What is a Dragoon?

The typical Dragoon of the Mexican War era was a moving arsenal and military depot. Secured by a white buff leather sling over his left shoulder hung a .52 caliber Hall carbine a percussion breech-loading smooth-bore carbine of limited range and impact. In his pommel holster was a single shot Model 1836 flintlock horse pistol in .54 caliber. This foot-long weapon was wildly inaccurate and it was said, “practicing marksmanship it was never wise to choose for a mark anything smaller than a good sized barn.” From his buff belt was slung the Model 1833 saber. Troops complained that this saber would warp rubber-like around a man’s head and was only good for cutting warm butter. On his person was a cartridge box, a small pouch containing percussion caps, a haversack for rations, and a wooden canteen. Attempting to mount, while weighed down by all of this unwieldy equipage, could be a daunting task.

As for the “genteel clothing” oft-mentioned in the recruiting advertisements, army regulations provided that for dress occasions the Dragoons wore a high collared coatee with a double row of nine brass buttons, trimmed in yellow, light blue kersey trousers, white belts, and a shiny black shako that sported a flowing white horsehair plume and yellow braid. For fatigue duty, Dragoons wore the natty blue woolen shell jacket that was trimmed in yellow along with the Model 1839-pattern dark blue wool forage cap. In the warmer climes, sometimes the quartermaster would furnish fatigue uniforms made with white cotton duck cloth.

For post 1851 uniforms see “Dragoon Uniforms” infra.

Muster Rolls Battle of Cieneguilla 30 March 1854

Muster Roll Troop I April 30, 1854

John W. Davidson circa 1875

Captain William Grier, on leave
1st Lt. John W. Davidson, commanding, slightly wounded Cieneguilla

Non-Commissioned Officers

James Batty 1st Sgt. (promoted 1 April 1854) 9 January 1850, Taos, New Mexico
Terr. (See Below.)
Augustus O’Hook Commissary Sgt. 1 August 1851, Rayado, New Mexico, Territory
Benjamin Dempsey Sgt. April 2, 1850, Utica (wounded Cieneguilla 30 March 1854; promoted 1 April 1854.)
Richard Byrnes Sgt. (promoted 1 April 1854) June 12, 1850 NY; wounded Cieneguilla (sgt. major of 1st Cavalry 1856-61; 1st lieutenant 17th Infantry, May 14, 1861; transferred to 5th Cavalry Sept. 21, 1861; Col. 28th Massachhusetts Infantry 18 October 1862; died of wounds received at Cold Harbor 3 June 1864; see Lowe, Five Years a Dragoon (U. Okla 1965), 20-21.
William Gorman Corp., March 20, 1851
Leonard Beckwith Corp. April 22, 1850, Utica
James W. Strowbridge, Corp. (appointed 1 April 1854) from Burlington Vermont, a bricklayer, August 27, 1853, Burgwin, aged 26 years, blue eyes, brown hair, floid complexion and standing 5′ 8″; re-enlisted 18 July 1858 at Ft Tejon in Company B; deserted 7 October 1859.
Benjamin Fricke Bugler November 24, 1849, Philadelphia
Henry McGrath Bugler May 18, 1850, Phila. (slightly wounded Cieneguilla)
Byars Jenkins Farrier (appointed 1 April 1854; slightly wounded Cieneguilla)
May 6, 1850 Boston


John H. Arest March 10, 1852, Cantonment Burgwin
Joseph Baitsell March 20, 1850, Philadelphia (wounded Cieneguilla)
Patrick Boyle February 1, 1851, Rochester (Musketoon $11.00; Colt revolver
$25.00; pistol flask $1.00) in confinement
James Bronson November 22, 1849 Rochester (severely wounded Cieneguilla) aka
James Bennett, 1849 (deserted from B company in March of 1856; studied
medicine and became assistant surgeon 6th and 13th NY Heavy
Artillery during Civil War; died 14 Jan. 1909 in Plattsburg, NY).
Ralph Burnham April 7, 1853, Baltimore (extra clothing $12.60)
Herman Clark March 27, 1851 Baltimore
William F. Coder May 3, 1853 Philadelphia (DD hospital)
Charles Crout January 22, 1851 Baltimore (severely bruised Cieneguilla)
Owen Curtis February 18, 1851 Boston (slightly wounded Cieneguilla)
Francis Daykin March 27, 1851, Baltimore (sick)
Joseph Dowd April 1, 1850, Utica (slightly wounded Cieneguilla)
Geroge Erskine November 12, 1849, Philadelphia
Robert Evans January 3, 1853
William Fullerton March 5, 1851, Boston
Henry Griffiths July 1, 1851, Rayado
Robert Haight November 20, 1850, Rochester
Samuel Haines May 24, 1850, Philadelphia (hospital attendant)
George Howlett August 3, 1849, Taos (hospital attendant)
Jno F. Hutchinson 1 November 1851, Ft. Union, a bookbinder by trade, 3 July 1854, obtained writ of habeas corpus from the territorial court releasing him from service on ground that he had be illegally enlisted due to his being married at time of enlistment. Previous service with Co. E, 7th Inf. discharged 15 December 1849.
Michael Lawless December 4, 1849, Boston
Bradford Lewis September 6, 1850, Rochester
Edward Maher January 21, 1851, Boston
James Mason December 3, 1849, Philadelphia
Frederick Miller February 26, 1850, Philadelphia (severely wounded Cieneguilla)
Henry Miller December 28, 1852, Philadelphia (severely wounded Cineguilla
DD teamster)
Ferd. Newhand March 26, 1851, Baltimore (DD teamster)
Richard Oliver October 21, 1852, New York
Jacob Plethe May 18, 1849, Philadelphia
Jamers Powell March 26, 1851, Baltimore (DD carpenter)
John Shea February 27, 1851, Boston
Shirer, George March 24, 1850, Boston (extra clothing $3.53)
Sam Sommerville March 1, 1851, Philadelphia (slightly wounded Cieneguilla)
Hiram Stevens March 5, 1851, Boston
Peter Sullivan January 7, 1850, NY (wounded Cien. and later died of wounds)
Robert Wert March 14, 1850, NY (extra clothing $.66)
David Wallace March 20, 1850, Philadelphia (extra clothering $5.70)
Horatio W. Weed February 1, 1854, Burgwin
Peter Weldon March 3, 1851, Philadelphia (wounded Cieneguilla)
John Wilson November 3, 1852, Baltimore


1st Sgt. Wm Holbrook July 1, 1853, Burgwin
Sgt. Wm Kent July 19, 1851, Burgwin
Farrier Reuben Snell March 25, 1851, Philadelphia ($208.37½ found on body)
John Bradley December 14, 1852, NY
Augustus Brenker March 31, 1851, Philadelphia
John Dale March 19, 1851, Baltimore
Wm Driscole June 22, 1851, Boston
Thomas Gibbins April 15, 1850, Baltimore
Louis Humbert December 2, 1850, NY
William Null March 31, Philadelphia (extra clothing $6.07)
Reuben Pease March 21, 1850, Utica
Gordon R. Rennie March 26, 1849, Baltimore
Charles F. Rottger February 15, 1851, NY

1st Sgt. John Batty enlisted in the Dragoons in 1840. While in his fifth tour of duty, as his company prepared to march East to fight in the Civil War, this veteran of 21 years of hard service died of a fever in Los Angeles in August of 1861.

MUSTER ROLL Troop F April 30, 1854 (Note that F Company detachment of 15 men suffered 100% casualties at Cieneguilla.)

Bvt. Major and Captain Philip H. Thompson, commanding

Non Commissioned Officers

1st Sgt. Thomas Fitzsimmons 20 January 1851, NY
Sgt. C. Frank Clarke (former sgt. major; born in Suffolk County, England; enlisted 1 October 1849, Jefferson Barracks; was on detached service carrying dispatches from Santa Fe at time of battle; discharged 1 October 1854; later captain, company I, 6th Kansas Mounted Volunteers, died 10 December 1862, Memphis Tennessee.)
Sgt. John Horan 1 November 1849, Boston
Sgt. John Cameron 22 October 1849, NY (in arrest; discharged 22 October 1854)
Corp. Jno K. Davis 23 November 1850, Boston (slightly wounded
Cieneguilla) (re-enlisted)
Corp. Hugh Cameron 4 Mar 1851, NY
Corp. Francis Arthur 20 August 1853, Ft. Massassusetts (horse blanket
Corp. Charles H. Hanish 21 August 1853, Ft. Massassusetts
Bugler James Clark 17 March 1853, Philadelphia
Farrier Edward O’Meara 17 February 1851, Buffalo


