Legacy of slavery in California

September 30, 2009
Native Children on the Hoopa Reservation

Native Children on the Hoopa Reservation


I started this blog just before the Hoopa Tribal Chair was arrested in an incident involving an argument, a gun, and a family member or two (see article ).

While the incident was shocking and sad for all involved, thankfully no one got hurt, physically.  Emotionally it may have been a different story, and not just for the family and the tribal members involved.    Comments from readers of the Times Standard article ranged from sympathetic  to racist and hate- filled.  

It was unbelievable and far too familiar.  These were the same ignorant , misguided, judgemental beliefs that caused such suffering here so many years ago when the whites came in and marginalized the indigenous people.      

Last night  Patricia Whitelily commented that even now being Native American is  looked at as a deficit by some people,  and though I’d really like to argue with her,  some of the evidence falls in her favor.

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It isn’t flowers, but elk and grizzlies and salmon that have gone…

September 29, 2009
Elk herd hangin' by Hwy 299

Elk herd hangin' by Hwy 299

The phone rang this morning about three minutes after my husband left the house.  My son answered and shouted to me, “The elk.”  Ok.  I knew what he meant.

We live just west of Blue Lake and at least once a year the elk come down out of the hills to graze along side the road.  There are at least forty of them, with more than a few big bulls grazing among the many cows.  As I drive up, they lift their towering racks majestically,  and watch me watch them.  They don’t trust me, but aren’t afraid.  It is an amazing thing to see.

According to many newspaper reports and letters written when the whites first arrived in Humboldt County, elk herds were a common sight.  As were grizzlies and rivers so full of fish you could cross the water balanced on their backs. 

 No more.  The Grizzlies are gone, silt clogs the rivers instead of salmon and the sight of an elk herd is a novelty.

From Humboldt Bay, written to San Francisco, May 19, 1850

To the Editors of the Alta California:

…   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.

Native Resistance

September 28, 2009
Lucy Young

Lucy Young


Not all of the natives went peacefully to the reservations .  Last night I was contacted by a descendent of Chief Lassic (Lassac, Lasac, Lassik), who was noted for his resistance of white incursions.

One website, , quoting  Genocide and Vendetta, says:

  • Further north in Humboldt County there was widespread resistance. One of the most active was Chief Lassik’s band, which succeeded in driving the settlers out of their territory in southeastern and southwestern Humboldt County. Chief Lassik and his band were captured in 1862, but were able to escape from the Smith River Reservation. After escaping, he headed south along the Klamath River and “stirred up discontent and revengeful feelings.” Although Chief Lassik was finally caught and killed in 1863, for over one year he was able to carry on a campaign of resistance against the settlers.


And it appears he did draw blood…

 Corp Larrabee is seriously wounded with an arrow (it appears this happened while attacking Lassic’s band where four Indians were killed). [June 22, 1861, Humboldt Times]

Note that Larrabee was a known Indian killer, and thought to be a main perpetrator of the Indian Island Massacre  and other murders of Natives.

 Lassic was captured and held for a time on the makeshift Indian prison created out of the Samoa Peninsula in Humboldt Bay in 1862.  A local newspaper editor toured the “indian quarters”,  noting that “to a person who has never seen a band of 700 to 800 wild Indians of all ages together, the sight is truly novel”.

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The best kind of information (free)

September 24, 2009

I ordered a book from Amazon yesterday, even though I can read it for free on the internet.  I’d found it on Google Books and decided I wanted a copy of my very own.  Of course the nine hundred pages also makes browsing the content on-line a little less than practical-especially with kids waiting at my shoulder and begging to get on the computer.   I also like the idea that sponsors who make these books available (Google people, Amazon.com people?) are also seeing some benefit.

 At the risk of saying what the readers probably already know, there is a wealth of historical material available now on-line.  FOR FREE !!!  Google books has quickly become one of my favorite sources.  An example I just found is a book written on the history of the Donner Party, copywrited in 1879 and republished in 1907, over one hundred years ago.  How cool is that? 

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Setting the stage for legalized slavery In California

September 22, 2009
1847 Map of Yerba Buena, aka San Francisco

1847 Map of Yerba Buena, aka San Francisco


As early as 1846, the powers that be in California were setting the stage for legal indenture, or enslavement, of Native Americans. 

 Captain John B. Montgomery was commander of the U.S.S. Portsmouth stationed at Yerba Buena, later known as San Francisco, when he received orders to claim the town for the United States.    Montgomery placed an American flag at the Plaza on July 9, 1846 and worked with Lieutenant Washington Bartlett, a junior officer on the Portsmouth, over the next five months to organize a local government for  San Francisco.

 In September, 1846, Montgomery issued the following proclamation.  On the surface, it appears to guard the Natives against illegal capture and enslavement, and in fact the title of the San Francisco history page where the proclamation is posted is called “End of Indian Slavery in San Francisco”.  But if you read closer, the wording simply transferred control of those natives from non-Americans to Americans by requiring those wanting Indian servants to obtain a contract from an American Justice.      It also requires that all natives “obtain service”, so they had to work for someone or risk “arrest and punishment by labor on the public works”.  

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Humboldt wasn’t the only county with problems

September 21, 2009
Condition of S.F. Jail, 1862

Condition of S.F. Jail, 1862

I ran across this report last night and couldn’t resist sharing.  Some communities in Humboldt County used a tree   to contain their prisoners and San Francisco got creative and built a tunnel–not that it worked that well, apparently.

Elsewhere in the report, the San Francisco Sheriff laments that he has less than forty officers for a city of 80,000, making it impossible for him to keep order.  Especially, he stressed , in a gold rush town where passions ran high and everyone was armed.  You gotta feel for the guy.

