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REMEMBERING THE LOCAL INDIAN RESERVATION

By Bonnie Ketterl Kane

Shortly after California became a state in September of 1850, the need to develop a program of confinement of the new state's Indians was determined. Due to the mass frenzy created by the “Gold Rush” the non-Indian population of California had gone from 15,000 people in 1848 to 93,000 in 1850 creating a great deal on conflict with the original residents.

In 1851 the state was divided into three sections for the purpose of negotiating treaties with the Indians. George W. Barbour from Kentucky was assigned to the area of Southern California from the San Joaquin River to the Mexican border. In June of 1851 he sent word to the tribes living south of the Kern River that he wanted to meet with them in the area of Tejon Canyon . Under military escort Barbour met with the chiefs of eleven tribes on June 10, 1851 . A generous amount of beef was distributed and a treaty signed in which the people relinquished all claims to the lands south of the Tehachapi and San Emigdio Mountains. In exchange they were offered an area that reached north to the Kern River , west to San Emigdio Canyon, south into the foothills of the Tehachapi Mtns and east through the Tejon Canyon , a total of 763,000 acres, much of which was already home to many of these people.

Barbour named the Indian reserve Camp Persifer F. Smith after the man who was serving as Military Commander of the Pacific at that time. The headquarters of the reservation was established in an adobe that had been built in the valley to the east of Grapevine Canyon by an American by the name of E. Darwin French, who had abandoned his rancho because of trouble with the Indians.

Jointly the three Indian agents of California had negotiated eighteen treaties giving up some seven million acres of land – about one fourth of the state. The new California legislature unanimously voted to condemn the treaties, which were then sent on to the U.S. Senate that also did not approve them. The Federal government then decided the program in California would be better run by one person rather than three. Edward F. Beale, who had spent a good deal of time in California during and after the War with Mexico presented his plan for the Indian Reserves and was awarded the position in March of 1852.

The size of most of the reserves was soon reduced. The reserve that Beale chose to develop first was Camp Smith , which he later renamed the Sebastian Indian Reservation for the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee who had supported his program. When it was realized that the remaining reserve was located on the Mexican Land Grant of El Tejon, Beale urged the purchase of the land but it was never done. Because of it's location the Reserve became more commonly known as the Tejon Reservation.

The Tejon name was also more commonly used because the military post established near the reserve in 1854 was called Fort Tejon . It was the government's plan that a military post should be located near each of the reserves.

The approximately 1600 Indians of Tejon lived in small villages of 100 to 500 people each. They were for the most part peaceful and cooperative. Beale instituted extensive programs of farming that made the reserve one of the most successful in the state. But the government did not support Beale's rather expensive methods of containment and reminded him that funds were to be used only for the removal and subsistence of the Indians “and not be applied to any other purpose whatsoever”. Beale was expending funds for horses, mules, farm implements, freight, and wages for farmers and mechanics to assist in teaching the Indians.

Despite the reprimand, Edward Beale continued to do what he thought best for the people. With communal farming already being practiced among the local Indians of mission background, and generous rains in the early years of the reserve, the plan met with great success and was written about in several newspapers throughout the state.

Due to his extravagance, Beale was replaced as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs by Thomas J. Henley in the summer of 1854. Henley continued many of the programs Beale had in place – though many of the Indians left angered by the change in leaders. Through the next nine years the Reservation program experienced a great deal of corruption and decline.

In April of 1861 Edward Beale had gained the appointment as the Surveyor General of California . Being familiar with the beauty and resources of the Tejon area he soon began the process of purchasing El Tejon Land Grant, where the reservation was located. When in 1863 a thousand “hostile” Indians were moved from the Owens River Valley to the reserve, Beale let his objections be known and the Indians were taken to the site of the then abandoned Fort Tejon . When it was found there was no way to feed the people there, they were moved to the Tule River Reserve in July of 1864 and the Tejon Indian Reservation was officially closed. Edward Beale allowed many from the original tribes of people to stay and work on his ranch.

Additional information may be found in "A View from the Ridge Route" series