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Indian Slave Trade

The Institution of Slavery

The institution of slavery has had wide distribution in time and geography and in technique. It has existed throughout the world, involving all races over a period of many thousands of years. This inhumane, yet human, institution existed in North America before the continent was discovered by the Spanish-speaking people in the fifteenth century. The American Southwest had a history of slavery (and some unique features of human bondage) during the Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and American periods. An important area and link in the slave trading in the southwest was the Mojave Desert with its ancient Mojave Indian Trail{map} (1), a route that actually stretched beyond the confines of the Mojave Desert itself. It went from east of the Colorado River to the Mojave River and across the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The Mohave Indians at one time occupied parts of both the Mojave River and the Colorado River, but later resettled in several villages (where?) {another good place for a map} along the Colorado River. Here they became adept at raising muskmelons, watermelons, corn, beans, crude wheat, and even cotton. They became middlemen in a trade that extended from the Hopi pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico to the coastal Indians around the present cities of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Gabriel. The network of routes had a branch that went as far north as Bakersfield, where the enterprising Mohave went to trade (2). A branch of the Mojave Indian Trail later became part of the Old Spanish Trail and still later part of the Salt Lake City-Los Angeles road of "49er" fame.

In order to visualize the ancient trade system of the Mohave Indian, one must read the accounts of the Spaniards who entered the Mojave Desert. The first Spaniard who entered the Mojave Desert was Pedro Fages in 1772, who was looking for runaway soldiers and unhappy neophytes who were not slaves per se, but were sometimes used for involuntary colonization and service. (3) Little is known of Fages' experiences in the Mojave Desert, but the second Spaniard who entered this desert fortunately recorded his observations in his diary. Fray Francisco Hermenegildo Garces in 1776 traveled up the Colorado River to the Needles area; and then with Mohave Indian guides he continued on the Mojave Trail over to the Mojave River and across the San Bernardino Mountains to the San Gabriel Mission. Father Garces is credited with alerting California and Spanish authorities to the importance of the Mojave Indian Trail.



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ecology: wildlife - plants - geography: places - MAPS - map/sat - roads & trails: route 66 - old west - communities - weather - book store
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