PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Yuma and Mojave Indians vs. the United States
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Southwestern Arizona and southeastern California
DECLARATION: None; Yuma chief Garra did indicate his dissatisfactions, however, by refusing to pay taxes.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Yumas and Mojaves launched a resistance to Anglo-American settlement, the pace of which had been greatly increased by the 1849 gold rush; the United States fought to quell the rebellion and pacify the tribes.
OUTCOME: The uprising was supressed.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Indians, 500–800 warriors; United States, 600 troops
TREATIES: The Mojaves agreed to a treaty on Christmas Day, 1851, and the Yumas agreed to a treaty on October 12, 1852.
The California gold rush of 1849 not only helped to stitch the United States together as a nation after the United States–Mexican War, it also accelerated the collapse of U.S.-Indian relations in the American West. Although the Forty-Niners did not prospect in the Yuma and Mojave homelands of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California as they did in the homelands of other tribes, many of the gold-blind immigrants did travel through those lands along the southern Overland Trail. The Yumas and Mojaves responded the way they had been responding since 1827, when the legendary guide and mountain man Jedediah Strong Smith (1799–1831) first led a trapping expedition through the area. They raided travelers.
The Yumas in particular controlled a strategic position known as Yuma Crossing, a natural ford across the Colorado River near the mouth of the Gila River. Partly to protest the abuses they had suffered at the hands of invading whites, Antonio Garra (d. 1852), leader of a Yuma tribe called the Cupanga-kitoms, in 1851 notified San Diego County authorities that his people would not pay the taxes assessed on them. By November 1851, Garra, Chief Gerón-imo of the New River Kamias, Captain Alleche of the Cahuillas, and Chief Fernando of the Chemehuevis called on Yuma leaders and laid plans for a revolution among them and the Mojaves and Yokuts of the San Joaquin Valley as well as various tribes in Baja California.
On November 10, 1851, a party of sheep drovers, with 1,500 animals, reached the Colorado River near the Yuma Crossing. The next day, the party divided, five men continuing on with the sheep, the remainder making camp with a battle-hardened, one-armed veteran of the Mexican War, Lieutenant Thomas “Fighting Tom” Sweeny (1820–92) and his small command. Before the day was out, 400 Yumas had surrounded Sweeny’s camp but retired when he threatened them with a 12-pound howitzer. Another party of Indians attacked the drovers who had remained with the sheep, killing four of the five. On November 12, Sweeny’s troops were augmented by the arrival of reinforcements. However, Camp Indepen-dence as Sweeny called his garrison was more or less continually besieged throughout November and into early December. Sweeny and a garrison now numbering about 100 men withdrew from the camp on December 6.
Elsewhere in California, Indians were also attacking whites, the most serious occurrence being a November 23 raid on Warner’s Ranch outside San Diego. Alarmed Cali-fornians organized a militia, but it was neither the militia nor the regular army that ultimately captured Antonio Garra; it was a band of Cahuilla Indians who had refused to take part in the rebellion. He and other rebels (including a Mexican and an Anglo-American, in addition to Indians) were tried and executed. The executions were followed by an attack on the Cahuilla villages of nearby Coyote Canyon. U.S. Army major H. P. Heintzelman mobilized 80 troopers and, on Christmas Day of 1851, defeated the rebel Cahuillas, who quickly signed a peace treaty.
Along the Colorado, however, Sweeny’s garrison having departed, the Yumas maintained control until February 1852, when 500 soldiers arrived in San Diego. Half were sent to the Colorado. California recruits were added to this number until Heintzelman commanded some 400 men. They marched against some 500 rebel Indians, who were less well armed and supplied. Operating out of Fort Yuma, on the California side of the Colorado, Heintzel-man’s men raided villages during March and April to relatively little effect. About 16 warriors were killed, although numerous settlements were razed. Sweeny, who had headed south into Baja California, was more successful, burning two Cocopas villages on April 12, which led to the surrender of some 150 warriors, who agreed to help fight the Yumas.
In August 1852, a group of Mexican sheep drovers learned that the Yumas and neighboring tribes were planning an all-out attack on Fort Yuma at the end of the month. Heintzelman and Sweeny prepared for the onslaught, but it failed to materialize. Instead, the Yumas expressed their desire to talk peace. Sweeny arranged truce talks, and the Indians assembled near the Colorado River. Instead of approaching the warriors peacefully, Heintzelman ordered three companies of regulars to fix bayonets and charge. The Indians promptly retreated and, once again, requested a parley. Heintzelman again granted one, this time on August 27, and this time he kept his word a 10-day truce was concluded. The truce stretched into several weeks of inconclusive peace while the parties wrangled over terms. On September 23, Heintzelman lost patience and renewed his campaign. On September 29, he surprised a band of Yumas near present-day Blythe, California. They fled without offering battle. Finally, on October 2, 1852, the Yumas held a grand council with the army, during which they negotiated both pardons and permanent peace.