White man w/ Native family

White man w/ Native family

 James Brown was a person of interest during the inquest called to investigate Lucy Romero’s murder .   

 Note: many of the Prestons believed that Lucy was murdered because she witnessed the Indian Island massacre and could implicate the killers.  This is unlikely, though, as she was killed two years after the massacre.

  During the inquest, witnesses recounted conversations they had with Brown,  though Brown himself was never called to testify.   One said Brown thought it would be “better for the County if all the Indians were all killed, squaws and all.” Another witness, added, though,  that he heard “Mr. Brown say… that he (Brown) would not kill any person’s squaw or little Indian” [Inquest record investigating the death of Lucy Romero, Jan 1862].

 So…?  So James Brown was one of the few men publically implicated in the Indian Island massacre (argh, I can’t find my source right now, but am pretty sure historians Jerry Rohde and Susie Van Kirk  will back me up on this one).  And many of the women that survived the massacre on Indian Island were “squaws” of white men. Lucy Romero, Sarah McQuire’s mother (Sarah’s father was white), Matilda Spears, Nancy Hitchcock, Josephine Beach, Hatteway’s squaw…

 Perhaps even  the monsters that slaughtered so many on the Island had some sense of honor and intentionally spared the women and children that ‘belonged” to their friends and neighbors (Brown was neighbors or had business dealings with the Hitchcock, Spears and Beach–he also owned property near Hatteway and Romero and would likely have known them).

Mad River Billy was a favorite among the settlers, and he, too, survived.  You don’t steal another man’s horse, you don’t shoot his squaw or “pet” Indian…

 The following is a list of names and records indicating massacre survivors, though many of the records describe that person as “the only survivor”… If others can add info or other names, it would be appreciated.


1.      Lucy Romero (Carrie/Caroline (Lack) Wright & Annie Preston/Simonin/Vick; Lucy was also pregnant with her son, Charles Muhlberg)

Carrie’s Wright’s mother “saved herself and her children by hiding in a large hogshead, or barrel, until daylight, then making her way to her home near Uniontown…” Arcata Union 9 Jan 1919]


2.      Mother of Sarah McQuire/Wanveer

Mother of Sarah McGuire was eight months pregnant at the time of the massacre and swam the bay to escape the perpetrators. [Personal interview w/ Evelyn H (Sarah’s granddaughter), Feb, 2006 & reconfirmed July 2009]


3.      Matilda Spears (+ George Spears)

Per Dan Spears Obit, April 1958”  “His mother was one of two children who escaped the great massacre on Indian Island on Humboldt Bay in 1860. She was found under a log after the slaughter.”  ( SBF Papers,  vol. 68:195)


4.       Nancy Hitchcock (& Billy Sykes + Andrew Hitchcock)

 “Cousins Matilda and Nancy were up tending Nancy’s two year old son Stephen Hitchcock, who was ill… they gathered up their children (George Spear, William Sykes, Andrew Hitchcock) and ran to hide on the west side of the island.  After the militia left, they returned.. and found seven children.  They gathered the children together, put them in the only remaining canoe and swam the canoe across the bay to Freshwater Creek and then walked to Matilda’s husbands homestead in Freshwater…. later …. .soldiers found another child had survived under his dead mother.  This child was Jerry James”. [Dept of the Interior Letter to Jan Silva, 13 March 1987;  info given to dept by William James Sykes]


5.      Josephine Beech

“Mrs. Beech… mercifully escaping death only because she was in a canoe, headed for the island when the killings took place” [Town and County, G.R. Robbins, 8 July 1935].  Huh?  This account doesn’t make much sense to me, but Josephine did survive.


6.      Hatteway’s Squaw and two others “belonging to the island”

“When we (Gunther and Capt. Moore) came to the Island, we found Hatteway’s squaw, who lived on the Peninsula… There was no one there but three squaws, Hatteway’s and two belonging to the Island.”  [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]


7.      Mad River Billy

“On February 25, 1860 the most wanton slaughter of friendly Indians occurred on Indian Island opposite Eureka. Mad River Bill, whose family were among the murdered, jumped into the bay and swam across to Eureka, and walked around the bay, arriving at the Nixon ranch just after my grandmother had gotten up. He knocked and as she opened the door fell through in a faint. She brought him to and his first words upon regaining consciousness were, ‘Bad white men. He murder my mother, my brothers, sisters and all my children [Harry Nixon’s History of Arcata, Chapter 7]


