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Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft attempts the Temecula ‘Treaty of Friendship’


Last updated 10/29/2017 at Noon

The Temecula Historical Society presents the history of Dr. Oliver M Wozencraft and his experience as a commissioner for the president in the 1850s to make treaties between the settlers and the local tribes under much opposition. Courtesy photo

Bonnie Martland

Special to Valley News

Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft was born in Ohio in 1812 and earned a medical degree and by the 1840s, he set up his medical practice in New Orleans. Looking to improve his health after contracting cholera, he moved to Texas, and in 1849, he moved to California. Four months later he would be selected from the San Joaquin district as a member of California’s first constitutional convention.

The problems between the native peoples and the newly arrived white population warranted government intervention by 1850. In September 1850, Congress passed an act, authorizing an appropriation of $50,000 for President Millard Fillmore to use in making treaties with the Indians. Wozencraft was one of three men selected as commissioners to act on the president’s behalf. The commissioners met in Panama before continuing by ship to California. Once in California, they met with Gov. John McDougal and were not impressed. Hostile to the idea of a reservation system, the governor was raising troops to fight the Indians.

Wozencraft and his fellow commissioners issued a statement, asking he hold off until the situation could be assessed. An article in the Alta California newspaper said there were only two alternatives, “extermination or domestication.” The commissioners argued for the latter. The citizens, however, wanted the former or in lieu of that, removal of all Indians from California. Opposition came primarily from mining factions continually pushing into Indian homelands and meeting resistance.

To complicate matters, the commissioners were woefully short of funds and had received no real instructions from Washington other than to make treaties to protect Indian rights, provide for their needs and set up reservations. Were they to recognize Indian land rights, set up military posts, authorize persons to manage and supply the reservations? No answers were forthcoming.

The commissioners began with tribes in mining areas, first working as a team before they divided the state and each commissioner took a section. As they worked to subdue the Indians and draw-up reservations, they were continually met with resistance from citizens and lawmakers alike.

One commissioner argued that it would be “cheaper to feed the whole flock for a year than to fight them for a week.”

Wozencraft said he felt quite strongly the Indians were getting a raw deal, were being very badly treated by the white settlers and had been patient up to this time while suffering much abuse.

linkWozencraft was assigned to the southern district which included the Temecula area. Hearing about an Indian uprising near San Diego, he went there with an escort. More troops joined the party, and the Indians were defeated. He returned “over the mountains” to Temecula and, using runners, called in the leaders of all the surrounding tribes. Most complied, but a tribe from the San Gorgonio Pass did not. After further word was sent, the tribe’s leaders arrived.

The “Treaty of Friendship” signed at Temecula was one of 18 treaties the commission made with California Indians. Sent to Washington, the treaties were all unanimously defeated. California legislators asked their representatives in Washington to push for this result. The Senate not only rejected the treaties but ordered them held in secrecy for 50 years. The tribes were never notified and did not find out the result until 50 years hence. Before his death in 1905, Wozencraft spent many years lobbying for a canal from the Colorado River to California’s desert areas; still decrying the plight of California Indians and the unfairness with which he felt them treated.

The Temecula Valley Historical Society meets 6 p.m. the fourth Monday of the month in the Little Temecula History Center at the corner of Wolf Store Road and Redhawk Parkway. Admission is free. A meet-and-greet session begins 5:30 p.m. with refreshments. Dale Garcia will present a talk on “Temecula Disasters” Monday, Sept. 25, using descriptions and photographs, showing natural disasters and man-made calamities that have contributed to the character of the town. For more information, visit


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