Last time: Part One: The blackest of crimes committed against Warner Ranch Indians
“When Charles Fletcher Lummis stepped into the state of California,” writes Frances E. Watkins, “he took the vast domain of the Pacific Coast for his own. It was his to praise and his to blame — above all, his to fight for, right against wrong as he saw it.”
A writer/editor of Out West Magazine and one of the first photojournalists, Lummis fought for conservation long before it became popular. He was the first to translate and publish Father Junípero Serra’s diary. The Landmarks Club he cofounded restored missions and other historic buildings. Always outspoken — he called Manifest Destiny “manifest thievery” — he wore a wild green corduroy outfit, chain-smoked cigars, and, if contradicted, would counter-attack with wild intolerance.
On April 1, 1903, Lummis reached a high-water mark. In the San Diego Union, he claimed he found a better home for the Cupeño Indians. They lived on “the desert corner of a worthless cattle ranch” at Warner’s Springs. Their new home at Pala, 45 miles away, will be a “valley all their own.” They will enjoy “better conveniences and better care and better lands than they have now, and will be paid for building them.”
Lummis led the Warner’s Ranch Indian Advisory Commission on a three-week expedition for possible sites. The only real hardship came “from hair-trigger Americans,” who urged the natives to resist the move.
On May 13, 1901, when the Supreme Court declared they must leave their ancestral land, three Cupeño leaders wrote to the president, “our father, the White American in Washington,” urging him not to “throw us out, no!” Although the court decision was final, for the next two years, Lummis, his so-called “hair-trigger Americans,” and newspapers eager for a sensational story turned the removal into a national tug-of-war.
In December 1902, James McLaughlin of the Bureau of Indian Affairs examined 12 properties in San Diego and Riverside counties. He recommended the 2370-acre Monserrate Ranch, about halfway between Fallbrook and Bonsall, for the Cupeños’ new home. The ranch had 1800 arable acres, he said, with 300 irrigable from the San Luis Rey River, “at certain seasons.” There was a 40-horsepower pumping plant, “comparatively new and in good condition,” and abundant timber. Of all available property, McLaughlin deemed Monserrate “superior.” The cost: $70,000.
When the Bureau of Indian Affairs endorsed the proposal, Lummis and his Sequoya League objected: “Far from removing the need for a commission [to inspect locations], this emphasizes it.”
Lummis demanded an advisory commission, appointed by the Department of the Interior, to make a more rigorous search. As a result, the congressional action halted.
On May 28, president Theodore Roosevelt, Lummis’s friend and Harvard classmate, called for a Warner’s Ranch Indian Advisory Commission. Five citizens, headed by Lummis, would “serve without compensation to investigate the needs of the Indians.”
Lummis was ecstatic. “You and I have ached for years,” he wrote George Bird Grinnell, editor of Forest and Stream magazine and fellow Sequoya League member. “Now I believe with all my heart the hour has struck…God pity the oppressor, for his name shall be made a stench in the nostrils of the decent!”
On June 2, 1903, having been notified by telegraph, Lummis, Charles Partridge, R. C. Allen, Richard Egan, William Collier, Mary Haskins, and Lummis’s ten-year-old daughter Turbese outfitted for the expedition at Riverside, along with Lanier Bartlett, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. They assembled horses, a wagon with a large, canopy-like umbrella, plus cameras and measuring instruments. A prairie schooner–style chuck wagon hauled food and, locked in a large trunk-like box, a case of white wine, a gallon of whiskey, two gallons of claret, a gallon of zinfandel, 200 Barman Bros. cigars, and 100 miscellaneous stogies.
Lummis later defended the sealed cargo: “no Havana cigars, just decent little 5-centers, no imported wines or even of the fine California vintages, but just good label wines needed as “lubricants” for “overworked men in the desert.”
The commission wanted two Cupeño representatives. They met with Cecilio Blacktooth and 30 others. “In spite of the honeyed words of the commissioners” (Riverside Daily Press), Blacktooth answered every question with “I want to see the President” and “we will not give up our home.” Asked to name two representatives, he told the commission to “pick as it chooses.”
They selected Ambrosio Ortega and Salvador Nolasaquez, who spoke English and wouldn’t need an interpreter.
Two days after the expedition left Kupa, the Los Angeles Times quoted Blacktooth: “What right have you got for taking our lands and hunt new homes for us? You white people all think we are dogs without any feelings… God gave us this land. Who can take it away?”
For the next three weeks, led by young Turbese in a checked tam o’ shanter on a roan horse, the expedition inspected 26 sites. Lummis wrote: “Few travelers in California have any dream of the ‘back country.’” In north San Diego County, behind “the Eden the tourist visits, are more mountains and more rocks than in the state of New Hampshire. Thousands of square miles are worthless now and forever. All the ingenuity of man will never find a use for them.”
He often noted the poor conditions of the reservations. Natives have lost their “fertile valleys sometimes under color of law, sometimes at the end of a shotgun — and driven back to the ragged edge of the desert.
