Keysville Massacre, April 19, 1863
(From Military Correspondence)
The decision of the Army to close down Fort Tejon in 1861 was wrong on two counts. Tactically, the Fort was necessary to help contain the large segments of the population in the San Joaquin Valley which were sympathetic to the Confederacy. The military could have prevented a great amount of traffic and correspondence which passed between Southern sympathizers in the Valley and the Confederate Army in Texas and the new Mexico Territory.
There was another threat, however, which was overlooked in the Army's desire to consolidate its forces in the Department of the Pacific - the Indians.
The Fort had been established to oversee the conduct of the Indians in the area.
The Indians have been calm and peaceful in a the few years of the Fort's
existence and the Office of Indian Affairs, with its influence, gave all
to feel that it could handle the situation without assistance. That this
point of view was wrong can be attested by the two pieces of correspondence
near Visalia, California
April 8, 1863
Col. R. C. Drum, Asst. Adjt. Gen Dept. of the Pacific
San Francisco, California
SIR: I have the honor herewith to forward a petition from the citizens of Keysville and vicinity asking military protection from the Indian depredations. Capt. McLaughlin will leave this camp on the arrival of the detachment of Company E, which will accompany him to join their company at Owen's Valley. They are expected to arrive this evening, and will leave on Saturday or Sunday morning, passing by the way of Keysville through Kern River Valley. The captain will halt a few days in the upper end of the valley, where the difficulties are said to exist and investigate the matte, and if the position of the Indians should be found as favorable as represented, if deemed advisable, will give them battle. The captain will have about forty men, with arms to arm twenty more. This, with the number of citizens that will join him form Keysville, will give him a force sufficient to handle any number of Indians that he will be likely to meet at that place. This camp will be left with a small force, which will make it inexpedient to send a detachment a great distance. It is necessary to keep troops at this camp, the number after Capt. McLaughlin's departure is quite small enough without further decimation. An infantry company could be used to good advantage at this post. It would give the cavalry an opportunity of scouting through the country, preventing, breaking up, or inquiring into the cause and object of the organization of those armed parties that are gathering in the southern part of this country, and, we have reason to believe, have committed several robberies in the vicinity of White River and Kern Lake. The is no doubt of an organized movement among the dissloyal people of this part of the State, for what purpose I am unable to find out. I have information of thirty-seven of them being together near Kern Lake, with quite a number of Government horses with the, which would be sufficient excuse for the military to take the matter in hand. I last heard of these men at or near Fort Tejon, and from a letter intercepted here they seem to be moving south toward Fort Yuma. Had I sufficient force I should send out in the direction of these parties and scour that part of the country and ascertain the meaning and intentions of these armed bodies of men, and recover, if possible, the Government property. If there is any part of this State that should be patrolled, it is the southen tier of counties, for there is no country in the State that offers such facilities for the organization of lawless bands of thieves and outlaws, and there is no country on earth that can furnish more and better material, according to its inhabitants, that this tier of counties can for purposes of that kind. This would be a very good field for Company F to operate in if it could be spared from Camp Union.
I am, very respectively, your obedient servant,
Commanding Camp Babbitt
near Visalia, California
Source: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies by United States. Published under the direction of the Hon. Daniel S. Lamont, Secretary of War, By Maj. George W. Davis, U. S. Army, Mr. Leslie J. Perry, Civilian Expert, Mr. Joseph W. Kirkley, Civilian Expert. Series I, Vol. L - in two parts, Part II - Correspondence, etc. Section I, Washington: Government Prining Office, 1897, p. 386. This document can be viewed or downloaded from Archive.org.
Report of Capt. Moses A. McLaughlin,
Second California Cavalry.
