When Confederate horse thieves descended on Tehachapi
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
July 6, 2019
Although the Tehachapi Mountains are more than a thousand miles away from the principal battlefields of the Civil War, in fact the War Between the States did have some effect on local residents. During the 1860s, Southern California was home to many Confederate sympathizers, and the majority of Southern California's population was actually in favor of secession. Many of the miners and farmers in California were originally from the South, and they wanted California to join the Confederacy. In September of 1864, Capt. John C. Smith, a commander at Fort Tejon, wrote that, "The secessionists are arming at Tehachapi, 60 miles from this post, led by Harpending, one of the champions of the pirate crew, lately of Keysville." Then in April of 1865, 25 armed men, many of them "rebels from Price's army" dressed at least partially in Confederate Army uniforms, drove off a herd of 200 horses from George Cummings' ranch in Cummings Valley. The term "Price's army" refers to soldiers under Confederate Army Major General Sterling Price, a former Missouri governor. When the Civil War ended, rather than surrender, General Price and his men fled to Mexico and encamped in Veracruz state. Eventually some of them drifted into California and turned to horse-stealing.
The Los Angeles News, of decidedly Northern inclination, reported the event: "Mr. Cummings is a strong Union man and the blow was especially aimed at him. Thus do our military authorities allow Union men to be plundered and take no measure to pursue the rebel guerrillas. The military authorities are not very anxious to protect the property of Union men. The party who stole Mr. Cummings' stock are said to be in the vicinity of the San Bernardino Mountains."
The 1865 Confederate presence in Tehachapi did not end with the horse theft incident in April. A few months later, the Visalia Delta reported this on June 6: "A large number of desperate characters, disaffected Southern men and worthless reprobates from civilization" had moved to the Clear Creek area. In a pretense of immigrating to Arizona or Mexico, the leaders of the meeting, which numbered 200 people by the time it congregated in the northern Tehachapi Valley, hoped to inflame them to "such madness as to attack such towns as Kernville, Visalia, etc., after supplying their wants, getting hold of all the money, arms and horses they could gather to force their way out of the country." Fortunately for area settlers, most of the men, while willing to leave the country, were not willing to partake in wanton robbery and its side effects and they disbanded. A handful of them carried out as much of the plan as they thought safe, gathered all the horses they could belonging to Union men, and started on their travels. They, too, disappeared into the vastness of the isolated San Bernardino Mountains.
– Judy Barras
Judy Barras was a Tehachapi resident for many years, was a reporter for the Tehachapi News and the Bakersfield Californian. She wrote several books about the area, including "The Long Road to Tehachapi "and "Tehachapi: The Formative Years."