Black Star Canyon's Indian Massacre

Did Orange County's only Indian massacre really happen—or is it a necessary white lie?

Neither Stephenson nor Sleeper seemed to have bothered with other accounts of the Old Spanish Trail crew, which spun a different adventure.

*     *     *

There is nothing mentioned about any Wolfskill-led massacre in any of the documents on file in the J.E. Pleasants Papers, held in the UC Irvine Special Collections and Archives. In the boxes of material are letters Pleasants and his wife wrote to Wolfskill's children, friends and siblings; preliminary inquiries Adelina made into the county's past; and voluminous newspaper clippings mentioning Wolfskill's relatively brief time in Orange County as owner of Rancho Lomas de Santiago. But until Stephenson, none of the ample writings on Wolfskill mentioned the carnage, even though it would've naturally fallen into the narrative of one of the most celebrated explorers of the West.

From Sleeper’s 1968 edition of the Rancho San Joaquin Gazette
Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, UC Irvine Libraries
From Sleeper’s 1968 edition of the Rancho San Joaquin Gazette
Joseph Edwards “Judge” Pleasants
Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, UC Irvine Libraries
Joseph Edwards “Judge” Pleasants

Born in Kentucky in 1798, Wolfskill's dad had entered the state along with Daniel Boone. Father and son moved to Missouri, then, in the early 1800s, to the fringes of America's then-western territories, where the threat of Indian attacks was such that Wolfskill's biographer wrote, without exaggerating, "By the time he had reached the age of 14, [William] had learned to handle a long . . . rifle with amazing facility." He arrived in Santa Fe in 1822 and followed the fur trade from Colorado to Mexico, enduring Indian attacks, befriending a young Kit Carson (who came from the same Kentucky county as he) and even doubling as a moonshiner with "Taos Lighting" whiskey.

In 1830, Wolfskill gathered about 20 Americans, Frenchmen and New Mexicans to try to find a new route that would open up trade between New Mexico and California. No diary of the journey exists other than Wolfksill's ledger, held at the Huntington Library in San Marino. But the creation of what became the Old Spanish Trail was a momentous occasion in Southern California. It's mentioned in all the major histories of the Southwest—yet none of them up until Shadows of Old Saddleback mention the Wolfskill massacre that Stephenson via Pleasants insisted was the expedition's coda. In fact, the reminiscences of the Old Spanish Trail's opening by the men who experienced it don't paint a triumphant conquest at all.

The Wolfskill campaign went from New Mexico to Utah to Nevada and finally into California. It was a hard trek. Wolfskill nearly led his men to their deaths in Utah after a wrong turn resulted in the camp being snowed in; one of the men who went, Ziba Branch, recalled in 1859 that they "had to subsist on the flesh of their horses and mules" to survive. J.J. Warner, a Wolfskill contemporary who first met him in Taos and arrived in Los Angeles in the fall of 1831, wrote in a 1907 document that the trappers, "suffering from cold and scarcity of food, demoralization and disorganization," abandoned their leader upon reaching Los Angeles, "leaving him without means or resources and a heavy debt."

In Utah, the Utes warmly greeted the Wolfskill party, feeding them and allowing these white men to attend the funeral of one of their chiefs. As generous along the trail were Mojaves and Shoshones, so much so that Ned Blackhawk, author of Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires In the Early American West, quipped that the explorers' "wanderings along the trail had not only depended upon different Indian bands, but also tempered these seasoned traders' interest in such future travel."

Wolfskill and his men reached Mission San Gabriel in February 1831, embarrassed by their bedraggled appearance in front of clergy and Californio elite and fearing their wrath. Instead, according to the memoirs of George Yount, who was the first American farmer in the Napa Valley and served as Wolfskill's second-in-command, they received a warm welcome due to "their scrupulous honesty [that] had preceded them there."

"Apartments neat, clean and sumptuous were allotted to them," Yount's biographer wrote, "and they were fed richly and attended like guests of distinction and renown . . . every delicacy at the [mission] priest's command was sent them, and no effort was wanting to promote their happiness."

