The Indian Dispossessed/The Mission Indians

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

THE MISSION INDIANS

"This class of Indians seems forcibly to illustrate the truth that no man has a place or a fair chance to exist under the Government of the United States who has not a part in it." Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1874.

SOME half-dozen years before the birth of American Independence the Franciscan monks founded, under the protection of the Spanish Government, the first of the famous Indian Missions in what is now Southern California. These worldly-wise missionaries gradually extended their establishments northward, and in the memorable year 1776 they attained their northernmost point in the building of the Dolores Mission near the present city of San Francisco.

The sites of these old missions indicate clearly that while the Franciscans may have had first in mind the spiritual welfare of the native peoples, they were also adepts in the art of husbandry and in the selection of locations for the practice of it. Their system of Indian control points as well to a division of their thought between the welfare of their child-like charges and their own material prosperity. It is certain that under the direction of the Fathers many thousands of the Indians became Christians, learned the arts, and adopted the ways of civilization to an extent which raised them greatly above their nomadic kinsmen of the North. They lived in houses on the mission lands, which were at least considered as their permanent homes and descended along family lines much as in more highly organized communities. It is also certain that the carefully trained labor of the Indians was utilized by the shrewd monks to add a wealth of highly cultivated lands, produce, cattle, and sheep to their various missions. The title to the land seems to have generally, if not always, rested in the Fathers, while the valuable accumulation of chattels was held in a more or less modified communism, with the property rights greatly in favor of the Franciscans.

For fifty years the Franciscan missions flourished under the protection of Spain in a manner befitting an institution of such marked benefit to both the Indians and their instructors. If the labor were not altogether one of self-sacrifice, nothing less than a goodly endowment of religious zeal could have held these educated men in utter isolation among an unlettered, inferior people. As we look back upon the work of these men and view the stability of the old mission edifices which still stand in the most fertile spots in Southern California, justice, more than charity, compels the clear recognition of their devotion to the cause of Christianity as first, and above all else, with a material prosperity as incidental,—a prosperity justified, deserved, and shared liberally with their Indian wards. The frequent aspersions cast upon the motives of these first pioneers are largely due to the frivolous habit of begrudging all missionaries everything more than the barest means of existence, as though constant attendance upon want and hardship were a portion of their mission.

But with the independence of Mexico in 1822 came the undoing of the Franciscan missions. The Spanish governmental favor under which they had prospered for a half-century was lost to them; the Mexican attitude became one of distinct hostility. If this were to be a story of Mexican misrule it would call for more than the mere statement that within fifteen years the last of the Franciscan missions ceased as an organization of the Franciscan monks, but for our purpose the bare recital of fact suffices.

With the passing of the Franciscans the mission lands were in many cases allotted in parcels to the Indians living on them; in other instances no record appears of any Indian title beyond the possessory title which comes from generations of occupancy. Although deprived of much needed protection, the Mission Indians continued to live on and cultivate their lands, while a few remaining zealous adherents of the faith kept them together and attended their spiritual and temporal wants as best they could.

The latest of the old Mexican records shows about twenty thousand baptized, registered Indians. It is doubtful whether more than two-thirds of this number were actually attached to the missions in the sense of having permanent homes upon them. During the fifteen years which elapsed between the final dismemberment of the missions and the acquisition of California by the United States in 1848, it is safe to say that about half of the Mission Indians were driven from their lands by venturesome Mexicans who coveted their valuable homes. However accurate this estimate may be, the United States Government found in its new domain some seven thousand of these Indians still peacefully occupying the old mission lands, and cultivating the same parcels which had been the homes of their fathers and grandfathers before them. The earliest United States Government report of the Mission Indians appears in 1851:

"At the close of the Mexican war some of these old Mission Indians remained in possession of lands under written grants from the Mexican Government. Some have sold out, others have been elbowed off by white men. All are now waiting the adjudication of the commissioner of land titles. Many of them are good citizens in all respects save the right to vote and be witnesses. They are anxious to hold their title homesteads and resist all offers to buy as steadily as they can. How long their limited shrewdness can match the overreaching cupidity that ever assails them it is difficult to say.

"They lack thrift, incline to dissolute habits, yet plant regularly year by year, and have small stocks of horses, cattle, and sheep. A better crop and more commodious huts, a few chairs, and a table distinguish them from the mountain villages; still, they have made a broad step towards civilization. Custom has always allowed them ardent spirits, from which lamentable practice not even the missionaries can be excepted. The laws of nature have had their course, and the Indian is paying the penalty of all who violate them. Three years ago they were practically slaves. American freedom does not profit them. They soon fall into the bad ways of their Christian neighbors. American rule and American liberty, which have come to them and overthrown the church, have given them the white man's habits of dissipation, and they are disgusted with prospects of civilized life."

Sixty years of Franciscan dominion had served to differentiate these Indians from all other Indians in the great western country; they presented an aspect of Indian life entirely new to the advancing hosts of Uncle Sam. But sixty years under paternal guardianship had left them unassertive, dependent without those upon whom to depend, and wholly unprepared to cope with the persistent American frontiersman. The system from which they had derived their great benefits developed rather than overcame the Indians' one great weakness,—their child-like dependence upon the guiding hand of a stronger people.

"Wherever, in California," says one of the earlier Government reports, "an Indian is discovered superior to the mass of his fellows, it will be found, with scarce an exception, that he speaks Spanish (not English), from which it may be safely inferred that he was once attached to some mission. There is about the same difference between these Mission Indians and the wild tribes as there is between the educated American negro and a wild African; these have both undergone the same process, and with very nearly the same results."

