George Henry Tinkham.

History of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres online

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Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 3 of 177)
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back a newborn babe strapped with deer sinews to a homemade cradle. Marrying
so young, they quickly aged and a woman of thirty would have the appearance of a
grandmother of sixty years or older.

Indian Dress

Dame Fashion ne'er held sway in an Indian rancheria. Their dress was as limited
as that of Mother Eve, when a covering made of fig leaves adorned her body. The
Indian women had no fig leaves, but in summer they wore as a substitute a short apron
suspended from their waist made of tules or grass. In winter for additional w T armth
they wore over their shoulders a short fur cape made of rabbit skins. During the warm
weather the men wore Nature's garb only. In winter they also wore a mantle of rabbit
skins or that of some wild animal.

Cost of Living

The high cost of living was no cause for complaint among the forest tribes, for
Nature provided for all of their wants. In the spring of the year they lived on a
species of clover. It was soft and fine, and, when mixed with roots gathered from the
river bottom, contained sufficient nutriment to sustain life. When the grass was no
longer fit for food, they subsisted on the young tule roots, seeds, bugs, frogs, non-
poisonous snakes, grasshoppers and small edible roots. Grasshoppers were considered
as quite a delicacy. In summer they would roast and mash them into a paste and
then mix with other edibles. Their main reliance for food was fish, grass seed, and
acorns. The food last named they ground to powder in their mortars and made it
into bread. When the river waters were low they obtained their supply of fish. They
srrat them with arrows, speared them with a long, sharp-pointed pole and were quite
expert in catching them by hand. Although usually too lazy to hunt and kill large
game, the men would occasionally go out and kill birds, rabbits and squirrels, and
sometimes a deer or antelope, with their bow and arrow. A grizzly bear they would
never molest and Carson says so frightened were they at the sight of a grizzly they
would quickly run away. The fish and acorns were most plentiful in the fall of the
year. Then thev would hold a jubilee which continued for several days. During this
period of feasting they would gorge themselves until they became almost torpid.

The Walla Wallas' ideas of religion were exceedingly vague, according to one
writer, who says they had no idea of a supreme being and when questioned upon that
subject would grin and shake their heads. "The only faith in which they believed was
necromancy." Any mysterious act was regarded by them as something supernatural.
On the other hand, another writer says that they had the belief that the good would
inherit eternal life and that the bad would forever die. They believed a good chief
was especially honored, and that after death his heart "went up among the stars to
enlighten the earth" and that the heavens were ablaze with the hearts of departed
great Indians.

Indian Pestilence

In the present memory of my readers a terrible disease raged throughout the
United States which for want of a better name was called "Spanish Influenza." Not-


withstanding the best of medical treatment thousands died. What must have been the
fatality of a similar pestilence, when it attacked the ignorant, superstitious Indians. It
frequently attacked them when they became over populated and this seemed to be
Nature's method of the "survival of the fittest." De La Mofras, the French traveler
and scientist, says that in 1824, 12,000 of the Indians of the Tulare died of cholera
and in 1826, 8000 in the Sacramento Valley died of intermittent fever. Colonel
Warner tells of a pestilence that raged among the Indians of the Stanislaus and San
Joaquin section in the spring or summer of 1833. He says he returned to the territory
in the fall of that year and found the country almost depopulated. "From the head
of the Sacramento to the great bend of the San Joaquin River we saw only six or
eight live Indians, where the year previous there had been hundreds. Skulls and dead
bodies, however, were seen under nearly every shade tree, near the water, where the
uninhabited and deserted villages had been turned into graveyards. On the banks of
the San Joaquin River we found not only many graves, but evidences of funeral
pyres. At the mouth of the Kings River we encountered the first and only villages of
the stricken race that we had seen after entering the great valley."

A Night of Horror

In describing a scene while in camp, Colonel Warner wrote: "We were encamped
near the village one night only and during that time the death angel, passing over
the camp ground of the plague-stricken fugitives, waved his wand, summoning from
the remnant of a once numerous people, a score of victims, and the cries of the dying,
mingled with the wails of the bereaved, made the night hideous, in the veritable valley
of death." The pestilence which swept down the valley was believed to be a most acute
and violent form of remittent fever and it presented many of the symptoms of cholera.
Many of the trappers caught the disease and Colonel Warner was left behind to die,
but he recovered and caught up with the party.

