Our children lost forever

August 31, 2009

There has been considerable interest and discussion about the topic of kidnapping and indenture, so I thought I would just continue the subject with another post…

Helen Carpenter lived in Mendocino and published a first hand account of her observations of Woodman, a known Indian trader.  Some may have been convinced that placing kidnapped children in white homes was “rescuing” them, but Carpenter vividly demonstrates that the facts show otherwise.  We’ll never know how many local children were kidnapped from this area… how many suffered and died.

I know this is more “horror”, but I really do think we must know and understand a history before we can truly move beyond it. 

From “Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago”…

 NIGHT was fast closing in on a cold, rainy March day, as Woodman drove into town. The horses were thin and jaded, and in . keeping with the old,unpainted farm wagon, with its irregular, battered bed, sitting low between the mud-covered wheels. There was nothing unusual in the appearance of the man or his outfit, to excite the interest or curiosity of one unacquainted with his practices ; but to old residents his presence was proof positive that he was “attending to biz,” ” bringing in quail.”

To those familiar with the early history of Mendocino County, the name of Woodman is well known. He made himself famous as an “Injunman ” and kidnaper of Indian children, and was a terror to the tribes living north of Ukiah. Even in comfortable homes of the whites his name was more feared by the children than the famous ” Booger Man.”

 For many months a few Indian children at a time had been brought down from the mountains on horseback, two or three tied on one horse. They varied in age from two to twelve years. Mr. C— provided a stopping place for the “quail,” en route to Sonoma and Napa counties. They came ready picked, and to make them presentable to the outside world, the kind lady of the house provided them with traveling costumes; a single article of dress to the child, an old shirt or a bit of calico fashioned into the mere semblance of a garment, without hem, band, button, or sleeve. And thus the poor little shivering bodies, already sore from mountain travel, were put on horses and rushed into civilization at the rate of thirty-five or forty miles a day.

 While he was making himself comfortable, after disposing of his load, a friend entertained him with the unguarded remarks of some citizens, which resulted in his making application next day to County Judge William Henry for the guardianship of the children, under the State law recently enacted, which authorized the local county courts to bind the Indians to persons believed to be suitable as guardians, who were supposed to be solicitous of their temporal and spiritual welfare. This was done with the intention of providing homes for the Indians not immediately under Federal authority ; but in most cases it brought about little less than downright slavery.

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Mass murder made acquiring slaves easier

August 28, 2009


Grace Carpenter's depiction of captured Indian children

Grace Carpenter's depiction of captured Indian children

Boy, when I read that title, it seems harsh, but why shouldn’t I call it as it was… The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was established in California in 1850, and among other provisions it allowed for the legal indenture of Native Americans under many circumstances. 

Indenture is a pretty word for slavery.  In the case of children, the indenture granted the petitioner a certificate,   “authorizing him or her to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of such minor, until he or she obtain the age of majority. Every male Indian shall be deemed to have attained his majority at eighteen, and the female at fifteen years.”

 The ages were extended under many circumstances and adults were often indentured in a similar manner.

Because Indian children considered “quite docile and very good servants, learning to work and to speak English very readily,” they were coveted by families seeking cheap and reliable labor and people would pay to have them  [Humboldt times, Oct 5, 1861] . 

 Human trafficking in Indian children became a popular and lucrative business  in Humboldt County but, because Indian parents were generally “loath to part with their offspring at such ages as would make them most susceptible of training”  [Humboldt Times, March 1, 1860] traders used other means to acquire them.

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Addiction without the calories or crime

August 27, 2009

I received a phone call from an old friend and researcher the other day who expressed some frustration that he’d been pulled back into the research and the history of this area, in part because of this blog.  I didn’t really feel the need to apologize, but I could certainly relate.

Once you head down the road of historical research, the promise of something right around the bend keeps you going. And going.  And going.  Treasure hunters and fishermen likely feel the same way.  The next cast, the next voyage, the next book, conversation, or click on the internet … information is an historian’s treasure and there is a lot of it out there, somewhere…

It doesn’t help that ghosts seem to want the stories told and keep dropping little hints like breadcrumbs.