If the Mission Indian question appeared to the Government as a novel one, the attitude of the Government toward the Mission Indians was no less unique. From the earliest times it had been the custom of the Government to recognize in the wild, nomadic tribes a possessory right to their vast hunting-grounds which required extinguishment by treaty and by purchase. For a more or less (usually less) valuable consideration the aborigines had been induced to recede before the white population, but always with at least the color of a bargain.

But the rights of the Mission Indians were summarily disposed of in an astonishing manner by this decision of a committee of the United States Senate: "that the United States, acquiring possession of the territory from Mexico, succeeded to its rights in the soil; and as that Government regarded itself as the absolute and unqualified owner of it, and held that the Indian had no usufructuary or other rights therein which were to be in any manner respected, they, the United States, were under no obligations to treat with the Indians occupying the same for the extinguishment of their title." Thus it happened that the Indians, who had, according to generally accepted views as to the rights acquired by long-continued occupancy and cultivation, the best right of all Indians to the land of their ancestors, were to receive from the Government not even the color of recognition. In all the great book of Indian treaties, there is not one treaty or agreement with the Mission Indians. They had nothing for which to treat.

Under these conditions the Mission Indians were delivered to the tender mercies of the never-to-be-stopped pioneer at a time when great discoveries of placer gold had brought hordes of more than usually adventurous and reckless prospectors into the new country. No attitude of the Government toward the Indians could have better pleased the on-coming white men.

"In accordance with this view," writes a special commissioner, "the assumed Indian title has always been disregarded by the land-officers of the Government in this district, and by settlers. As expressed by the present register of the land-office, the 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. And so, like sheep or cattle, they have been too often driven from their homes and their cultivated fields, the Government, through its officers, refusing to hear their protests, as though in equity as well as in law they had no rights in the least deserving consideration."

The story of the Mission Indians is best told in the annual reports of the Indian Office. It is a tale too incredible to be told in any other way.

"The Coahuilas, of San Timoteo, during the existence of the smallpox two or three years ago, fled in dismay, leaving their lands, not with the intention of abandoning them, but from fear of the epidemic. The white settlers near the Indian lands immediately took forcible possession of them, and have positively refused to give them up. It is of the utmost importance that immediate steps be taken to examine fully into this matter, to the end that strict and impartial justice be done in the premises. . . .

"Some nine miles from Temecula is a place called Pajamo. When the Indians left this place for their summer grounds, a number of villainous Americans, headed by two men named Breeze and Woolfe, burned the Indian houses or 'jacablo,' and then took forcible possession of their lands and ditches. This is the complaint made by the Indians, and it is substantiated by the whites. Justice demands a full and impartial investigation of this matter. . . .

"During the last year, in several instances, the whites have induced Indians to abandon their little farms for the purpose of obtaining possession themselves; as an inducement giving them trifling presents. I told the Indians, by doing so, they could never again occupy their lands, and consequently would be without homes for their families, and told them they ought not to sell or give up their farms to any one.

"The fact is, however, the whites are pushing back on the frontier, and unless lands are reserved for the use of the Indians, soon they will have no place to live. . . .

"I have been acting as special agent for the Mission and Coahuila Indians five years, and during that time have forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington detailed reports of the conditions and wants of the Indians of Southern California, showing the number and locality of each tribe, recommending the establishment of a reservation to which the Indians could be taken as they became crowded out of their homes by the white settlers.

"I presume that one reason why nothing has been done for these Indians is, they have been peaceable and caused the Government no trouble, and consequently have been almost entirely neglected."

Every report urges the necessity of reserves for the Mission Indians, to include especially the lands on which their villages are located. Naturally, every instinct of the voting white population opposed such a waste of the public domain. But finally, after twenty years, the first Indian reserve was set apart for the Mission Indians,—a large tract in the San Pasqual Valley, including the Indian village, or rancheria, of San Pasqual. The frantic demonstrations of the outraged settlers against this usurpation of their right to the whole country are more than hinted at in the agent's report:

"On the 2d of April, 1870, the reservation order was received, and the office of the agency was moved to San Pasqual Valley reservation, when I learned that the settlers had employed counsel to have the order set aside, had also enlisted the sympathy and co-operation of the majority of the people of the county in their favor, and that the editors of San Diego were publishing some most wonderful curiosities in the way of newspaper incendiary literature, in no manner calculated to throw oil on the troubled waters. I also found the Indians had been told 'they were to be made slaves of by the Government; smallpox was to be introduced in the clothing sent them; their cattle were to be taken from them;' and to such an extent had they been tampered with, that they positively refused to locate on the lands set apart and secured for their especial use and benefit. The parties tampering with the Indians I have classified as follows:

"1st, settlers on the reservations; 2d, settlers in the vicinage; 3d, men living with Indian women; 4th, persons employing Indian labor at little or no wages; 5th, politicians after votes; 6th, lawyers after fees in contingency; 7th, vagabonds generally. I can safely assert that not one in the above-enumerated classes has the true interests of the Indian at heart, but is actuated by motives personal or those of a friend. . . .

"The Indian law prevailing in this agency is exceedingly doubtful, uncertain, and unjust in its workings. The townships contiguous to the reservations, viz., Agua Caliente, Temecula, and Santa Isabel, have no justices of the peace, and have had none for many years. It does appear to me that there is a chronic indisposition on the part of the people of Southern California to having a duly constituted judiciary. The nearest court of justice is in one direction, San Luis Rey, some twenty miles, and in San Diego, about thirty-four miles. I would therefore recommend that some provision of law may be devised whereby the agent may be empowered to exercise the functions of a justice of the peace, and that something similar to a garrison or regimental court might be authorized for the trial of light offences, the captains and principal men to compose the court, the findings of said court to be submitted to the agent for his approval, or otherwise.

