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Indian Slave Trade

An Infant Captive

A little further south, in Utah, Lorton noted in his diary that Indians came into camp with an infant captive which one Indian wanted to sell for a mule. The Americans talked the Indians into cleaning the child's face, but declined the purchase. (28)

Besides Lorton, other Americans corroborated the evidence of slave trading. In 1849 Jim Beckwourth, who made a trip from Santa Fe to California delivering dispatches, commented on the "Pi-e-ches.....who were hostile because of continual abduction of their squaws and children, whom the Mexicans employ as domestic slaves, and treat with utmost cruelty". (29)

T. J. Farnham, in his 1849 book Life and Adventures in California with Travels in Oregon revealed several facets of this illicit trading. He quoted Dr. J. H. Lyman, who came to California in 1842 with the Workman-Rowland party, as saying the "Paiuches" were fair game; for the New Mexicans had captured them for slaves for years and so did the neighboring Utes. Sometimes the American trapper would deal in slaves because of the declining prices of beaver pelts after 1840.

"The price of these slaves in the markets of New Mexico varies with the age and other qualities of person. Those from ten to fifteen years old sell from $50 to $100, which is by no means an extravagant price, if we take into consideration the herculean task of cleansing them fit for market". (30)

In Warren Beck's history of New Mexico, the price was put as high as $300 for a healthy Indian on the Santa Fe market. (31) It is hard to visualize such a high price in California since secularization in 1833 released thousands of mission Indians. Nevertheless, some slaves were brought into California by way of the Mojave Indian Trail. In fact, the section of the trail from Las Vegas to the Mojave River had scattered bands of Koso, Panamints, and Chemehuevis, all of which were small scattered villages of Shoshonean linguistic stock often referred to as Paiutes. No doubt some of the New Mexicans, and perhaps Americans, succumbed to temptation and caught a few of these Indians and then sneaked the contraband into California. Dr. Lyman inferred as much when he cited how the Paiutes "pine away and often die in grief for the loss of their natural deserts", even when surrounded with the abundance of the settlements. One Indian brought into California continually refused to eat, moaned much of the time, and finally died. (32)

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