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During the summer of 1851, while people in the northern half of California were suffering from gold fever, their neighbors to the south were suffering from another kind of fever — war fever.
The short of it was that several of the Indian tribes living in Los Angeles and San Diego counties were deep into an ambitious plan to revolt against Americano law and order, and in reply, Americanos were busy preparing to put the revolt down, regardless of cost. An attack of major proportions by one or the other appeared imminent. The only question seemed to be the matter of first strike. Would the Americanos stop the revolt before it started? Would the Indians strike first?
Americanos believed that the troublesome tribes — generally living east of Los Angeles and San Diego — were busily assembling war parties and weapons, getting ready to stream across the deserts and down out of the mountains to attack. The Indians, on the other hand, living in the most desolate areas, in abject poverty, believed that the Americanos in larger numbers were preparing to attack them from the west, taking what little the tribes had in the way of property and squeezing them into a life even more destitute than they were already living.
This sorry state of affairs had been spawned from an ill-advised decision made by a handful of politicians. A year earlier, San Diego County officials recklessly decided to slap a $600 a year property tax on some of their dirt-poor Indian neighbors. Living miles away from San Diego, they received no city services. But the white politicians were so sure that the Indians would pay up and not complain that the names of the tribal capitanes were added to the county's tax rolls without so much as a whisper of warning before they levied the tax.
The county auditor was charged to collect and he in turn sent Sheriff Agoston Haraszthy out to get the money. Short of that, he was to take their cattle, and short of that, take whatever he could find to take. Haraszthy's collection of the 1850 tax assessment went off with without a hitch. And so it might have been the next year, in 1851, when collecting time came.
In July 1851, however, about the time Haraszthy was getting ready to make his second round of collections, trouble arrived in the form of Maj. Gen. Joshua Bean. The officer in charge of the Southern Division of the California Militia, Bean, for reasons he took to his grave, threw a dirty boot sock into the sweet-smelling waters of San Diego's property tax watering hole.
Decked out in a colorful uniform, astride his horse and leading a small contingent of other militiamen, Bean was an authority figure to the Indians. He rode among the tribes ordering them not to pay. 'He forbade them to pay,' Haraszthy reported back to the county auditor when he returned empty-handed from his second collection round. In the words of Arthur Woodward, noted California and Indian historian, '[Bean] was something of a pompous ass who loved to strut his stuff and exercise his authority.' Bean said to Haraszthy, the only way you are going to collect any taxes from here on is to sue me for them, in court. Bean clearly knew nothing about taxes and the law. 'A property tax,' Haraszthy informed him, 'is a judgment against [a person's] property, and it doesn't take a lawsuit to collect it.' People have to pay. If they don't, the county can take their property, pure and simple. No matter that, Bean refused to change his position in the matter.
Finding himself caught between the stubbornness of county lawmakers (get out and collect) and militiaman Bean (don't pay them anything), Haraszthy professed that he didn't really want to collect, but he had to. It was his duty. At that point, someone — though it's unclear whom — suggested that maybe the property tax law wasn't legal. To settle the matter, Haraszthy announced he would write the attorney general and ask his advice. The response was quick, clear, and simple. 'The property tax law is legal,' the attorney general said.
Haraszthy thereupon sent word to the capitanes that they would have to pay up. The capitanes, not unexpectedly, refused.
Hadn't General Bean told them not to pay? It became clear to Haraszthy that if he rode out into the settlements, to fill his saddlebags, he would likely face armed resistance. Particularly if he rode in with a force of armed men. The tribes were harboring deep feelings of distrust of Americanos and they had good cause.
Farmers and miners, according to historian Clyde Milner, 'had hunted [the Indians] like wild animals.' Bounties were paid for killing them. Indeed, as Milner puts it, 'murder, starvation and white man's disease had created a demographic disaster.' In 1845 the native population living in California numbered about 150,000. By 1851, six years later, their number was half that.
Haraszthy figured that if he rode into the settlements with a small army there would surely be a bloody confrontation. He apparently decided to ride out alone. As he made his way through the San Diego County hinterlands, to first one and then another of the Indian settlements, he told the capitanes what they owed and asked for the money. A few of the capitanes paid, or paid what they could. A few were willing to pay but didn't have anything to pay with. Most refused to pay, however, citing General Bean's order not to pay.