"The settlers on the reservation are making no preparations to move on the 1st of September proximo, as ordered by the superintendent of Indian affairs, State of California. As all the available land is taken up by the settlers on the reservations, I would respectfully ask, Where am I to locate the Indians if they should conclude to come in after this date? . . .

"San Pasqual rancheria, on San Pasqual Valley reservation, is located on less than a quarter-section of land; even this is partitioned among the settlers, who are only restrained by fear of the Government from taking possession at once and driving the Indians therefrom."

The story of San Pasqual Village is typical of all the Mission Indian rancherias. The agent's serious statement of the conditions there counted as nothing against the efforts of the Vociferous Few. Did ever the vote-seeking Uncle Sam let pass unheeded the clamor of his Chosen? Within a year the President revoked the order establishing the Indian reserve, and once more the gentle white man was at liberty to push the Indian further up into the canyons. In the next report the agent recounts the manner of it:

"San Pasqual and Pala were established as Indian pueblos under the secularization law of 1834. These lands had long been occupied by the Christian Indians, and in 1835 were divided among them by the priests and prefect in accordance with said laws, and were occupied by them until dispossessed by squatters within the last few years. . . .

"The possessory claim of the Indians to land has never been deemed a serious impediment to white settlers; the latter always take by force that which they fail to obtain by persuasion.

"Conceiving that this state of things would ultimately leave the Mission Indians homeless, I recommended in my annual report for 1869 'that certain lands at Pala and San Pasqual Valleys, in San Diego County, which had been given to the Indians by the Mexican Government, be removed from public sale, surveyed, and set apart as a reservation.' I stated 'that the Indian claims to these lands had never been presented to the board of land commissioners appointed under the act of 1851 to settle private land claims in California, and were consequently disregarded by the settlers, the lands being presumptively a part of the public domain.'

"On the 31st of January, 1870, pursuant to this recommendation and a similar suggestion made by J. B. McIntosh, then acting as superintendent of Indian Affairs for California, the President of the United States made an order setting apart those lands for an Indian reservation, and a proclamation was issued to that effect.

"The settlers, coveting the valleys, formed an organization against this movement. They employed counsel at home and in Washington to draw up and present to our Representatives in Congress and the President of the United States papers falsifying facts, for the purpose of obtaining a revocation of the order.

"I am informed by Indians, and by white men of great respectability, that a notorious monte-dealer by the name of McCan, residing at New San Diego, prepared a remonstrance against the reservation, and, with the assistance of two others, attached to it several hundred names (Indian and Mexican), and transmitted it to Washington. Some of these names were collected from old church records, and were the names of Indians and Mexicans who had been dead for years; and none of them, if I am correctly informed, were written or authorized by the parties to whom they belonged. McCan subsequently boasted of his success, and the facility with which so many signatures and marks could be made by three scribes only. For this valuable service McCan received $40 from Olegario, $20 from Manuel Largo, and smaller sums from various other mountain Indians, who had become, through false representations of the settlers, opposed to a reservation. This, with other documents of a kindred nature, was taken to Washington by Ben. C. Truman, and on the 17th day of February, 1871, the order of the President was revoked, and the special agent for the Mission Indians soon after dismissed."

Did this recital rouse the Government to a restoration of the Indian lands? Did ever recitals of fiendish acts in the Indian country stir the Government to any action opposed to the wishes of the almighty voter?

Two years later another special agent continues the sad story of San Pasqual:

"I reached San Pasqual on the 15th instant, from Pawai, where you were yourself detained. I proceeded at once to the house of Panto Lion, captain of the village, and requested him to summon his people together on the following morning for a conference, at the same time explaining to him that we had been sent by the Government at Washington to inquire into their condition and to ascertain if anything could be done by the Government to aid them.

"The villagers began to assemble early. At the appointed hour the captain rose, and in a short speech in the Indian language, which seemed to be both eloquent and well appreciated, gave his hearers to understand the errand upon which I visited them. A lively interest was manifested by everyone. They complained of the encroachments of their American neighbors upon their land, and pointed to a house near by, built by one of the more adventurous of his class, who claimed to have pre-empted the land upon which the larger part of the village lies. On calling upon the man afterward, I found that such was really the case, and that he had actually paid the price of the land to the register of the land-office of this district, and was daily expecting the patent from Washington. He owned it was hard to wrest from these well-disposed and industrious creatures the homes they had built up. 'But,' said he, 'if I had not done it somebody else would, for all agree that the Indian has no right to public lands.' These Indians further complain that settlers take advantage of them in every way possible; employ them to work and insist on paying them in trifles that are of no account to them; 'dock' them for imaginary neglect, or fail entirely to pay them; take up their stock on the slightest pretext and make exorbitant charges for damages and detention of the stock seized. They are in many cases unable to redeem it. They have therefore little encouragement to work or to raise stock. Nor do they care to plant fruit-trees or grapevines as long as land thus improved may be taken from them, as has been the case in very many instances. Among the little homes included in the pre-emption claim above referred to are those adorned with trees and vines. Instead of feeling secure and happy in the possession of what little is left to them, they are continually filled with anxiety. They claim that they ought to be allowed to remain where their forefathers have lived for so long, and that they should be protected by law in the peaceful possession of the homes that have been handed down to them.

"I asked how they would like for their children to go to school, learn to speak the English language, and to live more like white people. It would be very nice, they replied, but it would do them little good if they could not have their homes protected.

"I asked them how they would like to be moved to some place where they would be better protected, have ground of their own secured to them, and more comfortable homes. The answer was, 'Our fathers lived and died here, and we would rather live here than at any other place.'"