“It has become a standing jest with all who are familiar with the facts, on seeing an absolutely worthless peak of dry rocks to remark: ‘that must be an Indian reservation.’ Almost nothing a white man would take as a gift has been left these original Americans.”
On a typical day, commissioners walked the length and breadth of a property. They measured the flow of streams, noted the slope of the fields and quality of the crops. They took soil and water samples and surveyed the timber.
At day’s end, Lummis unlocked the box and gave the party a “short spell of relaxation.” Then he dictated to stenographer Mary Haskins until midnight. The group broke camp at five the next morning.
In his report, Lummis didn’t mention that they inspected Monserrate Ranch during a severe drought. The bed of the San Luis Rey River was a “sandwash.” Dirt covered half of the badly rusted, 40-horsepower pumping plant — “more like 20 than 40” — the boiler thick with slime. Elsewhere, weeds choked the bean crop, alfalfa fields were “thirsty,” and a frog in the pipe made the windmill “suck air.”
There wasn’t enough water for 300 Indians. McLaughlin saw the ranch in December, “but come summer there was hardly a drop on the place. Worse yet, the price is more than twice what the land is worth. $70,000 is excessive — to state it mildly.”
The expedition spent two nights and three days at Monserrate. After they left, manager Chas Clark complained to the Los Angeles Times: “the Commission came through like a circus, on horseback and in big wagons drawn by four horses and a cook.” They just ambled around the property, Clark said. Lummis “took photographs with great seriousness for such a silly exercise.” To sample water, “they filled a tin can from a stream.”
They only visited the ranch, Clark said, because “They had to. The main idea seemed to give it a black eye.”
When he heard the complaint, Lummis countered: “Every man who doesn’t sell his land through us will have a grudge.”
The search ended June 23. The commission chose the Pala Reservation, in a valley on the San Luis Rey River. But they kept it a secret, even in their 136-page report delivered a month later. If they named the property, Lummis feared the 12 white owners would raise the price.
The official report said the commission traveled 500 miles by wagon and several hundred by train. They inspected approximately 110,000 acres and made “painstaking analysis of the 28 best sites.” Most were too small or had no water.
“As a landscape, Monserrate is exceptionally beautiful, and might fascinate a stranger to California” — i.e. James Mclaughlin. But it had been “sold three times in the last decade for $30,000,” and at foreclosure for $25,000.
Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock was slow to act on the report. Part of the delay: Lummis’s status in Washington DC. He was friends with the president, but an insider, possibly William Jones, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, warned Roosevelt that “Lummis is awfully sharp, but is a consummate crank of the first water and will get you or anybody else in trouble.”
(Lummis held equal disdain for Jones: “He is more kinds of a damned fool than almost anyone within three doors of his official inner office.” Lummis would “KILL him dead,” but didn’t want to upset the president.)
In March 1903, Jones accepted Lummis’s offer to supervise the removal to Pala. On April 1, Lummis boasted in the Union that the Cupeños would have a better home. They “are not expected to thank anyone, for it is the Americans who should apologize that they have to be moved to their betterment.”
For the next six weeks, the upcoming removal became a journalistic firestorm of threats, rumors, accusations by insiders, reporters, and, Lummis growled, “common-muddle-headed visitors who ‘feel sorry for the Indians’ and show it by adding to their troubles.” The truth, for Cupeños caught in the middle, became anyone’s guess.
George Lawson, a freelance writer, told the editors of Collier’s Weekly he wanted to write about the event. They said okay, but only if “the matter took on sensational aspects.”
On March 17, Lawson reported in the Los Angeles Herald: “Heretofore the Indians at Warner’s Ranch were contented and thrifty. From a progressive village of Indians into an impoverished and half-fed lot is the pitiful tale, and it took only two years to accomplish that decline.”
On April 4, the Los Angeles Express printed Lawson’s exposé. As he rode up the “precipitous grade” and came in sight of Pala, Lawson was “aghast.” He glimpsed “a valley abounding with huge boulders surrounded by sand as deep and unproductive as the great Sahara Desert.” The soil was an “enchanting deception.” Farmland in such desolation could produce, at best, “a six row bean crop.”
Lawson revealed a deeper motive. Lummis’s Landmarks Club was restoring the 100-year-old Pala Mission chapel. Indians living on the property would afford a “picturesque backdrop.” While “white families would be useless.” Therefore, Lummis and his architect want “to establish a renaissance of mission rule.”
Lawson is “an ignoramus and a prevaricator,” Lummis replied. The Chapel at Pala was an “incidental advantage that wasn’t even considered by the Commission.” Lawson, “a wanton and malicious liar,” wants to stir up a “sensation and make a dollar or two by writing.”
On April 5 the San Diego Union ran a headline: “WARNER’S RANCH INDIANS SAY THEY WILL NOT MOVE TO THE NEW RESERVATION; THINK THEY WOULD STARVE.” The Cupeños are almost all united against the move, the story said, and will “scatter to the hills rather than go to Pala to starve.”
