The Indian troubles in San Bernardino County during the 1860s were not indigenous to a certain area. They were merely responses to a situation caused by the white man himself, as he gradually usurped — in Indian eyes — the new continent.
At first the Indians lost with resentment, then smoldering rage as the newcomers slaughtered his animals, stole the land and ravaged its natural resources without regard for the future.
Although held at bay for a time by the presence of troops, the fortunes of war gave them one last chance to strike back.
There were a few Indians like the Cahuillas who welcomed the coming of missionaries and became Christians under the auspices of the Catholic Church, but others like Paiutes and Chemehuevis roamed free across the Mojave Desert; itching for a chance to gain revenge.
During the Civil War, sporadic Indian raids by these two tribes led to the establishment of Camp Cady on the Mojave Desert and its troops regularly patrolled the Mojave Trail from Oro Grande and Soda Lake in a more or less successful attempt to quell the problem.
This did not stop local incidents from happening, like the occasional stealing of horses or cattle from the San Bernardino mountains and valley, were the wounding of Dr. David N. Smith at the upper gate of John Brown’s toll road in 1862. After his recovery, Smith founded what later became known as the Arrowhead Hot Springs sanitarium.
Only a few weeks later, at the Dunlap ranch (now the Las Flores ranch) on the West Forks of the Mojave, H.E. Parish, Nephi Beamis and Pratt Whiteside were writing up a small canyon looking for strays when they were ambushed by Indians in their body stripped and mutilated.
Their deaths were attributed to the withdrawal of troops from Camp Cady and the incident brought forth storms protest from incensed town citizens who gave them the largest funeral ever held in San Bernardino up to that time.
But the troop’s continued absence set the stage for yet another violent attack. in January 1867, a large band of Paiutes and Chemehuevis invaded Little Bear Valley, apparently bent on stealing horses and cattle grazing there.
They burned a small sawmill and cabin standing near today’s Lake Arrowhead dam and then continued up the valley, looting and burning another cabin near the present Lake Arrowhead Village.
George Lish and John DeWitt, to local mill men, had just returned to the area with a load of provisions from downtown San Bernardino when they saw the Indians running towards them. Fortunately they had a head start and out ran the savages to nearby Talmadge’s Mill (now Blue Jay) and bolted themselves within.
The following morning, after someone helped arrive from San Bernardino, and the women and children have been barricaded inside the mill, Frank Talmadge, Bill Kane, Jonathan Richardson and Bill Armstrong took to saddle horses in a pack animal and started out after the Indians.
A fresh, 6-inch pack of snow made the Indian tracks easy to follow and at the head of Willow Canyon they surprised eight savages, who turned and ran. Talmadge and Kane, On horseback, chased them down the canyon and were within shooting distance when the Indians suddenly jumped behind a large log.
As their pursuers galloped past, the Indians fired a volley of shots, wounding Kane’s horse, who reared and threw his rider heavily to the snow. as Kane fell he dropped his rifle in the Indians tried to kill him before he could retrieve it. During the furious scuffle, Talmadge leapt off his mount in the shot and killed one Indian who was drawing a bead on Kane.
The savages then circled about Talmadge while Kane, still unarmed, took refuge behind a tree.
Talmadge was armed with the double barreled rifle and when he fired a second time without reloading, the Indians — accustomed to fighting only with single shot weapons — became confused and fled. Talmadge and his men, shaken by the furious action, then returned to the mill, ending round one of the fight.
The following day, bolstered by the arrival of more men from San Bernardino, they started out again. This time they had just crossed a ridge several hundred yards from the mill when they met a force of some 60 Indians, armed with rifles and bows and arrows.
During the ensuing encounter both sides fought from behind trees, “Indian style,” several hundred shots were fired, two Indians killed and two white men wounded before each side withdrew to tend to their wounded.
That evening, during a heated meeting held inside the mill, the men decided to mount a campaign to drive the Indians out of the mountains for good. For this purpose reinforcements arrived, including Indian fighter W. F. “Billy” Holcomb, along with a wagon load of provisions from San Bernardino.
