Antonio Garra: Tarnished California Gold
By Roy Cook

Bands and Tribelets of Cahuillas and Yuman allies have been active in political protests for many years in the historical period. Early in the Anglo-American era (1840-91) they confederated into quasi-military groups under the leadership of Captains: Juan Antonio, Cabezon, Juan Bautista and Antonio Garra-not only to defend themselves from the encroachments of domestic and foreign Europeans forces but also to demand various political and economic rights. After the Southern California Tribal reservations were established, with some permanence, in the Mission Indian Relief Act of 1891, these confederations disappeared. However, within several decades the Cahuillas had formed their own organizations seeking self-determination or joined others, such as the Mission Indian Federation. These protest organizations arose in response to oppressive practices by the United States Indian Service personnel, and they became significant vehicles for political protests against the federal government's policies regarding the management of Indian affairs. These organizations were pivotal in the redressing of economic, political, and legal grievances from 1919 until the early 1960s. 

In this new millennium and with the reaction to sovereignty of original Americans it is ironic examine historical context realize persistence so many issues contention.  particular issue Mission Indian or those a natural state (wild?) time shifting authorities opportunistic politics worst form. tarnish still evident Golden California Therefore better understand climate opinion from formative times 1840-1855 developmental policies between sovereign peoples Native Anglo-Europeans United States government pivotal event North County San Diego.

Today a strong sense of history prevails among the Cahuillas. Several reservations have developed museums and cultural centers (e.g., the Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation, the Agua Caliente Cultural Center on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, and the Cupeno Cultural Center on the Pala Indian Reservation) and have established cultural and educational programs for young people, elders, and visitors.


Yesterday, living at Wilakal was Antonio Garra and his son, who went under the same name. The elder Garra had been educated at San Luis Rey Mission and was a willing listener to the whispered suggestions of Bill Marshall, Anglo ex-sailor who had encouraged the Pauma Valley Indians in the murder of the eleven Californios. Marshall assured Garra that the Californios and Mexicans, once a revolt had begun, would come to their assistance against the Americans. Garra dispatched runners to all of the Indian tribes between the coast and the Colorado River, and from the San Joaquin Valley south into the upper country of Baja California. One message went to Juan Antonio, a leader of the Mountain Cahuilla, one of three branches of the Cahuilla Indians who roamed the eastern mountain and desert area of Southern California and who never came under the direct influence of the missions. Juan Antonio, it will be remembered, had helped the Californios in the capture of the Indians who had participated in the Pauma massacre and, on his own initiative, had slaughtered the captives, men, women and children.

In his letter to Juan Antonio, Garra wrote:

This is an explanation you already know who 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 Anglos, since by the wrongs 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 Anglo people, that they may take care.

Wild reports raced through the hills. It was believed that the Cahuillas were to descend on Los Angeles, and the Yuma and other Colorado River Indians were to cross the mountains and join the Diegueños and Luiseños in driving out the Americans.

Gen. Bean, who had urged the Indians not to pay taxes, (Take special note of this initial legal counsel!) now was faced with a major Indian war. As they had done many times in the past, the Dons fled their ranchos for the safety of San Diego. Friendly Indians left their valley and mountain homes and sought the protection of the Anglos. Juan Bandini came up from Lower California and reported the Indians far down the peninsula were in a state of rebellion. Because of the shortage of guns and ammunition, all blacksmiths were put to work making lances, as had been done before the Battle of San Pasqual.


Warner's ranch was attacked on the night of November 21, 1851. Juan (John) Warner had sent his family away, and he had remained behind with a hired man and an Indian boy who had been placed with him in exchange for a bushel of corn. One hundred Indians surrounded the trading post, and Warner and his hired man held them off until their ammunition ran out. They then fled from the ranch house toward horses that had been kept saddled for just such an emergency. Warner and the Indian boy escaped but the hired man was killed. The Indians burned the house, drove off the stock, and then proceeded to the Hot Springs three miles away where they murdered four Americans who had gone there from San Diego to rest. One of them was Levi Slack, merchant partner of E. W. Morse. Four American sheepherders were killed near the Colorado River crossing.