Robert W. Allen 20 March, 1851, Las Vegas, NM (3d enlistment)
John Armstrong 20 May 1852, Baltimore (in confinement Burguin; discharged 4 October 1854)
Jerome Bates 27 October 1849, Boston (sick wounded
James Buck 27 March 1851, Las Vegas (sick severely wounded
Neil Brewer 15 October 1852, Ft. Massassusetts (spurs & straps $1.10)
Augustus Bradley 12 March 1853, Philadelphia (spurs and strap $1.10; deserted 1 October 1854)
Louis Crosbie 15 September 1849 NY
William Carroll 18 March 1851, Philadelphia (spurs and straps $1.10)
John Cooper 28 March 1851, Taos (re-enlisted)
William Cassidy 9 February 1852, Taos (re-enlisted)
George W. Davis 15 December 1851, Las Vegas
Benjamin Engle 8 November 1849, Rochester
Theodore Fricke 27 January 18
51, Las Vegas (re-enlisted)
Michael Flood 15 March 1851, NY (severely wounded Cieneguilla)
Joseph Fox 26 April 1852, Baltimore (sick)
Jacob Fullmer 17 March 1851, Phila (in confinement, Jefferson Bks; dropped from the rolls on 19 December 1854 “in consequence of his being a felon & not having heard of him since June of 1853.”
John Garrett 8 November 1849, Baltimore
Willaim Grieseman 7 October 1852, Galisto, NM (re-enlisted)
John Harper 7 October 1851, Las Vegas (re-enlisted)
William Gray 12 October 1852, Galisto (re-enlisted)
Henry Jacobs 27 February 1851, Baltimore (held under charges)
Joseph Johnson 22 May 1852, Columbus (Lt. Love)
Henry Kirchner 1 March 1852, NY
John Keebler 2 February 1852, Ft. Leavenworth (Revolver $25.00)
Augustus Kraus 21 April 1852, NY
Daniel McFarlan 17 April 1852 NY
Thomas Meecham 20 October 1852, Philadelphia
Jeremiah Mahoney 19 January 1851, Boston (severely wounded Cieneguilla)
Patrick Madden 20 May 1852, Baltimore
Benjamin Platiner 1 March 1853, Philadelphia
Aaron D. Stevens 1 April 1851, NY
Jeremiah Sullivan 20 November 1852 NY (severely wounded Cieneguilla;
prisoner under charges)
Jim Vanderlen 23 Nov. 1849, Ft Smith (Colt Revolver $25.00 teamster)
Philip Welsh 21 February 1852, Alburqueque (old soldier bounty)
Robert Walsh 26 March 1851, Las Vegas (old soldier bounty)
Frank Winder 25 February 1851, Baltimore (slightly wounded
George Winache 1 November 1849, Ft, Scott
Aaron Williams 26 November, 1853, Taos


Thomas Awant 14 March 1853 NY
Martin Bowditch 11 March 1849, Boston
Geo. W. Brieswood 25 February 1852, Baltimore
William Fell, 18 Feb 1853, Philadelphia (wounded Cieneguilla, died 6 April 1854)
Willaim Mitchell 18 February 1853, Philadelphia
Thomas Higgins 14 Dec. 1852 NY
Henry Kimble 19 February 1851, NY
Alexander McDonald 23 October 1849, NY
Anton Schmontz 25 February 1851 Baltimore

Discharged Disability

Charles Hopping 6 May 1852, Ft. Union


Bugler James Cook 20 March 1849, Baltimore (deserted April 5, 1854; horse, blanket,
equipage, Sharps, sabre and belt, cartridge box)
Pvt. Joseph Branson 12 February 1852, Gallisto, NM (re-enlisted) (deserted April 5, 1854,
Musketoon, Grimsley saddle, cartridge box and sabre belt)
Patrick McConnel 22 June 1852, Baltimore (deserted April 5, 1854, horse and
equipage, sling and swivel, Mississippi Rifle, flask, sabre.)
James Moss 18 January 1853, Philadelphia (deserted April 17th 1854, horse
and equipage, Colt revolver, pommel holster, cartridge box
Musketoon, sling & swivel.)

Following the battle, Lt. David Bell, 2d Dragoons, wrote a letter to a brother officer that was highly critical of Lt. Davidson. Davidson requested and was granted a Court of Inquiry to investigate Bell’s accusations. Col. E. V. Sumner, Bell’s commanding officer at Ft. leavenworth, refused to allow Bell to attend the hearing. Bell wrote to Gen. Winfield Scott and obtained permission to attend. Unfortunately, the hearing had concluded by the time that the information reached the Department of New Mexico and Bell was unable to attend the hearing. Below is Bell’s letter to General Scott.

Lt. David Bell
Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas Territory
March 8, 1856


I have been informed that charges have been preferred against me by Capt. John W. Davidson, 1st. Drags, for certain statements contained in a letter, written by me, and that the Genl. commanding the Army had decided thereon, that previous to a trial by a Court Martial, a Court of Inquiry must be assembled to investigate the circumstances upon which the allegations contained in my letter are based. I have also learned that a Court of Inquiry has been asked for by Capt. D. and that it has been granted him. In case this Court is ordered to assemble, I would respectfully request to be ordered to be the point where the Court may assemble. I make this request for the following reasons:
I. I am the only person cognizant of some of the circumstances, asserted in the letter in question, and other statements can only be substantiated by evidence of which I am in possession, and which is not known to any person in the Dept. of New Mexico otherwise than by my written statements. It certainly cannot conduce to the ends of either truth or justice to assemble a Court of Inquiry to investigate circumstances so greatly affecting the reputation of an officer, while he is debarred the privilege of defending himself against allegations made against him.
II. An investigation by a Court of Inquiry, with but a hearing upon the side of an accuser, would undoubtedly result in a trial by Court Martial, and I desire to avoid the unremediable reputation (however unmerited) of an officer who has been tried by Court Martial.
I hope when the delicacy of my position is considered, I will be granted my request.

I am, Colonel,
Your Very respy, Your Obt. Servt.
D. Bell, 1st Cavalry

March 24, 1856
If a Court of Inquiry has been ordered as within stated, it is proper Lt. Bell should be in attendance and the Genl. Comdg. in New Mexico will cause him to be summoned, provided the Court have not adjourned sine die, and been dissolved prior to the receipt hereof by command of Bt. Lt. Gen. Scott . L. Thomas, Adj. Genl.


Bvt. Major James Carleton at Bitter Spring 1860

by William Gorenfeld and John Gorenfeld. Originally published in Wild West, June 19, 2001.

After James Carleton was rejected in his quest to become Charles Dickens’s protege, he turned to a career in the military that found him pursuing an mission of obsessive and bloody collective punishment

James Henry Carleton is generally remembered as the fanatically loyal Union officer who saved New Mexico Territory from the Confederates. Hell-bent on keeping the territory safe against an invasion from Confederate Texas, Carleton called on the men in his California Column to crack down on suspected Southern sympathizers. Property was confiscated. Travelers were ordered to carry identification cards stating their destinations and were stopped at checkpoints. New Mexicans called Carleton a tyrant but, in the end, it was his iron grip that kept the Southwest in Union hands.

Carleton’s obsession with total victory turned brutal in his dealings with Native Americans. During his stay as departmental commander of New Mexico Territory, he was determined to crush the Navajo and Mescalero Apache, telling his officers: “There will be no council held with the Indians . . . The men will be slain whenever and wherever they can be found.”

Carleton’s men systematically destroyed the homes of the Navajo, burned their crops, and slaughtered their livestock. And in the infamous Long Walk, Navajo captives were forced to march over three-hundred miles of desert to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, a diseased and barren piece of land near the Pecos River. More than two thousand died from the effects of malnutrition and sickness.

His mismanagement of the reservation cost him the command of New Mexico Territory in 1866. But a few years earlier, there was a campaign that, when considered in conjunction with Carleton’s odd behavior, should have made his superiors uncomfortable placing him in command of New Mexico Territory: the Bitter Spring Expedition of 1860. It heralded Carleton’s ever-growing malevolence toward Native Americans. Certainly, a man with this attitude should not have been allowed to govern a vast region that was inhabited by a large population of Navajo, Apache, and other native peoples.

To punish killers who had struck on the road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, Carleton sent his men on a long chase through the desert after a group of native people who were unlikely culprits. Obsessively pursuing the enemy like a landlocked Captain Ahab, he posted the severed heads of slain Paiutes on stakes.

What kind of man was this? One not easily understood. On the one hand, James Carleton was a rigid martinet who, when it suited him, did not always obey the rules of military conduct. Carleton was court martialed in 1843 for aiding a fellow officer, who was facing murder charges to escape from custody. Carleton was later court-martialed for his mistreatment, and the resulting death of, a drunken enlisted man. Captain Thomas Swords, in 1845, wrote from Fort Scott, “We are to be cursed here with Carleton. I shall give him a pretty wide berth.”

But James Carleton was also a sentimental 19th century gentleman who loved to study nature and who wrote books about his travels. In fact, before Carleton became a soldier, what he really had wanted to be was a famous author in the mold of Charles Dickens.

Born December 27, 1814, in the state of Maine, Carleton was left fatherless at the age of 15. He briefly served in the Maine militia during a non-shooting border dispute with Great Britain know as the Aroostock disturbance. When the —œwar— ended, Carleton wrote a letter to Dickens in 1839 in which he didn—™t stop short of asking Dickens for tips on becoming a writer and asked whether Dickens would be his friend, if Carleton were to move to London.

Dickens replied, writing that he was a little embarrassed by the letter. For him to call a complete stranger like Carleton his friend, he said, —œwould be to prostitute the term.— Besides, he said, it would be next to impossible for Carleton to achieve success as a British writer. Instead, Carleton would be far better off looking for stories out in the West.

—œI cannot but think that good tales —“ especially such as you describe, connected with the customs and history of [America]—™s original inhabitants who every day become more interesting as their numbers diminish —“—“ would surely find some patrons and readers in her great cities,— Dickens wrote.

