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Southern California Indian Outbreak 1851

An Indian Outbreak

State Senator Juan Jóse Warner obtained ownership of the San Felipe Valley, located in the northeastern corner of San Diego County, in 1844 in an abandonment sale. He tried to turn it into a working Rancho but by the fall of 1847 he was feeling the pressure of growing discontent and hunger in the Indian communities located in the Valley. He wrote a fear-filled letter to California’s military governor pleading for help. The Indian raids on Southern California herds
continued to escalate as Indian people starved and were murdered. California achieved American statehood in 1850; one year later the situation reached the boiling point.

The American government of California denied all Indians the rights granted to White citizens but when it demanded heavy taxes based on Indian livestock holdings, rage erupted in Indian communities. A natural Indian leader emerged, Mission educated, Diegueño, Antonio Garra. With little effort Garra convinced the Cupeño and Diegueño peoples that the solution to their plight was to drive out or kill all non-Indians.

On November 20, 1851 a Cupeño man warned Mrs. Warner of an intended attack upon the Rancho and begged her to remove her family from the valley. The family fled. At two a.m. on the 21st the threat became reality as 100 Indian men, under the command of Garra, surrounded the Rancho. Warner and two of his employees fired on the Indians. When the ammunition ran out and Warner abandoned his property one of his employees and four Indians were believed dead. The Warner’s house was ransacked, the out-buildings burnt, and the animals driven off. Martial law was declared. Four more Americans were killed during the following week. The San Diego Herald of the 27th of November reported, “The dark war cloud that has so long hovered over us, has burst, spreading terror and dismay throughout this wide-spread and thinly-populated country.”

Major Fitzgerald and his band of volunteers retaliated quickly, burning the village of Agua Caliente and tracking Garra to his mountain fastness. Colonel Agostin (?) Haraszthy arrested suspected conspirator, Anglo shopkeeper Bill Marshall, but the troops couldn’t capture Garra even though an entire company pursued him.

Meanwhile Cahuilla leader, Juan Antonio was afraid the Americans would retaliate against Garra by the wholesale slaughter of Southern California Indian people. So he did what the troops had failed to do, he and his men captured Garra and five co-conspirators delivering them to the jail in Los Angeles.

Marshall and one co-conspirator were tried in San Diego, found guilty and hanged in mid-December 1851. Garra and the others were tried, found guilty, and executed in Old Town San Diego by a firing squad on Christmas morning the
same year.

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