Although it was found the Indians had retreated to the desert, the heavily armed company followed them down, determined to wipe them out.
Following Holcomb’s advice, they establish camps at the Dunlap ranch and the Verde ranch on the Mojave River at Little Meadow and every morning divided the group into smaller units with each following a different trail in trying to flush out the Indians.
They finally located the main Indian party encamped on a rock covered mountain northwest of Rabbit Springs. Although an attack was planned for daybreak and carried out, the Indians were forewarned by stray shots and most of them escaped.
But not for long. The chase continued and most of the savages were pinned down in small bands and destroyed one by one.
The entire campaign lasted 32 days and after it was over, some of the men almost died after running out of food and water.
But the operation accomplished its purpose. The troubles with the Mojave Desert tribes were over, and they would never attack in force again.
Heritage Tales 1988
by Fred Holladay
published by the City of San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society
also see …
the site of the last Indian fight in California. To understand the climax …
Holcomb Valley, Big Bear
Chimney Rock in Lucerne Valley was the site of the last Indian fight in California. … Bill Holcomb formed a posse and followed the Indians but had to give up the
Chemehuevi History – American Period
After this, the U. S. Army established a military camp at Camp Rock Spring near … settlers organized a surprise attack on Indians assembled at Chimney Rock,
In the early seventies, while the Southern Pacific Railway was building from San Francisco to
San José, some twelve or fifteen bandits, carousing at a country dance in the Mexican settlement, Panamá (about six miles south of Bakersfield) planned to cross the mountains and hold up the pay-car. They were unsuccessful; whereupon, they turned their attention to the village of Tres Pinos, robbed several store-keepers and killed three or four men. They were next heard of at little Kingston, in Tulare County, where they plundered practically the whole town. Then they once more disappeared.
Presently various clues pointed to the identity of the chief bandido as one Tibúrcio Vasquez, born in Monterey in the thirties, who had taken to the life of an outlaw because, as he fantastically said, some Gringos had insolently danced off with the prettiest girls at fandangos, among them being his sweetheart whom an American had wronged. With the exception of his Lieutenant, Chavez, he trusted no one, and when he moved from place to place, Chavez alone accompanied him. In each new field he recruited a new gang, and he never slept in camp with his followers.
Although trailed by several sheriffs, Vasquez escaped to Southern California leading off the wife of one of his associates—a bit of gallantry that contributed to his undoing, as the irate husband at once gave the officers much information concerning Vasquez’s life and methods. One day in the spring of 1874, Vasquez and three of his companions appeared at the ranch of Alessandro Repetto, nine miles from town, disguised as sheep-shearers. The following morning, while the inmates of the ranch-house were at breakfast, the highwaymen entered the room and held up the defenseless household. Vasquez informed Repetto that he was organizing a revolution in Lower California and merely desired to borrow the trifling sum of eight hundred dollars. Repetto replied that he had no money in the house; but Vasquez compelled the old man to sign a check for the sum demanded, and immediately dispatched to town a boy working for Repetto, with the strict injunction that if he did not return with the money alone, and soon, his master would be shot.
When the check was presented at the Temple & Workman Bank, Temple, who happened to be there, became suspicious but could elicit from the messenger no satisfactory response to his questions. The bank was but a block from the Courthouse; and when Sheriff Rowland hurriedly came, in answer to a summons, he was inclined to detain the lad. The boy, however, pleaded so hard for Repetto’s life that the Sheriff agreed to the messenger’s returning alone with the money.
Soon after, Rowland and several deputies started out along the same trail; but a lookout sighted
the approaching horsemen and gave the alarm. Vasquez and his associates took to flight and were pursued as far as Tijunga Pass; but as the cut-throats were mounted on fresh horses, they escaped.