So, instead of going overseas, Carleton went West. He obtained an officer’s commission with the 1st Regiment of Dragoons. From army posts out on the Great Plains, he would write about animals, plants, geology, the stars, archaeology and the weather. In 1843, he befriended the naturalist John J. Audubon, another man fascinated with the uncharted landscapes of the West. Carleton mailed poet Henry Longfellow seeds that he had found on an expedition. Longfellow planted the seeds, and wrote a poem about the Western Compass Plant that sprouted: “This is the compass-flower, that the finger of God has planted/Here in the houseless wild, to direct the traveler—™s journey.—

In 1844, Lieutenant Carleton published The Prairie Logbooks, telling the story of two Dragoon expeditions. One was of a trip to Nebraska, mapping out the Platte River and meeting the Pawnee residents. Carleton said the Pawnee were thieves, even more wily than the street urchins of his favorite author—™s book, Oliver Twist. —œA Pawnee,— he wrote, —œwould have stolen Fagin—™s shirt off his back, and cheated such common fellows as the Artful Dodger—¦—

Installments of The Prairie Logbook were printed in the New York Spirit of the Times, allowing newspaper readers to picture the romantic West. Carleton calls for Easterners to imagine themselves at Fort Gibson, in present-day Oklahoma, lining up with the rest of the Dragoons under the oaks, and preparing for a grand adventure.

Time: 10 o—™clock. You are on the parade under those grand old trees. On three sides of the great square that surrounds you, are the quarters of officers and men —¦ Men in military garb moving hither and thither —“ some packing effects —“ some arming themselves —“ some shaking hands with, and apparently bidding good-bye to comrades who are to remain behind!

—¦Did you hear that bugle! — it blew what is called a signal, —˜boots and saddles.—™ Now look at the different quarters —“ see the men pouring from them like bees from so many hives. Don—™t you hear the clang—”clang—”clang of heavy sabres as they descend the steps —“ they are all completely armed and equipped.

Carleton also reckoned himself a keen observer of human nature. When an —œIndian dandy— tries to put on a calico shirt, and finally puts it on backwards, Carleton —œcannot suppress a smile,— for —œwith all the airs of an empty-headed exquisite, he strutted off with his new garment, occasionally looking slyly to the right and left—¦Human nature is the same everywhere.—

The Indians fascinated Carleton, as much as the compass-flower. In his writings he admires the Pawnees as noble, if deceitful, adversaries: —œsplendid specimens of the Prairie Indian—¦with eyes like Eagles,— he writes. —œThey were not of that dingy brown color—¦but of that red, so peculiar to all the full-blooded savages of the West.

In 1860, Captain James Henry Carleton, hints of gray in his thick mutton chops, stood with fine posture, proudly watching his Dragoons assemble on the parade ground at Fort Tejon, Califo
rnia. His pale eyes now glimmered with a new wrath. A few years later, the editor of a Santa Fe paper would later sneer at this pose:

Behold him! His martial cloak thrown gracefully around him like a Roman toga, his military cap worn precisely six inches from the extreme tip of his nose, his chin drawn gracefully in, his teeth set firm, his Jove-like front, his eyes like Mars, that threaten and command with slow and measured tread, each step exactly twenty-eight inches, he rules the land.

The long years of campaigning out West had hardened his heart. In 1857, a hundred and twenty unarmed travelers had been slain by the Mormons and their Paiute allies at Mountain Meadows, Utah. Carleton, in May of 1859, had escorted the paymaster up the Salt Lake Road and, while encamped at Mountain Meadows, conducted an investigation of the slaughter, where he discovered the bleached bones of victims projecting from shallow graves.

His once-romantic vision of the West had now been stained by the sight of —œWomen—™s hair in detached locks and in masses—¦[p]arts of children—™s dresses—¦the skulls and bones of those who suffered . . . a sight which can never be forgotten.— Carleton had written that the Mormons were an —œulcer upon the body politic . . . an ulcer which needs more than cautery to cure. It must have excision; complete and thorough extirpation before we can ever hope for safety or tranquillity.— The impression upon Carleton that day at Mountain Meadows, and the rage it surely awakened within him, would not pass.

The Paiutes allegedly were attacking travelers and stealing stock along the road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake. In January of 1860, a cattleman had been killed at Bitter Spring, reportedly by Paiutes; a couple of months later, two teamsters had been felled near the same spot.

The Southern Paiutes of the Mojave were not one tribe, but rather several small scattered groups that spoke in the Shoshonean language. They called themselves the Nuwu, Shoshone for —œThe People—. For centuries, the Nuwu struggled to survive in the desert that lay between Utah and California. They sustained themselves on a diet of desert plants–pnon pine nuts, roots, and msquite seed–and fresh game (rabbits, mountain sheep, reptiles, and kangaroo rats.)

The Vanyumes, an impoversihed tribelet, lived in the vicinity of the Bittle Creek. Their population was small. Father Garaces, who visited the region in 1776, mentioned villages ranging in size from 25-40 souls.

For decades, tribesmen from as far away as southern Utah would cross Cajon Pass to plunder the vast herds grazing near the pueblo of Los Angeles. Major Lewis Armistead, writing from Fort Mojave, remarked:

My opinion as to the treatment of the Whalupi and Paiyte [sic] is to shoot them whenever you can, as I believe it impossible to keep them from stealing horses, mules, or anything else, when a good opportunity offers. These Indians, the Payutes [sic] especially, are generally in a half-starved state—”they steal to eat—”sometimes to live—”They will always be troublesome and difficult to manage, not from their numbers, but from the character of the country they inhabit.

There were now wild rumors that the Mormons—”-still smarting from the invasion and occupation of their homeland by federal troops in the Mormon War of 1857—”-had encouraged Paiutes, their Indian allies, to attack settlers. The April 12, 1860 issue of the Los Angeles Star echoed the feeling of many Californians:

The murders [at Bitter Spring] were perpetrated by Indians we have no doubt. Yet there are Danites, who can paint, talk, and act Indian as well as any red-skin in the Territory–and the late murders, as at Mountain Meadows, if not actually perpetrated by such, were directed by them and executed for them.

A group of prominent citizens and businessmen from Los Angeles petitioned the government to chastise the Paiutes in order to make the Salt Lake road once again safe for the flow of commerce into their town.

There were voices of moderation in the army protesting that these people were more often blamed than blameworthy. In 1859, Captain John Davidson, assigned to hunt Paiutes accused of stealing cattle from ranches in the San Fernando and Santa Clara vallies, led a troop of Dragoons from Fort Tejon into the upper reaches of the Owens Valley. He found no evidence that the Paiutes had stolen livestock. After holding several meetings with them, Davidson concluded that —œthese Indians are not only not Horse thieves . . . their true character is that of an interesting, peaceful industrious people, deserving the protection and watchful care of the Government.—

Lt. Colonel Benjamin Beall was Carleton’s immediate commanding officer. “Old Ben”, a hard-drinking 24-year veteran of numerous campaigns, believed that those responsible for the recent attacks likely came from Utah and had left the area. He thought it unjust for the army to chastise those persons who, by pure chance, lived in the vicinity of Bitter Spring.

Brevet General Newman Clarke was not to be deterred by the opinions of Beall and Davidson. The general sent an order, dated April 5, 1860, to Carleton to —œproceed to Bitter Springs [sic] and chastise the Indians you find in the vicinity.— Since the killers—™ identity was unknown, any nearby people must pay the price for the crimes of their race. Clarke specifically instructed Carleton that —œthe punishment must fall on those dwelling nearest to the place of the murder or frequenting the water course in its vicinity.—

Not pleasant orders. Nonetheless, Carleton, thinking of Mountain Meadows and of the chance for retribution against allies of the Mormons, might have felt a quickening in his blood. He now had orders to punish the Paiute, and intended to unleash punishment worthy of a god of war.

* * *

Ten minutes more—“—“another bugle; that was the signal—“—“-‘to horse.’ Now they come out—“—“what a crowd! Each man has his hand near the bit leading his charger. They form in two ranks on foot, each company on its own parade in front of its stables—”at the same time, the officers mounted, come dashing along from their quarters to the several companies. The commands are given: the men are in the saddle at once, and the ranks are closed and dressed. Another bugle, still—“—“that was the ‘assembly’—“—“the fine brass band of the regiment, also mounted, commences a lively march. . . The adjutant now forms the parade, after which the commanding officer proceeds to make a final inspection of men, arms, horses, and equipage—“—“all found to be in excellent order. The inspection over, the command is given, and in a moment the long line is broken into column and on its way —¦”
— The Prairie Logbooks

And so the regimental band struck up the traditional Irish aire, —œThe Girl I Left Behind Me— (—œThe hope of final victory within my bosom burning/Is mingling with sweet thoughts of thee and of my fine returning—¦—) as three officers and eighty-one enlisted men, surgeon Jonathan Letterman, two civilian guides, an interpreter, and a rumbling train of four army wagons departed the post. The column took the salutes of Lt. Colonel Beall, splashed across the Grapevine Creek, and then turned south onto the dusty Los Angeles Road.

Carleton rightly took considerable pride in the men of K Troop of the First United States Dragoons. Since his return to the West in 1858, he had drilled, drilled, and again drilled this unwieldy group–many of them recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany–such that they were skilled at riding, shooting, care of their mounts, and skirmishing.
In early 1859, Inspector General Mansfield witnessed a firing exercise by Carleton’s company K at Fort Tejon. He reported that half of Company K’s shots hit a 6′ x 22″ target at 100 yards. For the antebellum army, this was excellent marksmanship.

