A deadly “cold”

I’ve  been having a lot of fun with this blog lately.  I LOVE finding random historical stuff to share and the great, encouraging feedback I get (thanks, everyone!)

 That said, every once in a while I need to return to why I created this site in the first place.   Learning about Lucy’s murder and the “settlement period” of Humboldt County (1850s and 1860s)  opened my eyes an inportant aspect of our community’s history. One that I believe is too often ignored or swept away.

The rugged isolation of our northcoast region protected the Native Americans living here long after the rest of the state had been settled by the Spanish, and the missions dominated the landscape and altered indigenous life forever. 

Unfortunately, the discovery of gold, and a desire for a faster, easier routes to the inland gold mines brought an end to Humboldt County’s isolation.  White settlers came into the area and began competing for resources,

 And women.

Out-armed and unprepared, the indigenous people were soon dominated by the whites. Most that didn’t surrender, died.  There were a few, however, that resisted the white’s incursion on their ancestral land and were successful for a time.  One was “Chief Lassik”,

(From an earlier post)

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.


I’ve been looking through old newspapers lately, and just ran across the following regarding the demise of Chief Lassik, which is in sharp contrast to his niece’s recollection, which I’ll repost after this “official” newspaper report.  Yeah, I know it was “war”, but that doesn’t make learning about it any easier.

Humboldt Times, 23 January 1863– “It is pretty well know that an inveterate hatred exists between that portion of the Wylackie tribe … known as the “Gun Indians” and the whites living in the valleys living and canons north of here.  A few days since, a number of them, including Lasseck, then chief, ere captured by teh whites, and taken to Fort Seward. From then they attempted to take them to the Reservation–to Round Valley, we prsume–but “on the way they took cold and died.”  This, at least, is the way we get the word.  But knowing,m as we do, the animosity existing between these Indians and the whites inhabiting the region of the Humboldt mail route, and the numerous depredatiknos supposed to have been committed by them, we susepct the “cold” they died with was mainly cold lead.–Quoting the Mendocino Herald.

We have received a letter from Fort Seward corraborating the above intelligence.  Five of Lassux’ band died with the same kind of “cold” as himself.  As the alternative is now Smith River, or Round Valley, we are under the impression that Superintendent Handon will not be under the necessity of squandering any more of the “small pittance” allowed him by the Government in removing Indians from this county to eighter of the above named Reservations.  Unless Government provided other quarters, this “cold” epidemic will rage fearfully among Indians that fall in to the hands of citizens, if not the soldiers. 

As a little girl, Lucy Young, Lassik’s niece, witnessed and  later told the story of her uncle’s death.

At last I come home. Mother at Fort Seward. Before I get there, I see big fire in lots down timber and treetops. Same time awful funny smell. T think someone get lots of wood.

I go on to house. Everybody crying. Mother tell me, “All our men killed now.” She say white men there, others come from Round Valley, Humboldt County too, kill our old uncle, Chief Lassic, and all other men.

Stood up about forty Inyan in a row with rope around neck. “What’s this for?” Chief Lassic say. “To hang you dirty dogs,” white men tell it. “Hanging, that’s dogs death,” Chief Lassic say. “We done nothing to be hung for. Must die, shoot us.”

So they shoot. All our men. Then build fire with wood and brush. Inyan been cut for days. Never know it their own funeral fire they fix. Build big fire, burn all them bodies. That’s funny smell I smell before I get to house. Make hair raise on back of my neck. Make sick stomach too.


10 Responses to A deadly “cold”

  1. Snaggletooth says:

    Good one Lynette, I hadn’t read that Mendo paper account before. Great original research.
    When you read how many Indians died in Northern California during this period, the numbers in the military and vigilante raids just don’t add up to the same amount. Certainly some of the total deaths were from starvation and disease, but you get the sense that many slaughters were not recorded.

    • lynette77 says:

      That’s what is so difficult here, and why, I think, I was compelled to tell Lucy’s story and the other stories I do find.

      The Lucy I write about was only one of many Lucys. The tragedies we do know about are only a sampling of many tragedies…

  2. I have a feeling that Lucy’s account is the most correct, but just like all great stories, they seem to take a direction of their own. The last of the Gun Indians was a great chapter in history, so I would imagine that the story would take many directions, depending upon the teller and the telling.

    Many people on the north coast died, and their deaths went unrecorded. Many white people were killed for their ranches, or their gold claims, and then blamed on the Indians.

