Mojave Tribe: History to 1860


By: Fort Mojave Indian Tribe

Sometimes friendly, sometimes deadly. That describes the early contact between the Mojave and the white man.

The search for fortune was what brought the white man to the land of the Mojave. A 1604 expedition in search of silver led New Mexico governor Don Juan Onate through Mojave territory, but it wasn’t until 1775 that Fray Francisco Garces became the first white man to meet the Mojave. His writings reveal the Mojave as friendly. He comments that "the female sex is the most comely along the river, the males very healthy and robust." The men walked naked, the woman wore rabbits and beaver skin capes. He called them Jamajab.

American mountain men led by Jedediah Smith appeared in Mojave territory in 1826, and though the Mojave welcomed the trappers, death and hatred loomed in the future for the two groups.

The Mojave believed all living things belonged where they were placed, so it was hard to understand why the trappers were so brutal, throwing beaver carcasses on the river bank after skinning the animals.

In 1827 another party of trappers led by James Ohio Pattie marched through Mojave territory, ignoring Mojave demands for a horse in trade for the beaver taken from the river. Four days later two white men and 16 Mojaves lay dead.

Late that year Jedediah Smith returned and was attacked, losing nine men, and for the next 20 years violence flared, reaching a peak when trappers from the Canadian Hudson Bay Co. killed 26 Mojave.

In 1850, territory including Arizona was annexed by the United States, and with it began encroachment by the US Army.

The parade was led in 1851 by Capt. L. Sitgreaves, a stern regimentarian, and followed in 1854 by Lt. Amie Weeks Whipple, an amiable man who gained the confidence of the Mojave. Whipple’s company surveyed and mapped a railroad route from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to the Pacific Ocean, which most Mojaves favored because it meant opportunity for trade.

From 1851 to 1856, the U.S. military was ever present, but it never found out that two white girls, Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, were living with the Mojave. Captured by the Tonto Apaches in 1851, they were traded to Mojave Chief Espaniol for two horses, some vegetables, several pounds of beans and three blankets. The younger, frail Mary Ann died in 1854, probably from malnutrition. Olive, at 16, was returned to her relatives in 1856.

The story made national headlines and raised a furor among non-Indians. The girls, from the Mojave point of view, were lucky to have fallen into their hands, away from the Tonto Apaches. Under the circumstances, they were fortunate. The chief attached them to his household, and they were afforded the best Mojave facilities, seeds for planting, love, divergence from Mojave customs.

In 1858 the seeds of Fort Mojave were planted when Lt. Edward Beale and troop of 12 camels cleared and opened a wagon road along Whipple’s survey route. He suggested a fort be built to guard the river crossing near present-day Needles. In August a wagon train that lingered too long near the crossing was attacked.

Spurred by public clamor to "Wipe out the Mojave!" 700 Indian fighters led by Col. William Hoffman were sent in 1859 from San Francisco. Though there was no combat, and the Mojaves insisted that the attack was instigated by the Hualapais, Col. Hoffman on April 24 threatened to take the Great Chief Homoseh awahot to Yuma Prison as a hostage to show the Mojaves the might of the US Government.

The great chief was elderly, so his nephews, along with the sub-chief Cairook, went in his place. They were told releases would be in one year, but a year passed, so an escape was planned. By holding the lone guard at noon while the other, younger hostages dived into the river, swimming underwater to escape, Cairook gave his life.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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