Disposal of Their Dead

The Indians of Stanislaus County and the region round about invariably practiced
incineration in the disposal of their dead. As writers declare, they had no tools for
the digging of graves, not even knives. James L. Carson, in describing one of the
funeral ceremonies and incinerations which he witnessed, wrote : "The first of these
funerals which I noticed was on the Consumnes River. The rancheria to which the
deceased belonged was a large one, situated in a beautiful valley, from which arose
tall pines, whose spear tops formed a canopy above; around it arose high and rugged
hills that gradually rounded until their tops were capped by the everlasting snows, and
through it moved the crystal waters of a fine creek. The scene in all was beautiful.
On a clear piece of ground a vast heap of dry wood was placed on which the dead
was to be laid and consumed. The sun had set and night was drawing her sable
mantle o'er the earth, when the entire tribe began chanting unearthly incantations
around the fires of their huts, and they so continued until darkness had completely
enveloped the scene. Then arose a hideous scream out of the hut of the departed
that was answered by every one in the camp, torches were lighted and by their glare
the corpse was borne to the funeral pyre. The body was placed on top of it and
more dry wood heaped around. Then came the wild chant and incantation for the
dead. The chief applied the first torch to the pile and in a moment it blazed forth in
a hundred places. The forked flames that enveloped the body shot up among the tall
pines and lighted up the shadows. When the body had become charred by the fire
Indians with sharp-pointed poles would stir up the body to aid the fire in its work of
destruction and amidst the howling of the Indians the work was continued until the
body was consumed."

L. C. Branch, who also witnessed one of these funerals, says in his history: "The
funeral of a chief was attended with more ceremony than that of the common people
and the whole village was thrown into mourning which continued for several days.
In preparing the body for burning, it was decorated with feathers, beads and flowers


and after remaining in state a few days, was conveyed to the funeral pyre. The
flowers, feathers and beads, the weapons, in fact, everything belonging to the dead chief
was burned with him amidst the howls and lamentations of the tribe."

The Widow Mourns
The only indications of mourning for a deceased person were those made by a
squaw for her husband. This mourning consisted of daubing the cheeks, forehead
and breast with a mixture of coals and pitch from the funeral pyre. The stuff was
allowed to remain upon the body until it wore off. During the period of mourning
the widow's person was held sacred and she was exempt from all manner of work or
drudgery. Pitch pine was brought from the mountains and tar was made of it for
mourning purposes.

An annual dance of mourning was held at which time the most lamentable groans
were kept up by the whole rancheria. Mr. Branch, who lived near Knights Ferry,
says: "We have heard them frequently clear across the river, and it seems as if they
kept it up all night at a time." At this time they mourned the loss of deceased friends
and relatives.

The Indian Wikiups

According to Carson, the Indians, during the summer season, lived in "huts con-
structed of the boughs of trees placed in a circle, deep in the earth with their tops
drawn together and fastened into a cone of wicker work." In these they lived until
the frosts of winter drove them into their holes, where they lived until the congenial
sun of spring drew them out again. Their winter holes are made by digging circular
holes in the earth and placing over them a frame of poles which is covered with bark
or grass over which they throw earth to the depth of nearly two feet. An opening
left in the side of the hut, large enough to admit the body of a man, served as a door
to the hut. They are built without any uniformity of size. Each family has a tepee
and it is built in accordance with the size of the family, be it large or small. Con-
venience or cleanliness was not taken into consideration in building the tepee and
a family of ten or twelve would be crowded into a hut not large enough for half that
number. There was this advantage, however, they were kept warm by the crowding.
The chief of the tribe had a wikiup larger than any of those surrounding him, and it
was usually in the center of the circle.

