Among the Diggers



Another "quail" by Grace Carpenter-Hudson, Helen's daughter

Another "quail" by Grace Carpenter-Hudson, Helen's daughter

This is the third part of a three part series containing excerpts of an article, Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago,  written by Helen Carpenter, a resident of Mendocino County during the settlement period.





 It is interesting to note the  Carpenter’s article was published in the Overland Monthly—  in 1893, by our own Bret Harte .

 Click HERE for Part 1

  and HERE for Part 2 …

 … On one of Cap’s trips down from his stock ranch, he stopped for the night at a farmhouse. Three Indian boys accompanied him, and although the weather was cold, they had no clothing except shirts, miner’s sizes at that, although the boys were little higher than a chair. Cap told quite a pathetic little tale of the death of their parents, and friends of the boys wanted him to raise them, etc, etc., all of which was not disputed by the boys, as they could neither speak nor understand one word of English ; but they knew how to eat, and the farmer’s wife fairly stuffed them before making them comfortable for the night in the kitchen, before a large open fireplace. In an adjoining shed hung half a beef, and those little fellows put in a good part of the night cooking and eating such scraps as they could haggle off with a dull case knife; and then before it was fairly daylight they captured a lot of young chickens, thinking no doubt they were grouse. Timely interference saved the chickens, to the disappointment of the boys.

Of course, the Indians had names, but no amount of persuasion could induce them to disclose any. If asked “What is your name?” the stereotyped answer was, “No name.” ” O, yes, you have a name. What is it in Injun ?”

” No name.”

A name was as necessary for an Indian as for a mule ; so physical characteristics, peculiarities of dress, personal surroundings, occupations, or locality, furnished the most of them with something to be called by.

A little girl and boy, for instance, were brought from the mountains, the one on a gray, the other on a brown horse. She became Nelly Grey, and he John Brown. An old decrepit fellow came regularly, and while sitting flat on the ground made a pretense of work in pulling weeds or grass, or at least in going through the motions of doing so. There he would sit by the hour, gazing straight at the house, and looking like little else than a heap of cast-off clothing. He was dubbed “Old Weedy.” A tall, gaunt Indian, with very remarkable heels, as long as Sambo’s head, and so very high that they threatened an infringement on his calves, strode up to the door, clad in nothing but an early Spring smile, and dew fresh from the wild flowers, thenceforth he was “Wet Heels.” …

None, perhaps, suffered such a painful christening as ” Legs.” He assured some vaqueros that he could ride a bucking horse, and permitted himself to be  securely tied on the back of one, and then, Mazeppa-like, was turned loose. The horse began to buck, and peals of laughter greeted his ears. How grandly he felt, as this was probably his very first ride, and he imagined it an easy matter to keep his seat and ride ” la mis- mo Americano,”but it was for a moment only ; then down he went like a shooting star, and was so badly mixed up with the animal that a bystander remarked, “Couldn’t see nothin’ but legs.” The horse had to be lassooed and thrown before he could be extricated. Though badly bruised and bleeding, he lived more than thirty years to enjoy the sobriquet of ” Legs.”

This brings to mind one of his last visits. ” Nelly/’ he said, familiarly, addressing the lady of the house, ” I have come to see if you won’t give me something to eat, and some clothes.”

” Why, Legs, have you turned out a beggar ?”

” Well, you see, I ‘m sick and can’t work. I want some money to get some tea and sugar ; ten cents ‘ll do. I told Mrs. Sullivan I was comin’ down here among my own folks. I know ‘d they ‘d help me.”

He had not overrated the generosity of his “own folks,” for he was remembered otherwise than in their prayers.

At one time there were various rumors of a disposition on the part of the Indians to assert their rights, and rid themselves of their white neighbors. The northern tribes that had suffered the loss of so many children were supposed to be the instigators of the scheme. A few settlers took the matter in their own hands, and following up the supposed offenders, shot six at one time in Redwood Valley…

The captive children ere long began to show signs of failing health, and in a few years the majority of them fell victims to hasty consumption, and found a last resting place in a plot at the back of the cemetery set apart for this purpose. The county records, bearing the names and ages of the sixteen   that were brought into court, is the only monument to the memory of a host of these little wards of the State.