8.      Jerry James

“Jerry James, the only survivor of the Indian massacre on Gunther’s Island, died Sunday morning at his home at Bucksport. James, who was 71 years of age, was the only Indian to live through the massacre. The morning following the slaughter, he was found in his dead mother’s arms.” [Ferndale Enterprise 5 April 1929]


9.      Jenny Liscom

“David Porter Worth… married Jennie Liscom,  a survivor of the Indian Island Massacre.” [Dow’s North of Mad River]


10.  “Jennie Sands,

95 year old Indian woman, died early this morning at her home in Bucksport. Deceased was born on Indian Island and lived there at the time of the “Indian massacre.” Her only surviving relative is a nephew, Jerry James.” ( Humboldt Standard 28 July 1928)


11.    May Burton

 “…May Burton, an Indian girl who was the only survivor of the historic Indian Massacre on the island. A man named Burton investigated the mass murder the following day and found the infant girl clasped tightly in her dead mother’s arms. Burton took the child home and raised her as his own.” [Humboldt Times of 2 June 1963]


12.  Mad River Bob:

“It is reported that he was one of the two last surviving Indians who escaped from the great Indian massacre, which occurred on Indian Island….” 30 April 1910 obit in Fountain, vol. 34:481. See also obit for Leon Bob in 6 May 1910 Humboldt Times.

 13.  Indication of Others…

Obit of Elizabeth Ann West, wife of “Captain” William West in “When the massacre took place on Gunther’s Island Indians wounded and bleeding made their way to the West home where their wounds were treated as best the rude means at hand would allow. There the Indians knew that they were safe and all that could made their way to the shelter of the West home did so.”[Humboldt Times,  24 January 1911]

12 Responses to Survivors

  1. omr says:

    great work, Lynette!

  2. Darn-it Lynette, I have to say that you have me sucked into your very interesting blog. It’s good to see things from a fresh perspective.

    My good friend Jim Baker, keeps me honest by saying that it is okay to quote “bullshistory“, but it should be clearly labeled as hearsay, so as not to be confused with documented truth. Some of the stories that I was raised with as “truth” have turned out to be no-such-thing. So, I find myself sometimes repeating twice told tales that I have no way of verifying.

    Some of what they call “Primary Sources” are nothing but the tall tale of an old bullshitter. Similar to what Capt. Lynn described in his documentation of his tour of duty on the north coast.

    “I embrace this opportunity to express my perfect willingness and desire to defend my brother officers and companions in arms right straight through against the taunts, sneers, and slurs of hewgagism, whose principal business is iniquity, and whose loftiest ammunition calumniation; against the floating rottenness of filthy tatters; against the surplus filth and scum of outraged society; against the fleeting and shadowy fun of wholesale lying and cracking jokes at the expense of innocence“.

    The “filth and scum of an outraged society” that he was talking about was the white people, not the Indians, also the “wholesale lying”. That says a lot about our “Primary Sources”.

    However, I was raised around a lot of old Bullshitters that could spin a tale as sweet as a Blue Grass song. I loved listening to the old stories, and I would never, ever, pass up the chance to hear them spin a twice told tale. When you are raised around those kinds of people, you get pretty good at realizing that there was always a grain of truth buried in the gross exaggeration. So, you took it for what it was worth, and went on.

    As you have noted; (…many of the records describe that person as “the only survivor”…) many of our sources for history are wrong, and some of the primary sources are also wrong. It is up to us to try to gather as much information as possible and make up our own “truth”.

    • lynette77 says:

      I’d apologize for creating a time vampire, Ernie, but I’m glad you’re here 🙂
      I totally agree about listening critically to old stories AND about the observation that even the exaggerated ones having truth to them. Soon I will post about one such story that got me interested in local history in the first place.

      In brief, my husband’s family tells a story about Willow, the only survivor of the Red Cap massacre in Orleans. Story goes that a white man raped an Indian girl, the girl resisted and/or was helped by an indian boy, the white man shot the indian boy, the indians kill what they think is the man’s ox to retaliate and on and on and on, with the red cap war being the end result. The family story is that Greatgrandpa J finds Willow and takes her home. Willow stays with the family and the cook/housekeeper until her death and in fact, my husband’s grandfather remembered Willow, and remembered her fondly.