    What happened in the north coast history was not war, but destiny. The conquest of one man against another has happened since the second man was placed on earth to fight with another. There are fabled stories that go so far back in history that brothers like Cain and Able even turned against each other. Right and wrong often had nothing to do with the fighting. Winning was always the objective. The white man, no mater how cruelly, won the west.

    At least back in the early West, bullets and blood were the “game” played. Today it is money, politics, and power. Why aren’t we outraged with what is happening around us today? We have no chance to change what happened in history, but by paying attention to the unfairness that we suffer today, we can change things.

    Great research Lynette. The more stories that we hear, the better we can understand what the pioneers, and natives, had to suffer through to get where we are today.

  3. j2bad says:

    Retreat into nihilism if you want, Ernie, but destiny, as in “manifest destiny” was always a moral strategy, deployed to avoid taking responsibility for bad behavior – in this case, genocide. The fact that lots of Americans at the time supported the wholesale slaughter and removal of the inhabitants of the land they wanted didn’t make it right – it happened, so it’s history, but don’t sanitize it by calling it destiny.

    It’s worth remembering that none of that bad behavior was inevitable – lots of smart people pointed out the problems that others wanted to ignore. Read Bret Harte’s editorial on the Gunther’s Island Massacre of the Wiyot in 1860:

    “Today we record acts of Indian aggression and white retaliation. It is a humiliating fact that the parties who may be supposed to represent white civilization have committed the greater barbarity.”

    Of course, Harte was run out of town by the “respectable” people, those who understood how to make their own destiny.

    I applaud your advice about paying attention to our own behavior, but if we can’t even look in a clear-eyed way about obvious bad acts that took place over a century ago, how can we possibly hope to recognize it in our own time?

  4. J2bad
    I have ancestors on both sides of the struggle for survival during the early settlement period of the mid to late 1800s. Many of my friends today are native Americans, native to this area, as much as any of them might know where they are truly from, after having been moved around so much. My history is so intertwined with local history that I don’t have the luxury of deciding upon which side of the killing of the Indian people that I might fit. As I said, my ancestors fit on all sides. From helping them, to killing them. What do you want me to do? Have my left side slap my right side and challenge myself to a dual?

    What you call “nihilism” is not nihilism but constrained objectivity. I live my life with deep passion, and I feel that a life lived without passion, is a life not worth living. But as I said, I have ancestors on both side of the settlement story. I know where they were born and where they are buried. I know the parts that they played, and the stories that they handed down, some stories will never be repeated because they would be judged superficially, and unfairly, by those that have no history here. Those who swoop in and automatically decide that if their ancestry had been here they would have surely saved the poor out-gunned Indian people.

    I know the history of most all of my ancestors, where and when they were born, when and where and HOW they died. I don’t share the atrocities that were committed by the Indian people against my people, any more than I talk about atrocities that my people committed against the Indians. BUT…My attitude is hardly “nihilist”.

    I have one friend who’s 3great Grandfather was murdered by Indians. His family was also involved in murdering Indian people. His folks went on to inter-marry with the Indian people. If he should get all pumped-up, pompous and pious, who should he blame?

    Although I recognize your writing as that of a highly educated person, I really think that you need to read a little bit more about our history. The fact that the settlement period was brutal for the Indian people is-a-given. Get beyond that and you will find thuggery on the highest order was prevalent. Simple, uneducated people didn’t know terms like Stockholm syndrome. Many people were killed by thugs. Ranches were bought for the price needed to get out of the country. Others settlers were simply killed. It wasn’t wise to draw to much attention to yourself. The great Brett Hart, that you quoted, turned tail and ran, as many others did. At least the ones that didn’t die. I don’t remember hearing anything about the “J2bads”. Did they solve many settlement problems? I know that was unkind, but I’m not smart enough to make my point any other way.

    You might find it interesting that I agree with what you said. Except for the first paragraph. That went down a little lumpy. And, welcome to Humboldt County. You will find that it is a fine place to live… now that it’s settled.

  5. j2bad says:

    Sorry to both Lynette, who runs a fine blog, and Ernie, who was more generous to me than I to him. Thanks for the welcome. And sorry, Ernie, about calling you a nihilist. My complaint was with the idea that some people were simply destined to end up on the wrong side of history – an idea that was prevalent during the 19th century, and one that crops up from time to time in the present – but my underlying point was really about looking American history squarely in the eye, so to speak.

