Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Purpose of Fort Tejon & San Sebastian Indian Reservation
Excerpts from Wilke & Lawton 1976

Detail from map in Wilke & Lawton 1976 (pg. 4). Click to enlarge.

Notes pg. 37 fn. 9.

The [San] Sebastian Indian Reservation, named for William King Sebastian, then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, was the first to be established in California. It was organized in 1852 by Edward Fitzgerald Beale, General Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada, on the south San Joaquin Plains at the foot of the Tehachapis. It operated for about fifteen years. It was originally called the Tejon Reservation, later the San Sebastian Reservation.

Introduction pp. 5-6.

In spite of the new government established when Mexican authority was thrown off and California joined the Union in 1850, the following decade saw a general condition of lawlessness prevail across much of the state. Law and order were most apt to be found in and near the settlements, and regions not populated by whites were suspiciously considered to be the abodes of thieves, both Indian and non-Indian. At the end of the decade, large portions of California were still essentially unknown. This was true of most of the desert and the territory east of the Sierra Nevada.

Horse stealing by Indians was a common occurrence, and it is easy to see how this widespread practice originated. With the secularization of the California missions in the 1830s, large numbers of neophytes (the ones that [sic] survived the plagues of infectious diseases that had haunted the missions since their founding) returned to their original homelands. Hardly had the situation begun to stabilize, when gold was discovered on the American River in 1848. During the next several years, thousands of gold seekers poured into the state. For most of them, gold was an illusion; some found it; and a few made their fortunes. Whether or not they had intended to do so, many of the immigrants settled into farming and ranching, industries which displaced the native populations once more. Under constant harassment, and with their original subsistence routines no longer possible, and their complex exchange system having deteriorated, many Indians turned to stealing livestock, including horses, which were more often eaten than ridden. Horses were big game to be added to the larder. No doubt the thieving activities of Anglo and Mexican bandits were also credited to the Indians when the blame could not be fixed elsewhere. It is impossible to determine the extent to which Indians were responsible for thefts of livestock from the southern California farms and ranchos, but blame was generally laid to the tribes of the Tulares (the marshy plains of the great San Joaquin Valley), and to the "Pah Utes" of the Mojave Desert and more distant regions in the Great Basin.

The federal government south to gain control of the Indians by making treaties with them, herding them onto reservations, and establishing military posts at key locations. Eighteen treaties were signed in 1851-52 under which the Indians were required to give up their lands and agree to settle on reservations (Heizer 1972)[1]. None of the treaties was ever ratified, but in the end the Indians lost most or all of their lands. The newly established reservations were pathetically small and were more often than not situated in regions which prevented the Indians from pursuing a meaningful existence. Seasonal hunting and gathering were impossible given the limited number of ecological zones which could be exploited on most of the small reservations. The government would have liked to make farmers of all the Indians, but the reservations were often unsuited even for that. The reservations were, in fact, concentration camps.

In 1854, Fort Tejon was established at a strategic point in Grapevine Canyon (Cañada de las Uvas), overlooking the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. This canyon had become an important route for travel between the Los Angeles basin and the San Joaquin Valley by way of the present Tejon Pass. It was thought that much of the missing stock passed that way to the San Joaquin, and that the fort would help to curb losses. The fort was situated where a controlling influence could be exercised in what is now upper Antelope Valley, the western portion of the Mojave Desert, where it was thought the elusive Pah Utes surely took stolen horses. There was also a recognized need to protect Indians from the depredations of white settlers.

The presence of Fort Tejon had only a partial effect in curbing the livestock thefts. The animals stolen by Indians were usually taken a few at a time and promptly eaten, after which the parties involved melted into the landscape. Scouting expeditions sent out to reconnoiter the countryside frequently sighted no Indians at all, and the fort itself was sometimes bypassed by raiding parties. In 1861, it was realized that maintaining Fort Tejon was both expensive and not suited to the needs of the time, since the Civil War had begun, and the troops were needed in the East. The fort was for a time stripped of its garrison, but saw brief activity again in 1863. That same year the great smallpox epidemic so subdued the Indians that they ceased to be a serious problem to white settlers in the southern counties, and Fort Tejon was finally abandoned by the army on September 11, 1864.


The Sebastian Reservation was located midway between Taft and McKittrick, in Crocker Canyon. Click to enlarge.

1. Heizer, Robert F. "Eighteen Unratified Treaties of 1851-1852 Between the California Indians and the United States Government." Berkeley: University of California, Archaeological Research Facility, 1972.

• Fort Tejon
• Rancho Castec
• Tejon Ranch
• Tejon Indians
• Tejon Indian Tribe
• Tejon Ranch Development (21st Century)



Unratified Treaty 1851


Woodcut 1853


Ex-Reservation Church, Late 1800s


Indian Home & Orchard, Late 1800s


Indian Man, Woman, Child, Dog, Oak Tree 1888


Purpose of Fort Tejon & San Sebastian Indian Reservation (Wilke-Lawton 1976)


Kitanemuk Mythology: Coyote Kidnaps Mountain Lion's Sons





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