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Chemehuevi Indians

American Period

In as much as the Twentynine Palms area was relatively isolated, we do not know whether Chemehuevis occupied any sites there before the later years of the 19th century. The kind of settlement that might have been found from time to time within the bounds of the Joshua Tree National Park was probably similar to a site near Paiute Creek described by Whipple, who crossed the desert in 1856: "A little basin of rich soil still contains stubble of wheat and corn, raised by the Paiutes of the mountains. Rude huts, with rinds of melons and squashes scattered around, show the place to have been but recently deserted. Heinrich Baldwin Mollhausen, who accompanied Whipple, wrote that the expedition found the shells of desert tortoises wherever there was water, indicating that the meat of the tortoise was an important part of the Indian diet in the desert (Mollhausen 1858).

In 1858, immigrants from the east trampled the Mohaves' fields, and cut down to make rafts the Mohaves' valued cottonwood trees. The trees were valued resources for the Mojaves, who used cottonwood lumber to build their homes, and the inside bark for making garments. Moreover, they provided shade for men and animals in the hot summers of the area. Alarmed and angered, the Mohaves attacked, killing one man, wounding 11 others, and killing most of the immigrants' cattle and horses. Hualapais and 7 rengegade Mohaves murdered all of another small immigrant party. This encounter led to the establishment of Fort Mohave at the Mohave villages and the subjugation of the Mohaves by the U. S. military.

During the hostilities, the Chemehuevi were allies of the Mohave, but, being extremely adaptable people, their style of resistance to the invaders was different. Unlike the Mohaves, they had adopted firearms, and they practiced a kind of guerilla warfare instead of the hand-to-hand combat favored by the Mojaves. The Chemehuevi killed an occasional immigrant, and raided the immigrant trains for livestock. Once Fort Mojave was established in the spring of 1859, the U. S. Army enrolled Mohaves in expeditions against the Chemehuevis and Paiutes.

In 1861, the beginning of the Civil War in the United States caused the Army to withdraw its troops from the Mojave Desert. About this time, a number of Euro-Americans found deposits of valuable minerals in the deserts of southeastern California, and established mines, a number of them in Chemehuevi territory, and hired Chemehuevis and Paiutes to work in them.

In 1864, after the town of Prescott was developed to be the capital of the new territory of Arizona, there was an urgent need for a mail service to California. One possible route through California lay through the Coachella Valley and eastward along the Bradshaw road to La Paz, Arizona. The other lay along the Mojave River between Mojave Valley and Cajon Pass to San Bernardino. The Project Area lay between these two routes, of which the northernmost was chosen. Once the route was established, there were a number of casualties from the Chemehuevis and Paiutes who occupied the desert, traveling from the site of one resource to that of another. The Indians became increasingly aggressive in the summer of 1866, when several isolated killings were followed by a battle at Camp Cady, an existing military outpost midway between Cajon Pass and the Colorado River, in which the Indians killed three soldiers and wounded two others without themselves suffering any casualties. After this, the U. S. Army established a military camp at Camp Rock Spring near the eastern border of California, and began accompanying each mail with three outriders. Eventually, there were military posts at Soda Springs, Marl Springs, and Pah-Ute (Paiute) Spring, as well. Because of the reports and letters written and received by men stationed at these military posts, we know that Chemehuevis and Paiutes traveled from place to place in the Mojave Desert, and from to time attacked the men who carried the mail. Late in 1867, Major William Redwood Price, at Fort Mojave, negotiated a treaty of peace with 60 "well-armed Pah-Ute warriors," and kept a number of hostages at the fort to ensure that the peace would be kept (Casebier 1973:60-64). At the other end of the Mojave trail, where Indians had burned and looted in the vicinity of Lake Arrowhead and Bear Valley, settlers organized a surprise attack on Indians assembled at Chimney Rock, overlooking Rabbit Lake. Warned of the impending attack, most of them fled into the desert, but the settlers pursued them for 32 days and many lost their lives. Price's treaty and the settlers' military actions brought peace to the Mojave Desert (Beattie and Beattie 1951:421).

Meantime, along the Colorado River, relationships between the Mohave and Chemehuevi deteriorated. For some years they had lived side by side along the river, each group practicing flood plain agriculture and maintaining amicable relationships, but in the 1860s expedition after expedition of immigrants from the United States came across the desert heading for California, and even ships came up the Colorado River. After minerals were discovered on the Arizona side of the river, miners from northern California who had participated in the campaign of genocide against the Indians there came to the southern mines, and brought their antagonism toward the Indians with them. In this increasingly hostile climate, Chemehuevis and Mohaves turned against each other. There were murders of Mohaves by Chemehuevis, and of Chemehuevis by Mohaves. The tension between the two groups escalated into war between 1864 and 1867. Many Chemehuevi thereupon fled into the Mojave Desert, to the Coachella Valley, and to the Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms(Kroeber and Kroeber 1973:33-46; Trafzer et al. 1997:62-67).

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