San Diegans prepared to defend the town and a volunteer company was organized under Maj. E. F. Fitzgerald, of the U.S. Army, as commander. Cave J. Couts was named captain and Sheriff Haraszthy, first lieutenant. In a letter to his mother and sister, dated December 2, 1851, Thomas Whaley wrote:

. . . The tocsin of war Sounds. We momentarily expect to be attacked by the Indians who under their great chief Antonio Garra are swarming by thousands into the South. The town of San Diego is proclaimed under martial law. Every man is enrolled a Soldier. We are but a handful of men numbering not quite a hundred. Already several parties have gone out to fight and this morning thirteen more leave all of whom will be under the command of Maj. Fitzgerald U.S.A. The party is supplied with ammunitions and rations for thirty days. They are to act only on the defensive till reinforcements arrive from the north. There are only thirty five of us left to protect the town . . . my turn to Stand guard comes rather frequently . . . I have contributed fifty dollars in cash and Some few things towards getting up the expedition.

. . . The first attack the Indians made was upon the rancho of J. J. Warner, member of our State Legislature, burning his house, Stealing everything belonging to him and murdering a man in his employ. Four men have been murdered upon the Gila and four more Americans from this place at the Springs of the Agua Caliente who had gone there for their health . . . the rancheros are sending their families to town for better protection . . . I am well armed with a brace of Six Shooters and have a horse ready to Saddle at any moment.

Lt. Sweeny, who had been left with a small body of soldiers at Fort Yuma, was joined by Capt. John W. Davidson and sixteen additional men who had been sent from San Diego as a relief party, and by the parties of Maj. Henry L. Kendrick and Capt. L. Sitgreaves, who had been engaged in exploring the Colorado River. Though they now had thirty men it was decided to abandon the fort on December 6 because of a lack of supplies, and take the road to San Diego. Cave Couts, in a letter to Abel Stearns, reported that Kendrick had found the whole desert frontier ablaze. The mountains were covered with signal fires from Carrizo Creek to Santa Ysabel. An American by the name of Whitley, living at Cockney Bill's ranch on Volcan Mountain, told Davidson and Sweeny that Indians had collected from Vallecito, San Felipe, San Jose and neighboring mountains to attack the military train but upon seeing the number of soldiers, because of the presence of Capt. Davidson's men, had given up and now professed only friendship to the Anglos.

At San Pasqual they received orders to return to Santa Ysabel, where their forces were joined with those of Majs. Heintzelman and Magruder and about one hundred soldiers who had been quartered at Mission San Luis Rey. Sweeny and his men were ordered to protect San Diego, and he took the mountain trail toward El Cajon and arrived on December 21. The populace, especially the women, welcomed them with cheers, Sweeny writing that "they looked upon me as their deliverer from the tender mercies of savages," who, they said, would have attacked the town if his men had been cut off in the mountains. This was later confirmed. During the absence of the Army regulars, a force of recruits had arrived by sea and they also had kept San Diego in a state of unrest with their drinking and rioting. Their ringleaders had been placed in irons. Sweeny ordered all 250 recruits to line up and he reviewed them without a sidearm of any kind. The soldiers were silent and respectful. A virtual state of mutiny ended.

Fitzgerald's Volunteers left San Diego on December 27 reached Agua Caliente and burned the village of the Cupeño Indians, and proceeding to the site of Warner's store, found nothing but ruins and the bodies of two Indians. Haraszthy went out with a small party and took Marshall and two Indian companions into custody and delivered them to San Diego for a court martial headed by himself. The principal evidence against Marshall came from Indians but it was decided that their testimony could not be accepted before a legal tribunal. Justice was pre-ordained. Gallows were erected before the trial began.

The court martial made quick work of Marshall and one of the two Indians captured with him, whose name has been variously given as Juan Verdugo, or Juan Verde or Gerde. The San Diego Herald reported on December 18:

The trial of these men was concluded on Friday evening last; on Saturday morning, it was announced on the Plaza they were to be executed at 2 o'clock the same day. The Fitzgerald Volunteers were ordered to be on duty at that time to conduct the prisoners to the scaffold, which had been erected a short distance out of town, near the Catholic burying grounds. The graves were dug, and all the preparations made, during the forenoon, for carrying out the sentence of the court martial. About 2:00 o'clock the Volunteers were under arms, the people began to gather in considerable numbers about the Plaza and Court House. A Priest (Fr. Juan Holbein) was with the prisoners most of the forenoon and accompanied the men to the gallows, where they received final absolution. They were then informed that a short time would be allowed them, if they wished to make any remarks. Marshall was the first to speak . . . He said he was prepared to die and he hoped that his friends, and the people around him, would forgive him, that he trusted in God's mercy, and hoped to be pardoned for his many transgressions. He still insisted that he is innocent of the crime by which he was about to die . . .

