A majority of the settlers to first arrive in Humboldt were men.  The lack of available women ( and a lack of common decency) resulted in many native women being taken as “wives” by white “squawmen”, though these were seldom legal “marriages.”   Some women apparently entered these unions willingly because their families feared  if they remained unmarried and unprotected, “their fate might be worse” [Interview with Josephine Beach, published in Town and Country, G.R. Robbins, July 8, 1933].

 Many other women were taken by force.   Frank Asbill, in his unpublished manuscript, The Last of the West,  describes his father’s efforts to capture Native women in Northern Mendocino and Southern Humboldt County to be sold or traded as “wives” to interested  buyers.   Bill Woods, one of Asbill’s partners, caught his own squaw, Clowie, when she was gathering clover with a friend.  Some have doubted the authenticity of Asbill’s  account (which is pretty graphic and awful) , but I did find Clowie with Woods in the census…

Bill Woods w/ Clowie

Bill Woods w/ Clowie


Squawman Jim Neafus

Asbill also said that another of his father’s partners, Jim Neafus decided to settle down with a squaw “he’d seen… in the valley that had taken his eye” and that this union resulted in “ little Neafuses “ 


Within months of Carrie’s birth, Lucy was taken as the “wife” of Jose Romero.    Romero was a packer and  an “Indian fighter”.    He was also considered the father of Lucy’s two younger children,   her daughter, Annie, and son, Charles.

37 Responses to Squawmen

  1. olmanriver says:

    As with the “half-breed” post, you are uncovering some of the larger issues that have been swept under the rug by the recorded history of the ‘victors’.
    The early white men in the area were just that, men, bachelors to state the obvious. Without their value as wives, Indian women would not have survived the slaughters, and many didn’t. The percentage of households with Indian family members was much higher here in Southern Humboldt than up north according to the 1870 census. This is from Mary Siler Anderson’s Backwood Chronicles, A History of southern Humboldt, 1849-1920, which I have loaned out or I would share more specifics on that. She also covers the subject of mixed bloods, particularly in the Briceland area.
    The assimilation, the white word that came later, of many of the surviving Indians in California into the white families, is an important, and little known storyline in history. It is wonderful you are looking there.

    • Marv Shepherd says:

      I bought a copy of Mary Andersons, Backwood Chronicles from the Humboldt Historical Society in Eureka (go to website). $13.50 for members.

      • lynette77 says:

        Thanks for the hint, Marv. I will be heading into Eureka today and will check at the Society. If no luck there, I’ll check on-line. Is it ok w/ you if I share what your interest is here, so that other folks that share it might be able to connect?

        • Marv Shepherd says:

          Certainly. I am just completing a biography of Captain HH Buhne (1822-1894), the Danish sea captain and businessman, who left an indelible mark on Eureka and Humboldt County. I hope to have it available by Christmas. If anyone has questions about Capt Buhne, I would be happy to try and answer them.

  2. lynette77 says:

    Greetings ‘river,
    It is true about the percentage of native women in households being higher in SoHum. And in the eastern gold mining towns, near Salmon River and Orleans. I have printed out the census records from those areas and the patterns are quite obvious.

    There appear to be some strong cultural differences between the areas… Folks in the towns along the Bay really looked down on “men who degraded themselves by living with Digger squaws”, while I think in the mining and more isolated towns it was more accepted.
    I would LOVE to see Anderson’s book. If you know how I can get a copy, please let me know.

  3. olmanriver says:

    Hi lynette, first try the Eureka Books store on 2nd ave….if that doesn’t work, a call to the Redwood Times in garberville might be fruitful. Eureka Books has Genocide and Vendetta for only $400 (sigh and sob), and a nifty small publisher book on the Indian war history of Southern Oregon that is rare.

    It would seem there were different “classes” of squawmen as well. Most were homesteaders, but I have read here and there references to traveling bands of squawmen and their families living from trapping. Then there is the rare mention of whites living with the Indians.

    Three or four generations have had a blender like effect on the white and red genes in many northern Californians. I have met so many people with Indian blood around here… it is amazing that to be part Indian these days is considered cool for the younger whites (60 year olds and down), where for so many generations it was a matter of shame.

