Gunther’s memory of the massacre

Gunther's mansion on Indian Island: HSU Photo Archives

Gunther's mansion on Indian Island: HSU Photo Archives

I’ve decided that sometimes, when I am going out of town or have little to say, I will simply post excerpts/information I’ve dug up over the years that others may not have seen (this time I’m going out of town) .

I won’t fixate on the massacres of February 1860, but thought a little more information from a different perspective couldn’t hurt.

This also emphasizes a point brought up in one of Ernie’s comments that many folks here disagreed with the harsh treatment of the Natives, but were scared.   A man capable of killing an infant with a hatchet was not a man you wanted for an enemy, especially if you had a family.  These were scary people and scary times,  yet many had risked everything to come “out west” and had to make it work.   So you kept your mouth shut…

The following is from Genocide in Northwestern California, by Jack Norton—pg. 86-88, quoting  Andrew M. Genzoli and Wallace E. Martin, Redwood Cavalcade… Pioneer Life, Times (Eureka, California Schooner Features, 1968), pp. 11-13

Years after the Indian Island massacre,  Robert Gunther was asked to address a special ban­quet at the Old Sequoia Yacht Club, which for years stood on the south end of Gunther Island (Indian Island). In a surprisingly can­did presentation, he reviewed the heinous acts of butchery, but also stated that secretly the parties who did the killing had been pointed out. The following description of activities involved in the genocide committed by a gang of ruffians euphemistically called “the good citizens of Humboldt” bears repeating in full:

Early in 1860, I learned that Indian Island was for sale. It was owned by a Captain Moore who took up eighty acres on Washington’s birthday, 1860, and three days later, the Indian massacre occurred.

 The general impression is that Indians were only killed on In­dian Island, but that is a mistake. Indians were killed that night all over the Bay, and even up on Mad River.

 There were Indians living on Elk River, on Humboldt Point, on the South Beach, on the North Beach, on Indian Island and on Mad River, and all were killed that night who did not make their escape. It was never publicly known who did the killing, yet secretly, the parties were pointed out. Nor was their number definitely known. Some claimed there were six, while others claimed seven. It was said that about two hundred fifty Indians were killed that night.

The Indians on Indian Island, (now Gunther’s Island), were liv­ing on the upper mound towards Arcata. Every year, they had a festival which lasted a week. The festival was in full blast when I bought the island. Saturday was the last day, but as the wind blew furiously from the northwest, the Mad River In­dians could not go home, but those living south did.

I occupied a room then, in the Picayune mill office, which stood on the wharf right opposite where the Indians lived at the foot of K Street. Sunday morning, I was awakened by a noise, and I got up to see what it was.

When I came out everything was still again. Shortly after, a scream went up from many voices, and I could plainly hear it was on Indian Island, for it was perfectly still and dark. Hear­ing no more, I went to bed again.

Early in the morning Captain Moore came down and asked me to lend him my boat as he wanted to go to Indian Island. He had heard the trouble before daylight and I would go with him.

When we came to the Island, we found Hatteway’s squaw, who lived on the Peninsula, sitting on the bank crying. She knew both of us and seemed to be glad to see us. But what a sight presented itself to our eyes. Corpses lying all around, and all women and children, but two. Most of them had their skulls split.

One old Indian, who looked to be a hundred years old, had his skull split, and still he sat there shivering. There was no one there but three squaws, Hatteway’s and two belonging to the Island. Hatteway’s squaw told us that she was sitting where she sat when we came, and she could not sleep.

She said she saw them coming. She ran to the shanties and hollooed that white men were coming and the Indians got out as fast as they could. She stood on a low place as they came up the bank and saw them distinctly against the sky, and she thought there were six or seven. When she saw they came to kill them, she ran for the brush which was close by, and everybody else ran.

All the men got into the brush but two, but the women and children were killed. The white men did not dare to go into the brush, but left after they had killed all they could find.

The squaw told us that forty in all were killed, but that many belonged to Mad River, and that the Mad River Indians took their dead along, as they went home.

