Screaming Bloody Murder at Horse Thief Springs – The Paiute village of “Moqua”

This peak in the Kingston Range conjured up images of Native people to me while photographing it.
Kit Carson

Kit Carson

Blood and gore, two unpleasant words that perfectly describe what took place at the Paiute village of Moqua, in 1844.  Kit Carson and Alexander Godey, while on Fremont’s second expedition in the area track down a band of Paiute Indians accused of horse theft at Bitter Springs (located on modern-day Fort Irwin). They tracked the Paiute back to their village in the Kingston Mountain Range, where they found the Indians had  butchered and began cooking the horses.

Carson and Godey shot two of the Indians, then scalped them. One of the Indians was still alive when he had his scalp cut from his head. Fremont wrote of the event in his journal saying, “with blood streaming from his skinned head, and uttered a hideous howl…. then they did what humanity required, and quickly terminated the agony of the gory savage.” A young boy was captured, but later set free. Fremont tells that upon release, the boy picked up the head of a horse and began to eat it, stating that the boy had “strong evidence of the stoicism, or something else.”

This story has never been widely published, but when it is Carson and Godey are made out to be heroes, hence their “legendary” portrayals.

On the BLM website, they credit the name of the camp to “surveyors for the legendary Chief Walkara (a.k.a. Wakara or Walker) of a band of Ute.”

They go on to say: “In the 1820s, Walkara began accumulating wealth from trading horses and other commodities.  He gathered a band of warriors from the Great Basin tribes to raid ranches and stop travelers along the Old Spanish Trail.  He became a legendary horse thief, known to many by his yellow face paint.”

“In the 1840s, he and his band captured hundreds of horses and mules in the Cajon Pass area of southern California.  He is said to have traded horses to mountain men such as James Beckwourth and Thomas “Pegleg” Smith for whisky and other goods.  Walkara also developed a prosperous trading relationship with Brigham Young in Utah and negotiated peace between settlers and the Native Americans after tensions erupted in 1853.”

While this is all fascinating, there is no mention of or any historical references that place Walkara in the vicinity of Horse Thief Springs. Is this a cover up? Publicly available resources barely make any mention of the Paiute Village of Moqua, and they certainly fail to talk about the atrocities carried out by Carson and Godey.

Digging a little deeper I managed to find a BLM environmental assessment report that was published in 2007. The purpose of this report was to gather data on the effects of cattle grazing in the Horse Thief Springs vicinity. These reports are always a fascinating glimpse into the history of an area, because they are required to include historical, and archeological research from the area, and how they have been or will be affected. This report verified a significant Native American village having been located at and around Horse Thief Springs.

In the Kingston Mountain Range

In the Kingston Mountain Range

 

This peak in the Kingston Range conjured up images of Native people to me while photographing it.

This peak in the Kingston Range conjured up images of Native people to me while photographing it.

 

The report states:

“Prehistoric and historic Native American populations, 19th Century EuroAmerican explorers, emigrants, ranchers, miners and homesteaders have lived and/or traveled through the regions occupied by the Horse Thief Spring allotment, exploiting the abundant natural resources (e.g., plant, animal, and mineral) present. The region which comprised the grazing allotment is an area of high sensitivity to Native American values. Site types know to be present within the boundaries of the grazing allotment include prehistoric trails, habitation sites, lithic reduction and tool manufacture sites, resource procurement sites, rock rings/alignments, rock shelters, rock art, traditional ritual sites, historic era mines, emigrant trails, historic roads, ranching facilities, and habitation sites.”

“Fifty-nine (59) prehistoric and historic archaeological sites have been identified and formally recorded within the overall Horse Thief Springs grazing allotment.”

A broken down cabin now sits at the site of Horse Thief Springs and the Village of Moqua.

A broken down cabin now sits at the site of Horse Thief Springs and the Village of Moqua.

 

Horse Thief Springs

Horse Thief Springs

 

Unfortunately, when I visited this site I wasn’t aware of any of this history. It wasn’t until I research the spring after I visited that I began to track down the “hidden” historical significance.

On the surface Horse Thief Spring appears to be nothing more than an old homestead with a cabin that sits in a state of disarray. In reality the story runs deep with a disturbing past.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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