    • lynette77 says:

      My husband’s grandfather was Yurok, and before he passed away he would tell stories about how, in his youth, he pretended to be Mexican because it was better to be Mexican than Indian…

  4. Kym says:

    Lynette, Is it known who is the man pictured in your post? What a great, angry looking photo to punctuate your post with!

    • lynette77 says:

      Jim Neafus. There is lots about him in the Asbill book–which makes it especially weird to be able to see him in a photo. I think he ended up robbing a stage coach or something, and the pic is a mug shot.

  5. bonnieg says:

    That is Jim Neafus.
    Lucy Young – another Lucy – was also the wife of squawmen, Abe Rogers, and Arthur Rutledge before she married Sam Young. Sam was on the California Indian Roll, his father was born in Indian and mother in California. Was his father a squawman too?

    • lynette77 says:

      You know what’s spooky. Annie, Lucy (Romero)’s youngest daughter, married Arthur Vick, who was Arthur Rutledge’s step-son. Small world. I don’t know anything really about LUcy’s Young’s husband, Sam, but I do know that the Blockburg site– go here:
      has an interview with Lucy Young’s cousin and she talks about Lucy (and Rogers).
      There is also an article in the Humboldt times and I have always wondered if it was about Lucy Young and (her) Rogers though I guess this is a little early to be the same people…

      1860, July 7, Humboldt Times, (unknown word) LIVING. We hear of a funny affair that happened at Hay Fork,.. and which came near terminating seriously. A man named Rogers lives with a squaw, some say contrary to her will. On Tuesday morning, while attending to his cattle, she preparing breakfast, three Indians entered the house and left again immediately, the squaw says without touching anything. By some means, though, an ounce phial of strychnine? was emptied into the dish containing (unknown word). Rogers and the squaw, only knew where the poison was kept. While eating his breakfast, Rogers was taken terribly ill, and vomited up what he had eaten. , which the hog? had immediately devoured and died in minutes. Rogers took two pounds of (unknown word) and a bottle of mustard , as antidote, which probably saved his life. He is… a frightful sight, swollen entirely…. He is believed to be out of dangers and is ten times more affectionate (unknown word). He An examination was had by the citizens who decided the poisoning was done by the squaw and Indians , to which Rogers (unknown word) on the part of the squaw….

  6. Clowie Woods was indeed Sam Woods wife. She was a well kept and popular woman. Her descendants live on around Garberville. The story of her capture is the only thing to be called to question.

    There was an old saying that may have given rise to the way she was “captured”. The saying was that; “If you catch a woman with your rope, she is your wife”.

    The fact that mountain men were away from home for long periods of time, made for a lot of lonely women. Women sometimes had affairs that weren’t talked about publicly. But, if you didn’t know about who the “official” father was, their was no doubt about that. The woman’s husband was always the “official father”. Another old saying that came about around here was; “If it was caught in your trap, it’s your pelt”. Meaning, that if the kid doesn’t look like you, too bad, you are the official father. It settled a lot of arguments.

    I find it interesting to look at the old families and pick out the kids that look like somebody else’s kid. (Sorry, no clues. I could be tarred and feathered and run out of town for revealing any of my mismatches.)

    • lynette77 says:

      Hi Ernie,
      One of my ancestors was listed as a “grass widow” on the census, which I think meant that her husband was gone west… which seemed to be perceived as the same as widowed….
      I would love to doubt Asbill’s description of Clowie’s capture, and it may be exagerated or even false, but unfortunately there are too many documented accounts of men kidnapping women and keeping them against their will for me to doubt that it happened, if not to Clowie, then to others.
      Ironically, many of these men were “indian hunters”, like Jack Mann, Thomas Griffith, and others.