Bean was wrong, Haraszthy explained to the holdouts. The law's the law. And unless they obeyed it and paid up, he said, he'd have to come back with enough men to round up their stock and drive the beasts to San Diego to be sold. Haraszthy's threat, however, did not have the effect he had hoped for. The holdouts still refused to pay. San Diego County officials now had to decide whether to back off or to send Haraszthy out again to seize the tribesmen's pitifully small property.
News of the situation spread through southern California. It certainly reached a ranch half a mile southeast of Warner Hot Springs. Former mountain man Jonathan Trumbull Warner lived at the ranch and operated a health spa. Also living at the ranch were two employees who were later identified as the leaders of the rebellion to come: Antonio Garrá and Bill 'Sailor' Marshall.
It is believed that Garrá had been born near the springs and educated at San Luis Rey Mission. And, by the time property taxes had become a cause for grave concern to southern California tribesmen, Garrá had advanced himself in life to become a capitane and one of John Warner's headmen. (It is believed that a son of Antonio Garrá also lived and worked on the ranch, Antonio Junior.)
Sailor Bill Marshall, on the other hand, was a renegade white man. Known to have jumped ship in the San Diego harbor a few years earlier, Marshall had fled into the hills and there taken up with the daughter of Jose Noca, another headman at Warner's ranch. Although Antonio Garrá would carry the blame, it was perhaps Marshall who planted and nurtured the seeds of rebellion in the Indian's mind. The military prosecutor at Bill Marshall's later trial said that Marshall was 'well known' to both the tribesmen and the Americanos living in the backcountry. And he was also well known to travelers entering California via the southern route. By late September 1851, winds of war were swirling around the Warner ranch. Despite his later denials, Marshall may have been a major player, although his exact role remains uncertain. The San Diego property tax was just one more cross for the Indians to bear. Even if they could pay it, the money would just go toward making life better for the white people living in San Diego. The only thing left, the hard-liners were urging, was for the Indians to fight. The flames of anger rose and spread from Warner Ranch, reaching the ears of neighboring tribesmen as well as Americanos living in Los Angeles and San Diego and the towns and villages in between.
To all appearances, war was inevitable. It was a time for building. A call went out from Antonio Garrá, urging warriors from all the tribes living west of the Colorado River, and south of San Bernardino and the lower reaches of the San Joaquin Valley, to unite in a Mexican-California army. News of Garrá's recruiting efforts stirred up the Americanos, of course. Visions of war-whooping, hatchet-wielding Indians storming across their yards and through their windows became more frightening and ominous as the number of attackers they imagined grew steadily. During the last days of September, the topic of the day on the streets and over the fences in San Diego, Los Angeles and other communities was the Indian problem.
'The rumors swirling about,' Woodward noted, 'put people in a fine dither.'
Between Los Angles and San Bernardino, the thing uppermost in the minds of the whites was their proximity to the fearsome Cahuilla tribe. Living in the desert and in the mountains south of present day Interstate 10, the Cahuillas, under the leadership of strongman Juan Antonio, were thought to be 'wild and uncivilized.' If they joined the army Antonio Garrá was recruiting, the Cahuilla posed a terrible threat to people living all along the trail to Los Angeles. The threat was greatest around Beaumont, Banning and Palm Springs. Indeed, rumor had it that Juan Antonio and his'savage' followers were mustering in force, about to attack and murder every man, woman and child. Juan Antonio had reportedly taken up arms to ward off an attack by the 'Pah-Utes,' but many whites believed that his real purpose was to destroy Los Angeles. And then, Santa Barbara would be next. On top of this, an attack by the Tulares was also feared. And down in San Diego, the whites expected Yuma and Cocopah warriors to come swarming at them from the lowlands of the Colorado, up across the mountains and down to the bay, killing and raping everything in front of them.
If the whites were troubled about their future, the tribes were no less troubled. As historian Arthur Woodward noted, Sheriff Haraszthy was known to be a no-nonsense lawman. And he had warned the capitanes. If they didn't pay, he'd be back, with enough men to take away their cattle and their tools. The Indians would have no way to make a living and would become the slaves of the whites. Hadn't that been done in other places?
The fear and distrust on both sides evolved into a self-fulfilling prophecy. By mid-October, scarcely three months after General Bean had told the capitanes not to pay, each side was convinced absolutely that the other was about to attack. The only question was when.
