Indian Depredations, San Bernardino County, California

Early in 1851 a party of Utes from Salt Lake made a raid into the southern country, and stole a number of horses, including 130 which were the property of one of the Lugos, owners of the San Bernardino Rancho. The Indians were pursued by some twenty Californians, and one of this party was killed during a volley of rifle-balls fired by the marauders from an ambuscade on the Mohave. The Californians, returning through the Cajon Pass to camp at its mouth, passed some men with a wagon, encamped on the farther side of the pass. The next morning, when the rest of the party proceeded on to the rancho, four remained behind, including two sons of that Lugo whose stock had been stolen. The next parties traversing the pass found the wagon and team of the campers, with its two owners murdered. Suspicion fell on the four Californians who had remained behind, and when they were arrested, one of them confessed that they had returned and murdered the two men to avenge the death of their comrade, resultant, they believed, from their movements based on false information given by the campers regarding the course of the Indians. The man who confessed was admitted as State’s evidence, and the other three were jailed, charged with murder.

In April, 1852, there came to Los Angeles from the north one Irving, leading a band of some thirty men, heavily armed, who professed to be on the way to prospect in the section now called Arizona. They were mostly of the ex-convict class, and their misbehavior was outrageous. After remaining in Los Angeles about a month, Irving proposed to Don Antonio Maria Lugo, grandfather of the Lugos then in prison, that he and his band would, for a consideration of $5,000, deliver the young men from jail and take them safely to Mexico. Lugo replied that he would be guided by the advice of J. Lancaster Brent (a prominent attorney of Los Angeles from 1851 to 1861). who had been retained to defend the young men. Brent naturally condemned the undertaking. Before the day of the trial the witnesses for the people were sent to Sonora, where were taken their affidavits, in which they swore to facts establishing for the accused an alibi. Upon these affidavits, application was made to the district judge for the release of the prisoners on bail. Irving swore that if the judge should admit the Lugos to bail, Irving and his band would take them to the courthouse and hang them. The day before the hearing of the case, a company of United States dragoon encamped on the bank of the Los Angeles River, and the sheriff applied to the commanding officer of this detachment for assistance in protecting the court. The officer promised his support. When court opened the following day the prisoners were present with their bondsmen, and along one side of the room were ranged Irving’s men, all heavily armed. Presently marched in a party of dragoons, with carbines ready for action, who placed themselves facing the Irving party. The bonds were approved and signed, and the judge ordered that the prisoners be released on bail. The dragoons escorted them out of the town in safety. Irving vowed vengeance on the Lugos and the lawyer who had, as he considered, prevented him from getting $5,000. About the last of May, he left Los Angeles on the road to Sonora, in company with another party of strangers, recently arrived, heavily armed, but apparently honest prospectors, bound for Arizona. Directly after these adventurers left the town, it transpired that Irving’s plan was to go to Mexico, capture a silver train on the road from Chihuahua to Mazatlan and with the plunder thereof make his way across the country to Texas. He also purposed to go to the Rancho San Bernardino, on his way to Mexico, drive off Lugo’s saddle horses, and seize the young Lugos, to hold them to ransom in the sum of $10,000. His men proved refractory on this plan, only sixteen of them agreeing to accompany him, while the rest went on with the other party. As soon as this project became known in Los Angeles, a messenger was dispatched to warn the Lugos. On May 30, Irving, with eleven others started from the Laguna Rancho, across the plains towards San Bernardino, expecting to reach the rancho by nightfall, and thence proceed to Warner’s by way of San Jacinto. He was not acquainted with the country, so that day only succeeded in reaching the Jurupa, eight miles from the San Bernardino. Before the start, the next morning, Rubidoux, of the Jurupa, had sent a messenger to warn the Lugos. Thus Irving’s party, when they arrived at the house, found that the family and the servants had departed, while the horses were on the way toward the rodeo ground, where there were some thirty vaqueros employed in branding cattle. Some time before this, a company of rangers, commanded by Lieutenant J. A. Bean, had been raised on the warrant of an act of the Legislature, for the defense of the frontier against Indian depredations. They made their headquarters on Logo’s Rancho at San Bernardino, but it happened that they had gone on a scout that day to the Mohave. Jose del Carmen Lugo was in charge of the rancho. He sent one vaquero riding post haste to inform Bean of Irving’s arrival, and another to Juan Antonio, chief of the Cahuilla Indians, bidding him raise all the Indians in the valley, and follow Irving’s party until overtaken by the rangers. Irving went from the first ranch house to old San Bernardino, where his party broke open and looted the dwelling. When they saw the Indians approaching, they mounted, and proceeded toward San Jacinto, but were soon overtaken by the Indians, under one of Lugo’s vaqueros, named Uribes.

Irving, who had been a cavalryman in the Mexican war, had his men drilled like dragoons, and as the Indians came up, his company wheeled, formed in line, and charged in regular cavalry form, firing their pistols as they came. The Indians replied with a volley of arrows, having no other weapons. This skirmishing continued all day, as fresh bands of Indians presented themselves before Irving’s men, no matter which way they turned. No one was hurt, from either party, until late in the after-noon, when the Indians charged and came to close quarters, and a brother of the chief was mortally wounded by Irving. Finally the Irving party took a wood road, leading back toward the Laguna Rancho, but terminating in a narrow ravine filled with underbrush, and quite impassable for horses, it being on the west side of Timoteo Valley. Here the Indians, to the number of about 100, surrounded Irving’s party, and shot down 11 of them, one while concealing himself under a bush until nightfall, when he escaped to the Laguna Rancho. A member of the Sepulveda family (joint owner with Lugo in Rancho San Bernardino), saw this man, Evans by name, in hiding in the bush, but felt compassion toward the solitary survivor, and so rode on, and allowed him to escape, pretending not to see him. This fugitive took a mule he found hitched at the first house on the San Bernardino Rancho, which belonged to the posse of the Los Angeles sheriff, who had just arrived there in pursuit of the marauders, and, mounting this mule, he overtook the rest of the party who had remained on the Laguna Rancho, they having moved on to San Felipe.

The officials proceeded to San Bernardino to investigate the affairs and hold an inquest. The testimony given before Coroner A. P. Hodges, and County Attorney Benjamin Hayes, resulted in a verdict that Edward Irving and ten other white men, names unknown, came to their deaths at the hands of the Cahuilla Indians, and that the killing was justifiable. The Indians had divided among themselves the spoil of the dead men; but, out of the twelve horses and saddles, nine were proved away by their rightful owners, from whom Irving and his party had stolen them.

In September of that year, Evans, the survivor of the party, returned to Los Angeles, and called on the editor of the Weekly Star, and gave an account of the whole affair, which was published at the time. He said that the party went to the San Bernardino Rancho, designing to drive off Lugo’s horses, and they were pursued as above stated. He said that soon after entering the ravine where his companions were killed, he slipped off his horse and crept away among the bushes; he watched Sepulveda as the latter rode toward his hiding place, and had his pistol cocked ready to shoot the Mexican down on the least sign of discovery; but Sepulveda rode on and thus both lives were saved.

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