Killing a gym full of children

February 26, 2010


This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Indian Island Massacre.

While I know this anniversary is being recognized by tribal members and others , I think it is most important to remember that that those killed were people,  and not just “Indians”. 

John Grisham wrote the book, A Time to Kill, about a black father in the deep south who kills two white men that raped his daughter.  

Through much of the book, race is the overarching issue.  The death of two white men at the hands of a negro.  Two of “us” killed by one of “them”,  and it is only when the jurors are urged to imagine the victim as a little white girl and her father as a father, instead of a black man, that they are able to sympathize.  They are finally able to recognize a family who suffered a great injustice they simply could not abide.

If one hundred and fifty school children and their mothers were brutally murdered during a school event, everyone in the community would recognize the loss years later. This massacre, one of too many that happened in this area during the settlement period, should be no different.  

If you have to, picture a school gym full of parents and children. Imagine a basketball game or school play, everyone joyous, the community together.  Then imagine five or six men coming in and locking the doors behind them.  They are carrying hatchets and knives and you watch from the stands as cheerleaders with ponytails and  boys with long legs and hair in their eyes are struck down, their skulls split with axes, screaming as they fall bleeding and dying to the floor.  Imagine toddlers, who moments earlier, were crawling on the stands, stabbed and cast aside.  Imagine watching as parents are beaten and killed as they run to protect their children.   Imagine the community’s  pain.  Imagine the loss of so much potential. The loss of so many people…

This happened.  Here.  And it makes no difference that they were “Indian”.  Please take a moment to honor the victims and their families.

Lynching in Eureka

February 24, 2010

On Sunday my husband and I attended the annual Humboldt Historical Society Luncheon, and in a silent auction I “won” a series of books written by Peter Palmquist and Lincoln Killian.  The books focus on the history of local photographers, and though I’d seen them before, I  hadn’t realized they also contained a lot of great local history.  Great, well written, local history.   This sounds terrible, but I figured they weren’t written by Palmquist and on a hunch, I successfully tracked down the co-author, Lincoln Killian.   Killian had, indeed, written most of the text for the series.

We chatted for a while, and as I always do, I shared the story of Lucy.  He remarked, rather surprised, that he hadn’t heard the story before (though he worked in the HSU library’s Humboldt Room and spent years steeped in local history).  He said that it was important to share the stories that no one knows…

Which got me thinking.  And thinking… And thinking. 

I work with a lot of clients doing marketing and public relations projects and last night I attended a workshop on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) so that I could do more in that realm for my clients. I did pay attention (at least some of the time), but mostly I thought about the murder of James Casebeer and the lynch mob killing of the two Indians accused of the murder.  Two Indians named Jack.  I realized that I need to tell their story and I will start by doing it here.

’64 Flood, Bridge North of Rio Dell

February 23, 2010

North of Rio Dell, 1964

I figured I’d get another flood photo in to go with the theme (though if we don’t get more rain soon, I think I’ll have to hunt for drought pictures…). 

I grew up in Rio Dell and watched part of one of the north bridges go again in… I think it was the winter of 1986.   Trees and stumps and other debris began to pile up on one side of the bridge, and I wondered why they didn’t get a crane in there and remove it all (anyone could see that the bridge wouldn’t withstand the force).  At the time it didn’t occur to me that there might not be a crane that big in Humboldt County.  And if there was, that such an operation would be way too dangerous.   And so the river took the bridge. 

I know floods are expensive,  and tragic for those who get injured or lose their lives, but  that much water is… awesome.  When I was young, during flood events I’d watch whole trees float down the Eel.  Our house was above the river and we had a great view.  

We get all caught up in controlling our lives, but all it takes is one natural “disaster” to remind us of how powerless we really are.  I find it very humbling (and a bit of a relief, actually) .

If the rains don’t stop

February 22, 2010

Weott Area, Feb. 1915


Ok, I guess the rains have to start first…

Scotia Inn, then and now

February 19, 2010

Scotia Inn Today

Hasty loveless union with no escape but death

February 18, 2010


Jan 31, 1863, Humboldt Times:

Marriage ought always be a matter of choice. Every girl ought to be taught that a hasty loveless union stamps upon her great dishonor, and that however dreary and toilsome a single life may be, unhappy married life is tenfold worse–an everlasting temptation, an incurable regret–a torment from which there is no escape but death.


This is quite ironic given all the forced “marriages”  endured by local Native American women during the settlement period.  I’ve come to realize that many of the women in those situations were incredibly courageous.  They endured, had and nutured families.  Fortunately, there were even some,  like Amelia Lyons  (per Susie Van Kirk), who  did enjoy loving and caring unions with their white “husbands”.