      1858, Aug. 7, Humboldt times– HAD HIS THROAT CUT. A fellow in Mattole Valley, …., by the name of John Mann, known as “Buskskin Jack,’ had his throat cut one night last week, by a squaw with whom he had been living. It appears that Jack had been out on an Indian hunt, and had killed the brother of his squaw, bring in the Indian’s bow and quiver. The property was recognized by the squaw, and she determined upon avenging the death of her brother [either he knew, or she must have told him that it was her brother’s, for us to know this]. After Jack had fell asleep she took a large knife, and cut his throat, not, however, severing the juggler vein. This had the effect to disturb Jack’s repose, when he arose and grasped the knife and killed the squaw on the spot. In wresting the knife from the squaw he had his hand severely cut. Dr. Felt was sent for to dress his wounds. The Dr. informs us that he will probably recover.

  7. olmanriver says:

    There is a version of that Mann incident on page 5 of Heydays in the Mattole by Neb Roscoe.
    “‘Buckskin Jack’, as he like to be called, was a mean one, and the women hated him. When he was drunk, he would beat them up just for the fun of it. It got so bad they talked it over and decided to kill him.”…
    He never did gain use of the hand that had grabbed the wrong end of a knife, but he went out and replaced those companions with a younger Indian mate. A neighbor, Bill Clark wooed her away from Mann, but Mann killed Clark in revenge, and left the area. No mention is made of what happened to the girl.

  8. lynette77 says:

    Quoting: Redwood Frontier, pg 94: .. Among the early settlers in Upper Mattole… wild, brutal fellow named Jack Mann… two Indian women for wives, and while he was not kind to them, the arrangement seemed satisfactory for a while. One night, however, the women attempted to cut his throat…. he awakended, and with his right hand seized the knife by the blade, disabling his hand for the rest of his life. The women did succeed in severing his windpipe, though it was at the expense of their lives for Buckskin Jack stabbed both of them. … he managed to make his way to the James Pritchett home, where Mrs. Pritchett.. sewed the windpipe together. Since Jack had “lost” his two wives, he now looked for another… and found non in the white settler’s rank that would have anything to do with him. He did find a pretty Indian girl, but another settler got there first and took her for his own. Buckskin Jack and the high-powered lover quarrelled a number of times arfter that, with Jack threatening to take the competitor’s life”.

    In 1860, Mann is living with two indian girls, ages 10 and 14. One shudders to think of what their lives were like….

    And then…
    1862, Feb. 15, Humboldt Times. Homicide on Upper Mattole: John Mann, familiarly known as “Buckskin Jack” shot a man named Clark on Friday… An Indian woman of whom they were both enamored was the primary cause of difficulty between them, out of which grew an assault and battery case, in which Jack was fined $100. ON the evening above named, about an hour before sundown, Clark was standing by Mr. Pritchett, in front of the dwelling of the latter, when Jack fired at them from behind a log… killing Clark on the spot. At latest account Jack was at large and protesting that he would not be taken.

  9. lynette77 says:

    Note: according to Leon Chevret, L.C. Clark in Mattole sold at least one indian child as a servant. My guess is that he was a trader and sold many more.
    Despite what people say about taking things in context, and not judging by today’s standards, some of these guys were BAD guys, plain and simple.

  10. Ben says:

    Ernie… I think the name was Bill Woods rather than Sam. Clowie and Bill’s graves are out on the old Lauffer ranch.
    Lynette…Jim Neafus’ great great grandson is a friend of mine. He is Wailaki on the Round Valley roll.
    Lucy Young’s Story is on the Blocksburg web site. Sam Young’s father was white. There is a Young’s Creek out near Hyampom. Sam was literate and wrote Lucy’s reminiscences for the anthropologist Frank Essene back in the ’30s.
    I have some reservations about the Clowie Woods story as well as some of the other stories from the Asbill manuscript “Last of the West” but Clowie and Bill were known to be devoted to each other.

    • lynette77 says:

      Hi Ben,
      Are you the same local historian Ben the used bookstore owner in Garberville insisted I get in touch with? Greetings and welcome either way.