    Not to pick a fight, but I don’t agree with the premise of your second paragraph. Personally, I don’t think we owe much to the dead. We can’t re-live the past, so hypothetical arguments about whose ancestors were better or worse seem beside the point to me. I can be fascinated by the people who decided to live in the frontier without embracing their morality. And though I understand the fascination with family history, I’ve never really understood the impulse to defend one’s flawed ancestors, or feel constrained by their behavior. If my ancestors owned slaves, should that prevent me from pointing out the obvious – that slavery was wrong? I’m not morally compromised because my ancestors owned slaves, but I do think I’d be partaking of their sin if I chose to defend their flawed behavior out of some kind of misplaced familial loyalty. And it’s worth recalling that plenty of people recognized the fact that slavery was wrong, even in the 18th and 19th centuries. I think it’s important to recognize the good and the bad in the past, without feeling obliged to our ancestors. The dead, after all, had their chance to get things right.

    I find it even more troubling, though, when we (collectively) try to erase the messiness of the past out of some kind of sense of loyalty to the national past. My history classes in public school promoted that sort of whitewashed history, and I guess I’ve never forgiven my old teachers. Recognizing the flaws in my national history doesn’t diminish my own national pride, and I feel strongly that terms like “destiny” help to hide the fact that complicated events were usually contested, and they came about because people acted to bring them about.

    For example, when John O’Sullivan marketed the term “manifest destiny” in the politicized news media of the mid 19th century, he did so precisely to overcome public opposition to a colonial-style campaign to take Texas from Mexico. And there was opposition. Lots of it. In fact, those associated with the “Young America” movement of the mid 19th century used a whole range of rhetorical and political tools to overcome homegrown opposition to an expansionist policy that was anything but predestined. The U.S. expansion across the West was the result of a concerted political policy, based largely upon explicit beliefs of racial superiority (and greed), not destiny. And that strategy didn’t always work. It’s true, we took Texas, and California and Hawaii, but it’s also true that there were places that we wanted just as much but didn’t end up taking. We didn’t take Nicaragua, despite the fact that an American (from Northern California) ran the place for a few years; we didn’t take Northern Mexico, even though we tried with soldiers and cash; we didn’t take Cuba, despite the fact that almost every president from John Quincy Adams to Teddy Roosevelt thought that we should (and eventually would). Those were all contested political acts. In some cases the advocates won the debate; in others, the opposition won. The people on the ground did what they did, but I don’t think we shouldn’t hide what they did – that’s our history.

    Ultimately, I think we make better decisions in the present when we understand the decisions we made in the past. I think that’s where we agree.

    • lynette77 says:

      Thanks for the thought, J, but the apology is completely unnecessary. I am thankful that my posts are sparking this kind of dialogue and sometimes frank discussion is really the only way to reveal and understand each other in a meaningful way. And sometimes healthy disagreement is a great way (sometimes the only way) to eventually learn and progress.

      Obviously I agree that being honest about historical events, decisions, and consequences leads to a greater understanding of a people, history and place. My struggle has always been to figure out which stories I have a right to tell, and which “belong” to other people (Ernie alludes to this a lot when he mentions “insider” stories that outsiders will never know).

      I’m trying to let go of those fears, though because it leads to more exclusionary thinking. “My stories” “His stories”.

      Hopefully we all learn from those that have gone before us. The history of what happened here belongs to all of us–and affects us still. My husband works for Cal Trans and there are cultural laisons that work with the tribes specifically because there is still distrust of local government, and who can blame them.

      There are still people that loot Native burial grounds looking for souveniers. I don’t think that same person would dig up their uncle’s or even a neighbor’s grave.

  6. […] While I think the photos are amazing, those familiar with this blog will understand that I can’t resist referring folks to the early history of Fort Seward. […]

  7. Kevin Flannery says:

    I have to agree with j2bad on this. It really doesn’t work when we try to justify actions like those described above in a “winners/losers” view of history. It seems to be an attempt at making ourselves feel better about something that cannot really be watered down. The white people did not believe in the legitimacy or the humanity of non-whites, so they took whatever they wanted from non-whites, even taking possession of their persons. There were always biblical and scientific justifications for this ruthless and immoral behavior, mainly because we hypocritically linked ourselves so strongly with freedom and liberty and equality for all.

    It still causes some folks a problem, and they want to make the actions of the invader morally equal to those of the invaded. If we were invaded, I doubt we would look at it as history’s inevitable tide.

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