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Soldiers Maraud the Countryside

Although the military was an excellent customer, bringing business to ranchers all along the Mojave River, the presence of so many troops was not entirely beneficial. There were bound to be some incidents of disorderliness with hundreds of soldiers traveling through the area, but during 1867 groups of infantrymen committed acts of theft and hooliganism throughout the countryside.

The first sign of trouble came in February, when the San Bernardino Guardian reported rumors of troops helping themselves to the property of private citizens:
    TROOPS FOR ARIZONA -- On Monday last a portion of the troops destined for Arizona arrived here. They consisted of 75 men of company I, and 35 recruits for company H, 14th U. S. Infantry. They were under the command of Lt. S. MíConihe. The men encamped about two miles east of the town. They left on Wednesday morning.

    Some people were busy circulating reports of depredations committed on the hen-roosts, lager and whiskey, while the soldiers were in the vicinity -- but we are sure they were guiltless of any kind of excess, for the reputation of the gallant 14th stands too high to be tarnished by the perpetration of such petty offenses.
A few days later the paper reported sarcastically that yet more soldiers had "fully sustained the reputation of their gallant corps." At Martinís Ranch in Cajon Pass they had fired into a flock of sheep, availing themselves of fresh mutton; at Armstrongís they preferred chickens and whiskey, and at the quartermasterís depot they selected blankets and sundry stores, paying for these with "fisticuffs and knock downs."

In August these crimes became more serious in nature when soldiers stationed at Camp Cady burned down the house of a civilian who lived nearby. The men claimed they had been cheated by this citizen; still, that did not excuse their behavior. Five soldiers were arrested by the sheriff, tried and convicted in Civil Court in San Bernardino, and sent to the penitentiary.

Quite a stir was raised in town when the judge released the commanding officer, Lieutenant Manuel Eyre, for lack of evidence. Some thought Eyre should be held responsible for the conduct of his men.

The arrests did not end the problem. The October 12, 1867, San Bernardino Guardian -- the same issue that reported the sentencing of the five soldiers -- carried a story about 200 troops of the 14th who had just passed through the county and had exhibited the same "peculiar" behavior at every stopping place.

The following week there were two more articles covering the same subject. The first told of another 600 troops who demonstrated the same disgraceful conduct as those who had preceded them, and reported that 46 soldiers deserted in one evening from the Cucamonga area, "amply provided for a sojourn in the mountains." The second article, by Guardian editor Henry Hamilton, shows just how serious the situation had become:
    MORE OUTRAGES BY THE TROOPS -- We regret to be called on so frequently to notice the outrages of the military upon our citizens, as they march along to their destinations. Wherever soldiers now appear in a body, people prepare as for the force of an invading enemy. They drive off their stock, guards are placed in their houses, they watch all night to protect their property; and nothing intimidates these ruffians but the leveled rifles of the besieged. Surely the authorities could adopt some means to abate these outrages.

    The band of outlaws now passing through this county on the road to Fort Yuma, on their arrival at Temecula attacked the store of Mr. Szubinski, and helped themselves to its contents, dry-goods, clothing, boots and shoes, groceries -- everything, in fact, they took a fancy to. Fortunately, there was no liquor on the premises, and the cash had been secreted on the "defenders" making their appearance. To complete the outrage, they somehow succeeded in administering a drug to the Colonel of the command, which kept him quiet during the operation.
Aaron Lane himself wrote a letter to the newspaper in December 1867 saying that a Mr. Strouse had been "knocked down and robbed by the boys at Camp Cady...." The year closed with another report that two companies of soldiers on their way to Fort Yuma had made themselves "very familiar" at the houses along the road; "...if they see what they want, they take it, and they very generally want everything they see."

Lane previously had let it be known that he would not put up with any such foolishness. The word had gone out, and the newspaper declared that this rowdy bunch better beware if they tried to bother Lane:
    We guarantee that not one of Uncle Sam's brave boys will touch his hay, his cattle, or chickens. They didn't touch a single thing belonging to Uncle Billy Rubottom [in Cucamonga] though they laid bare the surrounding country. They don't like certain indications of a warm reception.
In this brief account the Guardian editor merely reported what was obvious to anyone familiar with Lane's experiences on the desert: that Aaron Lane, as a nine-year veteran of the frontier, would protect himself and his property no matter what the source of trouble -- and there are no reports of these soldiers ever giving him problems during the entire year they wreaked havoc elsewhere in the county.

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