Maybe, just maybe, there is some explanation for what happened here.
My daughter came to visit yesterday and I told her about Ben Madley’s paper—his discovery of certain patterns in any invasion.
1) The indigenous people are surprised and unprepared for invaders and fail to realize they are a threat
2) The native people start responding , resisting and retaliating to – the incursion and abuses suffered at the hands of the invaders
3) The invaders see the native response as a threat to life, limb and successful settlement, and eventually determine that isolation or extermination is the only answer . Of course many believed the savages couldn’t be trusted and wouldn’t stay put on the reservations, so extermination seemed to be the only choice.
I am starting to wonder if part of the reason things were so violent here is that though the natives in this area started at phase one, the invaders came in with phase three attitudes. Many emigrants grew up in areas where all three phases had occurred and crossed country where they were yet happening. Some lost family to Indians and many more lived in mortal fear they might. Many of the settlers that arrived in California were already convinced that Natives were violent, blood-thirsty, scalp stealing savages that needed killing before they killed you. Any perceived threat was met with an extreme response because east of California, natives were a threat… not that you could blame those Natives if they experience anything like what happened here.
Of course others just equated genocide with natural progress. Manifest destiny and all that.
Thomas J. Henley was the superintendent of Indian affairs in 1858 and wrote the following letter to California’s state legislators in reference to the Indians under his jurisdiction. The letter was reprinted in the local Humboldt times.
-Sacramento, Jan. 9, 1858 “…The California Indians, who but recently were the undisputed owners of the soil, are slow, miserable, starving mendicants. To give way and recede before the approach of civilization seems to be their destiny. To occupy their lands, and convert them to useful purposes is the destiny of the white race. .. As the tide of emigration has continued to roll westward, the Indian had been kept in the advance. As our own settlements progressed, it has been our policy to send him to the “west”, until at length we have reached the western boundary of the Republic. To the Indian there is no longer a “west.” He is surrounded and encompassed by a superior race, to whom he yields an unconditional surrender” Henley goes on to advocate for a functioning reservation system for the Indians. [Humboldt Times, August , 1858]
‘Course the kidnappings, rapes and other abuses that happened regularly to the Natives on these reservations made this solution less than ideal. As did the appropriation of lands, displacement of native people and a concentration camp- type set up that included forced labor, disease and starvation. But, you know, whatever.
My point was that many saw the decline of the native people, even the genocide, as part of the natural progression of a growing nation and grew up steeped ( I checked my thesaurus after typing that word—it does mean immersed) in that philosophy and the belief that Indians were savages. You’re born in a Mormon family, chances are better than even that you’ll be Mormon. Same when your parents are physically active or bigots. Property isn’t the only thing we inherit.
Neither of my theories is intended to excuse the atrocities that occurred here. Not in any way. But Ernie B. is wise in his urging to understand the “why” behind the actions. Otherwise, what are we really learning?