Two years more, and another agent writes:

"The valleys of San Pasqual and Pala, in San Diego County, which were once set apart for a reservation would afford good homes for a large part of the people, and ought to be restored to them. The abolishment of this reservation four years ago was secured by interested parties, through a shameful perversion and falsification of the real facts of the case at that time, and the Indians yet remaining in these valleys are being shamefully imposed upon by the settlers."

Then San Pasqual disappears from the records for a period of several years. It has officially ceased to exist. But in 1883 a special commissioner writes the final chapter:

"This San Pasqual village was a regularly organized Indian pueblo, formed by about one hundred neophytes of the San Luis Rey Mission, under and in accordance with the provisions of the Secularization Act in 1834. The record of its founding is preserved in the Mexican archives at San Francisco. . . . There is now, on the site of that old Indian pueblo, a white settlement numbering thirty-five voters. The Indians are all gone,—some to other villages; some living near by in canyons and nooks in the hills, from which, on the occasional visits of the priest, they gather and hold services in the half-ruined adobe chapel built by them in the days of their prosperity."

Vale, San Pasqual!

From a superficial point of view one might be led to think that the Government delighted to witness the slow extinction of Indians at the hands of the Faithful. It is really not so. The officials of the Government have never been disposed to inflict unnecessary torture on the receding Indian. But their very official existence depends upon the pleasure, not of the whole people whom they are supposed to represent, but of the few who are sufficiently interested in legislation to express their pleasure or displeasure. There is no virtue, in the official mind, in the unexpressed sentiment of a great order- and justice-loving people, so long as they continue to live under the delusion that the public servants are directing the public business with due regard for the national honor.

Thus it is that the Vociferous Few—they may be attending the vanishing Indian in the West, or gathered upon velvet in the effete East—besmirch the whole official mass, and color national legislation with their filthy desires. The public servants cannot, under the Constitution, get above the level of their rulers.

While the San Pasqual tragedy was being enacted, a similar affair was attempted on another California reservation which illustrates well the prevailing conditions:

"By order of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, I caused two suits to be commenced for trespass on lands inside of the reservation fence. I expected to be able to test the validity of swamp-land claims to some of the best wheat-land now cultivated on the reservation. Lobby influence at Washington was too much for the Indian Department. A telegraph-order from the United States Attorney-General's Office to L. D. Latimer, United States district attorney, directed that officer to suspend all further proceedings against trespassers on the Round Valley reserve. . . .

"The Indian Department has in actual possession and under fence only about 4,000 acres, and a portion of that is falsely claimed as swamp-land. The balance of the valley is in possession of settlers, all clamorous for breaking up the reservation and driving the Indians away.

"It is useless to attempt to disguise the fact that, so long as these settlers have a voice in the selection of our Representatives to Congress, and Indians have none, they must and will be heard at Washington. I would say, listen to them, and if they propose a fair compromise of a vexed question, accede to it; but if they are fully determined to drive the red man from the face of the earth, without a hearing, and without bread or money, stop them in their mad career, and say, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.' There can be no doubt that it is the duty of Congress to act in this matter with promptness and fidelity; and to delay action would be criminal."

"Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther." Impossible language in the land of the Free. It suggests a curtailment of personal freedom. A Government slavishly dependent upon the expressed will of the people has no incentive to enforce a sustained, consistent Indian policy opposed to local interests, although in accord with the perfectly well understood, but unexpressed, sentiment of the great body of the American people. It cannot afford to sacrifice political capital by administering a richly deserved rebuke in one quarter, unless it thereby makes an equal or greater gain in another quarter. To be sure, the public generously applauds a righteous act in the Indian country, but the public remembers for a day, while the interested few remember until election day. To this psychological fact may be charged most of the vicious legislation which afflicts the American people.

The effect of this political cowardice upon the trespassing settlers is pictured in the same report:

"Since the order of the United States Attorney-General to suspend all legal proceedings against certain trespassers on the Round Valley reservation, some of them have become bold and insolent. Gates and fences have been frequently thrown open. Indian lodges, established at the gates for the convenience of travellers wishing to cross the reservation, and for the protection of growing crops, have been wantonly broken up by ruffians. The Indians have been driven off, and outside stock wickedly turned into the reservation inclosures, there to riot in growing wheat, oats, and corn, some of which was nearly ripe enough to cut. There are many respectable settlers in the valley who abhor this conduct, and would gladly see the culprits brought to a just punishment. It is not, however, considered a safe undertaking, in the neighborhood of Indian reservations in California, for a good, law-abiding man to attempt to punish a bad man and a law-breaker by habit for any indignity to Indians or those having them in charge. . . .

"A soldier recently murdered an Indian in his bed, on the Hoopa reservation. It is said to have been done without the slightest provocation. No redress can be had in Klamath County. Grand juries have repeatedly refused to take any notice of complaints where it is alleged that a white man killed or committed any other wrong upon an Indian.

"It is no longer a mooted question whether bad white men, wilful trespassers, liquor-dealers, murderers, thieves, and outlaws shall be kept off and away from the reservations, but rather, shall the reservations be permitted or kept up at all?

"It is not considered a crime to steal horses and cattle in Round Valley, so long as they are taken from the Indian reservation."

This was the condition of Indian affairs in California twenty-five years after the United States Government had rescued the country from the tyranny of Mexico.