Verdugo spoke in Spanish. He acknowledged his guilt and admitted the justice of the sentence passed upon him; said he was ready and willing to yield up his life for forfeit for his crimes and wickedness. The ropes were then adjusted, the priest approached them for the last time . . . repeated the final prayer, extended the crucifix, which each kissed several times, when he descended from the wagon, which immediately moved on, leaving the poor unfortunate wretches suspended about five feet from the ground.

The hanging took place on December 13, 1851. The site of the executions may have been near the new Catholic church being erected on a site across the river, and burial was in an adjoining cemetery. Warner's Indian servant boy was found guilty of giving false testimony and sentenced to receive twenty-five lashes.

The United States Army forces, which had established head­quarters at Santa Ysabel, divided into two divisions to take separate routes through the mountains toward the village of Los Coyotes where the Indians had been holding their councils of war, and the one under command of Heintzelman was attacked by Indians led by a chief named Chapuli. The soldiers concentrated their fire on Chapuli. He was killed, and as the Indians fled up the sides of a mountain, a second chief was shot dead.

The encounter led to the capture of a number of prisoners in the vicinity of Los Coyotes, among them a number known to have taken part in the attack on Warner's, and after a military trial on the spot, four chieftains were condemned to die, and were executed on Christmas Day while kneeling before their graves. Some eighty Indians witnessed the executions which took place at the site of the village near the creek bed. All traces of the village on the desert route into the mountains first explored by Anza, have disappeared.

At San Diego Fitzgerald's Volunteers were reinforced by volunteers brought by boat from San Francisco, who were dubbed "The Hounds," in memory of the hoodlums who had so terrorized the northern city. Organized as the Rangers, at the call of the governor to assist if needed at San Diego, they had been ordered disbanded with news of the success of the military. But they came anyway. They wrought more harm and misery on San Diego than did the Indians. With no enemy to fight, they camped in Mission Valley and ranged through Old Town on drunken sprees and threatened to sack the town. The authorities sent an appeal to Lt. Sweeny, at the old barracks at La Playa, and he led a sergeant and eighteen men into Old Town. That same afternoon, Philip Crosthwaite, a sergeant of Fitzgerald's Volunteers, engaged in a row with one of the Hounds identified as a Lt. Watkins. Both were wounded in an exchange of gunfire on the street, and Crosthwaite barely escaped death, retreating under a heavy fire from other members of the Hounds. Sweeny ordered his soldiers to form in the Plaza, and he writes "it was the general opinion that if my men had not been present that day the streets of San Diego would have been drenched in blood." Watkins' leg had to be amputated, and it was presented to Crosthwaite as a trophy of war. The soldiers remained on guard in Old Town until the Indian war had ended, and the Hounds had been loaded up and shipped back to San Francisco.

The general uprising did not materialize, however, because of the failure of the Cahuilla Indians as a whole to follow the lead of the men from Los Coyotes, and because of a change of heart on the part of the Yumas who had pledged their cooperation to Garra. The Yumas and Cocopas had halted their own inter-tribal wars long enough to unite for the intended attack on San Diego, but soon fell out, the Yumas even turning on each other in a fight over the division of the abandoned sheep of the four American herders murdered on the desert. Fortunately for the Anglos, the Indians lacked the ability to pursue an objective.

At Los Angeles, Joshua Bean led thirty-five men who were to combine forces with a group of Mormons from San Bernardino and some Californios under Andrés Pico. Meanwhile, Juan Antonio, upon the urging of a mountain man, and after serious reflection as to the future of the Indians, decided to again cast his lot with the Anglos. He laid an ambush for Garra, invited him to a conference, and took him prisoner. Garra was turned over to the military. Garra's son and ten followers soon also surrendered themselves to Juan Antonio.

