Black Star Canyon's Indian Massacre

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

Pleasants wrote often about Orange County's past, even providing an eyewitness account to the 1857 lynching of Juan Flores, the Mexican bandit whose own story is a matter of historical contention (see my "Hero and Villain," Jan. 8, 2009). In his papers at the UCI archives, Pleasants left an unpublished summary of how he fought off Mexican horse thieves in Fremont Canyon in 1862, getting wounded in a gun battle. Yet never once in his writings did he mention the previous, pertinent exploits of his patron. Essentially, Pleasants kept Wolfskill's participation secret for 70 years, never publicizing it despite many opportunities to do so—then gave the exclusive to Stephenson.

Could it have been all made up? Could Stephenson been serving as a stenographer to an aging man who mixed his life with that of his boss?

Paul Apodaca—professor of American studies at Chapman University and a longtime curator of Orange County and California history, as well as American Indian art and folk art at the Bowers Museum—doesn't think so. "I think Pleasants told the tale, and Stephenson was truthful in the relation of it," he maintains. "I also believe Wolfskill told [Pleasants] that tale. Because there's no reason to not believe it. The context of Wolfskill in LA at that time, looking for work because there were no beavers, and the concerns about horse thievery all make it likely that he picked up a quick job from Mexican rancheros trying to pick up their horses."

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

Growing up in Tustin in the 1950s, the Black Star Canyon massacre "was part of the folklore of the native community, of the mountain community and of the historical community." Apodaca and his father would travel across Southern California's vanquished Indian villages—including the one up in Black Star Canyon.

The professor acknowledges "a number of indistinct elements to the [Wolfskill epic]." He doesn't understand, for instance, how a group of Indian horse thieves could camp out so near an Indian village without repercussions. "The Indians [in Orange County] all worked on rancho," he says. "They knew very well the feelings about stealing horses among the rancheros. They would be very unlikely to harbor horse thieves that would put them in danger with the rancheros they worked for and with."

He also points out that the thieves probably wouldn't have slaughtered horses for food, given they were so near cattle ranches and the abundant fauna in the canyons during that era. "And what happened to the dead bodies? If they were members, the villagers would've taken them, and even if they weren't, they wouldn't have abided dead bodies," Apodaca says. "Everyone knows that dead bodies will breed sickness. Those are all mysterious elements to the tale."

Told of the discrepancies and lack of documentation before Stephenson, Apodaca stands firm in his belief. "That doesn't surprise me at all. Especially in the 19th Century, the printed word had much greater importance than it does today," he says. "I think it's very likely that people held back words that would further alienate the [Indian] labor force and those that worked with them.

"I believe the tale," he repeats. "I think [Wolfskill] picked up a couple of extra dollars doing a job for someone. He might've killed a couple of Indians, or didn't kill anyone and told the story so they thought they got their money's worth."

What fascinates him more than facts, though, is what it all means. "The meta-narrative of OC historians has been to describe the county as created and civilized by white people," Apodaca says, cracking that Jim Sleeper "tried to describe all of OC as attributable to Iowa." "The role of Indians in that meta-narrative is for [whites] to prove their heroism and bravery against them.

"Folk tales do not reflect accurate historic information," he points out. "They reflect the values of the people who keep on passing the tale. That's important because there could be two folklores connected to the incident. The first folklore is one that is speaking of the value of Europeans in California in their relationship to Indians in a dominant position. The second folklore uses the same incident to create sympathy for the Indians—that contemporary people are using the [massacre] to think what a terrible thing that was—which is why they tie it to ghost stories today. The ghosts are punishing us for letting this happen."

Which returns us to the horror show.

In her unpublished notes about the history of OC's canyon country on file at the UCI archives, Adelina Pleasants lists its murders and crimes. When it came to Black Star Canyon, though, she didn't mention any Indian massacres, instead dismissing them as "bleak hills." And then, this: She added that Californios claimed the area was "haunted, and that the moans and cries could be heard there after nightfall."

It's impossible to know what really happened up in Black Star Canyon—whether there was a massacre of Native Americans, whether Wolfskill was involved, whether it's all a fable. But that's beside the point. People believe it happened, and that's what matters.

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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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