There were twenty-four dead lying on the ground, so sixteen must have belonged to Mad River. The old man I spoke of, and a little child, died later. The child was a bout two years old and was dressed. We could see no injury, but it cried when we moved it. We asked permission to take the child with us to a doctor, and the squaws were willing.

By that time some more people had come over from Eureka and we left. On the way home, we planned to bring the parties to justice. Captain Moore was justice of the peace. We soon found that we had better keep our mouths shut. We took the child to Dr. Manley. He examined it and found the spine out. He said it could not live, and we had better carry it back, and we did.

That massacre gave impetus to the Indian War in Humboldt County. The war did not start right away, but soon after, and it lasted over three years. After buying part of the Island I soon managed to get the rest.

I took up land, and others took up land and I bought them out. There were no Indians living on the mound where my house stands, when I bought the place. The last family moved away to the upper mound in 1857, when Captain Moore took up the place.

After the massacre, the government gathered up all the In­dians on the Bay and took them to Smith River. The lower mound was covered with brush. Both mounds were made by the Indians. They boiled and baked clams and feasted when the tide was out until the clam shells rose above tide water, then they built permanent habitations. There are places on both mounds where the clamshells were 22 feet deep, and In­dian bones and relics can be found all the way down.

 The number of people killed on the night of February 25, 1860, has not been precisely determined to this day. Some writers include the total number killed during the four simultaneous attacks; others in­clude only those killed on Indian Island. The most conservative estimate is forty human beings wantonly slaughtered. The highest figure is given at more than two hundred souls murdered.

7 Responses to Gunther’s memory of the massacre

  1. “On the way home, we planned to bring the parties to justice. Captain Moore was justice of the peace. We soon found that we had better keep our mouths shut.”

    As you continue your research you will find that rule by intimidation was very prevalent. Many thugs had henchmen to do their dirty work. People that crossed the thugs were shot, and witnesses would swear that it was self defense. Many small ranchers were poisoned with strychnine.

    You need to read some of the books about the early days. In Covelo, if Cattle King White wanted your ranch, he would make you an offer that you couldn’t refuse. Usually he offered you enough money to get out of town. You knew that if you didn’t, you and your family were dead people. He controlled the judges and sheriffs. If you played his game and became valuable to him, you would be allowed to keep your ranch. If he wanted Indians, or anybody else killed, you got to be part of it, to prove your value. It took a very brave man to cross him.

    If you doubt what I say, ask any long time researcher, with an open mind, and he will tell you, the north coast was ruled by thugs. Especially while the pony soldiers were off to the the Civil War.

    It is not a stretch to think that the people that joined Larrabee in the Indian Island massacre were there through intimidation, or the desire to prove themselves to be one of the gang. Very much similar to some motorcycle gangs of today. If you look real hard you will find some of the same kind of people among us today…. I won’t mention any names.

    Most likely the people that were helping Larrabee were intimidated into being there, and that is why we don’t know who they were. They didn’t want anybody to know. Just a educated guess.

    Oh, by the way have a nice “out of town”.

  2. Jim Baker says:

    Hi Lynette – Congratulations on your website.Thanks for giving us the opportunity to discuss our local history, and thanks for putting up primary source material so we can get it right, instead of perpetuating myth!

    • lynette77 says:

      I’m so glad you found me Jim !
      If you ever want to share any of info you’ve gathered, I would be happy to post it here–or have you guest post (assuming I can figure out how)…

      I hope you are well.

  3. Jim’s right about the primary sources. I’ve found that most of what I knew about early history was a compilation of stories that were fastly becoming fairy tales.

    Who knows, without written primary source history, we could have ended up with the north coast version of King Arthur and the nights of the round table. We have a tendancy to make our history be what we want to believe, rather than what really happened.

    Jim Keeps my “Bullshistory” honest. I have to lable the bullshistory that I know as just that. Too many times I’ve found the great stories that I’ve heard to be just that “great stories”. Black Bart was well on his way to becoming a great modern day Robin Hood.


    • Lynette M says:

      HI Mary,
      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
      I walk Eureka often and will have to say hello to your old house.
      I will also keep an eye out for your name.

      My regards to you and thanks for visiting,

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