A Nearly Extinct Race

Although the Indians were so many in number, the coming of the white man
soon sealed their doom. The whites shot and killed them upon the slightest provoca-
tion, often making them a target, shooting them down in cold blood. They outraged
their women and children and taught them the white man's vices but none of his
virtues. They maliciously killed the game, the Indians' only food, and drove them
from the land. Driven out of the valley where they had lived for centuries, the lords
of creation, they retired to the mountains and as early as 1852 the only Indians in
Stanislaus County were twenty at Bonsell's Ferry and about 250 at Knights Fern'.
Only a few remaining members of the tribe are now left.

The Government made no attempt to punish the criminal white men for their
outrages and cruelty to the Indians, but they compromised the matter by rounding up
the Indians and compelling them to go to Government reservations. There, through
neglect and the rascality of many of the Indian agents, the Indians gradually starved
to death. One of these reservations, in Stanislaus County, was near Knights Fern'
and a second reservation was on the "West Side" of the Stanislaus.

An Indian Beef and Flour Debt
The state agent of Indian affairs was Col. O. M. Wozencraft, a prominent
Democratic politician. During the years 1851-52 Dent, Vantine & Company of
Knights Ferry, under contract with O. M. Wozencraft, furnished the Indians of the
"West Side" reservation with beef and flour. The company fulfilled their contract
with the understanding that they were to receive cash for their supplies. Instead of


cash Wozencraft gave them orders on the Government for the amount of $33,080.
The debt was unpaid in 1854. That year Assemblyman A. C. Bradford of San
Joaquin, presented a petition to the legislature in behalf of the company, praying the
legislators to memorialize Congress for the payment of the debt.

The Indian Chief Jose Jesus
After the death of the brave Chief Estanislao, an Indian named Jose Jesus became
chief of the Stanislaus tribes. He is described by those who knew him as a man over
six feet in height, cleanly in his habits, proud in spirit and dignified in manner. He
had been a Mission Indian, was fairly well educated and at one time alcalde of San
Jose. Although friendly with the Americans, he made it very uncomfortable for the
Fathers of Mission San Jose, frequently making raids upon their stock. At one time
he drove off a "marada" of over 1000 horses which his tribe killed for food. Jose
Jesus was a life-long friend of Captain M. Weber, the founder of Stockton. When,
in 1844, Mr. Weber obtained a grant where Stockton is located, he believed it good
policy to make a friendly treaty with the Indians. Captain Sutter had carried out
this policy successfully in his settlement of New Helvetia (now Sacramento), in 1839.
Captain Weber sent for Chief Jose Jesus, and they immediately made a peace treaty,
which the Indians faithfully kept. The chief was very friendly with Captain Weber,
but like many a white man of that day he would go and "booze up" on the white
man's firewater. Once while drunk at Knights Ferry he got into a fight and was shot
and severely wounded by a white man. He survived the wound, however, Captain
Weber paying out $500 for his medical treatment.

"Old Manuel"

Probably the last chief of the Stanislaus Indians was the Walla Walla, Old
Manuel, whom Branch described in 1881. "He was a large, fleshy Indian, had rather
an intelligent look and taken, all in all, was much superior to the average among his
tribe. He had several wives and a rather pretty daughter. She was decorated with
feathers and beads, had a pleasing look and always carried a plate which she passed
around and took up a collection." By this device the Indians were enabled to gather
together enough money to buy sufficient whisky to keep them drunk for a week or two.
They all drank and when the law prohibited the selling of liquor to Indians and the
whites refused to let them have it, they managed to procure it from the Chinese store-
keepers. When drunk they would fight amongst themselves and beat the women

The Indian Burial Ground

At Knights Ferry a portion of the reservation, that on the hillside, was set apart
many years ago as an Indian burial ground. There from time to time as his spirit
departed for the "happy hunting ground," "poor Lo's" body was laid to rest. The
graves, now numbering over 250, are being trampled out by cattle grazing over the
ground. The Indians believed that their sacred soil should be protected, and they
made complaint to their priest, Father Maher. He called the attention of the Oakdale
Parlor of Native Sons to the matter, and it being historic soil, they proposed taking
up the subject with their Grand Parlor. However, no action was taken in the matter.


