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Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 17699@À

Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 17699@À

by George Harwood Phillips

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Long recognized as a pioneering work in the ethnohistory of California, Chiefs and Challengers, when it first appeared, overturned the stereotype of Indian victimhood and revealed a complex political landscape in which Native peoples interacted with one another as much as they did with non-Indians intruding into their territories. Although historian George Harwood Phillips did not shy away from chronicling the mistreatment of Indians, he moved beyond that approach to examine Indian-white interactions from both Indian and white perspectives. This new edition describes the indigenous cultures of southern California and offers a detailed history of the repercussions of Euro-American colonization.

Because there was no geographical frontier in California separating Indians and whites, the interaction varied significantly from region to region in California. In the south, conflict reached a climax in 1851 when Antonio Garra led a pan-Indian revolt that sent shock waves throughout California, forcing the Americans to take counteractions that affected themselves as much as the Indians.

In this second edition of Chiefs and Challengers, Phillips brings the story into the twentieth century by drawing upon recent historical and anthropological scholarship and upon seldom-used documentary evidence. After 1865, Indians faced new problems, including settler encroachment and the imposition of the reservation system. That some Indians succeeded in holding onto their ancestral lands, Phillips shows, is evidence of their strategic efforts to survive. His narrative includes numerous eloquent testimonies from Indians, among them a student at a government-run school who wrote to the U.S. president: “The white people call San Jacinto rancho their land and I don’t want them to do it. We think it is ours, for God gave it to us first.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806144900
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 08/14/2014
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 434
Sales rank: 507,086
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

George Harwood Phillips is retired as Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the author of numerous articles and books on California and its Native peoples, including Vineyards and Vaqueros: Indian Labor and the Economic Expansion of Southern California, 1771–1877.

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Chiefs and Challengers

Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 1769â"1906

By George Harwood Phillips


Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4490-0


A Political People

Whether organized at the level of the lineage, clan, or village community, the Indians of Southern California successfully managed their public affairs over millennia. In this sense they were as much a political people as they were a people who engaged in economic, recreational, military, and spiritual activities. They were also part of a vast conglomeration of Indian linguistic units, no less than six major languages being represented in California. In the extreme south the majority of the Indians belonged to the Uto-Aztecan language family, especially the Takic subfamily. Located to the south and east of the Takic-speakers were Indians who spoke languages of the Hokan-Siouan family of which Yuman was the subfamily.

The Takic-speaking Cahuilla, Cupeño, Luiseño, and Acjachemen, and the Yuma-speaking Kumeyaay, practiced highly specialized hunting and food-gathering economies based on vast ecological knowledge. From their most important staple, the acorn, they made gruel. They also consumed many other kinds of wild food plants, such as lambs celery, different kinds of rushes, the stalks of sage and yucca, currants, wild plums, and several varieties of berries. Big game was hunted, especially the greatly desired deer, but their usual source of meat came from rats, mice, ground squirrels, quail, ducks, songbirds, and rabbits. Compared with many North American Indians, most of the Indians in Southern California had a very diversified and healthy diet.

Literate observers often recorded aspects of the Indians' culture, including their knowledge of plant life. In 1814, for example, Spanish missionaries wrote about the traditional medical practices of the Luiseño:

When the malady is external such as a wound they firmly tie the upper part of the wound to prevent the evil from extending upwards. In addition, one of the following remedies is applied: a plaster of tule leaves (called Pibut by the Indians) which is cooked and crushed. At other times a poultice made of crushed wild onions (called Queheyaguis by the Indians). Sometimes they use an herb which grows along the seashore which they burn and apply the ashes to the wound. We do not know the name of this herb but they call it Chaeca. If the wound is a burn they follow the same treatment with regard to binding it but in addition they make a powder of the prickly pear called the Nabot. At other times they use the powdered excrements of the jack rabbit or rabbit called Tosajat Posá. Others use the leaves of the sage called Cas'l. If the malady is derived from the bite of a poisonous creature they bind it and use some stones similar to chalk called Xaclul. This they soak in the mouth and as soon as the stone is moistened they apply the spittle to the wound. In the same way they proceed in the case of wounds from poisonous arrows. If the illness proceeds from a swelling they always use a ligature and anoint the swelling with ointment or oil of the seed of the red pepper called Ennuix until it breaks open.

