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Summit Valley:

Little Horsethief Canyon

Notes on Chaguanosos
(horse thieves)

Thomas L. Smith, commonly called 'Peg-leg' Smith a well known character in many parts of California, but chiefly in later times, who died in a San Francisco hospital in 1866 was one of the famous trappers and Indian-fighters of this early epoch. He was at times a companion of Jedediah Smith, and was the hero of many wild adventures in various parts of the great interior; but very few of his early exploits have ever been recorded with even approximate accuracy of time or place. He owes his position on this page to a report that he came to California in 1829, a report that I have not been able to trace to any reliable source.45 Engaged in trapping in the Utah regions, he came to California to dispose of his furs. He was ordered out of the country, and departed, he and his companion taking with them, however, a band of three or four hundred horses, in spite of efforts of the Californians to prevent the act. Some accounts say that be visited the country repeatedly in those early years, and we shall find archive evidence of his presence a little later, acting with the horse-thieves of the Tulares, and known as 'El Cojo Smit.'46
Bancroft pg172(191)

Volume XX: History of California, v3: 1825-1840 (1885)


Farther south troubles were chiefly with Indians from abroad, the Chaguanosos from the New Mexican regions.72 Their operations hardly belong to the topic of Indian affairs at all. They were ostensibly traders, under Canadian chiefs, and in league with the roving bands of trappers. They were well armed, ready for any kind of profitable adventure or specu- lation, and rendered service on several occasions to the abajefios, both against the northern forces and hos- tile Indians; but they allowed nothing to interfere long or seriously with their regular business of steal- ing horses, in the prosecution of which they employed both gentiles and neophytes. Their greatest exploit, and indeed the only clearly defined one during this period, was the stealing of twelve hundred horses from San Luis Obispo in April 1840.73 An effort was made at Los Angeles to pursue the culprits. Several parties were sent out, and one of them seems to have come in sight of the foe retiring deliberately and in- dependently with the stolen animals; but the pursu- ers thought it imprudent to risk a conflict, especially when they saw that among the Chaguanosos there were more Americans than Indians.74 Early in 1837 there had also been a raid on the horses of San Fernando, in defending which, unsuccessfully, two Indians were killed. In this case also many gente de razon were reported among the raiders.75
Page -96-
Much has been already said respecting the exploits of the Chaguanosos.3 The Hudson's Bay Company had a company of trappers each year in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, apparently with some show of authority from California; and free trappers in small parties still ranged those valleys, usually in league with Indian and New Mexican horse-thieves, but respecting whose movements nothing definite can be known. All that pertains to otter-hunting on the coast is also shrouded in mystery so far as details are concerned. We know only that Sparks with some half-dozen hunters was constantly at work under license on the lower coast and islands; that one or two trips for contraband hunting were made by foreign vessels with Indian hunters from the north; that all traders were glad to obtain otter skins legally or otherwise; and that few cargoes left the coast which did not contain a package of valuable furs. In smuggling operations I shall have nothing to record of a very scandalous nature, though such operations were carried on per- haps more extensively than ever. So large a portion of the inhabitants, native and foreign, of all classes were engaged in contraband trade, that there was slight risk of detection. Customs officers were the only ones who were at all dishonored by smuggling. Both the traders and native Californians in their nar- ratives relate their adventures of this kind with pride rather than with shame. The favorite method was still a transfer of cargo at sea or from some secure hiding-place on coast or islands, after the least valuable part of the cargo had passed inspection by the revenue officers. The Sandwich Island vessels still took the Chaguanosos, the betes noirs of southern California, particular anxiety being excited by reports that a party of fifty-five, Americans, Frenchmen, Indians, and even 'apostate' Mexicans, was approaching with depravadas miras, under the leadership of El Cojo Smit, probably Peg-leg Smith;6 but there are no records of special outrages committed by these vagabonds during the year; and they must not be confounded with the party of immigrants by the same route to be noticed later. The smugglers gave the authorities but little trouble, though it would be unwise to conclude that they had abandoned their evil ways. Abel Stearns did not fail, however, to furnish as usual an item for this branch of his country's annals, since he was repeatedly warned to cease his contraband operations in hides, and his troubles of the preceding year had not yet been fully settled.7

89 Feb. 10, 1841, prefect at Angeles advises gov. that Walker with two Americans, and commanding a party of 12, has come with a passport from the Mexican charge" d'affaires at Washington to buy horses, and stay two months. Walker complains of robberies by the Chaguanosos. There may be an error about the year.

Volume XXI: History of California, v4: 1840-1845 (1886)

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