      I believe you are right that it was Bill Woods, not Sam. Interesting about knowing the Neafus descendant. Has he ever heard any family stories about his ancestors that he might be willing to share? It would be yet another perspective…

      I am very glad to hear about Clowie. I would like to hope that at least some of these unions settled into a more or less “regular” marriage. At least some “squawmen” stayed with their women, and treated them as lawful wives (my husband’s ancestors included), going so far as to will property to them, or even make them legal partners in the ownership of their homes, property, etc.

      Again, welcome to the site and feel free to add/correct/corroborate where ever you see the need.

    • Jill Kane says:

      Hi Ben, Pierce Asbill is my great grandfather. They came from Missouri with Jim Neafus in tow….not sure how Neafus came to be with the family, but I think they took him in for some reason. My grandmother was Irma Asbill, daughter of Pierce and Katie Robertson. Interesting you know one of the Neafus descendants

  11. […] I can’t speak to the validity of the volcano theory, or  using it as an excuse to visit prostitutes, but I do know there were few women in this area in the early gold rush, and that native women and their families suffered horribly as a consequence [see previous post]. […]

  12. […] David Letterman would have made a good squawman  (Please click here for an explanation of ”squawmen”) […]

  13. […] write a lot about the difficult circumstances faced by Native American women in the settlement period of California, but women in general faced significant challenges.  I’ve recently learned about […]

  14. […] pointed out that a majority of the early settlers in upper Mattole, Briceland and Elk Ridge were squawmen and many of those families are still intact, generations […]

  15. […] And the renegades with little regard for human decency here […]

  16. Jill Kane says:

    Hello, well, let me get this out of the way first. I am the great-grand daughter of Pierce Asbill. My great uncle was Frank Asbill who wrote a manuscript about this history called “The Last of the West” which told of the early life of his father, Pierce and Pierce’s brother, Frank. My great grand mother, of course, was Katie Robertson Asbill who married Pierce when she was just 18 and he was close to 50. They had three children, Frank, Irma (my grandmother), and Sally (known as Sybil). Katie was good friends with Clowie Woods, the Native American girl who was captured and kidnapped by Woods, who was with my great grandfather and his brother at the time of the kidnapping. Katie, although white, grew up on a reservation in Lake County, and her father, William Robertson, was an Indian Agent. Katie spent most her time playing with the Indian children and learning their games and customs. Pierce and Frank on the other hand, did some abominable things that I am deeply ashamed of. Pierce’s brother Frank also took an Indian woman as his wife in the early days around 1860 and had a son named John Brady Azbill (the Indians spelled it with a Z for some reason), who was half Wylacki Indian and half white. John has a very interesting history, as he went to San Quention prison along with Jim Neaphus (who is mentioned in your articles above). Both John and Jim robbed a stage coach on behalf of my great grandfather Pierce, who had lost the deed to his ranch in a card game. The deed was being transported by coach to Sacramento to be filed, and Pierce wanted it back. John was the only one who could read, and they didn’t want to steal all the mail..so they hoped to find the deed and leave the rest. They dressed in disguises of mop heads, put their horses shoes on backwards to lead the law away (yes, seriously) and robbed the stagecoach. They got away for awhile, but were captured later at Pierce’s ranch…my great uncle who was a child at the time, unwittingly told the sheriff where Johnnie was, not knowing they were going to arrest his cousin. John later got out of prison, and was no longer welcome with his father, who had married a white women that did not want a half breed son around. So, he walked around San Francisco and met Mary Kea’a’la Kainuhu, a half Hawaiian/half Maidu women. They married and later went to live on Bidwell’s Rancho Chico. Mary Azbill was a unique person…who you may want to look up..she was an expert basket weaver, spoke several languages, and went to Hawaii to be the lady in waiting for Queen Lilikulani. Thought i would share some of my story

    • Lynette M says:

      Hello. I am so sorry for my delayed response and am so happy to hear from you ! What an amazing family history. Though your ancestors did some terrible things, please know that I don’t think there is anything for YOU to be ashamed of.
      Given the story you shared, I am curious to know if you have heard any stories about Bidwell- I have heard very mixed information– That he was terrible to the native people living on his ranch, and that he was wonderful to them. Do you have any info?