Even while being pursued, Vasquez had the audacity to fleece a party of men in the employ of
the Los Angeles Water Company who were doing some work near the Alhambra Tract. The well known Angeleño and engineer in charge, Charles E. Miles, was relieved of an expensive gold
In April, 1874, Sheriff Rowland heard that Vasquez had visited the home of “Greek George”— the Smyrniot camel-driver to whom I have referred—and who was living about ten miles from Los Angeles, near the present location of Hollywood. Rowland took into his confidence D. K. Smith and persuaded him to stroll that way, ostensibly as a farmer’s hand seeking employment; and within two weeks Smith reported to Rowland that the information as to Vasquez’s whereabouts was correct. Rowland then concluded to make up a posse, but inasmuch as a certain clement kept Vasquez posted regarding the Sheriff’s movements, Rowland had to use great precaution.
Anticipating this emergency, City Detective Emil Harris-four years later Chief of Police-had been
quietly transferred to the Sheriff’s office; in addition to whom, Rowland selected Albert Johnson, Under Sheriff; B. F. Hartley, a local policeman; J. S. Bryant, City Constable; Major Henry M. Mitchell, an attorney; D. K. Smith; Walter Rodgers, proprietor of the Palace Saloon; and G. A. Beers, a correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. All these were ordered to report, one by one with their horses, shortly after midnight, at Jones’s Corral on Spring Street near Seventh. Arms and ammunition, carefully packed, were likewise smuggled in. Whether true or not that Vasquez would speedily be informed of the Sheriff’s whereabouts, it is certain that, in resolving not to leave his office, Rowland sacrificed, for the public weal, such natural ambition that he cannot be too much applauded; not even the later reward of eight thousand dollars really compensating him for his disappointment.
By half-past one o’clock in the morning, the eight members of the posse were all in the saddle and silently following a circuitous route. At about daybreak, in dense fog, they camped at the mouth of Nichols’s Canyon-two miles away from the house of Greek George-where Charles Knowles, an American, was living. When the fog lifted, Johnston, Mitchell, Smith and Bryant worked their way to a point whence they could observe Greek George’s farm; and Bryant, returning to camp, reported that a couple of gray horses had been seen tied near the ranch-house. Shortly thereafter, a four horse empty wagon, driven by two Mexicans, went by the cañon and was immediately stopped and brought in. The Mexicans were put in charge of an officer, and about the same time Johnston came tearing down the ravine with the startling statement that Vasquez was undoubtedly at Greek George’s!
A quick consultation ensued and it was decided by the posse to approach their goal in the captured vehicle, leaving their own horses in charge of Knowles; and having warned the Mexicans that they would be shot if they proved treacherous, the deputies climbed into the wagon and lay down out of sight. When a hundred yards from the house, the officers stealthily scattered in various directions.
Harris, Rodgers and Johnston ran to the north side, and Hartley and Beers to the west. Through
an open door, Vasquez was seen at the breakfast table, and Harris, followed by the others, made a quick dash for the house. A woman waiting on Vasquez attempted to shut the officers out; but Harris injected his rifle through the half-open door and prevented her. During the excitement, Vasquez climbed through a little window, and Harris, yelling, “There he goes!” raised his Henry rifle and shot at him. By the time Harris had reached the other side of the house, Vasquez was a hundred feet away and running like a deer toward his horse. In the meantime, first Hartley and then the other officers used their shotguns and slightly wounded him again. Vasquez then threw up his hands, saying: “Boys, you’ve done well! but I’ve been a damned fool, and it’s my own fault!”
The identity of the bandit thus far had not been established; and when Harris asked his name, he answered, “Alessandro Martinez.” In the meantime, captors and prisoner entered the house; and Vasquez, who was weakened from his wounds, sat down, while the young woman implored the officers not to kill him. At closer range, a good view was obtained of the man who had so long terrorized the State. He was about five feet six or seven inches in height, sparely built, with small feet and hands-in that respect by no means suggesting the desperado-with a low forehead, black, coarse hair and mustache, and furtive, cunning eyes.
Not the Spanish Alejandro; a variation doubtless suggested by the Italian Repetto’s forename.