Carleton had written adulatingly of Dragoons on the march with —œtheir arms and equipments sparkling in the sun, their sabres clanging against their heavy spurs and stirrups, their horses neighing and prancing.— How smartly his troopers sat in their Grimsley saddles, their Sharps carbines slung over the right hip and Colt’s Navy revolvers tucked into the pommel holster—“—“ready for whatever struggle or hardship that might lie ahead. Carleton rode at the head of the column, exulting in the flourishing of whips that cracked on the behinds of mules, in the bugle calls and shouts of the officers to halt or move forward, in the clatter of hundreds of hooves.

After a week’s casual march of 170 miles, Carleton—™s troops reached a site just to the east of the junction of the Mojave Road and the Salt Lake Trail. It was here, just slightly northeast of the present-day town of Barstow, the cool waters of the fickle Mojave River bubbled to the surface. Carleton set his men to work building a base camp which he called Camp Cady, after his friend Major Albemarle Cady, the commander of Fort Yuma. From this encampment he sent out his patrols to locate the Paiutes. It did not take long to find one of them.

On the morning of the 19th of April, 2d Lieutenant B. F. —œGrimes— Davis took a portion of K Troop out on a patrol. Davis, a graduate of the West Point Class of 1854, was a promising officer in the mounted arm. In June of 1863, this capable officer would lose his life while leading a federal brigade of cavalry at the Battle of Beverly Ford.

At about twelve miles to the southwest of Camp Cady, at a place near the Fish Ponds on the Mojave River, Davis came across two Native Americans who were hunting for game. These men, being “in the vicinity of Bitter Spring— were to be chastised. Davis rose in his stirrups and ordered K troop to “draw pistols and forward into line as skirmishers.”

The Dragoons smartly wheeled into line, advancing at a fast trot, firing as they came. One of the hunters, though outnumbered, outgunned, and facing certain death, was not to be cowed. His arrows found their mark and two troopers were seriously wounded. During the attack, a trooper wounded a comrade with a .36 caliber ball from his pistol.

The soldiers, charged with adrenaline, were not about to be deprived of the chance to exact revenge. —œThe men all seemed to vie with each other who should kill the rascal and all were perfectly fearless,— later wrote Surgeon Letterman. When the dust had finally settled, the hunter was dead and his companion taken prisoner. Subsequently —“—“ military reports do not record exactly when—”-the captive was killed when he reportedly attempted to escape. The body of the dead men were taken back to Camp Cady.

As Davis’ detachment marched slowly back to Camp Cady with its three wounded men, they heard a distant echo of gunfire. The command of Lt. Milton Carr had come upon another band of hunters. In the second clash of the day, two tribesmen were killed and one Dragoon was wounded.

On April 22nd, the bodies of the two men slain by Lt. Davis’ detachment were taken by the Dragoons to the crossing of the Salt Lake Road at Bitter Spring—“—“the site of the attacks upon travelers. It was at this spot that the bodies were hung from an improvised scaffold.

Although having twice chastised the local inhabitants, Carleton was hardly finished with his duty. On April 30th, he sent out three patrols. Taking command of a patrol, Carleton soon discovered a recently abandoned native encampment located at about twenty miles to the south of Camp Cady. As the natives ineffectively shot at the troopers from rocky terrain afar, Carleton’s men destroyed the camp.

Meanwhile, 16 troopers under Lt. Carr scouted the Mojave Road. On May 2nd, Carr encountered a band of seven natives who were busily gathering lizards, roots, and worms at the base of Old Dad Mountain. He sent a detachment consisting of a sergeant and four men to cut off any possible retreat and then ordered his remaining men to —œunsling carbines, dismount, forward as skirmishers.— Taking advantage of the fact that their powerful, breach-loading, .52 calibre Sharps carbines outranged any of the weapons carried by the Native Americans, the Dragoons opened fire.

It was a one-sided affair. Carr would report, —œ. . . owing to a high wind, their arrows did no damage.— Within the space of a half-hour, three of the natives were slain, one wounded, and an elderly woman taken prisoner. The Dragoons suffered no casualties.

After taking the evening’s supper, Lt. Carr, likely acting upon orders from Carleton, had the heads cut off of the three dead natives and placed them into a sack. A few days later, these grisly items were mounted for display upon the gibbet at Bitter Creek.

Carleton released the captive woman and instructed her to tell her people that they would be hunted down unless they agreed to cease hostilities. By this time, as one might imagine, most of the terrified native inhabitants had fled the area.

Still itching to fight the Paiutes, Carleton believed that he might be able to lure them into attacking if he were to send out a decoy of three supply wagons. Dragoons were hidden inside of these wagons. Carleton followed within supporting distance with a troop of twenty-five men. Owing to the broken terrain, two of the wagons soon broke down. Neither command discovered any fresh signs of Native Americans.

Carleton was now convinced that —œthe Pah-Utes driven from the south had gone northward to the impenetrable fastness about Mountain Spring, and there joining numerous Indians in that region.— Intent upon finding these elusive warriors and bringing them to a battle, he continued his trek ever and deeper into the vastness of the Mojave.

Carleton continued to pursue his prey without regard to the obstacles nature had lain before him. Marching at the rate of thirty miles a day across hot desert wasteland, his weary command, many of its troopers on foot, arrived at a remote desert oasis located in present-day Nevada that was known to travelers as the Vegas. While his men would occasionally see a few fleeing natives in the distance and come across several recently abandoned rancherias, the natives refused to meet with Carleton. On May 28th, the troops, having covered over three-hundred miles of desert landscape, returned to Camp Cady.

During the ensuing weeks, several more patrols were sent out in all directions. Carleton came to believe that his prey had fled into the distant Panamint Mountains. On June 9th, he sent a detachment of thirty-five Dragoons under the capable command of Lt. Davis to pursue these natives.

The company was guided by an incompetent scout named Joel Brooks, who at the time was being sought by the authorities in Los Angeles on charges of murder. During the 1850’s, Brooks had participated in a number of massacres inf Indian villages in the western foothills of the Sierras. It was said that this Arkansan ruffian had been run out of every town in the Tulare Valley.

With Brooks leading the way, the detachment blundered into the blistering wastelands of Death Valley. Over the next few days, the command nearly perished in its futile search for water and Indians. In his report for the 12th of June, Davis wrote, —œ[t]he day was intensely hot and the men began to suffer for water. Brooks returned at 2 O’clock but without success.— Having used up most of the rations, with horses spent, and being virtually out of water, on Jun
e 14th, Davis wisely decided to return to Camp Cady.

A perturbed General Clarke, at headquarters in San Francisco, had read Carleton’s dispatch which proudly touted the display of severed heads at Bitter Spring. The San Francisco newspapers also reported this incident. In an order dated May 28th, Clarke firmly instructed Carleton to cease mutilation of the dead and to —œremove all evidences of such mutilation from public gaze.—

By the latter part of June, Carleton was convinced that his campaign had made Salt Lake Trail again safe for travelers. This view was confirmed when, just prior to his departure for Fort Tejon, a delegation of Native Americans arrived in camp. After being repeatedly threatened by Carleton, they promised never again to take up arms against the settlers.

On July 3, 1860, the Dragoons—“—“their dusty clothes in rags and their mounts jaded from the months of harsh campaigning in the unforgiving Mojave Desert—“—“abandoned their base at Camp Cady and began the long return march to Fort Tejon. “I have lost no man, nor a horse on the whole campaign” proudly wrote Carleton in his report to General Clarke.

During their three-month absence from Fort Tejon, the Pony Express had initiated the carrying of mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento. Meanwhile, back in the East, the infant Republican party had nominated as its candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln, a relatively unknown attorney from Springfield, Illinois. That November, Lincoln would be elected as the sixteenth President and, by April of 1861, the nation would be engaged in civil war.

In the fall of 1861, Confederate troops boldly invaded New Mexico Territory. To counter this threat, volunteer troops were raised in California and placed under the command of Carleton. In the spring of 1862, Colonel Carleton and his California Column would boldly march eastward from Los Angeles, across the Mojave Desert, and into the annals of history.

Afterword: The Other Pah-Ute War of 1860

At the time of Carleton’s Bitter Spring expedition, a much greater conflict with the Paiutes was taking place in western Utah Territory. This struggle resulted when two Northern Paiute women were kidnapped and raped by agents of the Pony Express. On May 7, 1860, Paiute warriors destroyed the Pony Express depot at Williams Station, killed five whites, and rescued the women.

A force of 105 boisterous volunteers boldly marched to attack the Paiute villages. On May 12th, the Paiutes, under the able leadership of Numaga (Young Winnemucca) ambushed the column at the Big Bend of the Truckee River, killing over 40 of the volunteers.

Suffice it to say, this military disaster produced intense agitation. Federal troops (144 men of the 3d Artillery and 6th Infantry) and 550 California volunteers (soon placed under the command of former Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays) were rushed over the Sierra Nevada mountains to the seat of war. On June 3d, these troops clashed with and defeated the Paiutes at the battle of Pinnacle Mountain. The next day, Hayes’ men occupied the site of the Paiute village on the shores of Pyramid Lake.