Why did not the Indian, in this land where "all men are created equal," possess himself of the magic vote and become one of the Chosen? It may seem incredible that any Indian should have had the temerity to face the conditions which surrounded the precious ballot, but the fact is officially recorded in this twenty-fifth year:

"Three Indians at least have recently made application to be registered as citizens in Los Angeles County. Their petition was refused by the clerk of the county court, acting under the advice of the district attorney, on the sole ground of their being Indians. They then referred the matter, through their attorney, C. N. Wilson, Esq., to the United States Commissioner at Los Angeles, asking him to take such action in the premises as would fully test their rights in this regard under the Constitution. He refused to have anything to do with the case, further than to transmit the affidavits of the Indians to the district attorney at San Francisco. Here the matter rests for the present, with little prospect that anything in their interest will be done by the officers of justice to whom they have made appeal."

Year after year the story of the Mission Indians appears in the official reports:

"I may first remark, in general, that I find them a much more numerous, civilized, and industrious people than I had supposed; properly provided for, their future is hopeful. Their relation to the Government, and the white population now pressing in upon them, is a sad commentary upon the Christian civilization of the age in its modes of dealing with the weak and defenceless. If citizens, their rights as such have been entirely overlooked and trampled upon; if wards of the Government, they have been most sadly neglected, left at the mercy and in the power of the citizens who are settling around and among them. While some treat them humanely, yet the too prevailing sentiment is that they have no rights which a white man is bound to respect, while the general testimony is that they are singularly loyal to the Government, honest, peaceable, inoffensive, and patient under wrongs. Among all the dependent wards of the Government there are none so much needing or deserving her speedy and fostering care; and to relieve them from their present deplorable condition will be a truly humane and Christian work. . . .

"The one pressing want of these people now is land, on which they can cultivate their gardens, herd their stock, and feel secure in the possession of their homes. At every place I have visited, their homes are being invaded by settlers with their stock. In one settlement, Morongo, in San Bernardino County, the people have all been driven off at the point of the revolver. Everywhere the sad complaint is that their gardens are being invaded and their pastures consumed by the stock of settlers; the water turned away from their ditches to irrigate the gardens of those trespassing upon their lands; and they have no redress. And I know from observation that their complaints are but too true. This state of things cannot continue much longer without disastrous consequences. Either these helpless, non-resisting people will be driven from their lands as homeless wanderers, or will be exasperated to violent deeds of self-defence. Then we know what will follow. I cannot exaggerate the urgency of this case. Something must be done soon, or at least reliable assurances must be given that the Government will adjust difficulties. What can be done? In my judgment, it is no use to spend any more money or time in sending commissioners or agents to talk; Indians and settlers alike say they have had enough of this, and I feel I do not want to go again among that people without authority to do, or at least propose, something in the way of a speedy and safe settlement of these grave difficulties."

But "sending commissioners or agents to talk" disturbed no political fences, and soothed the Government's conscience with the notion that it was doing something, while it shrank from sustaining the Indian rights, and dreaded as well to complete the sacrifice of the Indian for political gain.

Poor, buffeted, helpless Uncle Sam! The servant of the people, the tool of the Vociferous Few! So the miserable business of "sending commissioners" went on. After thirty years of existence under the "Banner of Freedom," the Mission Indians received the distinguished consideration of another very complete report of their unfortunate condition:

"The Mission Indians may be divided, with respect to their condition and manner of living, into three classes. The first division may be defined as those who stay on or about the ranches or farms of white men, living by daily labor upon the farms, receiving, when they work, about one dollar per day. Most of the larger ranchmen have about them one or several families, whom they permit to build their slight houses on the corners of the ranch, or on grounds adjoining, and in addition allow the use of water sufficient to irrigate a garden, which such Indians often cultivate. These Indians do most of the ordinary work of the ranches, except when harvest-time, sheep-shearing, or some special season requires the employment of other help. They live more or less comfortably, as the proprietor of the ranch to which they are attached is a humane and just man, or hard-hearted and a cheat. They are not legal tenants; they cannot make legal contracts, or collect their wages by a suit at law, if for no other reason, because they have not the means to prosecute suits. The interests of the ranchman generally dictate treatment at least fair enough to prevent his Indians from moving away from him. This class of Indians is pretty large. They have no difficulty in securing enough food and comfortable clothing, and some of them have learned to be thrifty and prudent.

"The second class is made up of those who live in small communities, cultivating lands they have held for a long time and have been accustomed to call their own. At each village are gathered as many families as the natural supply of water will make comfortable. They desire above all else to be left in possession of these little villages, which are situated wherever a spring or small stream of water exists, scattered through a large tract of otherwise desert country. Thus they have a village at Potrero, twenty-five miles from here. Twenty miles in another direction is another village; fifteen miles farther another village, and so on. Till recently all these places were on unsurveyed public lands, and unclaimed. Now white men have set up claims of more or less valid character upon almost every acre of these lands, and they are liable to be taken away unless there is prompt and energetic action by the Government. Each Indian family at these villages has a house and cultivates a patch of ground, varying from one acre to four or five. A field of five acres cultivated by one family is rarely found. Fruit-trees and well-kept vines are not unusual. The Indian men plant their fields in the spring, give them a more or less thrifty cultivation till a season comes when they can get temporary employment on ranches, and then they leave their homes in charge of the squaws and old men, and go out to labor, very much as the young men in Canada flock over into 'the States' in haying-time to work for the New England and New York farmers. A much greater number of the Mission Indians were formerly included in this class, and oftentimes the Indians described in the first class owned and cultivated the very lands where they are now only tolerated as day-laborers. They are very much attached to their homes. One Indian that I know has maintained a home in the Potrero, and for many years worked most of the time twenty miles away. He is as little willing to give up his Potrero house and field as any of his neighbors who live there constantly. But now his home is threatened by a land-grabber who wants it for nothing. This second class of Indians are the ones now most especially needing the energetic care of the Government. The land-grabbers are after them, and an agent with seven-leagued boots could scarcely travel from village to village as fast as those Americans who are seeking a few acres of ground with a spring upon it, or moist lands where wheat and potatoes grow without irrigation, that may be pre-empted or taken up under the desert-land act. That such lands have been held by Indians and cultivated by Indians counts for nothing more than if they had been only homes for grasshoppers and coyotes. This seems to me a great and unpardonable vice in the law, that it treats as unoccupied, and subject to pre-emption, lands which have been in fact occupied and cultivated precisely as white men occupy and cultivate, and that, too, for more than one generation of living men. But for that vice of the law the Mission Indians would now be secure in their old possessions, and where their improvements and water-rights were wanted they would be bought and paid for instead of taken for nothing in the name of law. I cannot learn at all accurately the number of this class of Indians, but do not suppose they can be more than one-third of all.