By this time, the entire posse, excepting Mitchell and Smith (who had followed a man seen to leave Greek George’s), proceeded to search the house. The first door opened revealed a young fellow holding a baby in his arms. He, the most youthful member of the organization, had been placed on guard. There were no other men in the house, although four rifles and six pistols, all loaded and ready for use, were found. Fearing no such raid, the other outlaws were afield in the neighborhood; and being warned by the firing, they escaped. One of Vasquez’s guns, by the way, has been long preserved by the family of Francisco Ybarra and now rests secure in the County Museum.
Underneath one of the beds was found Vasquez’s vest containing Charley Miles’s gold watch, which Harris at once recognized. The prisoner was asked whether he was seriously hurt and he said that he expected to die, at the same time admitting that he was Vasquez and asking Harris to write down some of his bequests. He said that he was a single man, although he had two children living at Elizabeth Lake; and he exhibited portraits of them. He protested that he had never killed a human being, and said that the murders at Tres Pinos were due to Chavez’s disobedience of orders.
The officers borrowed a wagon from Judge Thompson—who lived in the neighborhood—into which they loaded Vasquez, the boy and the weapons, and so proceeded on their way. When they arrived near town, Smith and Mitchell caught up with them. Mitchell was then sent to give advance notice of Vasquez’s capture and to have medical help on hand; and by the time the party arrived, the excitement was intense. The City Fathers, then in session, rushed out pellmell and crowds surrounded the Jail. Dr. K. D. Wise, Health Officer, and Dr. J. P. Widney, County Physician,administered treatment to the captive. Vasquez, in irons, pleaded that he was dying; but Dr. Widney, as soon as he had examined the captive, warned the Sheriff that the prisoner, if he escaped, would still be game for a long day’s ride. Everybody who could, visited him and I was no exception. I was disgusted, however, when I found Vasquez’s cell filled with flowers, sent by some white women of Los Angeles who had been carried away by the picturesque career of the bandido; but Sheriff Rowland soon stopped all such foolish exuberance.
Vasquez admitted that he had frequently visited Mexicans in Los Angeles, doing this against the
advice of his lieutenant, Chavez, who had warned him that Sheriff Rowland also had good friends among the Mexicans.
Among those said to have been in confidential touch with Vasquez was Mariano G. Santa Cruz, a prominent figure, in his way, in Sonora Town. He kept a grocery about three hundred feet from the old Plaza Church, on the east side of Upper Main Street, and had a curiously-assorted household. There on many occasions, it is declared, Vasquez found a safe refuge.
Five days after the capture, Signor Repetto called upon the prisoner, who was in chains, and
remarked: “I have come to say that, so far as I am concerned, you can settle that little account with God Almighty!” Vasquez, with characteristic flourishes, thanked the Italian and began to speak of repayment, when Repetto replied: “I do not expect that. But I beg of you, if ever you resume operations, never to visit me again.” Whereupon Vasquez, placing his hand dramatically upon his breast, exclaimed: “Ah, Señor, I am a cavalier, with a cavalier’s heart!”—¡Señor Repetto, yo soy un caballero, con el corazón de un caballero!
As soon as Vasquez’s wounds were healed, he was taken by Sheriff Rowland to Tres Pinos and there indicted for murder. Miller & Lux, the great cattle owners, furnished the money, it was understood, for his defense—supposedly as a matter of policy. His attorneys asked for, and obtained, a change of venue, and Vasquez was removed to San José. There he was promptly tried, found guilty and, in March, 1875, hanged.
