The Mariposa War
Chapter 5: War Council
King James called for a council of tribal leaders at his Mariposa Creek trading post. Then, mustering all his charisma, diplomatic skills, and fluency with their language, he revealed that he knew of their plans to drive out the white settlers, mining in the foothills.
He begged them to abandon these plans, arguing that there were too many white men to fight, and that the white man possessed too much firepower. He warned that they would be wiped out if they made war.
After this speech, he invited Chief Juarez to confirm what he had just said, by telling the leaders what he had witnessed of the white man’s strength while visiting San Francisco. But he didn’t realize that Juarez’ pride was still stinging from being slapped around by his king.
Chief Juarez stepped up and delivered these words:
Our brother has told his Indian relatives much that is true. We have seen many white people. The white men are very numerous. But they are white men of many tribes. They are not like the tribe that digs gold in the mountains. They will not help the gold diggers if the Indians make war against them. The white tribe will not go to war with the Indians in the mountains. They cannot bring their big ships and their big guns to us. We have no reason to fear them. They will not injure us.
Savage realized his miscalculation, and desperately launched a counterargument. But it was no use. The natives were determined to fight. Soon all of Savage’s subjects disappeared from his trading post, to join their tribe in the war effort. The king had lost his kingdom, and would reign no more over the Tularenos.
It’s human nature for both sides to exaggerate in political arguments, while the truth is located somewhere in the middle. Savage had argued that if they went to war, they would be wiped out by the white man. Chief Juarez had argued that the white tribe in San Francisco would not go to war against the Indians in the mountains. But neither argument was completely accurate, nor completely inaccurate.
The Indians committed the first massacre, killing three men at Savage’s Mariposa Creek trading post. The sheriff of Mariposa, James Burney, responded by organizing an expedition against the Indians, led by the former king, as their guide.
On January 11, 1851, this expedition located a force of 400 Indians on the side of a mountain, near present-day Oakhurst, California. But they lost the element of surprise, and the Indians overpowered them with their arrows and bullets. The expedition retreated, but then Burney rallied his men and launched a counterattack that forced the Indians to scatter.
Burney’s men managed to eke out a small victory, with only two of his troops killed, and four wounded. Meanwhile, about 40 Indians had been killed.
The expedition returned to Mariposa, where a request was sent for state and federal aid. But the citizens of Mariposa were impatient, so while they waited for help, Savage and Burney recruited a force of 164 miners and settlers to hunt down and attack renegade Indians.
This is the latest installation of my 10-part series, The Mariposa War. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 6: The Treaty Strategy . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.