Echoes from the Past: The story of Chief Truckee
Chief Truckee, whose Paiute name was pronounced “Tru-ki-zo,” continually made himself available as a guide to the endless succession of emigrant groups. There is no record of how many parties of emigrants he personally guided safely over the Sierra to Sutter’s Fort or were guided by others on orders from him.
In May 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico. When news of the hostilities reached California, Fremont began organizing a volunteer army composed of settlers at Sutter’s Fort. Native Americans from California and Paiutes from the Great Basin answered the call and were ready to fight with bows and arrows as well as rifles. By November the army had grown to about 400 men.
There is little historic recognition of the fact that Chief Truckee had commuted across the Sierra on numerous occasions and had visited the Mexican settlements and observed their hostility to his Native American brothers to the West. Fremont must have known that the old warrior had no love for the soldiers of General Vallejo.
While preparing to join Fremont in California, Truckee appointed his son, “Po-i-to,” who later became known as Chief Winnemucca, to serve as chief in his absence. He made his son promise to keep the peace with the his white brothers while he was gone.
Along with his brother Pancho, Truckee joined the Joseph Aram party as a guide and, in August 1846, he said goodbye to his people and headed west. Upon reaching Donner Lake, he spent three days helping them search for an easier route over the Sierra Ridge. Within a short time, Chief Truckee and his braves joined up with his old Friend, Colonel Fremont, at Sutter’s Fort.
Recognizing his leadership, Fremont appointed him captain, in charge of Company H, made up mostly of Native Americans from various tribes, including the Delawares who came west with the colonel. Captain Truckee effectively led his detachment of warrior scouts during the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848.
In his recollections of the war, Jacob Wright Harlan recalled seeing Chief Truckee in action, specifically mentioning an encounter near Mission San Buenaventura.
“As the American spearhead approached the Mexican lines, Truckee was right in back of the leading officer, Major Russell,” says Harlan. “Truckee fired his rifle at them and ran toward our camp. Major Russell spurred his horse to his swiftest speed in the same direction, but they would both have been lanced had not Fremont caused a cannon to be fired at the pursuers, who thereupon halted and turned back.”
After the war Fremont awarded Truckee a commendation for service which he proudly carried with him to his death. Other Paiutes from the Great Basin, including Truckee’s brother Pancho, also received medals.
Proudly adorned in his blue uniform with brass buttons, Captain Truckee returned to his Pyramid Lake home, which became a part of the new state of Nevada as a result of the Mexican War. Reunited with his people in the Nevada desert, the older leader told his people of all the wonders he had seen in those far off places and of his exciting adventures.
He sat with his braves for days and nights telling them about his white brothers. He told of the many battles they had with the Mexicans and he sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which everybody in his village learned.
He then gathered some of his kin and led them over the summit and into Santa Cruz Valley, where he became fluent in Spanish while working on several ranches. He remained there for several years and learned to read and write the white man’s language before returning to Nevada.
(To be continued in two weeks)
“Echoes From The Past” appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. Guy Coates is vice president and research historian for the Truckee-Donner
He can be reached through the Society at 582-0893 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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