The first smell of blood came on November 20, when John Warner received a terse warning from capitane Lazaro, headman of the Diegueno at Santa Ysabel. A war party, Lazaro warned, was heading John's way and John should get out, now. Taking Lazaro at his word, Warner packed his family off to what he hoped was safe haven in San Diego. But he stayed on.
It was two days later, on November 22, when the attack came. At first light, about 50 Indians and a white man rode in and started firing on the Warners' two-room, adobe ranch house. Warner and a few men loyal to him returned fire. One of Warners' trusted Indian servants was killed. In turn, the defenders quickly dispatched four of the attackers. But it was a lost cause. Realizing this, John Warner slipped away during a lull in the fighting. Left unchallenged, the attackers pillaged and burned the ranch house and outbuildings. They next fell upon the health spa Warner Hot Spring and murdered four white invalids.
The attackers then rounded up the Warners' livestock. Leaving smoking ruins and dead whites behind, they made their way to Los Coyotes, a little mountain village where they celebrated their victory.
Warner meanwhile arrived in San Diego with news of the attack. By November 28, word had spread northward to Los Angeles.
The Americanos living in Southern California were now in a rage. Everything they had heard and feared and hoped was not true, was true. People were dead. Their property and possessions were being taken or destroyed. It was time for action. In Los Angeles a war council was held, where the county judge, Court of Session justices and other citizens considered ways and means to defend themselves and their property.
The records from the war council note that because California law had not bestowed upon the county officers'sufficient power to act efficiently in the present emergency' they would assume the power and act on their own. In other words, even if they didn't have the legal authority to do so, they would raise an army.
The citizens appointed five 'commissioners' and empowered them to obtain arms, ammunition, horses and equipment for a 'force of men' to act against the Indians. Horses were to be procured by Pio Pico. Augustin Olvera and General Bean — who at that moment was in San Diego putting together a war plan — were to secure arms and ammunition. And Abel Stearns and Francis Mellus Rounding were to round up provisions. Plans were also going forward in San Bernardino. In an area bounded by 4th and 5th streets, and by Mountain View and Arrowhead avenues, Mormons had erected a stockade around their homes. More fuel was added to the fire when news reached Los Angeles and San Diego that Indians had carried out a deadly attack on a small band of Americans as they were crossing the Colorado River, bringing a herd of sheep into California.
Down in San Diego, Bean's plan was not focused on defending San Diego families and property from attack. His ideas were far loftier. He focused on recruiting and equipping and then marching a small, home-grown militia into battle against desperate Indian warriors, miles away from San Diego. It can be seen as a first step in a larger, sweeping plan to put an end to Antonio Garrá and his confederates. Bean put Major E. F. Fitzgerald, (presumably one of his regular militia officers), in charge of raising a company of volunteers. Fitzgerald was charged with equipping the volunteers with enough guns, ammunition, wagons and horses for a two-month field operation. Once Fitzgerald had his volunteer company ready, Bean instructed, he was to proceed 'without delay' to John Warner's ranch, and there he and his men were to 'engage the enemy.'
Leaving Fitzgerald to deal with matters in San Diego, Bean sped north to Los Angeles and took charge. He quickly changed the direction of the war plan there. Instead of their home-grown militia defending the city, they would, like the San Diego volunteers, march against the enemy.
Bean's grandiose scheme was to use two volunteer militia companies to conduct a giant pincer movement against Antonio Garrá, Bill Marshall and their men. The bitterest dose of irony in the so-called San Diego Tax Rebellion is the fact that the same man who had earlier 'forbade' the Indians to pay their taxes was now in command of a quasi-military operation in Southern California that was calculated to put down and, if necessary, destroy the rebellion that had grown out of the Indians' refusal to pay their taxes.
Fitzgerald and his men would move out of San Diego and toward Warner's ranch by way of Santa Ysabel. There (it is assumed) he would meet with capitane Lazaro of the Diegueno and determine if there were any rebels around. If there were none, Fitzgerald and his men would immediately turn north and approach Warner's ranch from the south. If there were some, they would put those rebels down first. Meanwhile, Bean and his company would leave Los Angeles and proceed eastward toward Chino and Cahuilla country, where trouble from strongman Juan Antonio might be expected. If they found it, they would deal with it before turning south and heading for Warner's ranch.