Camp Independence Owens's River Valley
April 24, 1863
Colonel: I have the honor to report that in obedience to instructions dated Camp Babbit, near Visalia, Calif., April 10, 1863, and signed Lieut, Col. William Jones, Second Cavalry California Volunteers, I left Camp Babbitt on Sunday, the 12th instant, in command of twenty-four men of Company E, accompanied by Lts. French and Daley one 12-pound howitzer, and four six-mule government teams, used for the transportation of rations, company property, ammunition, and forage, all of which arrived in good condition at Camp Independence, Owen's Valley, on the 24th of the same month. Distance traveled I suppose to be 250 or 275 miles. I had been instructed by Colonel Jones to investigate the Indian troubles on Kern River. On arriving at Keysville I was visited upon by several of the residents of the place, who represented that there was a large body of Indians encamps upon the North Fork of Kern River; that many of these Indians had doubtless been engaged in the war and in the depredations committed in the Kern River Valley; that one man had been murdered in Kelsey Canyon that Roberts and Waldron had lost about 50 heard of stock; that many other citizens had lost cattle, horses, and other property; that the Indians there congregated were for the most part strangers int eh valley, and were thought to be Tehachapi and Owen's River Indians, who after seeing so many troops pass had endeavored to shield themselves from punishment by seeking the more immediate vicinity of the white settlements. After having the above statements, and learning that Jose Chico was in the neighborhood, I sent for him and two other chiefs who were known to have been friendly. Hose Chico is an Owen's River Indian, but resides on Kern River, where he cultivates a farm. He speaks but little English. In Spanish he, however, makes himself well understood. From him I learned that the Tehachapis had endeavored to have him go to the war with them; that some had returned and were now in the valley, sleeping in the camps at night and hiding in the daytime; that there were many Indians there whom he did not know, either Owen's or Tehachapis. I told him to remain in camp with me and dismissed the others. I informed Dr. George, Mr. Herman and other citizens, that I would visit the camps early in the morning, that they might accompany me and vouch of such Indians as they might know. Accordingly at 2 a.m. On the 19th, accompanied by a detail of twenty men of my company and Lt. Keley, with Jose Chico as guide, I left camp, and at dawn surrounded the camp ten miles from Keysville, upon the right bank of the Kern River, I had the bucks collected together, and informed Jose Chico and the citizens who had arrived that they might choose out those whom they knew to have been friendly. This was soon done. The boys and old men I sent back to their camps, and the others, to the number of 35, for whom no one could vouch, were either shot or sabered. Their only chance for life being their fleetness, but none escaped, thought many of them fought well with knives, sticks, stones, and clubs. This extreme punishment, though I regret it, was necessary, and I feel certain that a few such examples will soon crush the Indians and finish the war in this and adjacent valleys. It is now a well-established fact that no treaty can be entered into with these Indians. They care northing for pledges given, and have imagined that they could live better by war than peace. They will soon learn that they have been mistaken, as with the forces here they will son either be killed off, or pushed so far in the surrounding deserts that they will perish by famine, A Tejon prisoner says the Tejon and Tehachapi Indians (those for whom the Government has done so much) have been engaged in both these wars, and as soon as they are tired return to the reservation. The Indian agents should be notified of this fact. If I have to send down there I will leave them very little to do, and save the Government some treasure. The route from Visalia by way of Walker's Pass is far preferable to the Los Angeles route, as upon the former there is wood, water, and grass at easy marches. Forage can be purchase in Tulare Valley and forwarded to Keysville, from which point the Government teams can bring it to Camp Independence, having water and grass at intervals upon the road, of not more that fifteen or twenty miles, while upon the Los Angeles road from Tehachapi Canyon by Walker's Pass, a distance of over fifty miles, there is not a blade of grass and the water unfit to be used. I have the honor to be,
very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Capt. M. A. McLaughlin
Second Cav. California Volunteers
Comdg, Camp Independence
Source: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies by United States. Published under the direction of the Hon. Daniel S. Lamont, Secretary of War, By Maj. George W. Davis, U. S. Army, Mr. Leslie J. Perry, Civilian Expert, Mr. Joseph W. Kirkley, Civilian Expert. Series I, Vol. L - in two parts, Part I - Reports, Correspondence, etc. Washington: Government Prining Office, 1897, pp. 208-210. This document can be viewed or downloaded from Archive.org.
The events leading up to April 19, 1863 gave the Army reason to appreciate the value of Fort Tejon. Accordingly, on July 9, Capt. McLaughlin was ordered to re-establish Fort Tejon as a precaution against further depredations. The Fort was thus put back into active duty until August 1864, when as a consequence of the removal of the Indians from the Tejon Reservation, it was abandoned for all time.