"The third class is rather small, and includes those that hang upon the outskirts of towns, pass wistfully through the streets, seldom asking for anything, but silently begging with their longing, pathetic eyes. At times, when they can get whisky, the men are besotted brutes, and the women are generally prostitutes, though the family tie is still strong enough to keep squaw and papoose with the husband. With this class are some unmarried women who are prostitutes. This, which I will call the vagrant class, is not so large as I was prepared to find it; and I believe, from observation and from general report, that vagrancy is not a state into which the Mission Indians naturally or willingly fall. Except in the third class, I believe prostitution is almost or quite unknown, and that the virtue of women is quite as highly esteemed and as much practiced as among the most enlightened peoples."

Neither does the report of 1880 show any change in the settled habits of the frontiersmen:

"Those who by sufferance have lands to cultivate where they live, have tilled them to profit during the season. Only yesterday two Indians from the San Luis Rey tribe called at the agency, reporting that they had come with two wagons, loaded with over seven thousand pounds of wheat, which they were having ground into flour for sale and for their own use. This amount the two men had raised by their own labor; and they report that their people have plenty of wheat and are doing well.

"It is doubtful, however, whether they will be allowed to gather another harvest from those fields which they have long cultivated, and which, until recently, they believed to be reserved lands. Two years ago a 'land-grabber' suddenly discovered that these Indians were not on the lands reserved for them in a given township east of the meridian line, but in the corresponding township west of the meridian, and at once filed upon the land they occupied under the 'desert-land act.' How lands cultivated by these people for more than a generation can be called 'desert' I am not able to answer. But it is quite likely that certain land officials in these parts who consider the occupancy of lands by Indians as of no more significance than their occupancy by so many coyotes will have less difficulty with such questions. The Indian 'must go' if he is on a patch of ground that a white man wants, and no matter that he has lived on and cultivated it for a generation. It is wanted all the more on account of its improved condition. . . .

"Other wrongs practiced upon these helpless people have been checked in great measure since my arrival at this agency, such as the fraudulent methods of employers in paying Indian laborers. Every conceivable trick is resorted to to get labor of this kind as cheap as possible. The following case was brought to my attention some time ago. An Indian having labored at cutting wood for six days, earning, at the wages agreed upon, the sum of $2.50, received in part payment two bottles of wine, for which he was charged $1, and upon demanding the balance of $1.50 in money he was ordered to leave the premises. The Indian refusing to go without his money, the man took down his shot-gun and discharged a load of buck-shot into the Indian's face, destroying the sight of an eye and otherwise disfiguring his face. The next day this employer boasted to an acquaintance how he had settled a bill of $1.50 with an Indian by paying him in buck-shot."

And in the following year:

"A further source of trouble in this connection is that growing out of the fact that even-numbered sections have been reserved for Indians within the limits of 'railroad land grants.' In some instances their villages are found to be on railroad sections; Of, if they happen to be on reserved land, their little fields, cultivated all these years, are claimed as within the limits of the railroad grant, their improvements presenting such temptations as to overcome all considerations of sympathy and right. The lands are entered in the office of the railroad company, taken and occupied, and the Indians turned out. Now if the same rights which attach in common to the bonâ fide white settler occupying land prior to such grant to railroads were accorded to Indian occupants, it would be different; but, unfortunately for the Indian, he has not yet in fact come to be considered by the Government as a man, although bearing the impress of a common Maker in all respects except as to the color of his skin. . . .

"Referring to the subject of civilization, I have to say that the Mission Indians are as much civilized as the population by which they are surrounded; and if they are not up to the full standard, it is because of their surroundings. All wear civilized dress, sustain themselves, with few exceptions, by civilized pursuits, and hold themselves answerable to the law of the land when they violate it."

However lightly this constant tale of woe may have affected Congress, its reactive effect on one of the agents was marked. After four years of service as compiler of facts for the dusty archives of the Government, he vents his disgust:

"It is true the goal of my ambition to see them provided with land for permanent homes, which has been so persistently urged in former reports, has not yet been reached. And my faith in the power and influence of agents' reports and letters on subjects of this nature is at this writing very much shaken by results, or, rather, the want of results. But I have not been alone in efforts in this direction, nor yet in want of success. Since my last annual report voluntary and independent action has been taken by a prominent State religious and city-trade association, as well as by prominent individuals, in the way of memorializing Congress in behalf of homes for these people, but with no better result. To me it is doubtful whether Congress will ever take action in the premises, since it has been demonstrated in its past dealings with the Indian question that distinguished consideration is shown to the Indian only in proportion as he has developed a disposition to be troublesome and worthless."

