Our children lost forever

There has been considerable interest and discussion about the topic of kidnapping and indenture, so I thought I would just continue the subject with another post…

Helen Carpenter lived in Mendocino and published a first hand account of her observations of Woodman, a known Indian trader.  Some may have been convinced that placing kidnapped children in white homes was “rescuing” them, but Carpenter vividly demonstrates that the facts show otherwise.  We’ll never know how many local children were kidnapped from this area… how many suffered and died.

I know this is more “horror”, but I really do think we must know and understand a history before we can truly move beyond it. 

From “Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago”…

 NIGHT was fast closing in on a cold, rainy March day, as Woodman drove into town. The horses were thin and jaded, and in . keeping with the old,unpainted farm wagon, with its irregular, battered bed, sitting low between the mud-covered wheels. There was nothing unusual in the appearance of the man or his outfit, to excite the interest or curiosity of one unacquainted with his practices ; but to old residents his presence was proof positive that he was “attending to biz,” ” bringing in quail.”

To those familiar with the early history of Mendocino County, the name of Woodman is well known. He made himself famous as an “Injunman ” and kidnaper of Indian children, and was a terror to the tribes living north of Ukiah. Even in comfortable homes of the whites his name was more feared by the children than the famous ” Booger Man.”

 For many months a few Indian children at a time had been brought down from the mountains on horseback, two or three tied on one horse. They varied in age from two to twelve years. Mr. C— provided a stopping place for the “quail,” en route to Sonoma and Napa counties. They came ready picked, and to make them presentable to the outside world, the kind lady of the house provided them with traveling costumes; a single article of dress to the child, an old shirt or a bit of calico fashioned into the mere semblance of a garment, without hem, band, button, or sleeve. And thus the poor little shivering bodies, already sore from mountain travel, were put on horses and rushed into civilization at the rate of thirty-five or forty miles a day.

 While he was making himself comfortable, after disposing of his load, a friend entertained him with the unguarded remarks of some citizens, which resulted in his making application next day to County Judge William Henry for the guardianship of the children, under the State law recently enacted, which authorized the local county courts to bind the Indians to persons believed to be suitable as guardians, who were supposed to be solicitous of their temporal and spiritual welfare. This was done with the intention of providing homes for the Indians not immediately under Federal authority ; but in most cases it brought about little less than downright slavery.

 Ever in the history of this judge’s jurisprudence had he decided any point except after ” taking it under advisement,” and this was no departure from the rule, for he slept a night on it before he was convinced that Woodman would make a good guardian for the captives he had bagged.

 Meeting with no opposition or unfriendliness on the part of the settlers, he grew less discreet, and on March 24, 1862, deliberately drove into the town of Ukiah, as I have said, with a wagon- load of almost nude boys and girls, snugly covered over with dripping wet blankets.

 So the articles of indenture were granted, and Woodman proceeded as far as Sanel, where he was arrested on a charge of abduction, brought before Justice Knox, was found guilty, fined $100, and the children sent to Ukiah and lodged in jail, until they could be disposed of by the district court. District Attorney William Neely Johnson brought suit to annul articles of indenture, and $$OO damages for the children. The court granted the prayer of petitioner, annulled the articles, and gave the custody of the children to the District Attorney, without costs or damages.

 In the county jail on that day could be seen,huddled in one corner, shivering from cold and fright, sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls, the smallest a girl of six, and the largest a girl of thirteen. Now, what was to be done with them ? Here was an opportunity to do real missionary work,and better the condition of these unfortunate creatures.

 So the proposition to return them to their parents and native wilds was not to be thought of. ” They would be so much better off among the whites,” and the proper way was to furnish them with guardians and comfortable homes.

 Guardians to assume the care of them were easily found,’ but with a few exceptions the comfortable homes were lacking. Not one in ten ever had more than one or two garments at onetime, barely a respectable covering; and there is no exaggeration in the statement that a bit of blanket or an old shawl, on the hard floor, was the regulation bed.

