Fort Tejon, California

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Fort Tejon was founded in 1854 on Grapevine Creek, 17 miles from its originally intended location on Tejon Creek. Maj. Donaldson of the 1st U.S. Dragoons selected the site for the new Fort at its present location because of the ready availability of water, fuel and forage. Originally called Camp Canada de las Uvas for the wild grapes in the area, it was officially christened Fort Tejon, (Tejon meaning Badger in Spanish), over the objection of Brevet Lt. Col. Benjamin L. Beall, 1st Dragoons, who suggested "Fort Le Beck," after a trapper who had been killed by a bear there.

The primary purpose of the garrison at Fort Tejon was to protect and control the Indians on the Sebastian Indian Reservation, and to control the major north-south road through Grapevine Canyon. Fort Tejon was garrisoned by various companies of the 1st Dragoons, and briefly from late 1857 to 1858 by a detachment of the 3rd Artillery, serving as infantry. In December, 1856, the regimental headquarters of the 1st Dragoons was moved from Fort Union, New Mexico Terr., to Fort Tejon, where it remained until the post was abandoned on June 15, 1861.

The rapidly expanding Civil War in the eastern United States forced the government to recall the Army to the new seat of hostilities as fast as possible. This need for troops back in the East along with a growing fear of prosecessionist activities in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas, ultimately forced the closure of Fort Tejon.

Much of the Californians' time was concerned with battling the so-called Indian menace. In 1863, it was deemed necessary to reoccupy Fort Tejon. On July 24, 1863, Fort Tejon was regarrisoned by Companies D and G of the 2nd California Cavalry under the command of Capt. James M. Ropes.

The 2nd Cavalry reactivated Fort Tejon with approximately 300 Paiute Indians camping near the Post. When the Paiutes were forcibly marched from the Owens Valley by the 2nd Cav., they numbered 1000, a third of them being sent to Fort Tejon. The Indians were kept in a camp down Grapevine Canyon from the Fort called the "Pot Holes." After the arrival of the 2nd Infantry, the garrison provided the Paiutes with a meager ration to keep them in place and to keep them from starving [which the Volunteers were not supposed to do; Capt. Schmidt satisfied headquarters by deeming the rations for "Prisoners of War".]

The government Indian Bureau agents refused to assume responsibility for their care.

As the two Infantry companies settled into their new home, their time was occupied at repairing and maintaining the Fort's buildings that had fallen into disrepair during the two years that the post had been abandoned. There were frequent patrols mounted from the Fort to keep track of unruly whites and to maintain control over the Paiutes encamped nearby. There were always duties to perform in the garrison relating to the maintenance of the Fort. There was wood to be hauled and cut, rations to be prepared, inspections and endless drills on the parade ground. In short, Army life.

Life at Fort Tejon was dismal to say the least. 1st. Sgt. Curtis Greenleaf, Co. G, complained in his journal that Fort Tejon was worthless because the local town was devoid of a whorehouse. Of some intrigue, however, Pvt. James Anderson of Co. B, was murdered one evening while returning from a night out in town. The investigation turned up one James Conrad, Co. G, as a suspect, but the subsequent court martial could not confirm guilt.

Company G left Fort Tejon on June 4, 1864 for Drum Barracks in Wilmington. Fort Tejon would finally be closed when Company B left the post on September 11, 1864, ending the last period of military occupation of the Post, lasting from 1854 to 1864

Introduction courtesy of:
Sean T. Malis
State Park Interpreter I
Fort Tejon State Historic Park

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