      • Jill Kane says:

        Hi Lynette, no problem on the delay. I noticed most the threads on your blog are older so wasn’t sure if anyone was still maintaining. I have heard many things of John and Annie Bidwell. The John Azbill I mentioned in my first post married Mary Kainuhu Ke’a’ala, who was half Hawaiian and half Mechoopda Maidu. Mary’s father came from Hawaii on a boat with John Sutter, and was one of 9 “Kanakas” brought here by Sutter. He helped build Sutters Fort, and then when Sutter was overtaken by the gold mining frenzy, Mary’s father left, and wandered into the hills of Butte county, where he met Mary’s mother, from the Maidu village of Mechoopda. Mary’s Hawaiian father had saved John Bidwell’s life on a ferry crossing the American or Sacramento River. Bidwell was hit in the head by and overhanging tree branch and fell overboard. Mary’s father Ke’a’ala (aka John Kelly) jumped in and pulled Bidwell out. Bidwell told him if he or his family ever needed anything he would return the favor. Well, years later, Ke’a’la’s daughter Mary, ,married John Azbill (half Indian son of Frank Asbill, [Pierces brother) John and Mary lived in a few different places, but the white settlers were getting more and more violent, and Mary went to Bidwell, explained who her father was, and called in the favor. Bidwell brought Mary and John to live at Rancho Chico in the indian village under his protection, and they lived there for many years. Mary is buried in the small Indian cemetery near Bidwell’s mansion. Annie Bidwell deeded them a house on the property in later years as she did for many of the Indians who lived at Rancho Chico, but unfortunately, those houses were taken away from the Indians by the city later on. I can’t say how Bidwell treated the Indians, but he did protect them to some extent from the marauding settlers who were forming militias all over and exterminating the Indians ruthlessly. I do think he formed friendships with many of them, but I also think he treated them more as children who needed to be guided rather than adults who had their owns ways and customs. I think as time went on, he lightened up and began to see their ways in a more favorable light. I have lots of interesting documentation on this, although it is all packed away and I would have to find it. When Bidwell married Annie and brought her to Chico, she was at first very leery of the Indians,. and she was very religious, so she was stern and made them all go to Church and made the women take up sewing and other domestic duties. But, she too, softened as time went on, and I have a book written by Annie talking about the customs and her feelings toward the Indians. She said the Indian children (and possibly the adults too I think) would turn away as she walked through the village, or run inside, but would never directly look at her. She thought that was rude at first, but then found later it was a sign of respect. I do think perhaps Bidwell had ways of punishing the Indians if they strayed to far from his rules…but I think he was fair compared to what other whites would have done and softened later on as time passed, considering many as friends. Mary Azbill was a favorite of Annie Bidwell and spent much time with Annie inside of the Bidwell mansion. I have info on all this and will see if I can find some of it. I don’t think any of us will ever know exactly how he treated the Indians, but in my opinion, he was not cruel…but perhaps as a religious white man, treated them somewhat like a father with wayward children….but there was mutual respect there as well. More later……hopefully

        • Lynette M says:

          This is all so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and perspective. Yes, please feel free to share more when you have the time and interest !

          • Jill Kane says:

            yes, I will look through some of my stuff and see if anything else on Bidwell. I can also give you titles of some books I have that talk about Bidwell…

            • benschill says:

              Jill.. thanks for your exellent contribution.. I knew that John (Johnny) Asbill married a kanaka but that is as far as my info went.. John was literate and had been sent to Heald Business College in SanFrancisco..
              I’d like to comment on the separate cultures of the settlers from Eureka and those in Southern Humboldt.. Eureka folks came mainly from ships arriving from SF and wanted to settle a place close to the Trinity mines for the purpose of commerce.. The Southern Humboldt “buckskin gentry” migrated in from the east and I believe many were veterans of the war with Mexico in which soldiers from Missouri had been recruited.. A look at the Hayfork census finds names like Dobbin, Duncan, Rogers, Powell.. All later SoHum names.. Virtually all of these men had Native wives.. The census shows Abe Rogers with a 14 year old Native girl in Hayfork.. Not Lucy Young.. These men tended to settle east of Garberville, in the Main Eel valley where lush pastureland was available.. Asbill, Cox, and Woods came from the south and settled the Island Mountain vicinity.. Rogers, Powell, Duncan, and Dobbins settled the Blocksburg area to the north..

