A contagious obsession

 Randy, a blogger parked at http://www.bayofrezanov.blogspot.com/, has gotten interested in our local history, in part, he says, because of this blog:  

A special shout out to Lynette and her awesome history blog (see sidebar) for getting me all fired up about this subject again.

He seems appreciative now, but I don’t know that it will last.   Jim Baker, a local historian, once told me that Lynwood Carranco, co-author of Genocide and Vendetta, warned him that researching  local history of the settlement period would become an addiction… and that he should try to keep some distance (some sort of life, most likely) before it became an obsession.  Jim Baker, thanks to his research into the notorious Hank Larrabee, was unable to heed that warning and has been researching the indian killer for the last thirty years.  But maybe Randy can do it– keep an emotional distance despite the things he’ll learn that haunt his sleep.  Perhaps Randy can do it, but probably not.    


Randy’s post:  

Next up will be several articles on local Native American slavery. Notice that I don’t use the word “indenture,” as is common in the little literature that exists about this topic. I do this deliberately, as I think that indenture is not only an incorrect description of what went on, but that it is a deliberate distortion of the facts.  

Randy will become obsessed, because Randy’s right.  The history of indenture in California is the history of slavery in California, little known and seldom acknowledged.  It is an ugly history–and sometimes I think the local horrors matched, or even exceeded,  some of those experienced by our slaves in the south…  

The destruction of a family

Below is the description of the above  illustration,  contained in a 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly magazine–which is being offered for sale online.  

Featured prominently near the center of the print is an illustration of a Slave Auction.  In the image, a beautiful young woman is pictured with her head slung low, standing on the auction block, being sold to the highest bidder.  Behind her stands the auctioneer, gavel in hand, about to complete the sale of another enslaved human.  On the auctioneers podium reads the words, “States Rights, Auction of Slaves and Nigger Union Soldiers”.  In the audience, the high bidder can be seen with an evil grin on his face, as the auction is completed.  To the side of the auction block kneels the woman’s husband and small child, about to be auctioned off in separate auctions.  The child clings to his father, as if he knows this is the last few moments the family will ever be together.  This image, more than any other, captures the unimaginable inhumanity of the institution of Slavery  

 Unimaginable, that is, until, one is confronted with a description of what happened right here in Humboldt… where families weren’t torn apart by auction blocks and eager buyers, but by guns and death and greedy human traders, who snatched new orphans from the arms of lifeless parents, orphans seen as chattel to be sold as slaves. Unimaginable inhumanity…  


1861, Oct. 5, Humboldt Times, “ENSLAVING THE CALIFORNIA Indians”. The San Francisco Bulletin says that a correspondent of the Boston Transcript, writing from 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 Indians 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 Indians  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 the 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… 

Then, following the letter, this is from the editor of the paper: 

The writer states that the country is thickly populated with wild Indians, who are now being hunted for their children.  There are a good many wild Indians in the vicinity of the route traveled by this romantic individual, but it is not true that the white settlers are making war upon them for the purpose of kidnapping their children


I would love to believe this is a fabrication , as the newspaper editor suggested,  but the following won’t allow me to hold those illusions… 

1861– In report of 1861, –George M. Hansen, Supt. Indian Agent of Northern District–In the frontier portions of Humboldt and Mendocino counties a band of desperate men  have carried on a system of kidnapping for two years past.  Indian children were seized and carried to the lower counties and sold into virtual slavery.–These crimes against humanity so excited the Indians that they began to retaliate by killing the cattle of the whites.  At once an order was issued to chastise the guilty.  Under this indefinite order, a company of U.S. troops, aided by a considerable force, has been pursuing the poor creatures [Indians]  from one retreat to another. The kidnappers follow at the heels of the soldiers to seize the children when their parents were murdered and sell them to the best advantage…  

This is only the beginning, Randy.  Welcome to a just and noble cause.  



4 Responses to A contagious obsession

  1. Randy says:

    Well, right there is a print of that auction block we talked about! As for being surprised or dismayed by this topic, I’m somewhat hardened by my own family history -many of whom were Anabaptist religious dissidents who were tortured and murdered across Europe until they fled to the Americas. As a result, not much surprises me in terms of the human capability for cruelty and injustice.

    I’m hoping to email that additional info to you either this afternoon or tomorrow. Once again, thanks for all the material you gave me!

    • lynette77 says:

      Hey Randy,
      I received the info last night. Thanks !

      Your family’s history is unfortunate, but perhaps puts you in the unique position of being able to take the facts in without getting overwhelmed or distracted by all the little things you find (ok, maybe that one will be harder). I can’t wait to see what you make of all this info…

      It was great to meet you.

  2. I would take any advise that Jim Baker gives you in a heartbeat. He is a great historian. Fair, honest and unbiased. He has an amazing history in his own right. He knows many twice told tales, and many tales that can never be told.

    • lynette77 says:

      Isn’t Jim great? I hope he finds his way again here before too long so he can hear all the lovely things we’re saying about him 🙂

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