But here is a variation from the usual tale:

"In the month of June last I visited a village of the San Luis Rey Indians, who had hitherto been wandering about, landless and homeless, but who a year ago settled in the foot-hills near Temecula ranch, from which they were once ejected. No running water is found where they live, but at great labor they had dug wells and developed water for domestic purposes. They had just harvested their first crops, consisting of wheat and barley, which was grown upon winter rains. One Indian told me he would have about 500 sacks of barley. I estimated that they would have about two carloads of grain to sell over and above what they would require for their own use. The land they had settled upon I found to be surveyed Government land, and I found also that their success in growing grain upon it had already attracted the attention of the ubiquitous 'land grabber.' No time must be lost in securing this land for these Indians. The Indians feared they might be driven off, and I promised them I would not sleep after returning to the agency till I had written to Washington and asked that this land be given to them. I kept my promise, and, with commendable promptness, I received an executive order setting apart the land for their use. To me, as well as to these Indians, it was the most gratifying incident of the year."

It is indeed something that the Indian's refuge in the canyons was saved to him. The case of this little band of San Luis Rey Indians was only one of many. In foot-hills, in canyons, on unclaimed little oases in the deserts—wherever a few of the dispossessed Indians had gathered together in the hope of again establishing themselves—executive orders were secured setting aside portions of the public domain for their use. And whenever one of these little reservations proved too tempting to the on-coming white man, he had only to persist in his inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness in that particular spot; another executive order as easily disposed of the Indian right, and restored the land to the public domain—to his domain. The real significance of the Government's beneficence is disclosed in the report for 1886:

"The Government has apparently been very generous to the Mission Indians. It has given them more than twenty different reservations, embracing nearly 200,000 acres; but what a country! After a careful examination of all the land we do not think there are over 5,000 acres of tillable land, and the best portion of that is now held by trespassers in defiance of the agent and Government.

"The Potrero reservation is covered over with squatters who have settled there long since the lands were set apart for Indian purposes. They are there in open defiance of law. They have managed to get their cases before the Indian Department for adjudication. The rights of these Indians to these lands are as clear and absolute as the proclamation of a President can make them. The squatters should never have had a standing in court till after they were dispossessed. The Government ought to have removed every one of them, and if they have rights then let them assert them before the courts. Until the Indians feel assured of a perfect title they will not build houses, put out orchards or vineyards, nor anything to make the land more valuable."

"The squatters should" and "the Government ought"—these are sure marks of a new agent. What a godsend to his Government and to the Indians each and every new, inexperienced agent fondly imagines himself! The grossest, most palpable injustices have only awaited his coming, that a simple recital of self-evident abuses with their equally patent remedies (strange that previous agents have overlooked them!) shall bring happiness out of misery and order out of chaos.

Poor fellow! He soon discovers himself—a mere speck in the political firmament, just below the horizon. The squatter continues to do as he pleases, and the great Government continues to do as the squatter pleases.

After forty years of wild and reckless "Freedom" at the expense of the miserable Mission Indians, the squatters met their first—and only—reverse. The great Government automaton suddenly refused to respond to invisible political pulls. Its executive head—horrible discovery!—had the temerity to respond to impulses from his own nerve-centres.

"The position of these intruders," proclaimed President Grover Cleveland, "is one of simple and bare-faced wrong-doing, plainly questioning the inclination of the Government to protect its dependent Indian wards and its ability to maintain itself in the guaranty of such protection. These intruders should forthwith feel the weight of the Government's power."

This expressed the attitude of the Cleveland administration toward the persecuted Indian. A short time previous to this declaration the removal of the astonished squatters had been undertaken, with varying success. One agent reports the accomplishment of squatter removals without serious difficulty, and adds, "What these men will do under the circumstances I know not. They have been seeking relief through their representatives in Congress, but the result is not reported."

Far more interesting is the account from the Round Valley reservation. It was here that, fifteen years before, suits of ejectment had been summarily dismissed because "Lobby influence at Washington was too much for the Indian Department." In this year, 1887, as in 1872, the trespassers were firmly entrenched behind their local political forces; they met the Government order for removal with a prompt refusal; they unhesitatingly arrayed themselves against Federal authority, and Federal authority bravely undertook to vindicate itself by calling into requisition a section of its little army. It is a comedy briefly but concisely told in telegraphic despatches between Gen. O. O. Howard, commanding the Department of the Pacific, and the War Department. General Howard opens the play:

". . . Captain Shaw's company, First Artillery, was, August 17, sent to evict trespassers upon Round Valley Indian reservation. On 19th instant he commenced evictions and was thereupon served with injunction, issued by Judge Superior Court of Mendocino County, California, by person claiming to be deputy sheriff of same, which Captain Shaw refused to obey, and continued to evict. Upon affidavit of said deputy sheriff, judge of said court has issued attachment for Shaw, who declined to surrender. . . ."

Plucky man, Captain Shaw. He seems to have labored under the impression that his Government had some rights which the Vociferous Few were bound to respect.

The next day General Howard again telegraphed the Department:

"Shall I leave Captain Shaw to be arrested and imprisoned, at the call of the trespassers, who have no rights whatever, in obedience to orders of local courts? . . . Please sustain me, and Captain Shaw, who has not exceeded our orders one whit."

And the War Department replied to the General:

"In view of facts as presented to the Secretary of War, he directs that you desist in declining to obey writ until question of jurisdiction is determined by Federal courts."

So the soldier boys wended their way homeward, carrying their wounded feelings with them, while the squatters held high carnival, victors upon a bloodless field; in the doleful language of the Commissioner of Indian affairs, "Thus the second attempt to regain possession of the reservation by military force ended in utter failure."

"All Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed"—therefore, if the governed do not consent, they have only to cry, "Hands off!" and the Government may only view from the outside their unique efforts to govern themselves.