              • Jill Kane says:

                Hi Lynette, sorry for response in replying. Yes, I have always been very interested in the John Asbill/Mary Ke’a’ala union. John and Mary had a son, Henry, who was quite a historian. If you look up Henry Azbill online, I am sure you will find something about him. He spent much time with a young man by the name of Craig Bates, who later went on to be the curator of ethnology at the Yosemite Museum. I met Craig years ago, and he teared up remembering Henry. He gave me copies of many of Henry’s letters. I have so much documentation all in boxes, most of it I haven’t looked at in years. Have you ever read any of Frank Asbill’s manuscript “The Last of the West” ? Frank was my great uncle (Pierces son by Katie Robertson) He wrote the manuscript in prison, and told much about the secret murders and crimes that were committed, but he largely stayed away from the subject of the Indian massacres, but it could be that his father did not want to talk about that, so Frank didn’t know…or else it made his father look too bad, and he did not want to include it. The Asbill brothers were rough men from Missouri…neither could read or write. Yes, they sent Johnnie away to learn to read, and also got him to rob the stage coach to get back the deed to the ranch that Pierce had lost in a card game, for which Johnnie went to prison for several years. I haven’t gone through my stuff yet, but will see if I have anything of interest to you to share

                • Lynette M says:

                  HI there, I would appreciate any additional info you can share. Thank you so much for all you’ve posted so far !

              • Jill Kane says:

                Oh, and also about Mary Azbill (Mele Ke’a’a’la Kainuhu), Johnnie’s wife. She was not just any Kanaka…she was of royal blood. Her father was a direct ancestor of O’Ka’ia’na who was from a royal Hawaain family, who were in rivalry with Kamehameha. In fact, it was this royal ancestory that got Mary’s father and mother released from the reservation at Round Valley. Mary’s Hawaiian father was forced to walk the California Trail of Tears, where the Indians were forced off their land and herded to Round Valley reservation. Mary was in her mother’s belly when they made the walk. Mary’s father wrote letter after letter to the Hawaiian consulate and to the reigning King at that time, stating they had been taken to a reservation against their will. Mary’s father and mother (who was Maidu from Butte County) were finally allowed to leave…but when they returned home, they found their whole village gone. It has been said that Mary’s father lost his mind, and killed himself and Mary’s mother. There are a couple books you should try to find…I took photos of the covers, but can’t seem to get them to download right now off my phone. Will send them when I can. Also, Mary Azbill was very close to Annie Bidwell and wrote many letters to her, which are now housed somewhere… I can’t recall where, but those letters are mentioned in one of the books I am referring to. Mary Azbill was an expert basket weaver and some of her work made it to Chicago as part of the Cullen collection. Cullen came to California back in the 1880’s specifically to see Mary and collect some of her work. She spoke several languages as well and was a women well ahead of her time, especially being Native and Hawaiian..she was very unique. You should also look for the journals or diaries of Annie K Bidwell…she speaks much about the Indians and how she became so close to them after at first being very leary and unsure. I found these diaries on CD Rom years ago….not sure where I found them, but maybe a quick search online you might find them somewhere. Jill

                • Suzy Deeds says:

                  I’m not much of a reader, but I look forward to reading this blog when I have some more time. I have been reading a paper written by James Roscoe, “An Ethnohistory of the Mattole” trying to learn more about my Mattole heritage. I was so excited to stumble onto your blog this evening, it has already answered some questions about my family. But also brings up a lot of questions, especially this article about Swaqmen. Are you familiar with John Cathey who was counted in the 1860 census with “Susie,” a Mattole girl who he had named. They had three children, including Iramentie, who I am a decedent of. Thanks for this great information and conversation by all!

  17. Tracey says:

    hello lynette i recently purchased a copy of the last of the west. would like to compare it to the manuscript. how would i get a copy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: