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Mojave Indian Ethnography & Ethnohistory

Mining Period

The Mining Industry Begins. The discovery of placer gold and silver deposits in the California, Nevada, and Arizona deserts brought traffic across the Mojave Road and to the Colorado River in the vicinity of Fort Mojave. El Dorado Canyon "on the Colorado River about twenty-five miles south of where Hoover Dam is now located" was one such mining area. An area along the Colorado River near La Paz, Arizona, was another. Miners from California went to La Paz either down the Coachella Valley and the river crossing near Yuma, or by the Mojave Road to the Colorado River in the vicinity of Fort Mojave, and then down the river to La Paz (Casebier 1973:131). Indians as well as whites worked in these mines.

There was considerable sympathy with the Confederacy in southern California, but there was also sufficient loyalty to the Union that an army raised in California could be sent to New Mexico to drive Confederate forces there back into Texas. It was found necessary to reactivate Fort Mojave, and in May 1863, two companies of 4th Infantry, California Volunteers, were sent to occupy the fort (Casebier 1973:132).

AratÍve's policy of cooperation with the United States encouraged the many immigrants who were interested in the various discoveries of mineral deposits in southeastern California and adjacent areas. Unfortunately, the intrusion of so many Euro-Americans in the area before very long made the Indians a minority, and there began to be talk that the Indians-Mojave, Yavapai, Walapai, and Chemehuevi-should all be gathered up and placed on a reservation. Territorial Indian Agent Charles P. Poston met with leaders of these groups.

In 1865, an act of Congress established the Colorado River Indian Reservation (CRIR) south of the Mojave Valley in an area that had been occupied in the early part of the century by the Halchidhoma, and later by the Chemehuevi. After the establishment of Fort Mojave, about 800 Mojaves under the leadership of AratÍve, who favored cooperating with the Americans, had moved to this vicinity, but the rest of the Mojaves, under the leadership of the five more militant traditionalist leaders, stayed in the Mojave Valley, creating a permanent division of the tribe. The government intended the new reservation to be occupied by various tribes who had lost their homelands in the Southwest. Its agents urged Mojaves and others to resettle there, but met with only moderate success at getting people to move there. Many of those who were persuaded to move there stayed for only brief periods. The remaining Mojaves remained in the vicinity of Fort Mojave where they had lived before the Americans came.

The Chemehuevi and the Mojave had lived amicably side by side for many decades, but in the 1860s, relationships between them cooled, primarily because of the arrival of so many Euro-Americans made living difficult for all Native Americans. As the situation deteriorated, conflict developed between the Mojave and Chemehuevi that by 1864 approached the state of war. The fact that the U.S. Army used Mojave troops in military actions against the Chemehuevi exacerbated the situation. As noted in our discussion of Chemehuevi history, it was at this time that Chemehuevi began to settle at Twentynine Palms and in the Coachella Valley (Kroeber and Kroeber 1973:33-46; Trafzer, Madrigal, and Madrigal 1994:62-67). A peace agreement between the Mojave and the Chemehuevi was negotiated in 1867 (Dent 1868).

Conditions at the newly established CRIR were not good. It was difficult to carry out the traditional flood plain agriculture with so many travellers coming through, and there was insufficient water for other agriculture. In 1867, Mojaves began to dig an irrigation canal at the reservation, but the government funds that supported them ran out six months later (Feudge 1868). A whooping cough epidemic struck Fort Mojave in 1868, killing about 100 of the Mojaves, and spread down the River to CRIR, after which the Yavapia living there fled. In 1869, only 350 Mojaves were left in the vicinity of La Paz. AratÍve and his Mojaves were the only Indians at CRIR. Government efforts to entice other Indians there had come to nothing (Jones 1870:658-659; Andrews 1870).

In 1870, there were 690 Mojaves and 17 Yavapais living at CRIR, all dependent on government rations. A canal intended to provide irrigation water was finished in July of that year, but was poorly designed, and resulted in a flood that destroyed crops and washed away river banks for some distance. The only Indians still living there were 500 Mojaves under AratÍve, who was becoming disenchanted with a reservation where there was only alkaline soil and insufficient water (Price 1870). There were 3,000 Mojaves at Fort Mohave.

The Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) and its agents became increasingly discouraged with CRIR. Syphilis was endemic, but there was no hospital, and no school. When the Colorado River again overflowed in 1872, the Mojave were threatened with withdrawal of rations in order to get them to plant their fields (Tonner 1872a; Bendell 1872). Between 1873 and 1876, the reservation was expanded from 75,000 to 265,858 acres in order to place more Indians there. A school for the Mojave opened, but the teacher's salary was funded for only six months (Fontana 1958:22-23; Tonner 1874). Eight hundred Walapais settled on the reservation in 1874 left before 1875 because of the shortage of food, the loss of life and property, and generally unhealthful conditions. At this time, it was reported that Chemehuevi had been successfully settled on the west side of the river. The death of AratÍve in 1874 compounded the Mojave problems (Smith 1977), and a severe smallpox epidemic in 1876 further depleted their numbers (Trover and Swindler 1972:10).

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