SIX: Shifting Strategies within New National Borders
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chapter 6 Shifting Strategies within New National Borders Unlike the old mission system, which dazzled the savages with the symbols of religion, and taught them that submission to the Padres was obedience to God, they will here be taught that honest industry is better than stealing and that it is better to cultivate the earth than to be idle, and to trust providence for food and clothing. —Los Angeles Star, 24 March 1854 These Indians, from lack of means, have had comparatively nothing done for them, and, although now quiet, I fear for the future. This district, which extends east and west from the Mojave to the Colorado river, to the Pacific coast, and southward to the boundary line between California and Mexico, contains upwards of ten thousand warlike Indians, who if once it breaks out in open war, would cause the sacrifice of hundreds of the lives of our most loyal countrymen who are now engaged in developing the mineral resources of that very rich country, and would also cost the government millions to suppress. . . . A war with these tribes would be formidable and very costly to the country. —Office of Indian Affairs, 1 September 1863 After the debilitating wars of the late 1850s, Natives adopted new survival strategies to cope with the influx of white settlers.1 With the disruption of long-distance interior trading and raiding, Native communities coped through a range of strategies.2 Much has been written about the disastrous impacts of federal and state policies on Indian country in California during this time. Pioneering scholars including Sherburne Cook and Woodrow Borah painstakingly stitched together population densities of Native California and their precipitous decline during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Early anthropologists such as Alfred Kroeber collected oral histories highlighting widespread disease and cultural disruption across Indian country. Theirs and other early works paint a dark portrait of Indian country, particularly toward the latter half of the nineteenth century. Without question, these assessments ring true. The population [134]  shifting strategies within new national borders of Native California and the Far West declined devastatingly fast from an estimated population of 300,000 in 1770 to 15,000 by 1900.3 Yet although the power of the interior world diminished, peoples and traditions survived. For those on the Colorado and Gila Rivers, continued access to farmland provided a degree of continuity. For many others closer to the coast, competing homesteaders and urban pressures restricted paths to agriculture but inadvertently provided isolated reservations a degree of autonomy. And further northeast along the Old Spanish Trail, Indigenous raiders and their victims adjusted to new economic realities.4 Although experiences varied, most Natives confined within these new national and reservation borders retreated to ranches or farms located on or near long-held settlements. Present-day federal (and state) tribal land across southern California and western Arizona reflects this, including over fifty reservations allocated during the 1860s and 1870s. These reservations are located within Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties, as well as twenty in Arizona, and two in Nevada.5 In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Native communities negotiated these reservation borders through treaties and executive orders. Looking at the ways Native communities confronted and transitioned through the continued livestock, mining, and demographic booms of this period reveals a degree of political-economic adeptness and tenacity echoing maneuvers that reached back to the formation of the interior world. Convulsions and Contractions During the early 1860s after the Mojave War, the impacts of the gold rush continued to reverberate in California and Sonora. Miners developed technology that wreaked havoc on rivers, watersheds, mountains, and Native communities. So too did rancheros dramatically overgraze grasslands by increasing livestock production. With the expulsion or seizure of Californios, for example, American rancheros rushed to take part in what historian Andrew Isenberg has called “the gamble on the grassland.”6 This backfired very quickly for immigrant rancheros such as Cave Couts and Hugo Reid, who married into prominent Californio families in order to climb the economic ladder that was quickly shattered after California became a state.7 The Californio cattle economy went bust for several reasons. First, the supply of livestock produced for consumption in San Francisco and Sacramento quickly outweighed demand, which sharply fell at the end of the shifting strategies within new national borders  [135] 1850s. Extensive droughts during the early 1860s (including a devastating one in 1863–64) compounded the bust and destroyed the fortunes of rancheros across the...

Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
  • Indians of North America -- First contact with Europeans -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico).
  • Indians of North America -- Wars -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico).
  • Indian traders -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico).
  • Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
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