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Temecula History

Temecula Indian Eviction

Pechanga Indian History through the 1970s

Little Temecula Rancho, five or six miles southeast of the present town of Temecula, is today a pleasant piece of California real estate. It always has been. When Governor Pio Pico in 1845 granted its 2,283 acres to Pablo Apis, chief of the Temecula Indians, the Indians had reason to believe that here, at least, was one parcel of ground that would always be Indian.

Old Spanish law provided a measure of protection to the Indians, insisting that the natives' rights to the lands upon which they lived be recognized. When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 between the United States and Mexico, the United States agreed to recognize land ownership as it had been before the American conquest.

To carry out the terms of this agreement a United States Land Commission was created to determine boundaries of grants made by Mexico, and to pass upon the validity of claims to such lands. This spelled the doom of Little Temecula Rancho as a haven for Indians, although nearly twenty years were to pass before the full effects of the commission's actions became apparent.

On January 5, 1852, a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship" between the United States government and various Indian tribes was signed at the village of Temecula on Little Temecula Rancho. The treaty provided for large grants of lands to the Indians, including land along the Temecula River where the Temecula Indians had always made their home. For a while the Indians were jubilant, but their new hope was short lived. Almost exactly six months later the treaty was rejected in the United States Senate.

Alarmed, and in order to secure a patent to his land, Pablo Apis engaged E. O. Crosby as his attorney. The claim was presented to the land commissioners during that same year and, on November 15, 1853, the commissioners denied the claim. There was nothing, they said, to prove in what part of Temecula Valley Little Temecula Rancho was located.

In spite of this setback Indians continued to live on the diminutive rancho. The Apis adobe home, surrounded by other Indian homes, with Magee's store as the village meeting center, continued to form the principal part of Temecula. The village was growing in importance, with immigrants from the East continually passing through on their way to Los Angeles and the gold fields in the North. The Temecula Indians, however, did not join in the migration. This was their home. They had always lived here and here they would stay.

But the Indians, in their determination to stay, had failed to reckon with the boundless energy and all-consuming desire for land by an influx of new settlers.

Immediately following the Land Commission's denial of the Apis claim to his land, Little Temecula Rancho fell into private hands. Still the Indians continued to live in their homes and to watch the passage of immigrant wagons. With little outward signs of interest they witnessed the arrival of the first Butterfield stage in 1858 and the departure of the last overland coach three years later.

With the stages operating, and with a post office established at Temecula, land in the valley became more to be desired. Some of the settlers looked about and found that Indians were making their homes and farming on land to which they could show no title. On April 15, 1869, action was brought in the District Court in San Francisco seeking a Decree of Ejection of the Indians. The action, brought by Temecula Valley ranchers against "Andrew .Johnson, Thaddeus Stevens, Horace Greeley and one thousand Indians and other parties whose names are unknown," was designed as "a bill to quiet title" and an action to recover possession of certain real estate.

One wonders why President Andrew Johnson, Radical Republican Leader Thaddeus Stevens, and Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, were named in the action. Could the plaintiffs have been nursing a grudge against these three Northern leaders in the recent War Between the States?

The court made no effort to eject the President and his two friends, all three of whom were across the continent in Washington, but it did say the Indians must go.

The time of the Indians on Little Temecula Rancho was limited. In 1875 the San Diego County sheriff and a posse of men showed up to move the Indians Among members of the posse have been named Louis Wolf, José Gonzales, Juan Murrieta and his associate, Francisco Sanjurgo.

Details of the eviction of the Temecula Indians are today clouded in a cloak of misty dimness. When the Cupeño Indians were evicted from Kupa at Warner Springs thirty years later, the action was witnessed by newspaper reporters and cameramen who have handed the story down through the years. But the Temecula Indians had no publicity agent. The sheriff and his posse are dead. The evicted Indians are dead. Only the land remains. There are, however, a few accounts that have been preserved and handed down.

In 1882, seven years after the eviction, a woman writer, championing the cause of American Indians, visited Temecula and talked with many of those who had been moved from Little Temecula Rancho. The writer was Helen Hunt Jackson, and her interview with the Temecula Indians occurred two years before publication of Ramona, the novel that brought her lasting fame. Details of her interview, however, were not published until 1885---the year of her death---and then under the by-line of "H.H.," a by-line she frequently used.

Mrs. Jackson wrote that the first impulse of the Indians upon learning the court's decision was to resist. Friends, however, reasoned with them and pointed out that resistance would be useless, that force would be used if necessary---even to the point of shooting any who chose to resist.

Finally, Mrs. Jackson wrote, convinced of the hopelessness of their position, the Indians sat on the ground, some weeping, some sullenly silent, and watched while their possessions were brought from their homes and loaded on wagons. They could go anywhere they chose, Mrs. Jackson wrote, so long as they did not choose land belonging to white men.

It took three days to move the Indians, who walked behind the wagons clutching in their arms small household items. Loaded on the wagons were tule roofs from their adobe houses, for the roofs could be used again when new homes were built.

Most of the Indians, in order to remain as close as possible to their ancestral homes, chose to re-locate in a secluded little valley just to the south of Little Temecula Rancho.

Tony Ashman," who three years later was born into one of the evicted families and who is now ninety-six years old, five years ago told of the eviction as related to him by his parents. Leading the way to a brush-covered hill adjoining the little valley, Tony pointed and said: "They took them in wagons up on that hill and dumped them out . . . just dumped them and left them there! ... When they lived on the river at Little Temecula Rancho they had everything---sheep, goats, cattle. After they were driven out they gradually lost everything because they had no pasture for their animals."

In their new home, the exiled Indians built huts of reeds and straw. A booth of boughs was set tip for the priest who came on occasion to say mass. A graveyard was established, small plots of land were sown to wheat or barley, and a few small orchards were planted. A well was dug and water found.

The little settlement was vividly described by Mrs. Jackson. She told of huge baskets, woven of twigs, that were used for storage of wheat and acorns; of women carrying red pottery jars on their heads or backs as they brought water from the well; of old men carrying loads of sticks tied in bundles to be used as firewood, and of older women sitting on the ground making baskets.

During the year of 1885 the little valley where the Temecula Indians had made a new start became Pechanga Indian Reservation---so named for the little creek that, during rainy seasons, flows toward the Temecula River. Safe in their retreat the women again took up the art of lace-making taught to them during the years when the missions flourished. Most of the houses had frames hanging on the walls for making lace, and the product was said to be exquisitely beautiful.

The years have passed. Most of the Indians who once lived on the Pechanga Reservation have moved away and blended into the white society that dominates the country surrounding the little valley. A recent census of Indian Reservations gave the population of 4,125-acre Pechanga as seventeen. It has been almost a century since the Temecula Indians were driven to their new home, yet there is little change in the appearance of the land, for the Indians have always venerated Mother Earth and have preferred not to change her.


High Country Magazine #29, Summer 1974. Reprinted with permission.


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