It is a peculiar fact, that of the immense territory north and east of the San
Joaquin River, Stanislaus County and the land adjacent was the first discovered. The
man to whom the honor belongs is Lieut. Gabriel Moraga, a soldier of the Spanish
King. In writing of him Prof. Charles F. Chapman of the State University says:
"He was one of the most distinguished men of the era of Dons." This man, who
was the son of Jose Joaquin Moraga, the founder of San Francisco (Yerba Buena),
was the greatest Indian fighter and explorer that California produced.



On the twenty-first of September, 1806, Moraga started out with a band of
twenty-five men from the Mission of San Juan Bautista, accompanied by Padre Pedro
Munoz, with the purpose of exploring interior lands for suitable locations for Missions,
and to gain information about the Indians and establish friendly relations with them.
The company traveled to the east and reached the San Joaquin River just about where
Merced and Fresno counties now join (Dos Palos). When the party crossed the
San Joaquin, they turned to the north and were obliged to march for about a league
through an area of thick, high tule, among which some well-grassed clearings were
visible. On the twenty-eighth of September the Merced River was discovered and
named the following day. Passing the Merced River, the expedition went to the
northwest and discovered other rivers. On their return they came again to the
Merced River, and the chronicler once more remarked upon the site as good for
founding a Mission and presidio (military post). No action was taken as a conse-
quence of this expedition, but another was led by Moraga in September and October of
1808, still for the purpose of seeking a good site for the founding of a Mission, if
provision for one should be made. After exploring the northern tributaries of the
San Joaquin River, Moraga turned south and reached the Merced on October 18,
exploring the river from the Sierras to its junction with the San Joaquin.

The Trapper Expeditions

Fourteen years later, 1820, a company of American trappers entered the valley,
who that year hunted and trapped beaver throughout the season. They were followed
by the famous hunter and trapper, Jediah Smith, who had been at work previously in
the Rocky Mountains. Crossing the Sierras in 1825 he entered the great valley through
Walker's Pass and trapped along the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, catching
beaver and many other fur-bearing animals. He remained until 1827, and, said the
writer, "the streams abounded in beaver and salmon." After Smith, came the expedi-
tion led by Ashley, another well-known hunter and trapper. His expedition was fitted
out in St. Louis in 1823. They entered the valley in 1826 and trapped all along the
Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin. In 1829-30 the leading trapper, Ewing Young
from Tennessee, came into the valley by the way of Walker's Pass and trapped along
the rivers. In his company was James J. Warner, well-known pioneer, who later
wrote of the Indians of Stanislaus.

The John C. Fremont Party

We have no further record of travelers over the land until 1841. In that year
Capt. John C. Fremont left Washington with a company of sixty expert riflemen, on
a presumed exploring expedition to the Far West. Fremont, having accomplished the
work for which he had been sent out, started homeward by the southern route. Riding
down the valley, he wrote in his diary, on March 27th: "Our road was now one
continued enjoyment ; and it is a pleasure, riding among assemblage of green pastures
and scattered groves and out of the warm green spring, to look at the rocky and snowy
peaks, where lately we had suffered so much. Emerging from the timber we came
suddenly upon the Stanislaus River where we hoped to find a ford, but the stream was
flowing by, dark and deep, swollen by mountain snows, its general breadth about fifty
yards. We traveled five miles up the river and encamped without being able to find
a ford. Desirous as far as possible, without delay, to include in our examination the
San Joaquin River I returned this morning down the Stanislaus for some seventeen
miles and again encamped without finding a fording place. After following it for
eight miles further the following morning and finding ourselves in the vicinity of the
San Joaquin, we encamped in a handsome grove and several cattle being killed, we
ferried over our baggage in their skins. Here our Indian boy began to be alarmed
at the many streams we were putting between him and the village, and deserted."


Wild Animal Life

In the valley at this time and for a quarter of a century later thousands of wild
horses roamed the plains, and immense herds of deer, elk and antelope were seen upon
the high land and the river-bottom lands. Grizzly bears were also plentiful and J. C.
Forbes stated that he had seen from twelve to fifteen bears at one time. That grizzlies
were numerous is evident from the fact that as late as 1852, two men caught five bear
in traps upon the Stanislaus. One of them was taken to Stockton and matched in a
fight against a bull. The ground was covered with geese and the lakes with ducks,
while myriads of fish swam in the waters.