Censoring history doesn’t change it, so I’ll resist

September 18, 2009
From Kapel; shows extreme isolation of the area

From Kapel; shows extreme isolation of the area

So  I’m sitting here this morning trying to think of something to post instead of the following, but… but I do think it is important to tell the whole story and not edit the ugly parts, as much as I want to on this bright and sunny day.  So… here it is.

The more I think about it (and read the available info), the more I have to admit that the whites were right about one thing.  The natives did need protection.  The isolation of Humboldt County offered a convenient haven for “unscrupulous whites”, who felt free to act with impunity.  As late as 1857 the county supervisors were still trying to get a jail built and the folks in Orleans were using a tree to hold their prisoners.

Humboldt Times, October 25, 1856-Orleans Jail–Quote from the Sluice Box, describing the Orleans Jail:   “Erected in 1232, built of live oak—a large oak tree with a staple and chain attached…. “


The North Coast was a good place to be if you were a bad guy. The Natives weren’t always the only ones targeted by these thugs, but those on the reservations were easy to find and vulnerable. Nobody cared much if did whatever you wanted (or at least they didn’t stop you)  and if the Natives resisted, you could simply kill them.   And unfortunately, as the following shows, the reservation didn’t necessarily offer the protection promised to the Natives by the government…   I’ve used excerpts of this article before, but the whole thing gives you a better picture of the white men involved.

[As an aside, some of my husband’s ancestors are from Kapel….  This could be his great-grandmother who was stabbed.   Also note that in the second article, the rape of the two little girls isn’t even mentioned. ] Read the rest of this entry »

A quiet (and ineffectual) voice of reason

September 17, 2009

Ah… done with the little detour about the Royce’s journey to Weaverville and the Relief Parties formed to help the emigrants get to California alive,

 so now I’ll continue the thread on the reservations.

I used to wonder if I had a right to tell these stories.  I’m about as pale as you get and don’t have a single Cherokee Princess anywhere on the family tree.   How, I wondered, could I relate?

Then I realized that these aren’t “Native American” stories.  These are stories about PEOPLE, who happened to be indigenous to this area.  And stories about people, we can all relate to.   I don’t know how many people have been evicted from there homes, but even those likely had more than half a day’s notice.  The survivors of the Indian Island Massacre were told to be packed by sundown and could only take with them what they could carry.  They were then forced to walk to the Klamath Reservation, over sixty miles away. 

Look at your spouse, your children.  Could they walk to Garberville (if you live in NorHum), Eureka (if you live in SoHum), or any other sixty miles carrying everything they could ever need?   (Yeah, that’s what I thought when I looked at my kids).

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Help on the Journey to Weaverville

September 16, 2009
Weaverville, the Royce's Destination

Weaverville, the Royce's Destination


 Continued from Sept. 14…


After leaving Salt Lake, the Royces,  with a few additions to their party, headed in to the desert and literally missed their turn.  They ended up far into the wasteland, with little food and water.  A situation, Royce remembered, “so new and unexpected, that it seemed for a while to confuse—almost to stupefy—most of the little party.”  Their oxen were starving and they fed them the ticking from their mattresses… rationing what little water they had to make it last.

 After much debate, the group turned back to search for a place where they could feed the livestock and get more water.  They met a small wagon train on the way, and though those folks could spare no supplies, they did ensure Royce’s group made it back to the “Humboldt Sink” where water and grass were plentiful. It would be this chance meeting that Royce later credited with saving her family’s lives.

 After finding the Sink and resting,  the group headed back out into the desert.  This time they found the right road, successfully crossed the desert and made it to the foot of the Sierra Mountain Range.  By this stage of their journey, they were short of food and exhausted.  Snow was already flying in the mountains, posing yet more danger.

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Tragedy of the Donner Party Saves Other Lives

September 14, 2009
Wagon Camping

Wagon Camping

I decided to take a short break from the topic of Reservations after I read a story that mentioned the Relief Companies formed in California to help the pioneers arrive here safely.

According to Wikipedia, the memory of the Donner disaster prompted Californians to fund relief teams during the gold rush. They sent men eastward along the trails to take food and water to overland emigrants.  In her diary, Sarah Royce, a woman who began the journey with her husband and two-year old daughter, Mary, in 1849, credited such a Relief Party with saving the lives of herself and her family.

I think it is easy to overlook the fact that many, if not most, of the emigrants seeking their fortune in California didn’t know what they were doing.   The Royces prepared for their journey across the country by reading  the book Fremont’s Travels, and noting the often conflicting suggestions of other travelers, who, like the Royces,  were  “were utter strangers to camping life and were setting out for the ‘Golden Gate’ “.   

Pioneers set out for the west and experienced floods, food shortages, broken wagons, hostile natives, and more.  If they survived these challenges and reached Utah,  the Great Salt Lake Desert  and Sierra Nevada Mountain Range awaited them.   The Royces got as far as Salt Lake City and then found  “two small sheets of note paper, sewed together  and bearing on  the outside in writing the title, ‘Best Guide to the Gold Mines, 816 miles’, by Ira J. Willes, GSL City”  to help them the rest of the way.

The “book” was handwritten by Willes, who had been to California and back the previous year.  Royce said the description of directions, distances and good camping places seemed pretty clear until the author mentioned the  Humboldt River [not connected to Humboldt county in any way], “when poor camping and scarcity of water was mentioned with discouraging frequency.”  After that point, author Willes suggested they look for a new track the previous fall,  which “might be better.”

As life and other work calls, I will continue this  topic tomorrow…