Chapter 3: Mexican San Diego
7. Why were there conflicts between the Mexicans and Indians in San Diego?
From the beginning the San Diego settlers had lived surrounded by thousands of natives, most of whom regarded the Mexicans with fear and suspicion. As previously mentioned the secularization of the missions and the disbandment of the military garrison made conditions ripe for Kumeyaay raids and retaliation. Complicating matters was the fact that thousands of ex-mission Christian Indians drifted in and out of the Mexican settlements working as servants and laborers. When not living by the mission or pueblo they rejoined relatives in the hinterlands. Sometimes the Mexicans recruited the local Indians to serve as auxiliaries in the armies that the San Diegans raised during their civil wars with the norteños. Many Kumeyaay servants were intensely loyal to their Mexican employers, often saving their employer's lives by warning of attacks. Other Mexican settlers regarded all Christianized Indians with suspicion, as possible conspirators in league with the marauding bands in the back country.
In January 1836 native raiders attacked JoséMaría Marrón at his Rancho Cueros de Venado. The pueblo organized several retaliatory expeditions and they killed seven natives. As was common practice, the soldiers cut off the ears of those slain as trophies and they brought back women and children captives to work as servants, de facto slaves that could be sold.
In the Spring of 1837 Indian raids were particularly intense. Several bands from Baja California traveled north and allied themselves with ex-mission Indians. José María Estudillo recalled that these Christian Indians were "
our worst enemies because they knew the terrain and knew more than the wild bands." Hundreds of cattle and horses then began to disappear.
The most famous attack took place at Rancho Jamul which was owned by Pio Pico. One afternoon in April 1837 an Indian servant approached Doña Eustaquia Lopez, Pio Pico's mother who was sitting on the front porch of the rancho adobe. The servant told her that she had overheard other Indian servants telling of a plan to attack the rancho and kill all the gente de razón (Californios). Doña Lopez then called the mayordomo, Juan Leiva, and told him of this plot. He discounted the rumor telling her telling her that they had enough arms and men to defend the house from and attack. Señora Lopez did not trust his judgement, however, and with her three daughters, she fled the rancho going by caretera to Rancho Jamachá, owned by her friend Apolinaria Lorenzana. From there she continued on to the pueblo and told them of the impending attack. The alcalde called out the troops who soon rode towards Jamul, some 25 miles away. They arrived too late. The Indians had killed all the loyal Indian servants including the mayordomo and four vaqueros and had taken all the live stock. During the attack the mayordomo had tried to get into the armaments room but it had been locked by one of the servants who were in league with the attacking party.
The Indians also captured the mayordomos wife, Doña María, and her two daughters, Tomasa and Ramona, and a baby named Clara. The natives were persuaded not to kill Clara and María by the pleas of 15-year-old Tomasa. So they left María and the baby but took as hostages the two girls. María was forced to walk naked all the way to the pueblo. Despite numerous expeditions during the rest of the year, in which the Mexican volunteers killed scores of Indians, they never rescued the girls.
As a result of the trauma of this and other massacres that took place in the Spring of 1837 the pobladores now feared an attack on their settlement. In the early summer in San Diego, Felipa Osuna de Marron overheard two of servants discussing in their native tongue a plot to kill several Californios. Felipa knew the Kumeyaay language and she hurried to warn the others. The military commander immediately ordered the soldiers to round up the conspirators and they chased others through the town. Many servants fled and never returned to the pueblo. Within a few hours several Indians were executed by a shot to the head on suspicion of conspiracy. For her part Felipa was deeply saddened that her warning resulted in this bloodshed. José Estudillo remembered that one of the accused was his personal servant, Juan Antonio. Instead of handing him over, the family hid him and other preferred servants under their beds. But they were eventually found, dragged out and shot along with the others. Juan Bandini defended his servant and prevented him from being executed. The hysteria that this incident produced led many families to flee the pueblo and hide in the surrounding caves and gullies while protected by armed guards for several days until they felt the danger had passed.
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