Things started moving quickly. On December 2, Fitzgerald and his men left San Diego heading toward Santa Ysabel. About that time, at Warner's ranch, Antonio Garrá dispatched a rider northward. He carried a letter to Cahuilla chief Juan Antonio that left little doubt about Garrá's intentions:
'This is an explanation. You already know how we are going to do, secure each point of rancherias since this thing is not with their capitanes. My will is for all Indians, and whites, since by the wrong and damages they have done, it is better to end us at once. Now those of Lower California and of the River are invited; but those of the River will not come soon. They move slow.
'If we lose this war, all will be lost — the world, if we gain this war, then it is forever; never will it stop; this war is for a whole life. Then so advise the white people, that they may take care.'
Two days later, amid fanfare, Bean led his company of volunteers out of Los Angeles, eastward toward San Bernardino and Cahuilla country. Even as the editor of the Los Angeles Star was contemplating Bean's heralded departure, more news arrived in the form of a letter, forwarded to him from Duff Weaver's ranch in San Gorgonio Pass. The letter the Star's editor read was also apparently written by Antonio Garrá.
'Tell them,' Garrá wrote, 'that the Americans and Californians are not worth a cigar. They can't fight and are cowards. Tell them [I] have a good stronghold here with 2,000 armed men and they can't get me out of here for three years to come. Tell them also that I have plenty of money, horses, mares, sheep, etc. and tell them to come on.'
With those fighting words ringing in the ears of the Americanos, more men joined Bean and his volunteers as the company made its way eastward.
Fitzgerald meanwhile had reached Santa Ysabel. He did not find any rebels there, but he did find a small detachment of U.S. Army troops from Yuma camped there, on their way to San Diego. Fitzgerald, a militiaman, had no authority over the army men he found at Santa Ysabel, but it appears that the officer in charge of these regulars did surrender his command to Major Fitzgerald. The southern end of the pincer, with new men in its ranks, turned northward.
The northern pincer in Bean's plan arrived at the military post in Rancho del Chino on or about December 10. Bean was expecting to learn something about the intentions of Juan Antonio and the Cahuilla. What he found instead was trouble, from an unexpected source.
At Chino, Bean encountered Captain C. S. Lovell, the officer in charge of the U.S. Army detachment on guard duty at the post. Unlike the captain Fitzgerald met at Santa Ysabel, however, Lovell was not about to surrender his command. During the later military court trials, it became clear that Lovell and his men were not at all impressed by either Bean or his fired-up volunteers whom they considered nothing more than a gang of vigilantes.
If Lovell knew anything about the Cahuillas, and what Juan Antonio's intentions were, he seems not to have told Bean. The question of whether or not the Cahuillas would join Garrá and fight remained unanswered. And without an answer, Bean did not turn southward to find and destroy the enemy. He and his men lingered on, unproductive, at Rancho del Chino.
Garrá's not-worth-a-cigar letter, sent to Weaver, had had a far different result that Garrá had intended. It had fired up the spirit of patriotism in the heart of the editor's brother. Paulino Weaver decided to turn Juan Antonio against Garrá. To that end, Paulino sent horses and provisions to Juan Antonio and urged him to go after Garrá.
It will probably never be known if Juan Antonio ever seriously considered joining Garrá, that summer and fall of 1851. He told authorities he didn't. And what he did, after receiving Paulino Weaver's horses and provisions, strongly suggests that he was telling the truth.
He surreptitiously led a small band of his Cahuilla tribesmen to a place near Warner's ranch where Antonio Garrá was encamped. Juan Antonio and his men made a small camp, set up an ambush around it, and then sent a note to Garrá, inviting him to come to the Cahuilla camp.
Garrá, apparently believing that Juan Antonio and his men were going to join his Mexican-California army, unsuspectingly led his own men — few in number — into the trap. They were immediately taken prisoner. Juan Antonio then sent word northward to the military post at Chino, saying where he was and that he was holding Antonio Garrá prisoner. It was good news for Bean and his Los Angeles volunteers. Since the Cahuillas would not be interfering in his war plan, Bean set out immediately for Juan Antonio's camp. When Bean arrived, he did two things — first, he talked Juan Antonio into turning Garrá over to him and then he talked Garrá into writing a letter to Antonio Garrá Jr., telling him to surrender. Once the letter was dispatched to young Garrá, Bean and the others rode northward to Chino, where the general turned Garrá over to Captain Lovell for safekeeping.
