Tule River War 1856

by Will Gorenfeld on February 21, 2012

Company A, 1st Dragoons participated in the so-called Tule River War, occurring in 1856 between settlers of Four Creeks (Visalia) California and the Yokuts tribe. Here is an article from the San Francisco Bulletin describing the war.

Fort Miller, May 18th, 1856.[1]

We have had some excitement about the Four Creek Indian War.  You may have seen something of it.  As usual with the Indian troubles, the whites appear to have acted with unnecessary severity in the first place. A cow was stolen and eaten, the exasperated settlers attacked and killed some defenseless Indians; the Indians, alarmed and incensed, fled to the hills, they took shelter in a well-protected valley on the Tule River, some thirty miles above the Tejon Road; a party of some sixty volunteers pursued and attacked them, but they found the Indians in a dense chaparral with a breastwork of rocks and brush thrown up across the main entrance of the valley, from behind which and the edge of the thick brush they poured a shower of arrows, and the white men thought it prudent to retire.[1] Up to this time there had been no information of the troubles given to the commanding officer here.  After this battle some of the citizens sent a petition to Stewart [1] to send some soldiers over to Woodville, to protect the settlement there, and about the same time Dr. George passed through here on his way to see the governor to get arms, and authority to raise volunteer companies.  I asked him why they had not applied to the Commanding Officer here to see what he could do first, but he made no explanations.

Livingston [1] started that day with twenty-five men, with orders to remain at Woodville to aid them against any attack.  In the mean time there were some eighty-five volunteers still in the field; about the 7th of this month, they made another attack on the strong holds of the Indians.  They fought there for five hours, but still deemed the breast work and bushes too impregnable for a charge, so they retired and camped a mile or two from the Indian fortifications.  Poindexter, the Sheriff, came over to get a field-piece, as it was decided that it was the only thing that could dislodge them.  He is a very cool and determined man, and he declared that he had never seen such desperate Indians, so ready for fight and apparently so fearless.  From their yells and other signs they suppose that there were about five hundred of them.  The gun was dispatched that afternoon with Sergt. Thompson and three men.

We heard nothing further from the seat of war until two days since, when Mr. Eldridge, the carpenter at McCrea’s, came in and told us that on Tuesday morning Livingston, with twenty of his men and thirty-five volunteers, left the main body, (some one hundred and fifty volunteers,) in camp about two miles from the Indians’ fastness and went up to reconnoiter, and look for a road for the gun to be brought up to the attack.  He had to pass directly in front of the Indians’ breast work in order to gain a hill from which to make his reconnaissance.  The Indians poured a shower of arrows after them,  but he took his men up the hill.   He found that it would be impossible to operate with the field piece, but he saw that he could route the Indians with the few men he had, so he charged down the hill with his twenty men, and getting on the inside of the breast work charged at it, while the volunteers came on through the gaps in the bushes, and they scattered the Indians in short order; he killed some fifteen, and wounded many others.[1] They found a large Rancheria,  which they burned, and recovered a good deal of stolen property – blankets, saddles,  &c some horses.  The Indians fled across the river, which was impassable for the whites.

When the main body of volunteers found out that this formidable band of Indians had been so easily routed, and by but fifty men, they were much chagrined and incensed; some thought that there were not so many Indians there as when the two previous attacks were made, but Poindexter and others who were in all the battles,  thought differently,  and said that all the Indians were there who had ever been there.  I am glad to say that I’ll give Livingston great credit for his skill and promptness in planning the attack, and coolness and energy in carrying it out.  The volunteers with whom I had talked, say, that L. could have routed them without any help at all, so ready and ardent were is men in the attack and pursuit.

Those in the hills have scattered, I suppose, and I fear will not be caught again collected in any numbers.  There is a party of some fifty to sixty, composed partly of regulars and partly of volunteers, following them up.

[1] Assistant Surgeon Robert Murray in San Francisco Bulletin, June 12, 1856; History of Central California, 184; Phillips, Under Subjection, 187


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