Michael White (Miguel Blanco) & Rancho Muscupiabe

The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon in the Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino
Hundreds and sometime even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal.  The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the  Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.

Crowder Canyon, Cajon Pass, toll road, wagon road
Narrows, Crowder Cyn., Cajon Pass

Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.

The rich ranchos of southern California.

In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.

Devore, ca.
From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for the horse thieves entering the Cajon.

He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock and in debt.

The Old Spanish Trail went down this slope to behind Miguel Blanco’s rough-hewn homestead. Indians would watch from this forest for Miguel to leave and they would slip down and steal everything that could be stolen.

Miguel sold his property, however, Miguel had misread the grant, letting the rancho go for much less than it was worth. The land described on the grant was roughly 5 times larger than Miguel thought.  Blanco brought a suit but lost.

Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco
Muscupiabe Rancho

As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback. With California becoming a state frontiersmen such as Beckwourth and Peg Leg Smith would not steal from fellow Americans. Horse-thieving under U.S. law had become a crime where before it was just stealing horses from Mexicans. That was only serious if caught in the act. Americans would never extradite them. For the most part, that was the end of the horse stealing raids.

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