Because of the warm climate and generally abundant food sources, the material needs of these Indians were not great. Their houses consisted of pole frames covered with bark, brush, cattail, or woven mats. Clothing was limited to a skin breechclout for the men and fiber skirts for the women. Yucca fiber sandals were worn on long journeys, but most of the time people went barefoot. In winter, cloaks made from the skins of sea otter, rabbit, or deer were worn about the shoulders.

Skill in basket-making was highly developed. Most women used the coiling method, winding a rope of grass or twigs in circular layers and then sewing the coils together. Baskets were used as plates and cups, for storage, and for carrying seeds and other materials. Cahuilla women also knew the art of pottery-making. Smooth clay, free from sand and stones, was pounded and mixed with fine, crushed rock. Long strips were rolled and then coiled into the desired shape. Knowledge of pottery manufacture probably diffused from the Colorado River region.

One of the tasks of the men was the fashioning of nets, some six feet high and thirty or more feet long. The nets were manufactured from Indian hemp, milkweed, or nettles and were mainly used to snare rabbits on communal hunts. The men also shaped knives and arrowheads from stone and carved bows from willow, elder, or ash. They made a flat, curved throwing stick to bring down small animals. Indians who lived along the coast built plank boats by lashing boards together with thongs and then covering the cracks with asphalt.

For recreation several games were played. Men and boys especially enjoyed batting a wooden ball about with curved sticks. Women and girls preferred a game in which rings made of acorn cups were threaded on a string attached to a pointed stick. The idea was to throw the rings in the air and catch as many as possible on the stick. Older people played a dice game using four wooden boards that were painted with different designs. The score was decided based upon which side the boards landed. Perhaps the most popular game was peon. Usually eight men were engaged, four to a team, each side facing the other on its knees. One team would be given eight small pieces of bone, a black and white one for each member. They would then pass the bones between themselves while keeping their hands under a cover. At the same time they and their supporters would chant to confuse the other side. When the cover was dropped, the leader of the other team had to guess in whose hands the white bones were concealed. An umpire kept score with sticks. Sometimes the game would last well into the night before one side was declared the winner.

Many ceremonies centered on important transitional periods in the life of the individual: coming-of-age, marriage, and death. Attaining adulthood, usually at about thirteen or fourteen, was an extremely significant period for the individual and for the society. A coming-of-age ceremony for a group of girls involved placing the girls in beds of hot sand and covering them with mats. This was done to ensure enduring health so they would have many strong children. The girls would lay there for at least three days, taking only water and gruel. During this time, women and men would sing special songs about the society's traditions and about the importance of adulthood. Their relatives would make baskets and prepare gifts of food which they gave to members of other groups who participated in the ceremony. When the initiation was completed, the girls would remain in their houses for several days during which they were further instructed in the traditions of the society.

The coming-of-age ceremony for boys was also important. Because the society needed their skill and strength, the boys sought to exhibit great endurance during the ceremony. The boys would be assembled at night away from the village in a specially prepared clearing. Singing softly, an elder would pound the root of the jimsonweed into a powder that was then sifted through a basket and mixed with water. The drink would be given to the boys to produce visions, the source of the desired power. The party then would return to the village to dance. When the boys became dizzy from the drink, they would be taken back to the clearing, while the men continued to sing and dance through the night. For the next few days the boys would exist on a little gruel, while being taught special songs and receiving instruction through sand paintings in the ways of the universe. The conclusion of the ceremony signaled that the boys had become men and now assumed all the duties, responsibilities, and benefits of adulthood.