During the summer of 1860, Lt. Stephen Weed of the 4th Artillery met with Numaga and other members of his band. Weed reported that they all “expressed a strong desire for peace.” He was right–peace had been restored to the region.

Tule River War: 1856

From their earth-and-rock fortification at the base of a small, solitary mountain, the Yokuts Indians were determined to defend their land.

By William and John Gorenfeld

THE 1850s WERE A DEVASTATING time for California Indians, as swarms of contentious and tough miners poured into their homelands. The Indians were often ruthlessly slaughtered or enslaved, and the federal government, which had won California in the Mexican War, failed to provide them with any protection. In 1851, Governor Peter Burnett said that unless the Indians were sent east of the Sierras, “a war of extermination would continue to be waged until the Indian race should become extinct.”

During the tumultuous ’50s, the Yokuts of central California made a courageous attempt to defend themselves against an invasion of their lands–and, for a length of time, succeeded. On a hilltop located just to the east of present-day Porterville, Calif., a siege occurred in 1856–at what is now known as Battle Mountain–during a confrontation that the newspapers of the time referred to as the Tule River War.

The Yokuts–that is, the people loosely grouped together as speakers of the Yokuts’ language–lived in small bands amid the oak-studded foothills of the eastern San Joaquin Valley. Many of their villages lay near the shoreline of Tulare Lake (sometimes called Tule Lake), a body of water 60 miles across.

Today, water diversion projects have left no trace of middle California’s watery past, but in the 1850s, Tulare Lake was the largest body of fresh water west of the Great Lakes.

When the Spanish first settled California, there were more than 20,000 Indians living in and around the Tulare Valley. Along with the Yokuts were a significant number of coastal Indians who had fled from the missions into the interior valley. Making good use of stolen horses, the Yokuts had become deft raiders of livestock from missions and sprawling rancheros near Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Fernando and San Luis Obispo. They saw the newcomers who arrived during the California Gold Rush as a threat. One miner wrote a letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in August 1849, mentioning that there was an abundance of gold on the Kings River but that the Indians were “so hostile, that those [prospectors] who attempted to work there were driven out.”

John Wood and fellow miners had settled on the south bank of the Kaweah River. In December 1850, area tribesmen told Wood and company to leave. When the mining company was slow to go away, the Yokuts attacked, leaving all but two of the settlers dead. Wood was skinned alive.

A few days later, Pedro Lopez, driving a thousand head of cattle from Los Angeles to the gold fields, arrived at Four Creeks. He decided to rest his weary vaqueros under a canopy of oak. Nearby were cattle belonging to a Captain Dorsey. As the two herds grazed upon the range, some 300 Indians emerged from the oak groves, killing Lopez, Dorsey and several vaqueros.

Pressured to find a means of ending the violence, federal treaty commissioners met with the Gawia and Nutunutu bands of Yokuts. The Indians agreed to abandon any claims to the area around Four Creeks and to live in peace. In exchange, the government agreed to provide them with a reservation, as well as with protection, livestock and clothing. On May 12, 1851, a treaty was signed at John Wood’s gravesite–an irony not lost on at least one journalist: “Here over the graves of our murdered companions have the soft hands of the Commissioners grasped in friendship those of the incendiary and murderers of our people.” In all, 18 treaties were negotiated with California “tribes” in just 16 months.

Although the Yokuts lost most of their lands in the treaties, the editor of the Los Angeles Star reacted unfavorably: “To place upon our most fertile soil the most degraded race of aboriginals upon the North American continent, to invest them with the rights of sovereignty, and to teach them that they are to be treated as powerful and independent nations, is planting the seeds of future disaster and ruin.”

The state Legislature urged the rejection of these treaties, and on July 8, 1852, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted them down. What would have been reservation lands now remained available to settlers. No one bothered to inform the Yokuts.

Earlier that summer, William Campbell, John Poole and E.F. Edmunds had opened a trading post and ferry upon land promised to the Yokuts. A group of Choinimni (sometimes spelled Chocumme) tribesmen demanded that the traders leave. To show that they meant business, Chief Wa-ta-ka sliced off the rope that tied the ferry to the shore. Campbell rode pell-mell to Fort Miller, only to find that most of the troops were in the high Sierras chasing another band. Undiscouraged, he obtained the assistance of 24 rough-and-ready prospectors from the nearby towns of Fine Gold Gulch and Millerton.

Led by Walter Harvey, a Georgian who had been dismissed from West Point on demerits, the two-dozen miners rode quickly to the Choinimni village on the Kings River in early July. Many of the younger men of the village were off working in the fields, but the miners demanded the arrest of three Yokuts who were there. When the accused Indians attempted to flee, Campbell fired the first shot. Others followed suit. The violence left 11 Yokuts dead and one miner wounded. Two weeks later, Harvey–now famed throughout the valley as an Indian fighter–was elected county judge.

News of the massacre spread fast, and most Yokuts feared that the whites meant to kill all of them. The Fort Miller commander, Brevet Major George W. Patten, feared the outbreak of war and asked James Savage, an Indian subagent, to do whatever he could to diffuse the tension. A self-made entrepreneur known as the “White King of the Yokuts,” Savage visited more than a dozen of the tribelets and urged them to remain at peace until they had a chance to meet with Major Patten on August 15.

On his way to that meeting, Savage stopped by Campbell’s trading post and encountered Judge Harvey. He accused Harvey of murdering the Yokuts, and a lively fistfight ensued. While bystanders attempted to break up the fight, Harvey coolly drew his pistol from his belt and killed Savage.

With the one white man who might have brought peace to the region dead, Patten was left on his own to answer the pleas of the Yokut leaders. “What shall we do?” Chief Pasqual wanted to know. “To whom shall we go, when in the mountains we are hunted like wild beasts; and here we are shot down like cattle?” Patten, unaware that the Senate had voted down the treaties, assured Pasqual and the other leaders that their treaty rights would be protected and that he would investigate the attack on Wa-ta-ka’s band. In exchange, the Yokuts agreed not to take any retaliatory actions, to cease stealing cattle, and to return to their villages.

Patten promptly arrested Harvey, but the judge had friends in high places. Governor John Bigler wrote to the major, telling him that the Army lacked jurisdiction to arrest civilians. When the U.S. attorney in San Francisco refused to file federal charges, Patten had no choice but to set Harvey free. Later, state authorities charged Harvey with the murder of Savage, but the celebrated Indian fighter was acquitted. Patten wrote to Army headquarters on August 26, warning that if the May 12 treaty was not ratified it would amount to “a mere farce, which requires but the lifting of the curtain to turn into a grand tragedy.” Meanwhile, the citizens of the Four Creeks area petitioned General Ethan Allen Hitchcock of the Army’s Pacific Division to establish a fort closer to them.

Frustrated by the failure of Congress to ratify the treaties, the Indian Office decided to place some of the Yokuts and other valley Indians on a reservation. Edward F. (“Ned”) Beale, a hero of the Mexican-American War, was appointed Indian agent for California. He quickly sized up the condition of California’s Indians: “Driven from their fishing and hunting grounds, hunted themselves like wild beasts, lassoed, and torn from homes made miserable by want, and forced into slavery, the wretched remnant which escapes starvation on the one hand, and the relentless whites on the other, only do so to rot and die

of a loathsome disease, the penalty of Indian association with frontier civilization.” By the fall of 1852, Beale had selected a semiarid plot of land at the base of Tejon Pass as the site of the reservation, soon to be known as the Sebastian Reserve. For the first few years, more than enough food was grown there to feed the Indians.

To further ensure calm, the Army placed detachments of soldiers at the reservation and at Camp Wessells, which was established near the old cabin of John Wood at Four Creeks. On New Year’s Eve 1853, the company commander, Lieutenant John Nugen, reported that the Yokuts had kept their part of the bargain and were at peace. Nugen did note, however, that great numbers of these people had been dying lately due to fevers and malaria. In August 1854, the Army established Fort Tejon, a permanent post in nearby Grapevine Pass, and garrisoned it with a company of the 1st Dragoons.

In 1855, Captain E.D. Townsend passed through Four Creeks while on an inspection tour of Forts Tejon and Miller. He noted in his journal: “The woods are full of Indians who live on the acorns abounding here, and on fish which they take from the river with spears. They are peaceful and seldom give the settlers any trouble.” Townsend further wrote that the Indians were regularly employed by the settlers, and, as far as he could tell, “there seems to be no sign of animosity between the two races.”

This lull in the violence was only a superficial peace. In 1855, bits of gold were found along the banks of the Kern River, and miners flooded into that area. Sizable herds of cattle and hogs now grazed upon the Yokuts’ traditional means of subsistence–roots and acorns. As these sources of food became depleted, the Yokuts, many now near starvation, began to pilfer stock.

In 1856, a mysterious fire destroyed Orson Smith’s sawmill, and a large cattle herd was stolen–setting in motion the “grand tragedy” that Major Patten had predicted. Without investigating the incidents, several dozen settlers, calling themselves the Tulare Mounted Volunteers, took to the field. An advance party, under the command of John W. Williams, ambushed a sleeping village of Tejon Indians, killing five. Another group fired shots into an unarmed camp of Yokuts on the Kaweah River and scattered its inhabitants into the night.

