Can you really blame me for stealing?

Humboldt County Elk

Humboldt County Elk


I stole an apple today.  Technically I guess I took two, but after I took a bite out of the not-even-close-to-ripe one, I threw it away.  Then I picked another and took it with me.

I’d gone for a walk without water or food.  It was warm and I was thirsty. 

The apple trees were untended and old, with gnarled trunks and crowded limbs.  It didn’t look like anyone cared, really.  Or that anyone would notice a missing apple or two.  And honestly I got so caught up in the fact that these three old apple trees were sitting in a row in the middle of a hay field that I didn’t think much about it before I picked them. It must have been part of an old homestead.  

I spotted the trees after following the bends in the trail, anxious to see what was next.  And maybe climbing a fence/gate (but there was no sign telling me not to).  It was also after rounding a corner and seeing an big umbrella shaped t.v. antenna.  That’s when I decided to turn around.  I could fool myself that the fence was to keep cattle in, but couldn’t ignore someone’s home.  Maybe I was on private property, after all.

Isaac Cullberg, a well known pioneer, wrote casually in his diary of taking material from an Indian house to start a fire.  He was cold, I’m sure, just like I was thirsty today.  Other settlers often lamented that the meadows surrounding  them were  just begging to be cattle pasture.  If only those darn savages weren’t in the way.  The invaders hunted deer and elk and bear for meat and hides and target practice.

“Civilized”  settlers branded their cattle and kept their horses close.  They fenced their property to indicate ownership and posted signs warning others to stay away. The natives didn’t do any of those things.


From Humboldt Bay.San Francisco, May 19, 1850, To the Editors of the Alta California:

SIR:— Herewith I send you for publication in the columns of your paper, if you think it worth a place therein, a copy of a letter I have just received per “Laura Virginia” from my partner in Humboldt, which may perhaps be interesting to your readers and to those interested in that part of the country, I can only say I place the utmost reliance in the veracity of the author. I am, sir, your, obl’y,“Humboldt.”

Humboldt Harbor, May 10, 1850 .My Dear F.:— I wish to add some further particulars in reference to this place, since writing my last letter. On the 9th inst. I started with Mr. Howard, Whitney and Knight on an expedition to the northern part of this Bay.  After sailing above Indian Island we entered a fresh water stream and rowed about 10 miles into the county back of the Bay, and then struck on an Indian trail leading towards the mines.  We computed the distance of the mines to be about 40 miles, and believe that a company could now reach the richest mining district in about two days.  Most of the country through which we passed was the most beautiful I ever beheld.  Some parts are very heavily timbered with spruce and red wood.  The whole country abounds in wild game of every description.  On my expedition I saw five large fine elks and had a shot at two of them with my pistol.  On yesterday a party of Sonorians killed six elk, the largest weighing 600 lbs.  The more I see of this country the more thoroughly am I convinced that it is destined to become the seat of a large commercial city.  It has every local advantage that a site for a city can possess.

The only annoyances we now have are from the Indians.  They are very numerous all around us, and are constantly stealing our property, notwithstanding the strictest vigilance on our part.  Some of their petty thefts would confer notoriety on the most cunning and sly pick-pockets of London.  On yesterday a party of Indians stole an axe, a hatchet, and a shovel, right before the eyes of a man who had been expressly left on the ground to watch them.  Their movement is so rapid, yet so sly and cat-like, that stealing with them seems to be reduced to a kind of legerdemain. They are now showing some demonstration of hostility. 

On the 8th inst. the Chief sent his son, a noble looking young warrior, with a message to the party in the Sonorian Camp.  He came within 40 feet of the company and commenced giving them the “long talk.”  He spoke for about an hour.  At first they were not disposed to give him any attention, and regarded the whole affair with as much indifference as if it were a puppet show — but as the young fellow grew warm in the discussion of his subject, they were compelled to give attention to his striking manner and appearance and those who heard him, say it was truly eloquent.  The subject of his forensic appeal on the wild shores of Humboldt, could only be gathered from his gestures, and simply amounted to this — that all the lands which we had squatted on belonged to his father as chief of the tribe — that they were at first glad to see the white people coming in amongst them, and had kindly permitted them to settle on their lands and had treated them is a friendly and hospitable manner  — that the whites were now becoming numerous as was evident by the vessels coming into the harbor, and were growing insolent in their conduct, and had in several instances outraged small parties of their tribe — that this thing must cease or they must compel us to take up quarters elsewhere.

The only danger to be apprehended is from the conduct of certain reckless men, who regard an Indian as they would a dog, and think they have a right to give him a kick whenever he crosses their path.  The Indians have undoubtedly been treated badly by a few men here, and it would be a matter of great regret if it should result in a general hostility.  I urge it upon all my acquaintances here to treat the Indians with civility and a certain degree of kindness.  It is certainly as easy to do this and much more agreeable to the man of good heart, as it is to insult and abuse them. There are about 150 men here now — a great many who came overland from Sonoma have gone to the mines.  For nearly 10 miles along the Bay of Humboldt you will find the coast dotted with log houses and tents.  There is not a sick man in the country, and I don’t see how any one can get sick.  We live principally on elk meat, and fruit, and boiled clams, with “flapjacks” and molasses, and wash it all down with pure, cold, mountain spring water.  Our whole camping ground is covered with wild strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and thimbleberries.  The strawberry and thimbleberry are just ripening, and afford us a good desert.  You people that live about that bald ridge, in a place called San Francisco, where“If the dust ain’t blowing,The foga is flying,”ought to visit the wild, natural, and pleasing scenery of Humboldt, the place where nature tried her hand in making one of the sweetest spots in creation. [Transcription provided by Ned Simmons]


2 Responses to Can you really blame me for stealing?

  1. I have a question about the word “Sonorians”. Should that, in fact, say “Sonomans”? To the best of my knowledge, the first men to arrive in the Humboldt Bay came from Bodega Bay and Sonoma. Since there was no gold in the Humboldt Bay area, it seems unlikely that any men would leave Sonora to come to this place. Am I wrong? This is a lovely blog site and I like reading the old timer’s stories. I wonder if this gentleman ever tried walking or riding the estimated forty miles to the mines? To the men who had walked/rode from the mines to the coast only a few months earlier, it must have seemed like a thousand miles. That trip, in fact, hastened the death of a man who had trekked all over the West for years and this trip was simply too much to bear.

    • lynette77 says:

      Again, just quoting here. My guess is that these were men from Mexico, and that Sonorians were a general term used for those of hispanic descent. I just found the post I used from yesterday. Ooops, a repeat. Sorry about that folks. I’ll try to stick with new material whenever possible.

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