Indian Village was Forerunner of Los Angeles, by George W. Kirkman, 1926

“Ages before the white race ever saw even our sea coasts, or the banner of Spain floated over California, there stood on the banks of the Los Angeles River an ancient Indian village, on and around whose site there later rose the pueblo or town of Los Angeles.

This Indian village was called Yang-Na, and it was situated in the area now included between Aliso street, East First street and the river. At the time of the white man’s first visit to this place, when Gov. Portola came hither on August 2, 1769, there were about 300 Indians living there, and these painted and quite naked savages came forward to greet him, and humbly offered him such poor tribute as they had, in the shape of feed and acorn meal — the customary peace-offering of the red men here. These gifts being refused, the Indians threw them down to the ground, in disgust, whilst Portola went on his way northward to Monterey Bay.

A few years later, when the San Gabriel Mission was founded near here, the Yang-Na Indians were removed thither, and like other mission Indians they had to dwell at their mission; and, so, for a short time, Yang-Na was a deserted village, as were others in South Pasadena and Pasadena, the total of whose red inhabitants amounted at this time to at least 2000.

When the pueblo of I.os Angeles was founded here in 1781, some of the Yang-Na Indians were permitted to return to Yang-Na, to serve as servants and agricultural laborers for the colonists of the pueblo. After the secularization of the missions in 1835, the Indians were allowed to go when they pleased, and most of them hastened to the nearest towns, where they maintained a precarious existence, were treated us social outcasts, and were imposed upon and harshly treated by the townspeople and officials. Infected by the vices of the white man, they sank ever lower and lower in the social scale, especially after the American conquest of California. 

In those days, the Angelenos used to call Yang-Na the ‘Pueblito’ — The Little Town — and in that crowded abode of want, disease and poverty, the Yang-Na Indians lived in abject and squalid misery. On Saturday nights, after they had received their scanty pay — all or part of it often being paid in the shape of fiery liquor — the wild orgies that ensued fairly beggared description, and Sunday morning often found a dead Indian or two stretched out somewhere there.

The red men were fairly good laborers when sober, but when drunk, they were veritable fiends, and the local police gathered them in and, at first, shut the inebriated ones up in a huge corral. Later during American rule, they were lugged off to the adobe jail on the hill on Jail street between what is now North Spring and New High streets.

The first County Jail had no cells; a heavy pine log ran across its one large room, and the prisoners were fastened to the log by short chains attached to their handcuffs and to iron staples driven into the log. These accommodations being deemed too luxurious fur the Indians, they were chained to logs outside the jail, and thus had a magnificent opportunity to appreciate the splendid climate of California.

Often, however, they did not survive their wild debauches, as shown by the Coroner’s Inquest on defunct red men. Some of the verdicts reached were quite unique. On one Indian found dead near the zanja (the open water ditch that then supplied Los Angeles with water, from the river,) the Jury found that poor Lo had expired ‘from intoxication or the visitation of God, the Jury cannot decide which.’

After reposing in or about the local bastile all day Sunday, the Indians would be all hustled before the local court on Monday, and unanimously fined for busting up the sacred peace of the pueblo. As none of them had any money, the fines were paid for them by certain employers of labor, who as a recompense, received the chance to hire them for the week. As the net result, poor Lo on Saturday only received a dollar or two for his week’s work, and part or all of it was often paid in brandy on which he proceeded to get riotously drunk anew.

Later, they were sentenced to hard labor, and were worked in chain gangs on the streets, but there were so many of them, that this did not suffice, and so on August 16, 1860, the Council adopted a semipeonage plan, by which the prisoners were actually auctioned off to the highest bidders for the services of these culprits. The Indian chiefs received a real — 12 1/2 cents — for each Yang-Na aborigine that they brought in to the calaboso, and of the human pieces-of-eight to the dollar, 150 were thus corralled and peddled out to the Angelenos, in one month alone.

As always, when poor Lo left the jail on Monday mornings, his shaky footsteps took him down Calle Libertad — Liberty street — which obtained its name from its well-traveled path from jail to Yang-Na. The street was later called Requena street, from Senor Michael Requena, who owned much property along it, and both Alcalde (Judge) and Regidor (Councilman) of our ancient pueblo. A later Council crudely changed its name to East Market street, to improve the value of property on a dinky little bobtail street called West Market street.

Hard drink and this unique combination of both red and white vices speedily reduced the Indian inhabitants of Yang-Na to a wretched handful, living there in want, vice and sloth, a very eyesore to the city, until finally the Council sold the site of Yang-Na to a certain Juan Domingo, a native of Holland, whose real name was John Gronigen.

A victim of the wreck of the American brig Danube in San Pedro Bay on Christmas Eve of 1823, he had settled in Los Angeles, married here, and had a fine vineyard near First and Alameda streets. The few Indians left at Yang-Na were moved elsewhere, and thus this ancient settlement came to its end as an Indian village, and its aborigines disappear forever from view as a tribe.

It is the age-old story of the inevitable racial and, economic conflict that ensues, when a much lower race comes into intimate contact with one of much higher civilization, and is ground to powder, absorbed, driven out or destroyed by the higher type of man. Yet, there is a wistful pathos about the sad fate of Yang-Na. and its d people that must appeal to all those who really love their fellow men, no matter what the color of their skins may be.”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Los Angeles Times, “Indian Village was Forerunner of Los Angeles,” by George W. Kirkman, March 21, 1926

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