Wrong upon wrong

August 21, 2009
Unidentified man in front of traditional house

Unidentified man in front of traditional house

After the massacres  “Exodus”  wrote a letter to the San Francisco Bulletin.  In the letter (s) he observed

“Individuals constitute a community, and the acts of each member make up the common character of the whole body.  It must be expected that villains will grumble and snarl; but it is the duty of the Press, the Bench, the Pulpit, and of every honest man, to denounce crime.  This is a duty which we owe to Heaven and the society  in which we live—not merely a passive duty, for their villainies must go unpunished, and each good citizen will be victimized in his turn—but an active, zealous duty, bringing to justice especially those who out-savage the savage.  We must not lay the flattering unction to our souls that in the great day of account and retribution, when the catalogue of human frailties and crimes is read out, we have disapproved sufficiently by our silence along, lest the Mene Tekel—“thou art weighted in the balance and found wanting”—be pronounced against us and “thou shouldst not follow a multitude to do evil”. [San Francisco Bulletin,  April 23, 1860]

Exodus was prompted by what he (I’m just going to say “he” though ok, it might have been a woman) saw as a compounding of wrong upon wrong.

Many, or a few very verbal and outspoken, in Humboldt County saw the massacre as the inevitable result of racial intermixing and segregation as the only solution.  I could comment on the following, but the articles say too much already…

 1860, Mar. 28–Plan to Remedy the Indian Difficulty

To any one who has given the subject the least attention, or is acquainted with the Indian character, it must be apparent that the two races cannot live together.  The Indians  of this coast are not capable of either honesty, industry, or gratitude.  They cannot be controlled except with a strong hand. Before they can be made to respect and obey, they must be taught to fear the consequences of disobedience. The natives must be removed by some means or the county abandoned to their possession. To make war upon them with the purpose of indiscriminate “extermination,” is neither wise or humane, neither good policy nor right.  Some other mode to rid the country of their dangerous presence should be adopted. Those living near the settlements should be removed to the Reservation.

 We are authorized by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of this State, to say that he will receive and retain them, if he can have the assistance and cooperation of our citizens. That officers require assistance in collecting the Indians together, and an assurance from our people to the Indians that they will not be permitted again to live in this county. This plan, no doubt, is perfectly practicable, and in a short time we may have riddance of a very large number, who, if they do not themselves commit depredations, have furnished arms and ammunition to the mountain Indians. The removal of these “friendly” Indians will cut off the supplies and break up the hiding places of those openly hostile.  To carry this plan into effect there must be favorable concert of action on the part of the people.  Let there be not favorites excepted, and no tampering with the Indians allowed. All of the coast Indians out of the way, measures can be taken toward those openly hostile, living in the mountains, that will effectually put a stop to their depredations. [The Northern Californian]

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You could get hit by a truck tomorrow

August 21, 2009
Unidentified people in group portrait

Don't have a clue as to who these people are...


In my last post I urged people to talk to their elders and learn their family stories, family history.   Without meaning to lecture, today I will go further and say WRITE IT DOWN.   Any of it, all of it.  Memories are amazingly unreliable things… and while stories are interesting, they have a way of morphing with each telling, until they become the bullshistory that Ernie talks about. 

After Bret Harte left (or was forced from) Humboldt County, he didn’t write about his three years here (hence the “lost years” description).   Other than his editorials, and what he consciously or unconsciously reveals in his fiction, we don’t really know much about his experiences and likely never will. That part of history, that perspective,  is lost forever.

Don’t let that happen to your descendants.  While I’m being bossy, I’m going to go ahead and remind folks that this is history too.  This moment, right now.  Any genealogist hungry for family stories will appreciate what I’m saying here.   Record your own stories and your ghost will feel the love a hundred years from now.

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Capture your history

August 20, 2009

The first evening I was in on the coast this week,  the survey crew had the privilege of meeting Jamie Roscoe’s dad Jim.  During the course of our visit, he shared many wonderful stories about his family and the history of the Mattole.

During our conversation he mentioned that a descendant of A.A. Hadley, one of the area’s first pioneers lived right over there, pointing at a distant ridge, and agreed to try to arrange for me to meet him. I drove home yesterday thinking excitedly about the visit.

Sadly, I open the paper today and see a picture of Leland Hadley in the obituaries.    He apparently passed away on Aug. 13, at the age of 91, and Mr. Roscoe just hadn’t yet heard the news.  Another connection to our past is gone.

A lot of my mental energy has been directed on trying to articulate the value of history, especially this early history with so many sad events.  Hadley’s death prompts me to come a little closer with the  question and the value of family history.

My grandmother stayed unhappily married for many years and I often wondered why.  As I was growing up my mother discouraged me from asking questions, so I didn’t know much other than my grandmother had grown up in an orphanage.

Later, when I started doing genealogy research, I did ask questions. I discovered that my grandmother’s mother  had been married at least five times (in the 1920s and 1930s) and would leave my grandmother and her brother with neighbors or commit them to the Denver orphanage whenever she met a new man.  I have a letter from one social worker describing how my nine year old grandmother showed up at an old neighbor’s apartment because the people that were suppose to care for her kicked her out and she was looking for a place to stay.

 My grandmother knew nothing about an intact family, ever, and as an adult, was determined not to follow her mother’s footsteps.  Her history colored her decisions about her marriage, my mother’s childhood in an … interesting household, and I likely experienced effects of this history and pass them on.

History is only the experience of our elders… manifested in their decisions and behavior, which in turn affect ours…

This is so darn hard to articulate!

