What was San Gorgonio Pass really like in the 19th century? Was it a place where stalwart American settlers staked out their claim to the American Dream in an empty wilderness by sheer grit? Was it like one of those Hollywood sets, with rumbling stagecoaches, hostile Indians, cattle rustlers, school marms, quaking sheriffs and the usual swift justice at the end of a rope?
Losing Ground dispels these cinematic clichés and brings to light a past that has all but remained secret. At the heart of the untold story is how the Cahuilla people became the indispensable labor force that developed the San Bernardino Valley and the San Gorgonio Pass under Spanish, Mexican and American rule and yet were almost completely banished from their homeland.
The Cahuillas, who had lived in the Pass for centuries, lost ground to Spanish and Mexican rancheros and later to land-hungry American squatters. Their rancherias,or villages, throughout the Pass from Redlands to Whitewater disappeared one after the other. By 1889, severely reduced in numbers, they had to go to court to defend their last piece of land, the Potrero, from being grabbed by squatters and speculators.
The Cahuillas had impressive leaders like flamboyant Juan Antonio of San Timoteo Canyon, venerable Cabezon of Agua Caliente and Ajenio at Potrero. John Morongo, a self-proclaimed leader of the Cahuillas, played a vital role in the important case of North vs Morongo in 1889. The case attracted national attention from East Coast reformers like Helen Hunt Jackson, author of the best-seller, Ramona.
Losing Ground tells the story of a proud but beleaguered people and lets you see the history of the Pass as never presented before. Be sure to look for the companion volume, Glimpses of History, which was written for young people of the San Gorgonio Pass as well as for those in Redlands, Loma Linda, San Bernardino, Colton, Jurupa, Riverside, Palm Springs and other desert and mountain communities.
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