Historical research is addictive without the calories or crime, but it does alter your thinking and behavior. And like other addictions, it can interfere with your relationships, work and other hobbies.  I don’t know a genealogist with a computer who doesn’t use  the phrase “just a few more minutes…”, or a historian without a pile of books waiting to be read…  who doesn’t feel the pull of an estate sale like metal to a magnet.  There could be an old journal or diary among the fifty cent  paperbacks…

It is better to feel passionate about something, I figure, than to just watch t.v. and wait for vacations.  I have an addiction and aren’t I the lucky one 🙂

When aggressors became the protectors

August 26, 2009
Fort Humboldt, intially established to protect the settlers, became a temporary haven for the Natives

Fort Humboldt, intially established to protect the settlers, became a temporary haven for the Natives

While there were many who wanted the natives driven from the Humboldt Bay area, there were some, such as Exodus,  that recognized the injustice of it all.

Major Raines was in charge of Fort Humboldt in 1860, and after the massacre, he provided asylum to the surviving Natives. He initially refused to force them to the Klamath Reservation, but I think he eventually capitulated.  Does anyone know more of this story?

As an aside, I think it is very telling that Raines basically says that Sheriff Van Nest is in bed with the bad guys…

I could edit these articles and but I figure there is lots of info and don’t want to accidently omit something that might be interesting to someone…

Removal of Indians at Fort Humboldt to Klamath–Raines refusal to compel the Indians to leave -The Indian Department and Major Raines—After the massacre at Indian Island and South Beach, Major Raines issued orders that the survivors should be provided for and protected at Fort Humboldt, until some other disposition could be made of them. This was a judicious movement at the time and one that the circumstances required.  A few weeks ago the agent in charge of the Klamath reserve went word to the Major, to the effect that he was prepared to receive the Indians and ready to remove them.  Maj. Raines replied to the messenger that the was “truly glad to hear it, and that it would afford him great pleasure to co-operate with the agent, to the extent of his ability”.  Immediately upon his arrival in the county… Mr. Buel waited upon the Major and received assurance of this desire to be relieved of the Indians and that he would do all in his power to assist the agent in their removal.  The Major then had the Indians summoned, and said to them that Mr. Buel had “provided safe homes for them at the LK, that he was their friend and would talk nothing but the truth, and that it was for their own good that he wished them to go with him,” etc. etc.  So are it as all plain sailing with our officials;  but at an interview the next morning, Major R. gave the agent to understand that it would be necessary first to obtain the consent of the Indians, and that he would use his influence to induce them to agree to go, but that he had no authority to compel them.  to this Mr. Buel objected that it was “immaterial whether the Indians wished to go or not; that he was there to remove them and willing to use force to compel them to obey him, if requisite.”—Mr. Buel then left the Fort and subsequently sent the letter (follows)—to which the Major declined to make any reply.– Without pretending to know whether Major Raines is acting in accordance with orders or not, we submit that Fort Humboldt is not a proper place for these Indians. The question of employing force in the removal of the Indians at the Fort, is a mere abstraction.  There are but about seventy of them all told, men, women and children,… and it requires nothing but moral force to make them obey—But whether this should prove sufficient or not, we maintain that it is of no importance whatever, except as a matter of convenience, what the Indians think or wish in the premises.  They must be made to understand that henceforth they are to be taken care of by government, and they must yield implicit obedience to the officers appointed to take charge of them.  [Northern Californian, April 15, 1860]

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Volunteer opportunity at historic Falk

August 25, 2009
Ox Team hauling redwoods

Ox team hauling redwoods

Anyone with interest in history and even a little bit of extra time this fall should get out their phones.

Humboldt State University will be holding a historical archaeology field school during the fall,  2009 semester  in the historic town of Falk  and the public is invited to participate.

The field work will happen during october and november, between the rainy days.  Folks can just volunteer or can sign up through HSU and receive credit.  You’ll be digging in the dirt with the archeologists, looking for historical “treasure”.

Call  Jamie Roscoe or Bill Rich at the HSU Cultural Resources Facility at (707)  826-5247  for more info or to sign up.  You can also call Dave Johnson, archaeologst at the Arcata BLM at (707) 825-2320 for more info.

The excavations will be conducted at the dancehall and a small bachelor’s cabin site.  Bill Rich says they are also looking for anyone with stories about this dance hall or any other,  and artifacts from the area.  

Anyone with info or an extra ounce of energy they want to spend at the site should give ’em a call.

Can you really blame me for stealing?

August 23, 2009
Humboldt County Elk

Humboldt County Elk


I stole an apple today.  Technically I guess I took two, but after I took a bite out of the not-even-close-to-ripe one, I threw it away.  Then I picked another and took it with me.

I’d gone for a walk without water or food.  It was warm and I was thirsty. 