A number of the little, pale, wistful faces are still remembered. A few of the children were kindly cared for when sickness made them helpless. One. at least received the care of a penitent heart, that realized but too late the great injustice done the little sufferer. Probably the most cruel fate of all befell two of the sixteen before mentioned.

There  came a day when Lucy was unable to wheel the baby or be of any service; it was then that she was taken to a neighboring rancheria, and left among her tribal enemies, who were themselves in squalor and want. Rumor said an old squaw poisoned her ; be that as it may, she did not long survive the cruel treatment.

The other case was that of a bright, rosy-cheeked girl of twelve, who fell to the lot of a monster, who was never called to any account for her inhumanity. When enfeebled by sickness Rosa became an object of hatred, and one cold, stormy night in midwinter, sick and half clothed, she was driven from the house, and the key turned in the lock. The next morning she was found in a dry-goods box at the back of the yard, drenched to the skin and cold in death;  the dog, whose house it was, robbed of his quarters and wishing to be near his little friend, lay wet and shivering on her cold body.

~Helen M. Carpenter


5 Responses to Among the Diggers

  1. Kym says:

    That makes me curious even more about the burials of those two indian boys that my ancestress paid for.

    • lynette77 says:

      I have to admit that it has been difficult to read accounts of generous pioneers “taking in” orphaned native children. So many native children were orphaned intentionally because then they could be legally indentured or sold to other whites that were looking for child-servants. I’m not saying that this was the case with your ancestors, but reading accounts of that time period give me the impression that not many folks just took natives in to be generous…
      I may have posted this already, but in case I haven’t…

      San Francisco, tells this story of the treatment of the Indians on the Pacific Coast. ~ Since my last I have been home, and on from there 200 miles northward to Humboldt Bay, where the Land office is situated. I went up with a party of eight, on horseback, taking pack animals with us to carry our provisions. It was rough, mountainous country… and uninhabited, save here and there by a rough mountaineer. The country is pretty thickly populated with wild Indians, who are now being hunted for their children—an assertion that will probably startle you—but such is the fact, disguise it as they may.. ~ For several years different parties have attempted to locate themselves in those hills with cattle, to take advantage of the great range of feed. The Indians, being a miserable, improvident race, have now and then killed an ox, when they were hungry, and the whites in retaliation have killed them, and the Indians in return have killed some whites, when they caught them alone. The consequence has been one or two Indian wars, so-called, in that country, but in reality the war was all one sided, for the Indians are incapable of making a war. Well, during all this time there has been a reservation up in that country, where the In are suppose to be taken care of by the Government, and all captives were taken there—a good many orphan children among the rest. Experience proved them to be, when tamed, quite docile and very good servants, learning to work and to speak English very readily. Many of them were adopted into families, and our Legislature was induced to pass a law which by an easy process “apprenticed them out for a term of years.” ~ The demand for these little fellows naturally increased, and to get one any persons living at a distance would willingly pay $50 or $100 for the trouble of bringing them down. There are many wild, uncouth, reckless fellows living in the mountains with squaws they have stolen from the Indians, and to meet this demand they have to make war on the Indians; the In kill a few beeves to keep themselves from starving and this affords a pretext. The Government itself is making war on the Indians at the demand of the settlers for protection, and the settlers make war for the young ones, so as to take them and sell them; that is to say, they make you a present of a little digger, and you make them a present of a hundred dollars for their trouble in catching him. ~ WE stopped at one house on the trail in the deep gorges of the mountains, and saw six poor little naked urchins who had been recently captured, any one of whom we could have taken home with us by quietly slipping $50 into the hands of tie captor. The brutal rascal pointed to one boy, and said, with the greatest coolness imaginable, that he “had killed his daddy yesterday, and thought he was not quite bit enough to kill, so he brought him in;” and showed us a huge knife with which he had slaughtered the unresisting native.

  2. Kym says:

    Well, I was feeling a little bleak and thought I’d read a few blogs before settling into work…um, next time I’ll look for online comics;>

    • lynette77 says:

      Yeah, mine is probably not the one to read if you’re looking for some happy thoughts :-/…
      Hope you were able to find something cheerier !

  3. Kym says:

    I can haz chezburger.

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