Joaquin Jim

As the boys in blue rode into the Owens Valley from Los Angeles to the south and Fort Churchill in Nevada to the north, Paiute scouts watched their every move from hiding spots in the vast fields of lava rock outcroppings that dotted the landscape. It had only been a year before when stockmen herded thousands of cattle and sheep into the valley and created the first settlements. At the same time miners were combing the hills in search of Eldorado. The natives looked upon these developments with curiosity at first, but their mood would soon change.

The winter of 1861-62 was so severe that cattle began to forage through the Indian’s fields of wild hyacinth and nut grass that they had so carefully tended and irrigated. They figured that if the cattle ate their food, then they had every right to eat the cattle. Nobody seemed to care until a cowboy named Al Thompson caught a native butchering a steer and shot him to death. Naturally, the tribe took revenge and the conflict was on. Since no one really wanted war, the settlers and the Indians agreed to meet and establish a peace treaty. Everyone agreed except the renegade, Joaquin Jim, and he and his warriors started raiding ranches and stealing cattle.

Their method of operation would be to hit an isolated ranch and fight the defenders for days until setting fire to the dwelling to force the exhausted victims out to their death. Meanwhile, certain merchants in the mining camp of Aurora, Nevada, felt they had been cheated by the Owens Valley ranchers in cattle transactions and started selling rifles and ammunition to the Indians. No doubt there was a lot of rot gut whiskey included in the deal to get the warriors really fired up. When word of this got back to the settlers in the valley, they sent for help from the cavalry.

 Conflicts increased to such a horrific extent that the settlers finally pulled out of the valley with all their stock. On July 4th, 1862, the cavalry returned to Independence to try to gain control of the explosive situation. Those forty men were the soldiers that Paiutes watched that day from the black rocks in the extreme heat of an Owens Valley summer.

 Seventy five miles to the north in Long Valley, Joaquin Jim, the leader of the southern Mono Paiutes, was on the warpath. Nobody was more feared by the settlers than Jim because of his bloodthirsty, vengeful attacks on ranchers, miners, and lonely wayfarers. His infamy grew as the settlers heard tales of how the determined cavalry chased him time and again into the mountains, only to be frustrated by seeing him vanish before their eyes.

Jim showed no mercy toward his victims and spared no one. He had seen how his people had their food supplies and villages destroyed by the “scorched earth” policy of the U.S. government. He had witnessed how the cavalry spared no lives when they attacked his people, and he mirrored his avengers. In fact, he became more vicious than those who hunted him, by leaving horrible scenes of carnage that deeply scarred those who had the misfortune of seeing it.

 Bodies would usually be found stripped, mutilated, sometimes scalped and pin cushioned with arrows. Every murderous act was done intentionally to intimidate and instill tremendous fear in the hearts of the isolated settlers in the region. No matter how hard Jim fought back, the destruction of the tribe’s food supplies and improper maintenance of firearms would be their downfall.

 In 1864-65 many encounters between the cavalry and the Indians continued up and down the valley. Jim kept up his attacks until 1864 and was never captured. The last fight was recorded in Aug. 1866, thus ending the Owens Valley Indian wars.

 From Jim’s point of view, it was his land that was being invaded, and he had every right to protect it and his way of life. To “turn the other cheek” was not a concept that he could understand in his world. Above all things, he valued freedom. Ironically, he fought for the survival of his people in a country that values freedom above all things. Joaquin Jim was one of the few Indian leaders in pioneer history who ever lived to die free.

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2 Responses to “Joaquin Jim”

  1. john Says:

    Great artical, thanks

  2. Elaine Says:

    Love the story.

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