On December 20, Antonio Junior appeared at Duff and Paulino Weaver's ranch. There, Garrá's son wrote a short note in Spanish on a scrap of dirty paper.
As soon as he received the note, Bean sent men to take Antonio Junior prisoner and to bring him and his party to Chino. And he had no sooner arrived than Juan Antonio began belittling and ridiculing him for surrendering. At some point, Antonio Junior whipped out his knife and attacked, to save his honor. 'I am your prisoner,' he shouted, 'but I will not permit you to insult me.' Onlookers were stunned as they watched Antonio Junior fall on Juan Antonio and drive his knife through the strongman's left arm and into his side. The Cahuilla tribesmen quickly brought up their weapons. And if Bean and his men had not been there to stop them, they would surely have killed Antonio Junior on the spot.
On December 24, Bean had Antonio Junior and three of his followers, civilians all, arraigned on charges of treason, murder and robbery. The trial, held in a military court, was held the day after Christmas. It was, as historian Arthur Woodward described it,'short and merciless. The testimony given by members of [Bean's volunteer company] was brief and mostly hearsay. Reading between the lines of the original court-martial documents, one feels that the whole procedure was a farce. The Indians were doomed before they were [even] captured.'
Captain Lovell protested the trial being held within the jurisdiction of the military post of which he was in charge, but Bean ignored him. Major Myron Norton, Bean's aide de camp, wrote the fate of young Garrá and his followers on blue note paper. The last few sentences in the document tell the sad story:
'The court then proceeded to pass sentence upon the prisoners; which sentence was that he should be shot tomorrow morning at daylight – the court then [adjourned] till tomorrow at 5 p.m.
J. H. Bean Maj. Genl.
The foregoing proceedings and sentence are hereby approved – Chino, Dec. 26, 1851.
J. H. Bean Maj. Genl.
The above sentence was carried into effect this morning at daylight, Dec. 27th , 1851.
Captain Lovell sent a note to Bean expressing his concerns. 'Sir: The proceedings this morning in the case of, and of the Indian prisoner, placed by you, under charge of my guard, not being in accordance with my views on the subject, I am forced to decline retaining charge of the remainder or permitting them to remain with the limits of the garrison, unless placed under my entire control and subject to my orders.' Bean thereupon took Antonio Garrá to San Diego to stand trial.
And what of Sailor Bill Marshall? Found during the first week of December with another rebel, Juan Bera, the pair was arrested and hauled off to San Diego. They were charged and put on trial for high treason, robbery and murder. Although the two men denied the charges, some of the Indians who had taken part in the sacking of Warner's ranch in late November put Marshall and Bera at the scene and identified them as the murderers of the four invalids at Warner Hot Springs.
They were convicted on all counts. On December 13 — about the time Juan Antonio was springing his trap on Antonio Garrá — Marshall and Bera were hanged at sundown.
Four more Indians who had surrendered were tried and publicly executed at Los Coyotes on Christmas Day — four grim reminders on that symbolic Christian day of what the watching tribesmen could expect if they didn't behave. On January 10, 1852, following the execution of his son by 14 days, Antonio Garrá was led from his jail cell to the graveyard in San Diego. There, beside an open grave, Antonio Garrá knelt and a squad of riflemen riddled the rebel with well-aimed balls.
Following the execution, a newspaper correspondent of the day, known simply as Gordito reported: 'No man could have met his fate in a more grave and dignified manner than did Antonio Garrá. I could not [help] but feel a sort of sympathy for him, notwithstanding his crimes.' A few days later, a San Diego newspaper unkindly reported, under the news heading usually reserved for announcing ship departures, another kind of departure: 'Antonio Garrá, for la Tierra Caliente.'
Shortly after the rebellion was over, General Bean removed to San Gabriel, where he was suddenly and mysteriously shot dead one night. Some said a follower of Joaquin Murieta did the deed. But others let it be known that jealousy might have been the motive, for Bean had been carrying on with another man's wife.
Roy Bean, the general's nephew, also moved to San Gabriel. Following a knife fight, however, Roy was forced to flee the San Gabriel police. According to Arthur Woodward, when Roy crossed the county line, heading east, he was carrying a copy of California law with him, which he later used in his Langtry, Texas, courtroom, while earning his reputation as the 'law west of the Pecos.'
This article was written by Bob Grubb and originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of Wild West.
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