Garra's son and four other Indians were hastily executed at Chino, San Bernardino County, but the elder Garra was taken to San Diego, where he was tried before a militia court martial, headed by Gen. Bean, on charges of treason, murder and robbery. He acknowledged guilt only in the murders of the American sheep­herders, and testified that the raid on Warner's was made by a small band of Cahuilla Indians, that he was not with them, and that he had not taken part in, or ordered, the murders of the four San Diegans at the Hot Springs. Indian witnesses, accepted in this court, gave conflicting testimony, but the burden of evidence seemed to show that Garra had ordered the attacks, but, in a sudden seizure of fear, had feigned illness and had not taken part in them.

Though Indian witnesses had testified that Marshall and the Indian hanged with him had consulted with Garra just before the murders, Garra denied they had been involved in any way. Instead, he insisted that two Californios, Joaquín Ortega and José Antonio Estudillo, had encouraged the Indian uprisings in the hope of getting rid of the Americans. These accusations were denied, and according to memoirs of participants, which included the leading people of San Diego, were conclusively refuted.

Garra denied plotting an uprising, or leading other attacks on settlers. His greatest complaint was that he and his people were being taxed by local and state officials without having any rights extended to them. In other time, another place, and with paler skin, Garra, a strong traditional leader amongst his Luiseño people, might have been a symbol of patriotism, of resistance against unjust taxes, and oppressive government.

This first excerpt is part of a more lengthy statement made by Garra after his capture and imprisonment at Rancho del Chino. The interview was published in several California newspapers and raised a stir because of Garra's implication of Mexican (Californios) leaders in a plot to overthrow the Americans. The full text describes Garra's knowledge of the robbings and killings that had recently taken place in southern California. While the structuring of the statement reflects a rather legalistic and stilted translation, the document is important because of the uniqueness of printed accounts of Indian testimonies and statements.

"I am a St. Louis Rey [San Luis Rey] Indian, was baptized in Mission of St. Louis Rey, and from my earliest recollection have been connected with the St. Louis Rey Indians. Have had authority over only a portion of the St. Louis Indians. Never had any connections with the Cahuillas.
Was appointed by Gen. Kearney, U.S. Army, commander-in-chief of the St. Louis Indians, in the year 1847.
I was advised by Joaquin Ortego [Ortega] and Jose Antonio Estudillo, to take up arms against the Americans. They advised me secretly, that if I could effect a juncture with the other Indian tribes of California, and commence an attack upon all the Americans wherever we could find them that the Californians would join with us and help m driving the Americans from the country. They advised me to this course that I might revenge myself for the payment of taxes, which has been demanded of the Indian tribes. The Indians think the collection of taxes from them to be a very unjust measure. "

Garra was found guilty of murder and theft on January 17, 1852, and sentenced to be shot. Before the execution Lt. Sweeny talked with Garra in his cell. He wrote that Garra acknowledged that he had induced the Yumas, Cocopas and Cuchanos to unite against the Americans, and that he had urged that a party of 400 be sent against Sweeny's camp at Fort Yuma, to cut him off, and then they were to join in a general descent on the settlements.

Though Sweeny had refused to sit on the court martial, ruling that it was a state matter, and would not let his soldiers carry out the execution, he did provide arms and ammunition for the citizens' militia. On the same day that the verdict was returned, Garra was marched from his cell at the head of an execution squad of ten men, to a freshly dug grave in the Catholic cemetery. A large crowd was on hand. He was asked if he had anything to confess. He answered: "Gentlemen, I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and expect yours in return." He was blindfolded, told to kneel, and the order to fire was given.

Honor, Integrity and Courage are qualities constantly expected in all Warriors. Antonio Garra's actions provide a lesson for today.Tribal pride and a strong sense of history prevails among the Cahuillas, Luisenos,Kupa and Yuman people. Several reservations have developed museums and cultural centers (e.g., the Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation, the Agua Caliente Cultural Center on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, and the Cupeno Cultural Center on the Pala Indian Reservation) and the Barona Tribal Museum. Many tribes have established cultural and educational programs for young people, elders, and visitors. Educational achievement is a high priority, and the Tribes are actively engaged in teaching and publishing works about their traditional culture and history.