Marriage was also an important event, although the courtship was simple. Among the Luiseño, as recorded by Spanish missionaries, "the candidate (groom) sends a representative (who is always the father or a brother) to the parents of the girl and asks for her as wife. If the request is granted the groom sends her seeds, beads or other trifles. If the girl acepts [sic] these presents by that act the two are considered married." Marriage brought members of different groups together for a feast that lasted several days. During this time elders lectured the young couple on the responsibilities of marriage. If the marriage failed, however, the girl merely returned to her own people. She and her former husband would eventually find new partners. If the wife died the husband often married one of her sisters or cousins, thereby keeping the two families united. Spanish missionaries among the Kumeyaay noted that "At the death of one of the partners, the survivor weeps much and goes about very sorrowfully; this is more common among the old people."

Several ceremonies were concerned with death. There was a strong belief in an afterlife, although the other world was thought to be similar to the present one. In the afterworld individuals would go about their daily tasks but would be successful in every undertaking. Death was not just the concern of the immediate family but of the entire society and related groups as well. With many possessions the deceased was either cremated or buried the day after death. A week later the remaining possessions were burned and gifts distributed. This ceremony was designed to enhance the departure of the deceased to the afterworld. A year later a mourning ceremony was held. Families of the deceased spent weeks preparing for this event, collecting food, and making baskets to give away. For a week members of related groups conducted special rites.

Coming-of-age, marriage, and death were important events, but other kinds of celebrations also were held, such as the eagle dance. Regarding the Luiseño version, missionaries wrote in 1814:

In these Indians we have not observed any idolatry other than towards certain birds which they call Azuts. They are really a species of very large hawk. At the proper time when the birds are still young they take them from their nests. (They say there are never more than two.) Whoever catches them presents them with many indications of desired favors to their chief of the village who raises them with much care and attention until they grow up. When the birds have attained a good size the Indians hold a great feast which includes the following ceremonies: during the night before the feast they place the Azuts or hawks in the middle of a great ring formed by themselves. They dance and sing a very sad chant. While this is going on the old men and women blow in every direction at the same time making a thousand strange faces and grimaces. The birds are killed in a slow manner. As soon as they are dead they extinguish the fire and break out into wailing, shouting and howling like crazy people, take off the smut and strike about like maniacs so that their action causes horror and confusion. After this raving lasts for a long time, they light the fire again. Then they skin the birds and throw the flesh into the fire. Meanwhile they sing again but more gently. The birds' feathers are preserved with great care and veneration until the next day when they make a sort of skirt of them. This skirt is worn by a boy during the remaining days of the feast. In this apparel he dances in the midst of a great circle of Indians who likewise go about to and fro keeping time with the boy who dances in the center. This dance is continued at intervals. In like manner other boys selected for that purpose exchange places with the first boy. After the feast the captain of the village keeps the skirt with an amount of veneration or species of idolatry. We have made very careful inquiries but we have never been able to obtain any information other than that they did this because their ancestors practiced it.

In fact, the purpose of the dance was to honor a dead leader.

Although the Indians of Southern California shared many cultural traits, they occupied a vast territory of several geographical zones. One of the largest was located between the coastal plain and the Colorado Desert. Extending from the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains in a southeasterly direction is a corridor. Flanked on the east by the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and on the west by the Santa Ana Mountains, it funnels into the Coachella Valley and on to the Colorado Desert. The Cahuilla occupied the area.

Divided into several clans and many lineages, the Cahuilla were not politically unified, although those residing in the San Gorgonio Pass considered themselves a single entity based on genealogical relationships, a similar dialect, ceremonial cooperation, and territorial claim. They called themselves Wanakik which was a clan consisting of about ten lineages. Here the clan served as the central governing body of the Wanakik. They occupied an area of approximately 650 square miles.

Besides the Wanakik there were other clans located in the adjacent mountains and deserts, but they were made up of fewer than ten lineages each. The Mountain and Desert Cahuilla resided in areas where food resources were less abundant than in the San Gorgonio Pass and thus smaller units were needed to exploit the land. One lineage often occupied one village. The Desert Cahuilla lived in an area of 3,800 square miles. The Mountain Cahuilla occupied the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, in an area of over 600 square miles.