 It is believed they generally had enough to eat, but one neighbor furnished an exception to this, for she made no secret of trying to cook “just enough for me and Joe ; if there is any thing left, I give it to Billy; if there is n’t, he can’go without; he is so mean.”

Grace Carpenter's depiction of "Billy"

Grace Carpenter's depiction of "Billy"

 Billy was a very bright little fellow of six or seven summers, and certainly merited better treatment, for he washed the dishes, did chores generally, and put in all the odd time wheeling the baby. He was as plump as a partridge, but it was due more to the neighboring swill pails than failure in the housewife’s exactitude in ” cooking just enough.”

 Woodman was allowed to go his way, which did not differ from the past, except that perhaps he came in a little later, and depended entirely on pack animals; it was more convenient if he had to take to the brush to avoid meeting people,—for he certainly did prefer to find the guardians himself, and relieve the District Attorney of any further trouble. The reason is evident, when it is known that a personal friend gave $50 to be allowed the privilege of becoming the guardian of Lucy, a little girl of six years of age, ” the worst- looking little shrimp of the lot,” and another friend was driving a bargain for one of the more likely ones (prices ranging from $80 to $100), at the very time Woodman was arrested at Sanel. He also spent a night at the Woodman residence, in Long Valley, and witnessed a lesson in English given the ” little brown cubs ” that had been captured. They were brought in and ordered around like so many dogs. Whistling ” Grey Eagle,” and flourishing a riding whip, he made the chubby feet dance, when the little hearts were sad with the knowledge of murdered parents and lost homes. ” Lie down ! Roll over ! Stand up, and git!” concluded the performance, and they were hustled back to the smoke-house and locked up.

 Woodman said the Indians were killing his stock on the range, and he had to kill them to protect his property; and the children he did not want to keep met the same fate as the parents.

 Judging from this it was worth a neat little sum to assume charge of the more likely ones. Even slow, awkward little Lucy soon learned to rock the baby and wash dishes, and her mistress lulled her conscience into the belief that ” Lucy was much better off.”

 This manner of civilizing became so prevalent, that at one time there were few families in town that did not have from one to three Indian children. Poor little things, like caged birds, they were even deprived of the companionship of one another, lest they strike out for home and liberty ; though their youth, the distance, and the hostile tribes through whose country they must pass, made it an almost desperate attempt. Three little fellows succeeded once in getting forty miles in the direction of home, but their capture discouraged other escapes.


 To be continued tomorrow…


5 Responses to Our children lost forever

  1. Kym says:

    I knew all this but somehow reading it here standing alone makes it catch your attention like a puddle of blood on a white floor.

  2. lynette77 says:

    Yea, I know.
    Carpenter left us an amazingly vivid picture of life in Mendocino during those years. She was obviously torn up about the treatment of the children, though it appears she bore silent witness, just like everyone else, rather than trying to do anything about it.
    Interesting lady. She was a teacher, and prolific author, her mother in law a suffragist…

  3. What would cause a person to treat a child with such indifference? Some of the early settlers didn’t treat their own children much better. What filled them with so much bitterness! Even the heroes of the stories of back then have chinks in their armor. There are stories of the “Good people” turning against the Indian people Why? Not even Carpenter was perfect. I suspect that is going to be Lynette’s next installment.

    • lynette77 says:

      Soon, Ernie, soon. I want to finish posting Carpenter’s account of the indentured children in Mendocino.
      And I must clarify beforehand that I don’t know that this “good” person turned against the Indian people. I just think, that like many, she brought the prejudices from the east with her when she came to California….

      Unless they came by ship, the settlers arrived here with preconceived ideas about the “savages” that were influenced by the experiences of those making the journey across the plains–crossing through territory that had long been invaded by whites. Territory inhabited by natives that had had enough of white abuse and brutality and were fighting back. I think white fears of the Indians here were understandable, just directed toward the wrong natives.

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