Ok, simple words.  Talk to your elders, get their stories.  They are important in so many ways I don’t know how to describe but will continue to try.  I will say that a year ago for Christmas, my grandmother gave me a bound book designed to document family genealogy.   Even she, with all the painful memories of her past, recognized the value in recording our history. I hope the Hadley family was able to capture their history before the loss of such an elder.

Unexpected opportunity

August 19, 2009
Old Mattole Pier

Old Mattole Pier

I  just returned from two days of volunteering at an archeological site survey near the mouth of the Mattole River and feel like the luckiest history junkie I know.  Jamie Roscoe’s team was doing work for the Bureau of Land Management to identify any potentially important cultural resource sites, and needed extra bodies to cover some ground.  I raised my hand (actually,  I put my name on a volunteer list)  and yesterday there I was.

I’ll write more tomorrow about how it felt to ride along the same wagon road that Buckskin Jack Mann would have used, or to be along a river with so much history.

Suffice to say for now that it was a wonderful experience.  We didn’t find much but even the possibility of finding something was enough for me.

Ghosts aren’t the boss of me, but they still kinda push me around

August 18, 2009
Bret Harte

Bret Harte

So I wrote Saturday’s post in what felt like an act of defiance, demonstrating that I have conscious control over the direction of my blog.  I talked about my love of historic homes and posted the photo of one where Bret Harte,  a well known 19th  century write and mentor to Mark Twain, once lived. 

Yet, as some readers may know, the story of Bret Harte leads me right back to the story of the Indian Island massacre.  His story of the massacre.  So much for conscious control :-/.

Some call Bret Harte’s time in Humboldt County his lost years.  He arrived here Humboldt in 1857, twenty-one years old, slender, quiet and a bit of a “dandy”,  in contrast to many of the local frontiersmen, who were rough, tough and armed.  Harte made friends here, but stayed out of the saloons and away from the miners and others who mocked his fine clothes and good vocabulary.

Harte came up here likely at the urging of his sister, Margaret Wyman, who lived in Union and was married to a local judge.  After his arrival, he taught local children, wrote stories and poems,  and eventually landed a job with the Union (Arcata) newspaper, the Northern Californian. 

Harte was acting editor of the paper in the last weeks of February, 1860 and is credited by many for bringing the details of the massacre before the public eye by publishing a description in the Northern Californian.  (I’ll post his article at the end of this post, so only folks that want to read it will see the details).

It was rumored that he was confronted by an angry mob for his sympathetic stance for the Natives and driven out of the county  to San Francisco, never to return.

After leaving the North Coast, Harte found  work editing the Californian and then The Overland Monthly.  It was in these that he published his well known The Luck of Roaring Camp, The Outlaws of Poker Flat and other well known short stories and poems that focused on frontier life in the west.

Harte did not write specifically about his experiences in Humboldt County-though it is obvious in his stories, such as the Three Vagabonds of Trinidad.

Ernie has helped to highlight that it wasn’t just bad guys here, and that a climate of hatred and fear permeated much of the local culture.  For Harte and others like him, it must have been overwhelming…

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Burying the dead

August 17, 2009
Indian Cemetery

Indian Cemetery


After the massacre,   John Preston, John Danskin, John Kneeland, Louis Chevret and others helped load the bodies of the victims onto wagons and transport them to the Indian burial ground along the banks of the Mad River.

“Not a word was spoken by the Indians—not a sign of mental suffering given while they were unloading the bodies from the boats until the form of an aged woman was reached, the body of the wife of their old chief.  Then their grief burst forth in the wildest form with frenzied wails and screams of human sorrow, which they seemed unable to control for a time.  Throughout the long day of transferring their dead, they showed no resentment or blame of any kind toward their friends and ever after showed their appreciation of the kindness and sympathy offered them in their trouble. “ [Arcata Union obituary of Caroline Wright, Lucy’s daughter), transcript provided by Susie Van Kirk].

My guess is that Sarah Preston, John’s wife, provided this description for the obituary.

My husband, as I’ve mentioned, is Yurok, and when a family member dies and is buried in Orleans, the family digs and prepares the grave by hand.  There is a great deal of important ceremony that takes place to ensure the departed is sent off to the next life with love and care.

So many people died that day.  Even if only the twenty-eight bodies that Gunther saw  were taken to Union for burial, that is twenty-eight graves to dig.  The equivalent of a classroom full of children .

Ghosts aren’t the boss of me

August 15, 2009

Lucy and her story is the reason I started this post and I don’t want to pretty it up.  After yesterday’s post, I would be a hypocrite if I did.  But. But. “NorCal History” doesn’t say it my posts will always be about the settlement period, Lucy or the Indian Wars.  This may seem like a no-brainer to everyone else, but for me it was a revelation. 

I think the ghosts will be ok if I take a break every once in a while to talk about lighter things.  Fun things.  History related, of course. 

I love old homes.  I ogle old houses like others ogle movie stars or naked people.  Seriously.  I could get arrested for being peeping , what,  Tammy, maybe?  But instead of trying to see people, I am trying to see an old fireplace mantle or ornate window trim.

Houses have histories, just like people do.  They tell stories, too.   I look forward to sharing some of them here.

Bret Harte, friend to Mark Twain and writer of Gold Rush fiction, lived in Arcata for a time in the 1850s

Bret Harte, friend to Mark Twain and writer of Gold Rush fiction, lived in Arcata for a time in the 1850s