Cover image for The trial of "Indian Joe" : race and justice in the nineteenth-century West
The trial of "Indian Joe" : race and justice in the nineteenth-century West
McKanna, Clare V. (Clare Vernon), 1935-
Publication Information:
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 155 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF223.I53 M38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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On the night of 16 October 1892, a double homicide occurred on Otay Mesa in San Diego County near the Mexican border. The two victims were an elderly couple, John and Wilhelmina Geyser, who lived on a farm on the edge of the mesa. Within minutes of discovering the crime, neighbors subdued and tied up the alleged killer, José Gabriel, a sixty-year-old itinerant Native American handyman from El Rosario, California, who worked for the couple. Since Gabriel was apprehended at the scene, most presumed his guilt. The local press, prosecutors, witnesses, and jurors called him by the epithet "Indian Joe." nbsp; The sensational murder trial of Gabriel highlights the legal injustices committed against Native Americans in the nineteenth century. During this time, California Native Americans could not vote or serve on juries, so from the outset Gabriel was unlikely to receive a fair trial. No motive for murder was established, and the evidence against Gabriel was inconclusive. Nonetheless, the case went forward. Drawing on court testimony and newspaper accounts, Clare V. McKanna Jr. traces the murder trial: the handling of the case by the prosecution, the defense, the jury, and the judge; an examination of the crime scene; and the imaging of "Indian Joe." Through his considerable research, McKanna sheds light on a dark time in the American legal system.

Author Notes

Clare V. McKanna, Jr. is a lecturer in history and American Indian Studies at San Diego State University.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Following two books on racism in Western legal systems (Homicide, Race, and Justice in the American West, 1880-1920; Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California), McKanna here reexamines the specifics of one individual case of a California Native American. From original court transcripts and the 1892 San Diego newspapers, McKanna methodically shows the lynch mob's reaction to the capture of a 60-year-old farm worker, Jos? Gabriel, at the murder scene of an elderly man and wife on their Otay Mesa ranch and the assumption, not seriously challenged even by the defense lawyer, that he was therefore the guilty party. Holes in the prosecution's case and the very lax defense are thoroughly discussed, to the end conclusion that this was a very sloppy legal case at best and horribly racist at worst. The case is also examined in a greater social context, with attention to the "Injun Joe" character of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the local newspapers labeling Gabriel "Indian Joe." Recommended for college and larger public libraries with interests in race and justice and Native American studies.-Nathan E. Bender, Buffalo Bill Historical Ctr., Cody, WY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. viii
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prologue: Murder on Otay Mesap. 1
1. The Prosecutionp. 13
2. The Defensep. 37
3. The Judge and Juryp. 56
4. The Crime Scenep. 74
5. The Illusion of "Indian Joe"p. 94
6. The Scales of Justicep. 111
Epilogue: Gabriel's Fatep. 123
Appendix Trial Exhibitsp. 131
Notesp. 133
Selected Bibliographyp. 145
Indexp. 151