And for the most part, like it or not, it is the descendants of these unions that make up a majority of our local Native American population today.

Barefoot boy with a store-bought lunchbox

February 17, 2010

Grizzly Bluff, c. 1915

How Kneeland got its name

February 16, 2010

From Kneeland, Feb. 2010

In the early days , shipbuilders would make the climb to Kneeland Prairie, high above Humboldt Bay, where they would dig large trees out by their roots.  Keeping the root as part of the timber gave the beams a natural curve, which were perfect for “knees” (naturally angled brackets used to fasten the ship’s deck to the hull).

This ready supply of ships “knees” give Kneeland its name.  

Lovely story and makes sense.  But it isn’t true.

During the gold rush, a pioneer named John Kneeland settled a big beautiful prairie overlooking the Humboldt Bay.  The area was called Kneeland after him. 

Less interesting, but true.

I recently visited Bill Paddock, whose family has lived on Kneeland for generations, and he shared both these stories to show how easy it is to get history twisted up.  To get it wrong.

These stories also illustrate another point, though.  We can learn from any story.  Even the false ones generally start with ( or have hidden in ’em somewhere) some little bit of truth.  

“Ships’ knees” do exist, and early ship builders may have got them from Kneeland.  Who knows, maybe the name acted as a bright red arrow that led to just the timber the builders needed.   

Stories are fun, even when they aren’t true.  And even stories from the biggest B.S.’er in the world likely have something to offer.  If you hear one especially interesting, true or not, please feel free to share it here.

Jews of the gold rush

February 15, 2010

One of the wonderful things about this blog is the opportunity for us to learn from each other.  I recently received the following as a comment, and it had SO MUCH great information, I decided to share it as a post.  Thanks, Nan ! 

You can also visit Nan’s blog, , which has some great local history.

Nan’s post:

I am researching, and have been for the past four, five, six years–yes it becomes an obsession as you said–the Jewish pioneers of Humboldt. What I have found is that when Humboldt Bay opened up, Jewish immigrants from Western Europe flocked here to open up mercantile establishments; Augustus Jacoby being the one of most renown. Aside from his historical “storehouse” he was instrumental in getting the road built between Arcata and Weaverville. Others are the Fleishmans, the Manheims, the Feigenbaums –one whose first name I cannot recall at them moment, as there were several of them– was in business with Henry Rohner at the time Rohnerville was founded. There were the Greenbaums and the Greenwalds–a colorful family–their son Samuel rode with the Rough Riders and left all his military memorabilia to the Humboldt Historical Society; their daughter Minnie married David Wood, son of LK Wood; there was also Jake Loewenthal whose grandchildren some folks still around might have known. Most of the others left the area, mainly for San Francisco. There were many others. I have stories to tell and I have been writing them down–one was published in the Humboldt Historian awhile back–about Minnie and David and the train that fell into Mad River when the bridge collapsed, killing their two little girls; (you can see all their headstones, including Minnie’s parents in the Greenwood Cemetery). Another story is about the first “Emerald Triangle”–an opium trade the went between Japan, Hawaii, British Columbia and Humboldt that a fellow named Wiley started; Louis Greenwald got involved in it as Wiley’s “lieutenant” and wound up spending time in prison for his bad judgment–also lost his wife over it.

Frail but invulnerable shield

February 9, 2010

 The following was printed in the Humboldt Times on March 23, 1859, and gives, as the writer generously notes,   “ a good illustration of the Indian character, and shows a spark of the old heroic fire, that the degeneration of a race could not wholly extinguish.”

This is why our history haunts me.  It was rare that a story like this one made the papers, though I’m sure incidents like this one happened often.   I could say so much about this event and the way the editor described it,  but today I’ll let the excerpt speak for itself.

“… At an attack upon one of the Indian ranches, a number of the braves were captured, who had, with squaws and children, deserted the ranch—an inglorious prey.  An old chief, the Moweema of his band, then took his stand in the centre of the ranch—his household goods shattered around him—deserted and alone, but armed and resolute and would not be taken…  The volunteers were brave men, but there were none that could be found to face the imminent muzzle of the old man’s leveled rifle.  A word given, and he might have been dropped, riddled like a colander; but, their orders were to take him alive, and thus one man held at bay, a score.

Nevertheless he was taken; he who would not yield to numbers—who feared not death—was taken by one of his own…. stratagems.

The only surviving wife of the old man—a young squaw, was brought forward and, taking her before him, Lient. Winslett, advanced, covering his body with this frail, but to him, invulnerable shield.  Afraid to fire upon the pair, the old man, after a moment’s hesitation, lowered his weapon, and was immediately surrounded and ironed.”  [Humboldt Times, 23 March 1859]