J. Ross Browne, a special agent for the Treasury Department who was traveling through Visalia at the time, wrote of the escalating events: “Fifteen Valley Indians were killed within a few miles of our camp and the white families have sought refuge in a mill at Visalia whilst the men are preparing for a vigorous defense. It is impossible to predict what the result will be, but I fear from the lawless character of the white settlers and their determination to have a war and exterminate the Indians that there will be much trouble and the prosperity of the Indian reservations will be greatly impeded.”

Fearing vengeful attacks by the settlers, most of the Yokuts went into hiding–some concealed themselves in the dense tule marshes, a few were given refuge by sympathetic settlers in Visalia, while others headed into the Sierras. About 400 Yokuts were not about to move. They located their village behind a natural bulwark of rock and timber at the base of a small mountain on the North Fork of the Tule River and waited to defend themselves with bows and arrows and a few flintlock pistols.

On April 28, 1856, Foster DeMasters’ band of more than 100 would-be Indian fighters stumbled upon the mountain camp. As the volunteers emerged from the thicket and onto the open meadow, they were met with a volley of arrows that forced them back into the bush. The Yokuts charged from behind their fortification. Had they possessed better weapons, they surely would have swept the militiamen from the field; with what they had, the Yokuts inflicted serious wounds on two of DeMasters’ men. The volunteers decided to wait for Sheriff W.G. Poindexter’s company, which was on its way from Keyesville.

Poindexter’s men arrived on the 29th. Some of them had devised a body armor, consisting of cotton padding and canvas tarps, that they thought was impervious to arrows. Thus armored, they boldly charged the Indians’ fortification. The body armor, however, provided no protection, and a mass of arrows turned back the assault. A Stockton newspaper quipped, “The ‘Petticoat Rangers’ were upon the field, but effected nothing, as their padded garments only served the purpose of sleeping accommodations.” With ammunition running low and their taste for war and glory now soured, the chastened volunteers quit the field and returned to Visalia.

Meanwhile, rumors of a united uprising of all native Californians, and of horrible Indian atrocities, now spread throughout the state. All mining and ranching operations in the southern foothills came to a halt as settlers fled to the safety of towns. Miners at Keyesville had heard that hundreds of warriors had left the Sebastian Reserve and were about to attack them. With picks and shovels, they built entrenchments around the town. Other miners rode to Fort Tejon and Los Angeles to seek reinforcements.

The Los Angeles Star reported that 10 miners had been killed on the Kern River and 400 head of cattle driven off by warriors. It also printed the message brought by the express rider: “Times are squally here–The Indians have broken out on the Four Creeks, and have driven off a great many cattle. The miners on Kern River have quit work and forted up….We will defend ourselves if they make an appearance.” The citizens of Los Angeles decided at a town meeting that the miners of Keyesville were perfectly able to defend themselves.

At Fort Tejon on May 6, 1856, Lt. Col. Benjamin Beall, a distinguished veteran of both the Seminole and Mexican wars, ordered Lieutenant Benjamin Allston, West Point class of 1853, and 37 troopers of Company A, 1st Dragoons, to ride to the rescue of the besieged miners of Keyesville. Meanwhile, 25 red-legged infantrymen (artillerists trained to fight as infantry) from Company K of the 3rd Artillery at Fort Miller, under the command of 2nd Lt. LaRhett Livingston, and 30 members of the Millerton Militia were dispatched by department headquarters to march on the Indian encampment near the Tule River.

Allston believed the rumors that hordes of menacing Indians were waiting in the Tulare Valley to overwhelm Company A. For several nights, the young lieutenant ordered his command to remain under arms lest they all be murdered in their sleep. Dispatch riders were sent to Fort Tejon requesting reinforcements and a mountain howitzer, but Beall brushed aside these wild dispatches. After scouting about the rugged countryside along the Kern River, Allston realized that there were no hostile Indians in the area. He dispatched Sergeant Louis Walton to ride to Keyesville and tell the miners that it was safe for them to come out of their fortifications.

Several miles to the north, across the Greenhorn Mountains, Lieutenant Livingston’s footsore artillerymen were attempting to haul a field gun to bear on the Yokuts’ hilltop position. Under a hot May sun, the troopers hacked, shoved and swore as they inched the 2,000-pound cannon along the rocky banks of the Tule River and up into the hills. The craggy terrain and thick brush soon proved impassable. Livingston decided to breach the fortification without the aid of his cannon.

In the pre-dawn of May 13, 1856, Livingston climbed a nearby hillside and peered into the Yokuts’ encampment. Seeing the position was not heavily defended and could be attacked on its flank, Livingston swiftly put his company into motion. The artillerists carried cumbersome .69-caliber Model 1842 smoothbore muskets that became entangled with low branches and literally slowed the advance to a crawl. Suddenly, a group of Yokuts rose from the underbrush and peppered the detachment with arrows. Most of the arrows were deflected by the bushes, however, and they caused no serious injury to the troops. Without hesitation Livingston’s men leveled their muskets, loaded with buckshot and ball, and returned fire, taking a deadly toll upon the defenders. Livingston shouted: “Charge! Bayonets, forward!” as the Yokuts hastily melted into the safety of the dense pine forests of the Sierras. Livingston reported 20 dead tribesmen, and other Yokuts would later die of wounds received in the battle. The emboldened volunteers, following in the wake of the Regulars, looted and burned the Yokuts’ village.

The destruction of the encampment (on the unnamed hill that would be called Battle Mountain), however, triggered a new round of violence. Mounted tribesmen raided outlying ranches and mines, burning a dozen abandoned buildings, stealing livestock and killing at least one herdsman. Brevet Major General John E. Wool, head of the Department of the Pacific, ordered his troops in the area “to protect the inhabitants from Indian depredations and, if possible, preserve the peace.”

On May 26, 1856, Ned Beale, former Indian agent and now brigadier general in the California Militia, was sent by the governor to the Four Creeks region to entreat with the natives. Upon arrival, General Beale ordered the 1st Dragoons and 3rd Artillerists to provide him with a proper military escort. Beale wandered about the Tulare Valley, meeting with a dozen or so of the tribelets. None of these groups had been involved in the fighting on Battle Mountain. It did not matter. Beale threatened them with great harm should they again take up arms against the settlers and, though he had no authority to do so, demanded that several of the groups move to Kings River Farm, a small reservation on the Kings River.

On June 5, the 1st Dragoons, temporarily under the command of Sergeant Walton, headed back to their quarters. The sole army fatality occurred on this day when trooper Richard Thorpe fell from his horse and drowned while crossing the river at Four Creeks. Summing up the war, John Gardiner, captain of Company A, wrote: “Our Indian war is over for the present, and I do not think will be revived unless the whites commit more murders. The Indians look to us as their protectors. The stories that I have heard of the outrages perpetrated by the whites would be incredible were they not well vouched for. The Indians are naturally quiet and would continue so if left alone.”

The settlers were not going to let the Yokuts alone. Lieutenant Livingston had barely returned to Fort Miller when he heard accounts of further bloodshed. On the morning of August 11, 1856, a band of rampaging settlers killed four Yokuts. The next day, this company of raiders destroyed another village on the Kings River, and on August 13 they burned a village on Dry Creek. Many of the victims of these raids had recently been moved to the area by Beale in the wake of the war on the Tule River.

Ironically, the Indian subagent at Kings River Farm was William Campbell, who had moved onto Yokuts’ land in 1852 and had participated in the destruction of Wa-ta-ka’s village. Although Campbell knew of the impending raids, he did not notify the military, nor did he request protection for his wards. His former trading post business partner, John Poole, proudly wrote to the Sacramento Union that these pesky Indians were “driven to the mountains and are not to be permitted to return, even if they showed an inclination to do so.”

Livingston reported to his commander that the attacks were made upon “a well disposed band of Indians, raising some grain and vegetables and not interfering with the whites….The acts of the whites so far seem to me to be utterly lawless. Those owning stock on Kings River allow the stock to feed upon the Indians’ acorns, and some even say, assist them to them.” Livingston concluded that, as agent, Campbell “never fed or attended to one tenth part of the Indians here.”

Eramus Keyes, a captain of the 3rd Artillery who had escorted the federal treaty commissioners in 1851, had been impressed with the physical appearance and bearing of the Yokuts. When he returned to Fort Miller in 1858, Keyes wrote that he was “shocked with the spectacle of degradation and self-abandonment they presented.”

In November 1858, an armed band of citizens from Visalia removed some 200 destitute Yokuts from villages on the shores of Tulare Lake and from Kings River Farm and brought them to Fresno Farm, a reservation on the Fresno River. By that time, the Sebastian Reserve was in serious decay and rocked by scanda
ls. It is not possible to determine how many Yokuts died of disease and exposure while living on the reservations or in exile deep within the snowbound Sierras. Suffice it to say, there were 14,000 Yokuts at the time that gold was first discovered in California; by 1870, fewer than 1,000 Yokuts remained.

Lieutenant Benjamin Allston decided that soldiering in California was not his cup of tea. In 1857, after his father’s election as governor of South Carolina, he resigned his commission. Four years later, Allston became a cavalry general for the Confederacy.