The apple trees were untended and old, with gnarled trunks and crowded limbs.  It didn’t look like anyone cared, really.  Or that anyone would notice a missing apple or two.  And honestly I got so caught up in the fact that these three old apple trees were sitting in a row in the middle of a hay field that I didn’t think much about it before I picked them. It must have been part of an old homestead.  

I spotted the trees after following the bends in the trail, anxious to see what was next.  And maybe climbing a fence/gate (but there was no sign telling me not to).  It was also after rounding a corner and seeing an big umbrella shaped t.v. antenna.  That’s when I decided to turn around.  I could fool myself that the fence was to keep cattle in, but couldn’t ignore someone’s home.  Maybe I was on private property, after all.

Isaac Cullberg, a well known pioneer, wrote casually in his diary of taking material from an Indian house to start a fire.  He was cold, I’m sure, just like I was thirsty today.  Other settlers often lamented that the meadows surrounding  them were  just begging to be cattle pasture.  If only those darn savages weren’t in the way.  The invaders hunted deer and elk and bear for meat and hides and target practice.

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The murder that began an obsession…

August 22, 2009

Lately I’ve had folks ask me why I’ve started this blog, and thought it might be good to repost my little “story” for those who missed it before.

 A few years ago I was combing the basement of the county courthouse looking for old records and ran across the copy of an inquest that occurred after an Indian woman was murdered in Arcata in 1862. She was blind, her children were with her, and the murderers used a hatchet to do the job.  Oh, and she was warned she was in danger and chose to stay in Arcata anyway  because she thought her kids would have a better chance of surviving if she was killed here… Crazy stuff that got me fascinated with her and obsessed with learning her story…

I started researching the “settlement period” of Humboldt county and learned so much I’d had no clue about, even though I’d grown up here.  Things like California made it legal to “indenture” (pretty word for legally inslave) Native Americans in the 1850s and 1860s.  That Humboldt County was infamous for our human traffickers who kidnapped and sold Indian children.   That Eureka was once dubbed “Murderville” by those in San Francisco because of the blatent atrocities that happened here against the natives.

I also kept learning about the murdered woman, called Lucy.  I tracked some of her descendants and kept trying to write something, anything,  about her.

So I was still working on Lucy’s story on and off when we moved to an old farmhouse in Blue Lake about a year and a half ago.  I was upstairs waiting for a house inspector, and among the old newspapers used to insulate the walls I found the obituary of Lucy’s son, dated 1928. It describes his mother’s murder.

So, Lucy’s ghost was giving me a poke and I’ve gotten back into it. I am working on an article about Lucy for the Humbodlt Historian and will figure out where to go with it after that. In the mean time, all these stories I’ve found about that time period are in my head and I want to share them.  I think it is important that people know the history here… it wasn’t that far back and if you talk with Native Americans , you’ll find the effects of previous oppression (and aggression) still ripple through the community.

I also want people to know about Lucy, that she existed. That she was courageous and her courage probably saved her children’s lives.   So many natives died here and we’ll never even know their names.    I hope to honor them through the story of Lucy.

Wrong upon wrong

August 21, 2009
Unidentified man in front of traditional house

Unidentified man in front of traditional house

After the massacres  “Exodus”  wrote a letter to the San Francisco Bulletin.  In the letter (s) he observed

“Individuals constitute a community, and the acts of each member make up the common character of the whole body.  It must be expected that villains will grumble and snarl; but it is the duty of the Press, the Bench, the Pulpit, and of every honest man, to denounce crime.  This is a duty which we owe to Heaven and the society  in which we live—not merely a passive duty, for their villainies must go unpunished, and each good citizen will be victimized in his turn—but an active, zealous duty, bringing to justice especially those who out-savage the savage.  We must not lay the flattering unction to our souls that in the great day of account and retribution, when the catalogue of human frailties and crimes is read out, we have disapproved sufficiently by our silence along, lest the Mene Tekel—“thou art weighted in the balance and found wanting”—be pronounced against us and “thou shouldst not follow a multitude to do evil”. [San Francisco Bulletin,  April 23, 1860]

Exodus was prompted by what he (I’m just going to say “he” though ok, it might have been a woman) saw as a compounding of wrong upon wrong.

