Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Las Juntas Cemetery and The Pueblo de Las Juntas – Part One

In my last post, the one about the Firebaugh Cemetery and the missing headstones I mentioned another story
... a story about a nearby cemetery.
This is the story about the Las Juntas Cemetery
... and about the Pueblo de Las Juntas, the little town near the cemetery.
This is about how they came to exist, and why they no longer exist...

Before I tell you more about the Las Juntas Cemetery I need to give you a bit of the history of the Pueblo de Las Juntas... and even though this story of how the town came to be starts more than 13,000 years ago, I won't take you THAT far back!
Let's start in about the mid 1500s...when the first Spanish and British explorers arrived and when the California Indians met their first outsiders.

Not all California Indians met the European explorers at that time, most didn't have any contact until the late 1700s and into the early 1800s. The Yokuts tribes of California covered the largest territory... mostly down through the center of California from as far north as present day Antioch in Contra Costa County to as far south as Bakersfield in Kern County. These tribes were spread from the Coast Range mountains clear across the San Joaquin Valley and up into the foothills of the Sierras. An area of about 300 miles long and more than 75 miles wide was home to probably 60 or so individual Yokuts tribes, some with as many as 600 tribal members.

Two significant Yokuts villages were near present day Firebaugh in west Fresno County, California
... and the now non-existent town of Las Juntas.
The names of these two villages were Kawatchwa and Tape (Tah-pay) as reported in 1772 and 1776 by two early Spanish explorers, Captain Pedro Fages (Fah-hez) and Fr Juan Crespi. Both men kept excellent and very detailed diaries of their travels to the interior valleys of California.
Thank goodness they did!
Because of their diaries, and the peer pressure causing each man to write as much detail as possible, we know about these Yokuts people...their family life, foods eaten, clothing worn, home structures, and government of the tribes.
We also know that in the short span of 30 odd years the lives of these peace loving Yokuts would be destroyed.

Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga visited this same region of the San Joaquin Valley, and so named the valley, along with the Merced River and many other locations during his explorations in 1805 – 1808. It was during this time that the Yokuts were being taken from their homes to work at the Missions, specifically Mission San Juan Bautista, already home to many of the Mutsun tribe of that area.

In spite of the cruelties endured, the foreign diseases, and the huge loss of family units, culture, and traditions due to the Spanish rule, many of the California Natives survived. These survivors intermarried with other relocated tribal members along with descendants of those first Spanish settlers to live in California.

A major turning point in the lives of these early families of California came in 1833 when Mexico decided it wanted out of the business of running the Missions
... the natives living at the Missions were told to just go home
... but they had no homes …
… their original homes had been destroyed years earlier when they were captured, or entirely taken over by other non native people during the previous decades.
Their current homes were on the lands now being purchased by the Anglos eager to buy up all the lands formerly belonging to the Catholic Church and the Missions.
Many of these now pretty much homeless family men began working as laborers on the farms of the newly arriving Anglo landowners.
The poorly paid farm laborers had families to raise, children to feed, lives to be lived with as much of their culture and traditions as they could save.
… and save they did!

However, even the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 between Mexico and the United States declaring that all who stayed in California, including the Indians, would be allowed to be citizens of the United States failed to protect the people.
The version of this treaty that was finally ratified by the United States Senate on March 10, 1948 eliminated Article X, the guarantee that all land grants awarded to citizens by both Spain and Mexico would be honored by the United States.
And we know how that turned out.

By the time the Gold Rush was in full swing many of our family members had moved from the Mission San Juan Bautista area towards Watsonville... more precisely, Pajaro. The families who lived near the river and across the bridge, you know, that “other side of the tracks” area
... these families were OUR families.
WE lived across the bridge of present day Watsonville.
WE lived near the banks of the Pajaro River in the shanty town of tents and brush/mud houses.
And OUR families endured the mind-set of those who published articles in the local newspapers that declared “All Mexicans and Indians can be shot on sight.” and “… while their cattle raised themselves the people enjoyed their fandangos and idyllic life until they met the superior race and had to change their ways...”
What?? Superior race???
Hey, these are OUR families they're writing about!!!

Our families were also forced to endure the Pajaro Property Protective Society.
Formed on February 26, 1870 this “society” vowed to protect their ranches because the “Law” wasn't doing the job. There were so many lynchings, often after tying up the on-duty Jailer or Sheriff to get to the poor hapless prisoner and haul him out to the nearest tree branch or bridge beam.
Of course, these lynchings were almost always “Mexicans and Indians” who were perceived guilty because of where they lived and who they were.

OK, to be fair it must be mentioned that the townships of Pajaro, and nearby Whiskey Hill, later renamed Freedom, were somewhat safe-havens for many of the banditos and roaming gangs of that time.
Gangs who probably caused the creation of the Pajaro Property Protective Society
... gangs who felt safe in the small settlements filled with family members.
Yeah, OUR families. Being related to the various “bad guys” meant some protection, some small amount of safety.

Another researcher claims “At the time, the village of Pajaro consisted of a motley collection of makeshift shacks located among the willows on the sandy banks of the river. “
… and yes, these people were OUR families. But there was still honor and courtesy and values in our families. This is evident by another quote “It had long been a practice of the poor Spaniards of Pajaro village to do their laundry by setting up a washing platform among the rocks in the swift running river. Afterward, they would stretch their clean clothing on drying lines attached to posts which were placed in the side of the sandy embankment. Each family staked out its section of the stream and was expected to honor the territory of his neighbors.”

Honor, morals, ethics
... a handshake meant something
... a promise was kept.
This was the mid 1870's.

During the next generation things would begin to change, slowly, but they would change
... but not before the "local inquisition" caused the families of the Spanish and Indian victims to pay the unimaginable price of the losses of so many loved ones.
Our families.
Our loved ones.

... 1874 ... our families had had enough!

They, along with so many of the other mixed families... Californio and Indian ... moved out of the Pajaro Valley area, away from the river, over the mountains now known as the Pacheco Pass, and into the little town of Las Juntas. Pueblo de Las Juntas

They moved everything they owned.
They moved their extended families, tiny babies, pregnant women.

For the safety of the families they moved.
It was very apparent that at any given moment ANY man, even some of the women were in danger of being stalked, captured, and lynched by the "protection society"
... so our families moved.

To Be Continued...

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