The next day, Felipa Osuna saw some Indians talking to her gardener. Two were Fitch’s servants, the third, Juan Antonio. The trio had been meeting for several afternoons, she recalled.
They didn’t know it, but Osuna understood their language and heard the plan: while Fitch was away, they’d sneak into his home when Josefa was kneading bread. They’d rob the store; kill Lawrence Hatwell, a despised American clerk; and, on horses waiting outside the back door, kidnap Fitch’s wife Josefa and Osuna.
Osuna told her husband, Juan Marrón, the pueblo’s chief administrator. He didn’t believe her. But to be safe, and since there were only six males in town, Marrón ordered the women to ride to La Playa and stay with the “foreigners” — eight or ten English, American, and Hawaiian males — who worked there. The women would remain in the drying sheds until the danger passed.
Five miles west of the pueblo, less than an hour’s ride on a good horse, La Playa was the center of Alta California’s tanning industry. By 1837, five barn-sized structures and several makeshift sheds had become renowned for the ubiquitous stench emanating from thousands of cowhides cured in brine and hung to dry. Alfred Robinson dubbed the area “Hide Park.”
“We arrived at sunset,” writes Juana Machado. “There were many of us — the Pico women, and my family.” Exiled from their homes and husbands, possibly forever, the women found themselves in another world: warehouses warped by rough boards; thousands and thousands of hides; hordes of seagulls and ten times as many flies; and men, wearing bright red shirts and flaring straw hats, talking in a strange tongue and reeking of tallow and death.
The uprooted women spent the night huddled in fear. Convinced that 300–500 natives would swarm the pueblo and burn it to cinders, they scanned the lowlands across the bay for the slightest stray flicker. They also feared that their “protectors,” many of them sailors who’d jumped ship in San Diego, would take liberties. Few slept during what they later called “la noche triste” — “the sad night.”
“The next morning,” writes Machado, “the foreigners went with us to the pueblo.” Led by their boss, John Steward, they stayed for a week, until “we were out of danger.”
Not all the women went to La Playa. Since Captain Fitch was away, his wife had asked Osuna and her husband Juan Marrón to stay with her. Still unsure about the rumor, Marrón decided to set a trap. When nightfall came, he told Josefa, she should knead bread, as expected. He and Hatwell would hide behind the open door, a loaded pistol in each hand. If assailants arrived, they’d surprise them.
Josefa agreed to play decoy. After dark, as she began folding and smoothing dough on the dining-room table, two tall natives blocked the doorway. Marrón and Hatwell rushed them from behind and took them prisoner.
The next morning, as the women returned from La Playa, townspeople sent for Macedonio. He was staying across the river with Herculaneo Olivas, an old soldier. Macedonio formed a posse. After they rounded up the two Indians from the Fitch store, they stormed door to door through the pueblo.
“It was painful to see Macedonio’s people running after the Indians like a pack of hunting dogs,” writes Osuna. “Some were pulled out of their homes, others were lassoed as they tried to run away, terrified.”
The plaza filled with shouts and screams. An Indian boy darted into Osuna’s house and begged her to hide him. Too late. His pursuers burst in and dragged him outside.
One of Juan Bandini’s servants confessed. He was supposed to open the doors at midnight, he said, but didn’t want to because he loved the family. Bandini assured him he was safe.
Bandini told the posse to spare his servant. But Macedonio cinched a rope around his neck and took him with the others. Osuna says the boy was eventually set free “but suffered for the rest of his life until he died.”
At sundown, Macedonio herded between five and ten suspects to a small canyon. He ordered them to dig a long trench. When they finished, he had them kneel along one side. Then he and his posse shot each in the back of the head. Bodies tumbled into the pit.
Later that night, Macedonio and his men rode up to the Presidio. They captured an Indian spy who was waiting for the cooks to report. He knew where the war party had camped.
When the spy refused to confess, Macedonio promised instant death. The Indian remained mute. So Macedonio drew his sword and hacked off an ear. He vowed to slash the other, writes William Davis, and mutilate the Indian “little by little until he made the statement required of him.”
The Indian relented. After he told all he knew, Macedonio jammed the sword through his heart.
“This mode of extorting confession,” writes Davis, “although repulsive to those who participated in it, was the only way of securing the desired information.”
“These Jacum Indians were bold and brave,” writes Janssens. “San Diego suffered much at their hands. If it had not been for the little frontier guard, commanded by a man as energetic as Macedonio, there would have been in the future terrible scenes in the town, and perhaps the destruction of everyone.”
But, Janssens adds, “The violent execution without form of law brought sorrow to all the inhabitants, for no one had anticipated such a hasty proceeding.”
Lorenzana, who was at the mission, said Macedonio acted “with much force and harshness.” Judge José Antonio Estudillo fiercely objected to slaughter without the pretense of justice.
Forty years later, Thomas Savage interviewed Felipa Osuna. “The punishment produced a very beneficial effect,” she told him, “because after that, there were no more robberies by Indians in San Diego.”
When Savage assumed she’d finished her testimony, Osuna added: “I was so sorry that I had informed on the conspirators. The other women also felt sorry for the Indians and accused me of causing the whole thing. How could I have concealed a conspiracy against the lives, liberty, and possessions of so many people? They would have died.”