Many, or a few very verbal and outspoken, in Humboldt County saw the massacre as the inevitable result of racial intermixing and segregation as the only solution.  I could comment on the following, but the articles say too much already…

 1860, Mar. 28–Plan to Remedy the Indian Difficulty

To any one who has given the subject the least attention, or is acquainted with the Indian character, it must be apparent that the two races cannot live together.  The Indians  of this coast are not capable of either honesty, industry, or gratitude.  They cannot be controlled except with a strong hand. Before they can be made to respect and obey, they must be taught to fear the consequences of disobedience. The natives must be removed by some means or the county abandoned to their possession. To make war upon them with the purpose of indiscriminate “extermination,” is neither wise or humane, neither good policy nor right.  Some other mode to rid the country of their dangerous presence should be adopted. Those living near the settlements should be removed to the Reservation.

 We are authorized by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of this State, to say that he will receive and retain them, if he can have the assistance and cooperation of our citizens. That officers require assistance in collecting the Indians together, and an assurance from our people to the Indians that they will not be permitted again to live in this county. This plan, no doubt, is perfectly practicable, and in a short time we may have riddance of a very large number, who, if they do not themselves commit depredations, have furnished arms and ammunition to the mountain Indians. The removal of these “friendly” Indians will cut off the supplies and break up the hiding places of those openly hostile.  To carry this plan into effect there must be favorable concert of action on the part of the people.  Let there be not favorites excepted, and no tampering with the Indians allowed. All of the coast Indians out of the way, measures can be taken toward those openly hostile, living in the mountains, that will effectually put a stop to their depredations. [The Northern Californian]

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You could get hit by a truck tomorrow

August 21, 2009
Unidentified people in group portrait

Don't have a clue as to who these people are...


In my last post I urged people to talk to their elders and learn their family stories, family history.   Without meaning to lecture, today I will go further and say WRITE IT DOWN.   Any of it, all of it.  Memories are amazingly unreliable things… and while stories are interesting, they have a way of morphing with each telling, until they become the bullshistory that Ernie talks about. 

After Bret Harte left (or was forced from) Humboldt County, he didn’t write about his three years here (hence the “lost years” description).   Other than his editorials, and what he consciously or unconsciously reveals in his fiction, we don’t really know much about his experiences and likely never will. That part of history, that perspective,  is lost forever.

Don’t let that happen to your descendants.  While I’m being bossy, I’m going to go ahead and remind folks that this is history too.  This moment, right now.  Any genealogist hungry for family stories will appreciate what I’m saying here.   Record your own stories and your ghost will feel the love a hundred years from now.

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Capture your history

August 20, 2009

The first evening I was in on the coast this week,  the survey crew had the privilege of meeting Jamie Roscoe’s dad Jim.  During the course of our visit, he shared many wonderful stories about his family and the history of the Mattole.

During our conversation he mentioned that a descendant of A.A. Hadley, one of the area’s first pioneers lived right over there, pointing at a distant ridge, and agreed to try to arrange for me to meet him. I drove home yesterday thinking excitedly about the visit.

Sadly, I open the paper today and see a picture of Leland Hadley in the obituaries.    He apparently passed away on Aug. 13, at the age of 91, and Mr. Roscoe just hadn’t yet heard the news.  Another connection to our past is gone.

A lot of my mental energy has been directed on trying to articulate the value of history, especially this early history with so many sad events.  Hadley’s death prompts me to come a little closer with the  question and the value of family history.

My grandmother stayed unhappily married for many years and I often wondered why.  As I was growing up my mother discouraged me from asking questions, so I didn’t know much other than my grandmother had grown up in an orphanage.

Later, when I started doing genealogy research, I did ask questions. I discovered that my grandmother’s mother  had been married at least five times (in the 1920s and 1930s) and would leave my grandmother and her brother with neighbors or commit them to the Denver orphanage whenever she met a new man.  I have a letter from one social worker describing how my nine year old grandmother showed up at an old neighbor’s apartment because the people that were suppose to care for her kicked her out and she was looking for a place to stay.

 My grandmother knew nothing about an intact family, ever, and as an adult, was determined not to follow her mother’s footsteps.  Her history colored her decisions about her marriage, my mother’s childhood in an … interesting household, and I likely experienced effects of this history and pass them on.

History is only the experience of our elders… manifested in their decisions and behavior, which in turn affect ours…

This is so darn hard to articulate!

Ok, simple words.  Talk to your elders, get their stories.  They are important in so many ways I don’t know how to describe but will continue to try.  I will say that a year ago for Christmas, my grandmother gave me a bound book designed to document family genealogy.   Even she, with all the painful memories of her past, recognized the value in recording our history. I hope the Hadley family was able to capture their history before the loss of such an elder.