After two weeks of fiestas, according to Yount, he and Wolfskill sent men back to New Mexico and "passed a few weeks in exploring the region." Yount eventually set off to hunt otters in Catalina; Wolfskill, with the help of the Mission San Gabriel priest and others, built a schooner and sailed to Baja California. After returning, he set up his agricultural, cattle and rancho empires.

"In reality, he had one of the kindest of hearts," wrote H.D. Barrows, founder of the Southern California Historical Society, teacher of Pleasants in his youth and son-in-law of Wolfskill, in a 1902 journal. "Finally, in honesty, and in most of the sterling qualities that are accounted the base of true manhood, he had few superiors."

Barrows was Wolfskill's indefatigable biographer, writing about him in 1855 for the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin and his obituary for the Wilmington Call, one of Southern California's earliest English-language newspapers. He pulled no punches in describing his father-in-law's encounters with those whom he dismissed as "savages" and "red men."

But he never mentioned any Black Star Canyon war.

*     *     *

Barrows stretched his hagiography just a bit: Wolfskill was no stranger to frontier justice. In 1836, he and others, angry that the Mexican wheels of justice turned too slowly in convicting two murderers, lynched the pair and let authorities know after the fact, mocking them for their tardiness. In 1861, Wolfskill and other Southern California landowners gathered a posse to track a gang of horse thieves, with Pleasants leading them from Rancho Lomas de Santiago to San Bernardino, where they successfully apprehended the criminals; he would relate the experience in his Touring Topics series.

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32 comments
Penny Stirling Johnson
Penny Stirling Johnson

Something like this really did happen outside Tucson and apparently one of our honored founding fathers was one of the leaders of the massacre.

Terry Finnegan
Terry Finnegan

Very good article! This Sr. Gustavo fella continues to write VERY well. No, I'm not shocked of that fact either. White man rewriting actual fictional history, no not shocked at that either.

OC Weekly
OC Weekly

Why don't you like the piece!

fretsward
fretsward

Sorry I left my decoder ring at home. But then again, its the same dog and pony show: All La Raza -- All the time. Race baiters redux, or perhaps the chosen spirituel, rakish, vulpine, or philomath with side orders of risible. It does consequently --I might add bring the question and additional queries in regards to the occurrence of haemolytic disease. 

I recall a certain episode: "Lassie." "Lassie."

Timmy and Lassie are on The Great Snipe Hunt. Timmy thinks he hears one and reaches between 2 boulders. The boulder moves and traps Timmy's arm.

"Oh fcuk Lassie, the boulder has moved and trapped my arm." "Go and get help!" No? You won't go until I renounce my culture theft?"

What's that Lassie? Pretendians should be the suitable moniker since they professed to have no tribal bloodlines while claiming to be Native American. For them, being Native American means that no tribal lineage is actually required. Only avatars and claims will suffice. Having no real claims to being autochthonous, the illusion and fantasy with images of scantily-clad women petting wild animals, or images with feathers or some type of Coccus, Ichneumonidae or Hybrid.

Impostors will pretend to be Native American, without being Indian or having any Native American lineage or teachings, the use of ceremonial pipes, smudging, the use of Native names, the making of Indian paraphernalia such as prayer arrows, tobacco ties, the use of feathers, the use of cornmeal and tobacco in offerings, the use of braided sweet-grass for blessings, the making of medicine bundles, eagle feathers, the ceremonial use of medicine wheels with the four directions, the insulting whooping to drums, the practice of purification in seat-lodges and the proverbial vision quest. 

You would never report that over 100,000 American citizens have been killed by illegal aliens since September 11, 2001. In Mexico City, there were celebrations for the attacks. The death toll in 2006 alone far overshadowed the total numbers of US soldiers killed in the combined Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In California, those who have never held a valid license and are driving for the first time since they entered the country illegally are involved in a fatal accidents and far too many ridiculous collisions on our streets it should be considered a national emergency. Every day in the US, 27 Americans are murdered by illegal aliens and another 23 innocent citizens are sentenced to death by illegal alien drunk drivers. Gives an entirely different meaning to "shovel ready."