LaRhett Livingston commanded a brigade of Union artillery in the Army of the Potomac and, after the war, became the colonel of the 3rd Artillery. In 1861, Benjamin Beall, having honorably served in the Army since 1836, retired from active command because of declining health. Major George Patten also fought for the Union, but later traded his sword for a pen and became a noted poet in San Francisco. Louis Walton, the man who had lifted the siege of Keyesville, lost his sergeant’s stripes a few months after the end of the Tule River War. He was discharged from the 1st Dragoons on November 21, 1858.

William Campbell, notwithstanding accusations made by a federal investigator concerning his fraudulent practices as an Indian agent, became a county supervisor. Walter Harvey, fearful of vengeance, left the valley and obtained governmental posts in Sacramento and San Francisco. Ned Beale acquired vast tracks of real estate in the valley–including the Tejon Ranch and the land that the Sebastian Reserve had once occupied.

Fort Miller was abandoned by the Army in 1858. Although briefly placed back in use by California troops during the Civil War, it now lies on the muddy bottom of Millerton Lake–a body of water formed after the construction of the Friant Dam in 1959 blocked the flow of the San Joaquin River.

By 1900, Tulare Lake had virtually disappeared; the rivers that once rushed from the Sierras and flowed into Tulare Lake had been diverted by farmers. The Tulare Valley was renamed the San Joaquin Valley. Today, along Interstate 5, the bustling highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, are countless miles of cotton fields. There is little trace of the great Tulare Lake and of its people who once dominated this landscape.

The Chunuts were a band of Yokuts forced from their homes on the shores of Tulare Lake. In 1933, Yoimut, an 85-year old Chunut woman, told historian Frank Latta that she was the last survivor of her band: “All of my life I want back our good home on Tulare Lake. But I guess I can never have it. I am a very old Chunut now and I guess I can never see the old days.”

Ben Beall at West Point: Dropped from the Rolls

The Beall Chronicles: An account of a Dragoon officer to be

By George Stammerjohan and Will Gorenfeld

While stationed out on the western plains, Major Benjamin Beall recounted to Lt. Orlando Wilcox how, in the year 1814, he arrived at the Military Academy, a brash youth, fully “equipped with a pointer and a liquor flask.” Beall described his new cadet uniform as consisting of an “embroidered coat, tights, high top boots with tassels, cocked hat & sword” and mentioned how he almost got into a fist-fight in New York with a street urchin who had taunted him by “singing out ‘there goes a middy on half pay.” 1

Benjamin Lloyd Beall was born at Ft. Adams in Rhode Island late in the year of 1800. Lloyd Beall, his father, was a career officer who had served during the Revolutionary War and, in 1814, was a Major of Artillery who had commanded at Ft. McHenry. On March 25, 1814, Ben Beall, aged thirteen years and five months, was admitted to West Point. His application papers mention that at the time he was a resident of Virginia and that Lloyd Beall, of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was his legal guardian.

At that time of Beall’s admission, the Military Academy did not have a systematic four year course of study for its cadets. This would all change in 1817 when Sylvanus Thayer became Superintendent of West Point. The energetic Superintendent Thayer was intent upon turning the Academy into a first class institution of higher instruction. He administered tests to the cadets in attendance and assigned them to classes based upon their test results.

Suffice it to say that by June of 1818, Badet Beall was ranked sixteenth in a class of nineteen cadets in his section. Academy records for 1818 indicate that Beall, despite having already having spent four years at the Military Academy was destined to be placed in the third (sophmore) class that fall. Worse, the record contained the ominous notation that Cadet Beall was “subject to be put back . . . [but] allowed to proceed until further notice.”

It is altogether likely that young Cadet Beall was disheartened by his low academic standing but, it was the death of his father in 1817 that caused him to absent himself without leave from the Military Academy. Prior to the start of the academic year Beall took his leave without obtaining the consent of his superiors. On October 16, 1818, the post adjutant ordered that due to his absence without leave, Cadet Beall be discharged from the Institution and his name . . . dropped from the rolls accordingly.”

This was, however, not to be the end of the military career of Benjamin Lloyd Beall. In 1818, with the aid of some influential friends of his late father, young Beall secured a clerkship with the War Department. He would remain there for the next 18 years. Responding to the need for effective troops to fight the Seminoles, Congress, in May of 1836, voted to appropriate funds with which to raise a second regiment of Dragoons. On 1836, Benjamin Beall, again using the influence of his late father’s friends, gained a captain’s commission in the 2d Dragoons.


1. Orlando Wilcox: Forgotten Valor, ed Robert Scott (Kansas State University Press 1999), 137.

Dragoon Uniforms

The Dragoon Uniform: Fancy vs. Fact
by George Stammerjohan and Will Gorenfeld

The 1850s present a confusing picture of the Dragoon image. On the one hand, the Regulations of 1851 gave a neat picture of what a suitably uniformed, dashing Dragoon should look like: dark blue frock coat, “flower pot” shako, and gray-blue trousers. The frock coat had orange collars and cuffs. The new uniform was intended to be worn for both dress and fatigue duty. For troopers of the First Dragoons, a brass number, “1”, was placed on each side of the collar. The first model (1851) shako bore a brass eagle, orange facing, and orange pompom. The long-tailed frock coat was heavy, and generally scorned by the troops because it impaired the Dragoon when he mounted or dismounted. The shako was stiff, hot, and hard to balance while riding at a fast gait. The orange facings of the coat and shako faded rapidly beneath a bright California sun, creating anything but a uniformed appearance to a line of troopers. Some officers scorned the new uniform because there were only slight differences in the design worn by enlisted men from the uniform worn by officers. No matter to the Dragoon troopers in California, for it would take years before this uniform would be delivered to them.

Army storehouses were filled to the brim with old-style uniforms left over from the Mexican-American War. An economy-driven Quartermaster Department wished to use these until stores were exhausted. In 1852, it was decreed that mounted troops would receive yearly allotments of two jackets–the first would be of the dark blue 1833 pattern, while the second would be of the sky-blue variety, reportedly stripped of its infantry or artillery piping. Indeed, some Dragoon companies received nothing but the sky-blue jackets.

Two items of clothing which would remain in constant use by the Dragoons were the off-white wool flannel shirt and old-pattern 1839 forage cap. The shirt was long in the tails, with a fairly full body and tight sleeves. The neck was a shallow “V” with a single button at the throat. (The dark gray salt-and-pepper woolen shirt, seen in some illustrations, was not issued until 1875.)

On August 10, 1854, a detachment of Company A of the First Dragoons arrived at Camp Canada de las Uvas. Although not located in Tejon Pass, the post soon was designated Fort Tejon. Upon arrival, these rowdy recruits and former infantrymen were put to work in the construction of the post. These Dragoons were dressed in a bewildering kaleidoscopic array of colors. The former infantrymen, who had recently marched overland from New Mexico, wore the light blue infantry jackets. The recruits were wearing old pattern 1833 dark blue jackets. The original members of Company A–all nine of them–wore a mixture of dark blue and sky blue jackets; all the worse for wear. This elite regiment would resemble ragpickers–or even worse, mounted infantry. 1st Lt. Thomas Castor begged departmental headquarters to either send new clothing or else allow him to purchase civilian attire for the ragged troops. The next month, a shipment of 1851 pattern clothing arrived at the fort. The popular image of the Dragoon depicts him in tall boots and brass spurs. This is wrong. The Dragoon generally wore infantry-style brogans. When mounted, the Dragoon wore low-shank bootees with brass stud spurs. The spurs were commonly lost and the unfortunate trooper was charged $1.10 per set to replace them.
In 1854, the regulations did away with the frock coat. In its place was a short shell jacket trimmed with orange piping and brass shoulder scales. This uniform did not reach Fort Tejon until the fall of 1856. The old-style surplus jackets in sky blue or dark blue were continued to be issued to the troops–two per year. If Company A troopers wore out their yearly issue, which was often the case, they had to purchase sky blue jackets, making them appear as worn-out infantrymen. The men of Company F, arriving at Ft. Tejon in 1857, were issued Mexican War surplus sky blue jackets. This troop would not receive the proper Dragoon pattern uniform until it reached Fort Crook, California, in 1858.

Company B wearing the 1851 Uniform

Companies B and K arrived at Fort Tejon on July 7, 1858. Brevet Major (Captain) James Carleton, the commanding officer of Company K, was furious when he learned that the Quartermaster Department had mistakenly sent his unit artillery trousers. He demanded that the Quartermaster take them back and send him proper trousers for Dragoons. The quartermaster officer, temperamental Captain Winfield Scott Hancock, refused to exchange the trousers. This led to a private feud between the future generals Hancock and Carleton. Company B, under the sickly and more easygoing command of Captain John Davidson, still wore the 1850 white buff belt and carried the Model 1833 Ames saber. It was said that the saber would wrap “rubber-like around a man’s head and was only good for cutting warm butter.”

In 1858, a new uniform was designated for the Dragoons: a refined version of the 1854 jacket, dark blue trousers, and the new, so-called Hardee hat of stiff black felt with a folded brim, ostrich feather, orange cord and brass company letter. Of this hat Major Albert Brackett wrote, “If the whole earth had been ransacked, it is difficult to tell where a more ungainly piece of furniture could have been found.”

Company K was, perhaps, the best company in the 1st Regiment. Carleton wished his troop to be correctly dressed and requested the new hats. The Quartermaster Depot in Benicia sent him just ten hats for a company of eighty men. When Carleton demanded to be sent the new fatigue flannel sack coat for these men, he received just forty. Carleton was not the kind to surrender without a fight. He lodged some stinging complaints but was each time rebuffed with the reply that the new clothing was “experimental” and that he should be happy with what he had already received. Only the fact that Lt. Col. Benjamin “Old Ben” Beall of the 1st Dragoons was serving as acting commander of the Department of California saved Carleton from being court-martialed.

Dragoon Weapons

Dragoon Firearms: More Legend than Fact
by Will Gorenfeld

Model 1847 Dragoon Musketoon (smooth bore .69 calibre)

One persistent myth concerning the Dragoons on the frontier is that they were well-equipped with the most modern of weaponry. In reality–and that reality would remain true until the late fall of 1858–the Dragoons who served out on the west coast were, for the most part, armed with firearms that bordered upon obsolete. This is not to say that these weapons were old. Indeed, none of their firearms were technically out of date. Rather, they were what the War Department, controlled by a penny-pinching Congress, could afford to issue. The Ordnance Department arsenals were filled with large stocks of these weapons. Also on hand were immense inventories of ammunition. The acquisition of modern pistols and carbines would not only render obsolete those weapons on hand but would also require the costly procurement of new ammunition. An economy-minded Congress was not about to authorize new funds for these purchases. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, graduate of West Point and former Colonel of Mississippi Volunteers, also appreciated the need of better firearms, but could only do so much. Davis authorized the testing of new firearms and the updating of existing weapons but, lacking congressional appropriations, could not purchase large numbers of new weapons for the troops.

In 1851, the Dragoons turned in their old Hall carbines and M1837 Hall North flintlock horse pistols. In exchange, they were issued the Model 1847 Springfield Musketoon and Model 1842 Aston pistol. The .69 caliber Model 1847 musketoon was a well-balanced, smoothbore carbine. It had an effective range of less than sixty yards. Inspector General Joseph Mansfield reported in 1854 that the musketoon presented “no probable certainty of hitting the object aimed at, and the recoil is too great to be fired with ease.” Mansfield concluded that the weapon was “a worthless arm” and that it had “no advocates that I am aware of.” I

Responding to growing criticism, Colonel Henry K. Craig, the chief of the Ordnance Department wrote that if the musketoon �is not a suitable arm for cavalry, I do not know where to look for one that will answer.� As it turned out, Colonel Craig did not have to look far for a replacement weapon. Christian Sharps, who had worked on the Hall carbine while employed at the Harper�s Ferry Arsenal, by 1848 had patented a breech-loading, rifled carbine. The design was relatively simple. Pulling down a lever located as part of the trigger guard lowered the slide, and a paper or linen cartridge was then placed into the breech. When the slide was forced back upward, it sheered off the rear of the cartridge and exposed the powder to ignition. The Sharps rifled carbine fired at the revolutionary rate of 8 to 10 rounds per minute–with accuracy. The Ordnance Board tested the weapon and was favorably impressed. In 1852, it ordered 150 carbines for field tests by Dragoons stationed in New Mexico Territory and Southern California. Because it was an experimental weapon, only ten Sharps were issued to each company. Secretary Davis continued to press for congressional funds with which to purchase experimental weapons. In 1857, four hundred model 1855 Sharps carbines were purchased by the War Department. Ten carbines were issued to each of several Dragoon companies stationed out on the West Coast.

Out in New Mexico territory, in 1858, Captain Richard “Old Baldy” Ewell raved that his 15 Sharps carbines were the best firearms available, and asked for more. Captain Davidson chimed in: “I am satisfied from trial and experience, that Sharps� carbine is the best weapon yet known in our country for a cavalry soldier. Its range and accuracy are greater than those of the musketoon. It is a stronger arm; the soldier can make it last longer. . . One argument I had almost omitted to mention in favor of the Sharps� carbine is that dragoon soldiers have more confidence in it than any other weapon I have ever seen put into their hands; and I have seen them use the musketoon, carbine pistol and minie rifle. Give your soldiers but confidence in the effectiveness of their weapons, and they will give a better account of themselves than with those they can not trust.� When Dragoon Companies B and K, enroute to Ft. Tejon, from Ft. Buchanan in New Mexico Territory, they were armed with the Musketoon and the M1841 Mississippi rifle. While stationed in New Mexico, they had been issued ten M1855 Sharps carbines per company. But these experimental weapons were the property of the Ordnance Department of New Mexico and, as such, were left behind.

Colt 2d Model Dragoon Pistol

The War Department had delivered two dozen or so First Model Colt Dragoon revolvers to each Dragoon company for testing. A great debate soon raged within the ranks of the mounted arm over the efficacy of the Dragoon revolver. It was much too heavy to be carried in a belt holster. Brevet Major Carleton quipped that the Dragoon revolver was only fit for teamsters who had a wagon in which to carry it. Thus, many officers favored the lighter .36 caliber “belt revolver,” the 3d Model 1851 Colt Navy.

Colt 1851 .36 Caliber Navy Revolver

A number of officers chafed at the notion that a lowly enlisted man, often an immigrant, might be entrusted with Colt pistols worth between $25-$50. It is also important to bear in mind that company arms were, ultimately, the financial responsibility of the senior company officer. Lost revolvers could, thus, be charged against the officer’s monthly pay. Colt’s revolvers were easily stolen by deserters and sold on the black market. In late 1856, 25 second-model Colt revolvers were issued to Company A at Fort Tejon. Within weeks of the delivery, three Dragoons deserted, taking with them three pistols. The sale of stolen Colt’s became such a problem that General Order No. 19, issued August 16, 1859, decreed that any trooper who lost his Colt would have to pay $40. In 1856, the Army contracted with the Sharps Company to produce 4000 Model 1853 carbines. These weapons, sealed into tin can-like cases, along with a large order of Navy Colt revolvers, were crated and shipped from New York to California. They were placed in storage at the Benicia Arsenal. The Ordnance Department continued to issue the musketoon and Aston pistol.

To the north of California there would be fought an engagement that would change the whole picture of mounted troops. On May 16, 1858, the Couer d�Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians of Eastern Washington attacked a field force of three companies of Dragoons and 25 infantrymen marching under the command of Major Edward Steptoe. During a running fight, two companies of Dragoons, armed with the short-range musketoons, were deployed as a rear guard. In this firefight, they consumed a huge amount of ammunition–with little effect. Finally, the battered column gained a low hilltop and forted up. The Indians, many of whom had Hudson Bay trade muskets and rifles, soon formed a ring around the hill and banged away at Steptoe�s beleaguered force. With men dying and ammunition down to three rounds per trooper, Steptoe buried his dead and made a run for the Columbia River and the safety of Fort Walla Walla. This embarrassing fiasco sent a shockwave through out the Army.

At Department of the Pacific headquarters, grandfatherly Brevet Brigadier General Newman A. Clarke pointed his finger at the Ordnance Department which, at the time, had resting in its
warehouse in Benicia, California, dozens of boxes of Sharps carbines and Navy Colt revolvers. Clarke wanted the new weapons issued, and now! Beginning in July of 1858, Ordnance officers at Benicia uncrated, cleaned, and shipped hundreds of Sharps and Colts to Fort Walla Walla for the mounted units destined for the Spokane Campaign. Additional weapons were next shipped to Forts Crook and Tejon to re-arm the other Dragoon companies. Within weeks, Dragoons from Fort Tejon took to the field armed with their newly issued M1853 Sharps carbines.

M1852 Sharps Crabine

The Mojave tribe, angered by a new wagon road across their lands, were attacking emigrant trains. At a place near the Colorado River known as Beaver Slough, Mojave tribesmen boldly attacked the Dragoons. It was a mistake: the awesome firepower of Sharps carbines in the steady hands of veteran troops quickly drove off the attackers.

In 1859, Inspector General Mansfield, on an inspection tour of California, witnessed a firing exercise by Brevet Major James Carleton’s company K at Fort Tejon. Mansfield reported that, despite the lack of sufficient powder in the experimental cartridges supplied by the Benicia Arsenal, half of Company K’s shots hit a 6′ x 22″ target at 100 yards. Carleton, never without a hot opinion, later wrote to the chief of Ordnance at Benicia and openly expressed anger over the poor quality of the experimental cartridges.

Sharps carbines, like Colt’s, were popular with deserters. Stolen Sharps could be sold in Los Angeles for about $100 in gold coin. One 1st Dragoon sergeant took a detail into the pueblo of Los Angeles and then, graciously, allowed his men a night on the town; after the men had departed from camp, he gathered up their carbines and disappeared. In 1860, Dragoon trooper Henry Ott, the post butcher, got tired of army life. He procured three Sharps carbines and vanished in broad daylight. For good measure, Private Ott also pilfered a new Model 1855 Springfield rifle that had been sent to the Dragoons for field tests. He was never caught.

The Dragoons of Fort Tejon rode out on their last campaign On April 12, 1860. Crossing the arid sands of the Mojave Desert as far as Las Vegas, they chased scattered bands of Pah-Utes who had been attacking mail carriers, cattlemen, and prospectors. Thus, in the final moments of pre-Civil War California, most of the Fort Tejon Dragoons had finally attained the level of armament that gun lore had always declared: they were elite troopers who were superbly armed! It had simply taken the Army 24 years to make fact match legend.

Model 1855 Sharps Carbine: note the Maynard Taped Primer devise