El Cajon de Muscupiabe Grant – Part 2

And the location really was excellent: year-round spring, nice place in the mountains, friendly locals. Best of all, the opening of the new superhighway meant that everybody had to go past Michael White’s place.


It was an impossible situation. The “hook in the meat” as it were was that Michael White was supposed to drive off cattle rustlers and horse thieves. He was supposed to have help. Help didn’t come in time.


From the 1830s to the 1850s California ranches were hit with a huge wave of rustling, conducted mainly by Indians. Secularizing the missions meant that huge numbers of California natives were displaced. In fact, Governor Alvarado wanted to put a stop to the New Mexico caravans in 1839. While exporting horses and beef made sense for the state’s economy, importing beautiful Indian blankets did not. He suggested importing looms and putting California’s Indians to work. Nothing came of the suggestion and he dropped it.


More than California Indians though, “desert Indians” were behind much of the raiding. Mojaves from Arizona, Paiutes from Nevada, and Utes under the direction of the notorious Walkara conducted regular raids in Southern California.


Here’s a little overview of the situation:


After the missions were secularized in 1833, American thieves or “Chaguanos “as they were called, began stealing Californian horses. Of special interest is a trapper/mountain-man/horse thief named Thomas (Peg-leg) Smith and his brother-in-law, Ute chief Wakara, who stole over 5000 horses and drove them up the Old Spanish Trail to be sold at Fort Bridger, Fort Bent and Saint Louis.


In 1842, Peg-leg took his six Ute wives and a band of some 500 horses to an island in the Bear River near present day Montpelier, Idaho where he set up a trading post to sell horses to the emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail. Initially he traded horses at Fort Bridger and Fort Hall for the supplies he needed. He took at least two bands of horses up the Oregon Trail and peddled them at every settlement along the way to the Willamette Valley.


News of the discovery of gold prompted Peg-leg to organize another horse stealing raid. He, some “renegade” white men and some “renegade” Indians stole a large herd of horses of which Peg-leg reportedly took some 2500 head to Fort Smith, sent freight wagons to Saint Louis and Salt Lake, and amassed a small fortune selling Spanish horses and supplies to the Gold-seekers headed for California.


Peg-leg Smith [October 10, 1801–1866] was one of the biggest scum bags that ever lived, although you have to give him some points (not many) just for audacity. Here’s a little background on him: “By 1840, with the decline of the fur trade, Smith began kidnapping Native American children to sell as peons to Mexican haciendas. When the local tribes began searching for him, Smith fled to California, where he would become a horse thief for the next decade.”


He was tremendously successful. His brother-in-law, Chief Colorow Ignacio Ouray Walkara was also a real piece of work. Undoubtedly he was the brains of the outfit, and he spoke Spanish and English as well as a variety of tribal dialects.


After the 1829 opening of the Old Spanish Trail, Ute leaders regularly stopped the caravans and demanded tribute for crossing Ute lands. Wakara formed an alliance with mountain men Thomas "Pegleg" Smith and James Beckworth and began regularly raiding for horses from settlements
at both ends of the trail, in New Mexico and California. By 1837, Wakara and his followers were getting wealthy through tribute and trade, and Wakara was becoming legendary, often reported in several places at the same time.


In California, Walkara was known as a great horse thief, primarily due to an 1840 campaign through the Cajon Pass into Southern California which resulted in the capture of a large number of horses mainly from the Spaniards, with estimates ranging from several hundred to 3,000 horses. In some of these raids, the band fought Cahuilla leader Juan Antonio. Mountain men James Beckwourth and Thomas "Pegleg" Smith were involved in this campaign and were known to trade with Walkara, providing the band with whiskey in return for horses.


Alright, so what were these poor ranchers going to do? Answer: bring in Michael White to stop them.


Lugo had been trying to get a human shield going, and the other gringos he offered the job to, Pauline Weaver (originally from Louisiana, a half-Cherokee guide and mountain man famous in Arizona history) and Daniel Sexton (who was also in the Rowland-Workman Party), declined the offer. Each of them knew that a man by himself was as good as dead. You needed an army to fight an army, and they didn’t have it.


Neither did Miguel Blanco, but he was more optimistic. According two his statement, he had repossessed stolen horses from raiding parties on two occasions and he felt up to the job. The map for his grant application was prepared by Juan Bandini. Tiburcio Tapia agreed to provide him with supplies in exchange for living on the grant, and it is possible that Antonio Lugo helped out too.


White, with Indian labor, built a strong fort of logs and earth on the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, overlooking Cajon Pass and the Mojave trail. The land later became a vineyard. At the time, Benjamin Wilson was working an arrangement with Bandini to populate the area with New Mexican settlers, the better to strengthen the “human shield” between the pass and his own ranch.


In a later statement White made in court, he testified that in 1843, he worked carpentering for Johnson at the Robidoux Ranch [Louis Robidoux, originally from Missouri later from Santa Fe, who bought the Jurupa Ranch in 1843] at the time of building houses on the ranch for Wison and Johnson. The [Lorenzo] Trujillos were living on the Donation [Lugo’s donation] and had fences around their corn patches…” The judge was trying to tangle out the mess of ownership and occupation and determined that White was correct, but off by a year – 1842 instead, which seems reasonable.


Michael White did not have any idea of how bad things would get. He brought his family out and six weeks later sent them back. He only lasted nine months and was in constant fear for his life. Raiders stole all of his livestock. He was wiped out and went to go live in San Marino, where his adobe still stands.


Michael Whit's place was just south of the X




~ by ravenjake on January 17, 2010.

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