The Mormon Colony
The first wheat raisers and settlers in Stanislaus County were a number of
Mormons. Under the leadership of their prophet, Samuel Brannan, a company of
Mormons, men and children, left New York in February, 1846, bound for the
Mexican territory of California. " They left New York hoping to find on Mexican
soil a place where they could worship unmolested. Judge of their surprise and disap-
pointment upon reaching San Francisco to again find themselves on American soil.
It is said that upon seeing the Stars and Stripes floating over the custom house,
Brannan exclaimed: "There's that damned flag again!" Making the best of the
situation, however, they broke up into parties. Some remained in Yerba Buena, others
went to San Bernardino and a few traveled to Sutter's Fort.

Stanislaus City Founded
About thirty of the Mormons, under instructions from Brannan, sailed up the
San Joaquin River in a little schooner and landed at a point near Mossdale, the
Southern Pacific railroad bridge. They brought with them in the vessel, provisions
sufficient to last for two years, a wagon, agricultural implements, and various kinds
of seed. Traveling overland across San Joaquin County they located on the east bank
of the Stanislaus about one and a half miles above its mouth. There they founded a
city called by some Stanislaus City, by others New Hope. Setting up a small saw-
mill they sawed out shingles and floor timbers from the large oak trees in the vicinity
and built a log cabin. Then, enclosing about eighty acres of land with a fence built
of oak logs and covered with brushwood, they planted the ground to wheat. The
land was all sown in wheat by January, 1847. They also raised a considerable variety
of vegetables and irrigated the soil by means of ditches, drawing water from the river
by the primitive method of a pole and bucket. "They also sowed," says Carson, "a
red top grass, the best that the farmer can sow in the Tulare valley, as it forms excel-
lent pasture during the year and when cut equals the best red clover. It can now be
seen where it has spread from the Stanislaus to French Camp above Stockton." Their
only provisions were whole wheat, coffee and sugar. They had, however, a small
hand mill and any man if he so desired could grind his wheat to coarse flour. They
also had plenty of ammunition and firearms and there was plenty of game for the killing.
Each man was compelled to do his own cooking.

Samuel Brannan in writing to a friend in January, 1847, said: "We have com-
menced a settlement on the Stanislaus River, a large and beautiful stream emptying
into the Bay of San Francisco." His settlement, however, did not long continue.
Some say the Mormons were there only a year, others three or four years. Their
manager was a man named Thomas Stout, who was disliked by all the party. Quar-
reling with him one day, the colony later voted to leave the place. One of the last
Mormons to leave the locality was a man named Buckland, who later built the Buck-
land House in San Francisco.

Mexico Declares Her Independence

During this period the Mexican war was fought, a war in which Stanislaus' dis-
tinguished citizen, Jefferson D. Bentley, was engaged. In 1821 a revolution was
started in Mexico by the Tory party against the government of Spain. Two years
later, in 1823, they won their fight and declared themselves a free and independent
nation. In their victory, Mexico took from Spain all of the territory extending


from the Isthmus of Panama and the Gulf of Mexico to the Oregon line, with the
Rocky Mountains as their eastern boundary. It was a kingdom, you will observe,
equal to one-third of the present United States. While the Mexicans were fighting
for their freedom, the South, with over two million of slaves, was fighting for an
extension of territory.

Leading National Events
The congressional decree that slavery should not be extended north of Mason and
Dixon's line prevented any further extension of slavery in that direction. The slaves
were increasing in number. The profits from their labor were immense and the South
longed for the Mexican territory beyond the Rockies. At that time the Democrats
were in power at Washington and the South held sway. Because of a slight provoca-
tion, the United States declared war upon Mexico. In the treaty of peace signed in
February, 1848, Mexico was compelled to cede to the United States all of the territory
acquired from Spain except her native country, Mexico and Lower California.

James W. Marshall Discovers Gold

One of the commanders in the California department of the Mexican war was

Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 3 of 177)