On 9 March 1916, Pancho Villa ordered nearly 100 Mexicans to make a cross-border attack against Columbus, New Mexico. They attacked a detachment of the 13th Cavalry Regiment (United States), burned the town and seized 100 horses and mules and other military supplies. Eighteen Americans and about 80 Villistas were killed. 

In January 1916, a group of Villa's men attacked a train on the Mexico North Western Railway, near Santa Isabel, Chihuahua, and killed several American employees of the ASARCO company. The passengers also included eighteen Americans, fifteen of whom worked for American Smelting and Refining Company. There was only one survivor, who gave the details to the press. Villa admitted to ordering the attack.

In addition to plundering homes, taking captives, and seizing horses and mules, southern plains men exerted great energy and took great risks to kill Mexicans, slaughter thousands of pigs, cows, goats, and sheep, set fire to dwellings, barns, and granaries. In October 1844, for example, several hundred raiders attacked settlements in northern Tamaulipas. While they took many horses and captives, they also burned to death men, women, and children at Los Moros, killed many men who came to help, and later killed hundreds of residents of Rancho de la Palmita. 

In 1916, (The New York Times, March 10,1916, p. 1.) in our own century, Pancho Villa and his revolutionary soldiers—or drunken banditos, take your pick—rode out of their Mexican sanctuary and into Columbus, New Mexico shouting their battle cry, "Mata los gringos!" (kill the gringos!). And kill the gringos they did, and they burned and they looted. Before they were driven back to Mexico by the hot pursuit of the American Army, Pancho Villa's bandito revolutionaries killed 17 Americans, both civilian and military, male and female (T.R. Fehrenbach, Fire and Blood. Macmillan, 1973, p. 524. Charles C. Cumberland, Mexico, The Struggle for Modernity, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 366.).

Today, Pancho Villa is a Mexican folk hero. La Raza is not part of the federal Confederacy. Just an anti-American social club.

Speaking of adding: Add regurgitated propaganda that infers Latinos are Native Americans, duplicity, arrogance, isolated illegal aliens neighborhoods, the Klan with the Tan demands, protest for the jaw-dropping imagined right to never-ending pitch for the excuse to invade this country, the blatant abuse of our 14th Amendment that is filling the country with people who are under the jurisdiction of Mexico, and its a wonder Jose Angel Gutierrez or Cecilia Munoz hasn't come in to bulldoze the Gringos out of existence.  

After the Pretendian victory dance and La Raza cake, you can put away the Chicano studies textbooks, revisionist history, picket signs, insist we should Press "1" for English numskullism, stomp your feet, and bleat that such discussions will not hurt your feelings. 

"A Weekly investigation has found there is no concrete evidence the 1831 bloodbath ever happened: no artifacts, no primary testimonials, all hearsay."

Yet another salacious headline and myth guised as news. I'm certain you'll delete my comments as always. 

Happy Thanksgiving. I believe it's safe to say you've reached the rank of spelunker...

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

What's with these stupid gd HB (Huntington Beach) cops in their whirly bird flyin' over Costa Mesa at 9:30 pm at night spotlightin' the Mormons in the parking lot of their church with their FLIR on. Costs the taxpayers $800.00+ per hour for this stupid crap. Course the Mormons are weird anyway. Tell 'em to go back to HB, They're outta their jurisdiction.

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

So when do all the libs give up all their money and worldly goods to ease their hurt broken hearts !!???!?


they talk a big game but wont do "the right thang"


come on lefty



marchell62
marchell62

A+ Gustavo! Regardless of what did or did not happen, Black Star Canyon is of historical importance.

All one has to do is hike to the village, California Historical Landmark #217, and rest upon the metates that once fed a village.

Despite the fear of the ever present crackling gun powder exploding in the distance, those of us who survive the pilgrimage to the secret place, sheltered by a grove of oak tress, pay homage to the sacred remnants of the indigenous people who lived there.