Many good anecdotes were long told of Vasquez; one of which was that he could size up a man quickly, as to whether he was a native son or not, by the direction in which he would roll a cigarette—toward or away from himself! As soon as the long-feared bandit was in captivity, local wits began to joke at his expense. A burlesque on Vasquez was staged late in May at the Merced Theater; and the day the outlaw was captured, a merchant began his advertisement: VASQUEZ says that MENDEL MEYER has the Finest and Most Complete Stock of Dry Goods and Clothing, etc.”
from: Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark. Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark
The next day W S W 8 or 10 miles across a plain and entered the dry Bed of a River on each side high hills. Pursuing my course along the valley of this river 8 or 9 miles I encamped. In the channel of the river I occasionally found water. It runs from west to east alternately running on the surface and disappearing entirely in the sands of its bed leaving them for miles entirely dry. Near the place where I entered its Bed it seemed to finally lose itself in the plain.* (* It is perhaps reasonable to suppose that the Salt Plain has been formed by the waters of this river overflowing the level country in its freshets and in the dry season sinking in the sand and Leaving a deposit of salt on the surface. The waters of the River at this place are sufficiently salt to justify this conclusion.) At this time my provision was nearly exhausted although I thought I had provided enough to last me 10 or 12 days. But men accustomed to living on meat and at the same time traveling hard will eat a surprising quantity of corn and beans which at this time constituted our principal subsistence. One of my guides said he knew where his people had a cache of some provision and the next day as I traveled on he went with one of the men to procure some at night they returned bringing something that resembled in appearance loaves of bread weighing each 8 or 10 pounds. It was so hard that an ax was required to break it and in taste resembled sugar candy. It was no doubt sugar but in that imperfect form in which it is found among nations to which the art of granulation is unknown. On inquiry I found it was made from the cane grass which I have before spoken of on Adams River and the same of which the Amuchabas make their arrows. For three days nothing material occurred Our course was up the river which sometimes run in sight and then for miles disappeared in the sands. In places I found grass and the sugar cane and in some places small cottonwood. I also saw the tracks of horses that had been here during the summer. My guides Belonged to a tribe of Indians residing in the vicinity called the Wanyumas. Not numerous for this barren country could not support them. At this place was some sign of antelope and mountain sheep Mr. Rogers killed an antelope which tasted quite strong of wormwood. On the 4th night from the salt plain an Amuchaba Indian that had come this far with me disappeared. I suppose he had become tired of the journey and returned. My guides had expected to find their families here but were disappointed. The next day still following the course of the River which had a strong current in places 20 yds in width and in others entirely disappeared in the sands. After a long days travel I arrived late at a Wanyuma lodge. Close by were 2 or three families of the same tribe. Here I remained the following day and in the mean time was well treated by these Indians. They gave us such food as they had consisting of a kind of mush made of acorns and pine nut bread made of a small berry. This bread in appearance was like corn bread but in taste much sweeter. As there were in the neighborhood a plenty of hares the Indians said they must give us a feast. Several went out for this purpose with a net 80 or 100 yards long. Arriving at a place where they knew them to be plenty the net was extended among the wormwood. then divided on each wing they moved in such direction as to force the frightened game to the net where they were taken while entangled in its meshes. Being out but a short time they brought in 2 or three dozen a part of which they gave me. Seeing some tracks of antelope Mr. Rogers and myself went out and killed two. In this vicinity there are some groves of cottonwood and in places sugar cane and grass. On the following day after making the Indians some presents I moved on keeping a right hand fork my course nearly S W passing out at the head of this creek and over a ridge I entered a ravine running S W I proceeded down it nearly to where it entered some high hills which were apparently covered with pine. At this place I encamped. In the course of the days I passed hills covered with a scattering growth of bastard cedar and bushy oak. Some antelopes were seen in the course of the day and the tracks of bear and black-tailed deer.
Letters from the Editor:
Just received this communique from my good friend, “Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.
“Once I was up near Barstow a bit after sunset and it was getting pretty dark so I decided I better head home. I will tell you, it was as windy as I have ever seen it–and it was so windy in fact, that when I turned on the headlights to my truck the wind just blew the light beams right back under the truck. I like to think I am smarter than that, so I turned the truck around and backed up all the way home.
Yours truly, your friend
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.
I know it is him from his signature;
“Peg Leg, One-eyed, Three Fingered, One-armed, Noseless, Barefoot Jack” Afton.
He always signs like that.
Division – 4
Just testing it out. 🙂
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