What can’t be understood

Indian Island-site of one massacre

Indian Island-site of one massacre

When I first learned that Lucy had been on Indian Island at the time of the massacre, I tried to imagine her experience.

The holocaust was the closest thing that came to mind.  The same genocide. The same mindless slaughter.  Millions died in Germany and probably only thousands here, but families were ripped apart and the  bodies piled up just the same.   

There are differences I still can’t quite get my head around. We’ve seen movies where there is a heavy knock on the door and man with a German accent demands entrance, looking for Jews.  We’ve read Anne Frank and seen images of cattle cars filled with hollow eyed captives….    

But the women and children slaughtered on Indian Island were attacked before daybreak and killed without warning. 

“…the assassins…stealthily approached the shore and landed…     They … penetrate each lodge; one holds the light to show where to strike, and while the faces of the poor women and children … are… turned up…, they begin their work of death with axes, hatches and knives.  Amidst the wailing of mutilated infants, the cries of agony of children, the shrieks and groans of mothers in death, the savage blows are given, cutting through bone, and brain.  The cries for mercy are met by joke and libidinous remark, while the bloody ax descends with unpitying stroke, again and again, doing its work of death, the hatchet and knife finishing what the ax left undone.  A few escaped—a child under the body of its dead mother, a young woman wounded, and another who hid in the bushes.

 In an hour they had accomplished their work and were gone, laden with the spoil of Indian blankets, leaving their victims strewed around, weltering in their gore—some dead, some dying, some writhing in pain and anguish, exhibiting a scene such as not tongue can tell, and no eye had ever seen before on our continent, even thought savages practiced in cruelty were the perpetrators.  ~ Reader, this is no fancied sketch, no exaggerated tale; it falls short of the stern reality.  But a short time after, the writer was upon the ground with feet treading in human blood, horrified with the awful and sickening sights which met the eye wherever it turned. Here was another fatally wounded hugging the mutilated carcass of her dying infant to her bosom; there, a poor children of two years old, with its ear and scalp tore from the side of its little head.  Here a father frantic with grief over the blooding corpses of his four little children and wife; there a brother and sister bitterly weeping an, and trying to soothe with cold water, the pallid face of a dying relative.  Here, an aged female still living and sitting up, though covered with ghastly wounds, and dyed in her own blood; there a living infant by its dead mother, desirous of drawing some nourishment from a source that had ceased to flow.  ~The wounded, dead and dying were found all around and in every lodge the skulls and frames of women and children cleft with axes and hatchets, and stabbed with knives, and the brains of an infant oozing from its broken head to the ground… “  [Daily Evening Bulletin, S.F., 13 March 1860]

Indian Island was only one massacre, made public by the proximity to Eureka.  Many other natives were killed in their villages and in the surrounding countryside, atrocities hidden by isolation and secrecy.   

Maybe such a thing shouldn’t be imagined.

9 Responses to What can’t be understood

  1. It seems to be the going thing for the U.S. government….to kill the Natives to get what we have.


  2. olmanriver says:

    The Indian Island massacre was only one of a number of attacks on the Indians: “On February 25, 1860, Seaman and his militia began a massacre of Indian Peoples around the bay. That morning, Indians at the Eel River’s south shore were killed, along with residents of villages in Ferndale, Rio Dell, and Table Bluff. The militia then moved onto Indian Island, shortly after most of the men had left for a hunting expedition up the Elk River. After killing almost every Indian at the celebration, the militia moved further north to wipe out villages at Bayside, Freshwater Creek, Mad River, and Widow White’s Creek.”
    In addition to the Indian Island Wiyot deaths, the same source adds ” another 200 – 600 had been massacred on the south spit of Humboldt Bay at the mouth of the Eel River”.

  3. olmanriver says:

    The Northcoast Journal cited the San Franscisco Bulletin with a different numbers: “So, where is the good to come from these murders of 55 on Indian Island, 58 on South Beach, 40 on South Fork of Eel river previously, and 35 subsequently on Eagle Prairie — 188 lives of human beings in all?

    San Francisco Bulletin, “eyewitness” account, March 13, 1860″

  4. […] the massacre,   John Preston, John Danskin, John Kneeland, Louis Chevret and others helped load the bodies of […]

  5. […] the massacres  “Exodus”  wrote a letter to the San Francisco Bulletin.  In the letter (s) he […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […]  The Indian Island Massacre   and subsequent expulsion  provided a convenient way to acquire children without the messy murders and kidnappings.  Census records reveal many adults natives at the Klamath reservation, but very few native children between the ages of 6 and 18.     Yet in the towns along Humboldt bay, there were over  ninety Indian children and “half breeds”  living in white households.   A very few mothers of “half-breeds” were allowed to remain with their children.  It looks like many others, such as Julia Robinson, were forced to go to the Klamath, and leave their children, some as young as a year old,  behind [Ann Roberts, 1860 Census Records] . […]

  8. […] This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Indian Island Massacre. […]

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