In 1847, the title of military governor shifted from General Stephen Watts Kearney to a man who had risen rapidly in the ranks of the military during the Black Hawk Wars, Colonel Richard Barnes Mason. The Black Hawk Wars were a series of military actions against the Indian people of the Midwestern United States directed by President Andrew Jackson. Jackson, who led the troops and rode the battle lines on horseback, believed total removal and eventual annihilation of Indian people was the only path to what h called peace. For Indian people, the wars marked the beginning of the tradition of the Long Walk, a military-enforced march at gunpoint of masses of Indian people to some distant location, typically west of the Mississippi River, usually in the dead of winter. Every Long Walk resulted in deaths from exposure, malnutrition, and drowning of more than 50 percent of the Indian people forced to march. The survivors were forever marked by grief, trauma, and the results of prolonged malnutrition, i.e., blindness, osteoporosis; and depression.
When Mason was made the second military governor of California, he undoubtedly brought with him the' genocidal impulses that had won him many rapid promotions during the wars. It was no coincidence that,Mason would appoint Captain Jesse B. Hunter of Company B of the Mormon battalion, a man who knew the slave laws of the South, the first Indian subagent of Southern California.
Labor for the ranchos was as serious a problem for the Americans as it had been for the Spaniards and Mexicans. The population of San Diego County in the first official federal census in 1849 was 798 "people." This numbe~excludes hundreds and perhaps thousands of Indian people, who were not counted. Six hundred and fifty of the 798 lived in the city of San Diego. This left 148 nonindigenous people to master the thousands of square miles of San Diego County, which then spread north to Los Angeles and east to Arizona.
The Spanish had established the model for California Indian labor by exploitation at the missions. The Americans, in their turn, would try to force Indians to build their empire by imposing Southern slave laws, and inventing a life of their. own Indian subagent. Hunter was from a wealthy Virginia family and had every opportunity in his youth to see how the slaves were managed in the American South. He issued a series of orders that restrained Indian people from gathering together, except, of course, as laborers for the non-Indian population. He also ordered Indian people to carry passports when they traveled away from their reservations. This law was still in effect as late as 1885, when it was used arbitrarily to control Indian behavior. At age 80, Richard Nejo reminisced about the arrest of a man he knew who went to harvest his daughter and son-in-law's wheat crop without the permission of the Indian agent.
- ... every year he'd go over there and help harvest the wheat, Well, he went away this time ... he come back by the agent's house ... the agent arrested him for going out of the reservation without permission ...
The man was sentenced to chop 30 cords of wood and spend 30 days in jail.
The need for labor spawned blatant violations of Indian human rights. A mid-1800s slave market in Los Angeles did a brisk business. As much as two-thirds of the labor force in Los Angeles came from San. Diego. Indian, people were captured in raids by Mexican slavers, who supplied the ranchos with cheap labor. Local laws set additional traps for Indian people; any Indian considered idle, at best an arbitrary judgment, was fined and subjected to arrest. Any adult Indian who could not pay a fine or a citation would have his debt purchased by a citizen with capital. The citizen then owned the labor of the Indian until the 'debt was paid off.
It was even easier to control the labor of Indian children, who were routinely kidnapped and presented as orphaned. Even families of modest means could acquire an Indian servant or two, as virtually any Indian child could be removed from his or her home by a white citizen who had only to show the courts how living in a white home would benefit the child. The children worked in exchange for room and board, frequently until they reached the age of majority, and although some were well enough treated, we must presume that some were beaten and otherwise abused. All of them had their right to liberty violated and were deprived of their most valued and valuable resource, their families.
Indian agents, too, profited personally from Indian labor. Cave J. Couts, prominent San Diego citizen, used his 1851 marriage into the wealthy and powerful Bandini family and his 1853 appointment as Indian subagent of San Diego County to better his social position. As a wedding present, Abel Sterns gave his sister-in-law, Ysadora Bandini, 2000 acres of land once attached to the Mission San Luis Rey. Two Indian men, Andreas and Jose Manuel, had been deeded the land in
1845 by the Mexican government. When the Americans took over, Sterns was able to preempt the Indian claim to the land. Couts used his appointment as Indian subagent to force Indians to build Rancho Guajome for him, rounding them up as if they were part of the livestock included the land holdings. Clarence McGrew wrote:
- At that time there was a great number of Indians in and around San Luis Rey, and it was an easy matter for Colonel Couts, as he was an Indian agent, to command the services of enough laborers to do his work. It was not long before the result of the patient labor of 300 Indians took the form of an immense adobe house, built in a square, containing twenty rooms, a fine courtyard in the center, well fined with orange and lemon trees and every variety of flower; immense barns, stables, sheds, and corrals were added, after extensive quarters for the servants were built; then to finish the whole a neat chapel was built and formally dedicated to the worship of God. His military training enabled him to control and manage the Indians, as only he could.