section on the Los Coyotes Indians, five miles from San Ysidro, Bill Fain was another white squatter and Jackson and Kinney attempted to intercede on the behalf of this band of about 85 natives who were “living in a mountain fastness which they so long they would rather die than leave it, but where the ordinary agencies and influences of civilization will never reach, no matter how thikcly settled the regions below may come.” Still, these indigenous people were regarded as “robust, active, and finely made, more nearly in the native health and strength of the race than any other band in the country.”


At Santa Ysabel Ranch, which was recommended for purchase as a reservation as noted in yesterday’s part, there were 171 natives who were quite poor, living in tule houses, with meager clothing. Yet, a young man “elected as general over the Diegueños” spoke to Jackson and Kinney and “was full of interest and inquiry and enthusiasm about his people,” saying to them (with a vernacular that may not have been entirely reflective of his speech):

I want make all my people like American people. How I find out American laws? When white man lose cow, lose pig, they come here with pistol and say we must find or give up man that stole. How we know? Is that American law? We all alone out here. We got nobody show us. Heap things I want ask about. I make all my people work. We can’t work like American people; we ain’t got work with; we ain’t got wagon, harness; three old broked plows for all these people. What we want, some man right here to go to. While you here white man very good; when you go away trouble same as before.

Similar stories were said about Mesa Grande, 15 miles west of Santa Ysabel, where whites settled and squatted on all the good land formerly occupied by the indigenous people and conflict with these “homesteaders” were not resolved by indifferent or hostile local officials. Moreover, a so-called “protective league” was nothing more than a thinly disguised vigilance committee, hunting down natives. Capitan Grande, 35 miles from San Diego, was populated by natives removed from that pueblo in 1853, but, again, whites came to settle and the village not properly accounted for in surveys and the indigenous population was perhaps 30% of what it had been because of the intrusions. Affidavits from a native, Catholic priest and an American were filed to support the Indian claims to this area.


Further west and north, there was Pala, a beautiful location, but with most good land taken by whites, while the nearby Rincon, with 200 residents, “is better” with its fenced and well-irrigated fields of grains and vegetables, stock ranches with cattle, sheep and horses, and more. Interestingly, there was mention made of “a half-breed, Andrew Scott, who claims some of the Indians’ fields, and cuts off part of their water supply,” while purportedly selling whisky to the natives “and in this and ohter ways doing them great harm.” Also close by is Pauma, also suggested for purchase and which was rented so that “the Indians are much interfered with.”

North of Pala the “Pachanga” [Pechanga] Indians were “worthy of a special mention” as these Luiseños previously resided at Temecula where “they had good adobe houses and a large tract of land under cultivation.” In the 1851 conflict, the Pechanga “refused to join in it and moved their families and stock to Los Angeles for protection” with their chief Pablo Apis “a man of some education, [and who] could read and write, and possessed large herds of cattle nad horses.” They returned and received a tract at Temecula by an 1853 treaty, but twenty years later, these “most thrifty and industrious Indians in all California,” according to the San Diego Union, were ejected, with some going 3 miles south to Pechanga Canyon, where:

Our first thought on entering it [in July 1882] was, would that all persons who still hold to the belief that Indians will not work could see this valley. It would be hardly an extreme statement to say that the valley was one continuous field of grain . . . the whole expression of the place had changed; so great a stimulus had there been to the Indians in even the slight additional sense of security given by the Executive order setting off their valley as a reservation.

Notably, Jackson and Kinney reported that, in securing their new lands “they were counseled to this, and assisted in it by Richard Eagan [Egan], of San Juan Capistrano, well known as a good friend of the Indians.”


The “Desert Indians” were mainly Cahuillas “and are all under the control of an aged [perhaps about a century old] chief named Cabezon, who is said to have more power and influence than any Indian now living in California.” A reservation, Agua Caliente, covered some 60,000 acres near modern Palm Springs, though “this is all barren, desert land, with only one spring in it” and the people “are wretchedly poor, and need help perhaps more than any others in southern California.” The authors did not visit the reservation, but a former Indian agent, identified as “J.G. Stanley,” but who was actually long-time Los Angeles resident, John Quincy Adams Stanley, sent a lengthy letter to Jackson.

Stanley’s remarks first concerned some issues with the existing agent’s lack of engagement with the Cahuillas and that “Juan Morengo [Morongo],” an interpreter, took advantage of timber sales to a railroad company involving the “invaluable” mesquite, without which “the valley would be an absolute desert” because of its food sources, in addition to its use for fires and timber. Stanley urged that a reservation be set aside for them, especially because “there are spots in it . . . where wheat, corn, melons and other farm products can be grown” because of some underground water.

Los Angeles Herald, 22 March 1884.

He continued that here were eight rancherias, or villages, all acknowledging Cabezon (who died in 1884, reputedly at age 103) as their chief, and with a total population of 560 persons. None of these natives were associated with the missions and “believe in spirits and witchcraft” but that they “are very anxious to have school established amongst them, and are willing to all live in one village if a suitable place can be selected.”

Nearby was San Gorgonio, “the only reservation of any size or value in southern California” and near which “a small white settlement, called Banning,” after Phineas Banning, the father of Wilmington at the port of Los Angeles, and who had a freighting line that operated through San Gorgonio Pass on its way to and from the Angel City and Yuma, “lies in this district.” Seven Banning residents wrote to Jackson and Kinney to state that “no Indian has within the memory of man resided in this township” and it was added that “to intersperse Indians between white settlers . . . would not be conducive to the well-being of the Indians, and would result in a depreciation of our property alike needless and disastrous.” These representatives of 250 whites requested a hearing “when we can reply to any interrogatories you may be pleased to make.”


Jackson and Kinney noted that, with “an expenditure of from $30,000 to $40,000 this reservation could be rounded out and put into readiness for Indians” and that it was paramount that water rights be reserved because “without irrigation [an area of interest and expertise for Kinney] the greater portion of the land is worthless.” Yet, there was another major problem: “the Indians for the most part have an exceeding dislike to the region, and will never go there voluntarily; perhaps ony by force.” There were also alternate sections of land held by railroads and the reservation which “will surely lead to troubles in the future between the white settlers and the Indians.” While these were formidable obstacles, “it is the only large lock of land the Government has left available for the purpose of Indian occupancy.”

This report is a remarkable one because of the relatively enlightened attitude and stance of Helen Hunt Jackson and Abbot Kinney (as well as Stanley and a few others of note) at a time when most people were outright hostile and unconcerned with the plight and future of the remaining indigenous people of southern California. While reservations were created in some of these places, the conditions were, of course, generally very poor and support from the federal government meager and insufficient at best. In 1903, the Cupeño “removal” from the Warner Springs area to Pala further showed that natives could not trust in the agreements made to them—this, obviously, was the case all over the United States when it came to native peoples and their ancestral homelands.

Los Angeles Mirror, 22 August 1885.

Not long after the report she wrote with Kinney was finished, Jackson authored A Century of Dishonor under the initials “H.H.” and it was lauded as the first significant analysis of federal policies regarding native peoples. Jackson, who died in August 1885, used the material from the report in the book that she hoped would do for recognition of the plight of the indigenous people what Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for awareness of the evils of slavery. Her work may have largely fallen on deaf political ears, but it remains a powerful document by a particularly salient voice on behalf of Indians in late 19th century America.

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