Sadly, the desecration of this sacred landmark continues today. The evidence of ignorance is recognized along the trail by discarded trash, graffiti, razor wire, and a stolen landmark sign, which once hung on an oak tree, reminding visitors they were entering a sacred space. The defamation of this culturally significant beacon is just one more manifestation of the continual massacre of a history of a people.

The OC Trail of Tears may or may not have ended in a bloody massacre, but it cries for the ethnic cleansing of a people from their homeland. With your cover story, we are one step closer to bringing them home.

jimgilchrist
jimgilchrist

Gustavo,


Are you sure that the Black Star Halloween tale wasn't written by the Orange County Register's Frank Mickadeit?  He is the only OCR amateur writer known for writing propaganda under the guise of fair and balanced journalism.  He is also the reason newspaper subscribers continue to decline.  The LA Times is a much better and more reliable newspaper.  The OC Register is for village idiots.


Jim Gilchrist, Founder and President, The Minuteman Project

David Derk
David Derk

Stupid people write for this mag. Complete dumbasses. "Unlike"

Em Sedano
Em Sedano

someone's editor fell asleep at the typewriter. "few permanent residents, more than happy to menace hikers with shotguns, further sully the area with an aura of otherworldly menace. "

Joe Provino
Joe Provino

I always heard that area was weird..

Catherine Turley
Catherine Turley

if there is no concrete evidence that the massacre took place, then you can be certain of absolutely nothing. white people have gone and will continue to go to any lengths to conceal the ugly truth of their actions.

Marc Morin-Lebel
Marc Morin-Lebel

As I read this story, the words from Fleetwood Mac's song came to mind: "Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies (tell me lies--tell me, tell me lies)....."

Sherry Ray-Von
Sherry Ray-Von

You couldn't think of anything else to write about on this holiday.

canycany
canycany

What a wonderful piece you have written. Thank you.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in Black Star over the last three-plus decades (and having driven home to Hidden Ranch a former friend a number of times back in the late 70s), I can't buy into all the Halloweenish foo-fah. It is a magical place because of what it is; not because of what it isn't.

Now those "bleak hills" suffer from razer wire along the roadway (our human equivalent of lifting our leg to mark our property possessions) which elsewise encloses areas severely graded by people who really don't have a clue. The often apparent lack of wilderness ethic by visitors poses a fire danger with illegal campfires and a clean trail in the evening can turn into a beer-can studded testament to the disrespect the area is lashed with on a regular basis. It's shameful. If not for the local morning walkers, the place would look like a dump.

Having myself been faced several times over the years with a shotgun-wielding, threatening resident, I stopped going to the area for quite a while believing the resident entirely crazy enough to do harm.

Now it's bikes, sometimes strollers, urban visitors with off-leash dogs harassing wildlife (and in the warm months risking potentially lethal snake bikes to these dogs) and a long list of trespassers onto park lands.

The moans and cries, I have never heard except perhaps my own as I have observed the increasing disrespect given this area.

Early European settlers believed evil existed in the forests of the east and it frightened them. That same mentality seems to morph into other forms of superstition with each generation. But as one that dearly loves this land, I don't see the same things they do and I most certainly don't experience it in the same way or for the same reasons.

There's magic in them thar hills, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts or tales. It has to do with the land itself.





fretsward
fretsward

@Terry Finnegan There's always Chicano studies as the true history...

bphood
bphood

@GustavoArellano @fretsward I loved it...I am 3rd gen on both sides from Riverside....I know, the I.E. well somethings you just cant wash off. I say that to say I study so. cal history and most early accounts are fanciful at best...one tail after the next of far fetched bullshit...A good example of my point is the book "Spanish and Indian names of California" by Sancez / 1922 I am sure it is long out of print but my copy was at some point in a L.A. public Library...one laugh after the next this book...it seems the Spanish held themselves in an unhealthy level of esteem.

 
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