Every Cahuilla clan had a recognized parent lineage from which all others were thought to have segmented, and the leader of this lineage was considered the nominal head of the clan. His authority, however, was limited to presiding over a council of lineage leaders when the clan acted as a unit. The clan functioned when its territory was being infiltrated by non-clan members, when large hunting activities were undertaken, when inter-clan disputes developed, when a large labor force was needed, and when the participation of all the lineages was required for ceremonial purposes.

Cahuilla clans were divided into exogamous moieties, the Wildcat and the Coyote. That the Cahuilla divided themselves into halves indicates that they had a concept of their "wholeness." Unlike the other peoples of Southern California, the Cahuilla had a name for themselves. Indeed, all Cahuilla realized that they were members of a distinct cultural and linguistic entity, even though that entity had no political functions. The Cahuilla totaled about six thousand persons by the middle of the eighteenth century.

Although the Cahuilla possessed clans, it was within the politically autonomous lineage of about seventy-five persons that individuals found their identity and security. The lineage headman, the net, occupied a position that theoretically passed in a direct line from father to son. With the position went important responsibilities, such as maintaining and protecting a ceremonial bundle containing sacred property. The duties of the net included adjudicating disputes between lineage members, selecting areas for hunting and food gathering, representing the lineage at clan meetings, and remembering group boundaries and individual ownership rights.

The net was assisted by the paxaa who had ceremonial, administrative, and judicial duties. He saw to it that no lineage member behaved in a way offensive to the ceremonial bundle. He assisted the net in lineage and clan meetings and served as his messenger, communicating to the people important economic, political, and religious decisions. A ritual expert, the paxaa was responsible for organizing and directing all ceremonies. He also led community hunting parties and was responsible for the distribution of food.

Individuals who possessed supernatural power made up the puvalam association, and it was to this organization that the people turned when in want of food or assistance. By drawing the image of an acorn, for example, a member of the puvalam insured that the crop would become available. Animals would present themselves to hunters, and rain would begin or end under the power of the puvalam. Members of the organization also had the power to cure those suffering from natural or supernatural ills. Furthermore, because no important political decisions were made without first consulting the association and because the net and paxaa were members, the puvalam also formed a political organization that regulated many, if not most, of the lineage's important affairs. It was the main governing body of the Cahuilla lineage.

Over the centuries the Cahuilla developed a legal system that controlled deviations from the norm. Cahuilla law was founded in their oral literature, which was retained in "the song." Anyone flaunting the normative was said to be going against "the song." Ancient songs came from the creator, more recent ones from the people themselves. Through ritual, story, and anecdote, the traditional wisdom of the group was maintained and reinforced. Individuals who disobeyed "the songs" were often subjected to public ridicule that brought shame upon their families. Conversely, those who obeyed "the songs" often were rewarded with prestige, political power, and access to economic resources. Public offenses, such as murder, theft, rape, marital conflict, adultery, improper food gathering, poaching, ignoring the customs of reciprocity, breaking taboos, and practicing witchcraft, were brought before the lineage, in which the net, paxaa, and the other members of the puvalam heard the charges and rendered judgments. The guilty were banished, whipped, stoned to death, or buried alive.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Coming to Terms 3

1 Apolitical People 12

2 Crucible 27

3 New Leadership 54

4 Chiefs and Rancheros 78

5 Uprising 98

6 Military Justice 117

7 Repercussions 131

8 Chiefs, Subagents, and Army Officers 147

9 Vying for Chieftainship 180

10 Chiefs, Squatters, and Indian Agents 214

11 Village Captains under Pressure 237

12 Civil Justice 256

13 Ramifications 272

14 End of Chieftainship 293

Conclusion: Closing the Circle 323

Notes 339

Bibliography 395

Index 419

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