The spectacle of Round Valley is not an unusual one. Nothing short of a general and bloody riot, threatening destruction under conditions manifestly beyond all local control, will induce the America people to tolerate the interference of the Federal Government, so grounded are they in the belief that their full measure of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" can come only through the sacred right of each and every community to be a "law unto itself" in its local affairs. The scheme of "Government by the people" does not contemplate a central authority which shall exercise a salutary control over widely diverse social conditions in the interest of a homogeneous and consistent whole. A community has only to fortify itself with its own public sentiment that, in the pursuit of happiness, Indians may be driven to the deserts, or negro citizens burned at the stake; that community is as secure from Federal interference as would be any neighboring Spanish-American State that might indulge in similar pastimes. More secure, for if an American negro citizen were to be burned alive in any country on the face of the globe except his own, one of the most efficient navies afloat would enforce, if necessary, full and prompt reparation for the outrage. Uncle Sam is impotent only within his own realm.

And the story of the Mission Indians goes on in the annual reports:

"The teachings of the padres saved them from savagism. Neglect and white man's greed have robbed them of land, and his vices have reduced their numbers from 15,000 in 1834, to 7,000 in 1852, to 3,000 in 1890. No man with a particle of humanity left can meet these people as an agent does without feeling ashamed as the agent of this good Government, which has forcibly taken possession of this country and assumed the care for this weak people, that we should have by neglect and dishonesty of its paid agents reduced them to such abject poverty and helplessness. Our own records of the past are humiliating. Cortez robbed the Aztecs of gold, but left them their land and water. Americans posing as Christians have robbed these poor children of nature, by legal trickery, of their land made sacred by the graves of their ancestors. As agent for this Government, that I know desires to deal fairly with this people, now I ask and urge that a commissioner may be appointed to come here and settle all land titles, give these people from ten to twenty acres of available land with water for homes, tools to work with, and enforce attendance in school until every child has secured a common English education. In this way we can soon make some return for the lands we have driven them from, and make them self-supporting, intelligent, local citizens. Oft-repeated promises and disappointments cause them to distrust any statement made by civil officers, with reason."

Here again, in 1894, are the San Pasqual Indians, after many years in oblivion:

"San Pasqual Village. These Indians have been treated by the United States in a very unfair and unjust manner. Their lands in San Pasqual Valley were granted to them by the Mexican Government. Notwithstanding this, the United States patented the same lands to whites, and, as a result, the Indians had to leave and seek a new home, which, when found, does not in the slightest compare with their former lands in San Pasqual Valley. They are quiet, law-abiding people, and deserve consideration at the hands of the Government."

1848–1898. Fifty years under the glorious flag of the United States. In this year, 1898, did the Mission Indians celebrate the semi-centennial with a grand jubilee, or joyously sing, "My country 't is of thee, sweet land of libertee, of thee I sing"? If they did, there is no record of it. The agent's report for that year mentions no singing:

"Once they possessed the best of this land, in fact, owned it all. The advent of the white man has resulted in their discomfiture, and they have been driven back to inhospitable canyons, gravelly wastes, and mountain-tops. In this position we find them to-day, humiliated, and in many cases legally robbed of their former possessions. The protection of their remaining rights from the rapacity of the whites, even to the pillaging of the little feed that grows within the confines of their reservation, is a task of no small magnitude.

"While upon this subject it would be à propos to consider the self-support of these people. I desire to call your attention forcibly to this fact, that they are not in any sense of the term self-supporting. In a majority of instances they are geographically located so that self-support is impossible. Without soil or water, they are obliged to depend upon the acorn and mesquite bean crop and other forage for their subsistence."

Then the nineteenth century draws to a close; the American people have become one of the greatest of the world's nations. They have expanded to the farthest limits of their great country. California has added her scores of millions of golden treasure to the national wealth and her old Mission lands have yielded their millions in golden fruit. It is a period of rejoicing, of congratulation, of feverish desire for more unsubdued wilds to conquer. As Uncle Sam stands upon the threshold of the new century, gazing with speculative eye upon the isles across the western sea where another inferior race awaits his pleasure, he pauses in the work of conquest to jot down in his great diary this agent's memorandum of the inferior race at home:

"During the past fiscal year I have visited each and every reserve, even to those situated in the remotest districts. At many reservations I found the poor Indians eking out a miserable existence, in a half-civilized condition, with never enough food and clothing to sustain them properly, and as a make-shift making pilgrimages to the Sierra Madre Mountains, in Mexico, to gather the pine nuts for food during the pinching days of winter; yet I will give them the credit, even under greatly adverse circumstances, many of them were trying hard to raise something from their small patches of dry ground."

Vale, Mission Indian! Struggle as you may to gather sustenance from your gravel patch; fill your belly with the acorn, the pine nut, and the mesquite bean, if you will; but the day is coming when the white man will need your gravel patch; when his genius will devise some use in his own economic system for the acorn, the pine nut, and the mesquite bean.

Vale, Mission Indian!

And fifty years from now, when the more venturesome among the Noble Free—free from every restraint not imposed by themselves upon themselves, free to pursue happiness to the limit of their own desires—shall have exercised their God-given rights for a half-century in the new island country of the Pacific, will the United States Government be recording the woes of little native bands in the mountains and canyons of the Philippines, "eking out a miserable existence in a half-civilized condition"?

Possibly the mountain fastnesses of the archipelago do not grow acorns, pine nuts, and mesquite beans? Perish the thought! Nature cannot have been so cruelly improvident of future necessities for the unhappy people who have hopelessly sung for their own country—

"Land where my fathers died,

· · · · ·
From every mountain-side,
Let Freedom ring!"