      Problem is that the rape, the shooting of the boy, and the ensuing war did happen, but twenty years before Willow’s birth…. a while after hearing the story, a cousin quietly said the he heard that in the 1880s, the remaining Red Cap indians were given blankets intentionally contaminated with small pox, and that is what killed the people of Willow’s village. He said GreatGrandpa J found her after that…

  3. […] of a diary written by a young man named James Brown (no relation to the other, more infamous James Brown) who served in the military during the […]

  4. olmanriver says:

    I found this newspaper notice about Mad River Billy:
    “”The Arcata Union” Arcata, California
    Saturday, February 25, 1899
    Indian Billy, well known to the people of this bay as always having been friendly to the whites, & tendering kind & timely service during hostilities, has now got to move from the home he has so long occupied on Mad river. The title to the land on which he lives has changed hands & the owner wants possession. E. H. Vance has given Billy a piece of land a short distance below his present home & if the mills will give the lumber, several men have signified their willingness to build Billy & his squaw a house in which to pass the remainder of their days.”

    • lynette77 says:

      I think he ended up on the Hill above the freeway/North Bank Road, in McKinleyville (my in-laws actually live there).
      There are stories about him planting strawberries near his new home and that whole area is now covered with them…

  5. olmanriver says:

    Jerry James went to Washington:
    “”The Ferndale Enterprise” Ferndale, California
    Friday, November 19, 1897

    Chief Jerry James, of the Humboldt bay Indians, is back from Washington. He was taken ill while at the nation’s capital, & as President McKinley was also ill, he did not get to see the “Great Father.”, but the Secretary of the Interior promised him that he would investigate the matter of establishing an Indian school on Humboldt bay. Jerry will make another trip to Washington in the spring.

    “The Ferndale Enterprise” Ferndale, California
    Tuesday, November 23, 1897

    Chief Jerry James, of Humboldt bay said that the authorities at Washington told him if he wanted an Indian school on Humboldt bay he must build it himself or have it built by subscription, but that the Government would supply the pupils with the necessary books & stationery. The matter of aid for the aged & infirm of Jerry’s people was taken under advisement by the Washington authorities, & he was requested to return to Washington in the spring. It was suggested to Jerry, however, that he & his tribe go back to the reservation.

    “The Ferndale Enterprise” Ferndale, California
    Tuesday, October 26, 1897

    Chief Jerry James, the newly selected chief of the Indian tribe that resides on Humboldt bay, is circulating a paper in the form of a certificate of good character, etc, which he desires to take to Washington Annexed to the certificate is a list of the names of the Indians residing at Indianola & Mad River, & also a list of names of their children. The number of Indians in the tribe, according to the list is 211, & the list of children foots up to 36. The object of Jerry’s trip to Washington is to endeavor to have the government establish a school on Humboldt bay for the children of his remaining tribe. Jerry estimates that the trip will cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $200, & is going to devote his time & money for the benefit of the children of the tribe. He thinks that in view of the fact that the Indians of Humboldt bay have never been a burden on the government, but have always supported themselves, that they should receive the assistance asked for. Jerry is a bright specimen of his race, honest in his convictions’ & will undoubtly make a creditable statement of his case. “

    • lynette77 says:

      Oh, ‘River, this is wonderful. I wonder if Cheryl Seidner has ever seen it? She is a descendant and says that James (an infant at the time) survived the massacre on Indian Island….

      This also makes it perfectly clear that Native children had no easy access to education. Most were sent to the Hoopa Indian School (like my husband’s ancestors). I am guessing the parents on the Bay were trying to prevent that separation.

  6. […] conditions until they were eventually moved outside of the area to distant reservations.  Of those limited survivors, an even smaller set have any existing representation in the form of photographs.  I used what I […]

  7. […] conditions until they were eventually moved outside of the area to distant reservations.  Of those limited survivors, an even smaller set have any existing representation in the form of photographs.  I used what I […]

  8. Coonskin says:

    Whom gave you the right to publicize my Wiyot family?

    • Lynette says:

      Hello, I was actually able to interview Evelyn Horn years ago– she was related to Lucy Romero, listed above, and her great-grandmother Sarah was also a survivor (Sarah was pregnant at the time and swam the bay to get away). Evelyn encouraged me to learn more about and share this important history.

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