Lummis told officials in the Department of the Interior that Pala was the tribe’s second choice for a home.
“Not true!” said Josephine Babbitt, schoolteacher at Kupa for 12 years. “They had no second choice.” Babbitt told the Cupeños that Lummis was a liar. She also pointed out that, while he said the Cupeños would have “a valley all their own,” they must share the reservation with another tribe: 76 Pala Indians already lived there.
Babbitt is “no doubt an extraordinary liar,” Lummis wrote to Jones. “So many fool Americans have told the Indians all sorts of things that the Indians do not know what nor whom to believe.”
Lummis and the Sequoya Club had already clashed over Jones’s “haircut order” of 1902. To become civilized more quickly, Jones said American Indians must modify their traditions — including native dress and dances — and adult males must cut their long hair. Among the benefits, the actions would halt the incidence of blindness, caused by their face paint. Vehement protests backed him down.
Lummis insisted all would go well if he could just run the removal by himself. In public, he jousted with myriad foes. In private, he worried that as soon as he approached the Cupeños about moving he might need force. On April 14, he came close to demanding it in the San Francisco Chronicle: “If they try to flee to other reservations,” he would “issue orders to have every member of the tribe ejected.” The solution, Lummis wrote to Jones: call in the troops.
Jones’s boss, Secretary Hitchcock, stepped in. Although Jones appointed Lummis, Hitchcock insisted on staying within the department. He named inspector James E. Jenkins to supervise the move. Hitchcock told Jenkins “it is not presumed necessary that you confer with Mr. Lummis.”
On April 14, Lummis wrote to Hitchcock and called himself “Chairman of the Advisory Commission.” Hitchcock erupted. He ordered Lummis to stop using the title; the commission was no more.
Lummis telegrammed back, demanding troops at the removal.
Hitchcock: ”I will exhaust every resource in my power before resorting to the use of the Army.”
As President Roosevelt was leaving for a West Coast tour, Hitchcock warned him that the now-defunct Warner’s Ranch Commission could still cause “much trouble. Mr. Lummis will doubtless appeal to you, and I respectfully request that the matter be left entirely in the hands of the Department. A first class official would be in charge and could get the job done without Lummis.”
April 16, acting as if still in charge, Lummis rode to Kupa with other commission members in a rainstorm. Natives recognized the bouncing hats and weathered faces on horseback. Voices rose at the sight of the “thin liar” and “government man” who implied that he and the Great White Father were in cahoots.
As he slogged in the mud toward the schoolhouse, Lummis recognized a familiar face: Ambrosio, one of the Cupeños on the expedition. Lummis grinned and held out his hand to greet an old friend. Ambrosio refused to shake it.
Next time: Last Rush for a Reprieve (publication date to be determined).
- Commissioner Jones: “While the President means well and will do what he thinks proper, I am afraid he is entirely under the influence of a man in that country by the name of Lummis.”
- Phil Brigandi: “Lawson seems to have been sincerely concerned with the Cupeños’ affairs — perhaps even enough to justify in his own mind the exaggerated articles he had been sending to Los Angeles newspapers.”
- William T. Hagan: “Like so many other white men who, sometimes with the best of intentions, had laid plans to shift Native Americans from their ancestral homelands, Lummis was to discover the depth of their attachment.”
Brigandi, Phil, “In the Name of the Law: The Cupeño Removal of 1903,” parts one and two.
Deloria, Vine, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion (Golden, 1994); Red Earth, White Lies (New York, 1995).
Gaughen, Shasta Christina, “Against the Odds: Indian Gaming, Political Economy, and Identity in the Pala Reservation,” doctoral dissertation, University of New Mexico, 2011.
Hagan, William T., Theodore Roosevelt & Six Friends of the Indian (Norman, 1997).
Hyer, Joel R., We Are Not Savages: Native Americans in Southern California and the Pala Reservation, 1840–1920 (East Lansing, 2001).
Lummis, Charles Fletcher, “Turning a New Leaf,” Out West Magazine (April/May, 1903).
Mathes, Valerie Sherer, and Phil Brigandi, “The Mischief Record of ‘La Gobernadora’: Amelia Stone Quinton, Charles Fletcher Lummis, and the Warner Ranch Indian Removal,” Journal of San Diego History. Vol. 57 (Winter, 2011).
Phillips, George Harwood, Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 1769–1906, second edition (Norman, 2014).
Thompson, Mark, American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis, and the Rediscovery of the Southwest (New York, 2001).
Wallace, Grant, “The Exiles of Cupa,” Out West Magazine (July, 1903).
Watkins, Frances E., “Charles F. Lummis and the Sequoya League,” Quarterly: Historical Society of Southern California, vol. 26, (June-September, 1944).
Articles in various newspapers.
Other installments in this 4-part series: Part one | Part three | Part four