Without censoring

I’ve been fortunate enough to be busy lately with client projects, but today I have a little time (and energy), and find myself turning once more to our local history.

Too many times I hear stories, or find information about what happened here during the settlement period and I don’t  know what to do with what I’ve found—if I have a right to share or if it should be shared at all.  It feels akin to spreading gossip and that’s wrong. Right?

I was talking to a new friend about this dilemma recently and my kind and patient listener responded with this,

“But if you don’t tell the stories, well, that’s a form of genocide, too, isn’t it?”

And it is.  There were things that happened here that were outside the normal realm of “acceptable” social behavior.  Actions and decisions and ways of living … I can play judge, but I can’t know what was right or wrong.  And since I can’t know, I won’t censor what I find.

So I guess my job will be to tell the stories, as I hear them, read them, find them.  And leave the judgment out of it.

6 Responses to Without censoring

  1. Nan Abrams says:

    Of course you must share it! Perhaps someone behaved in ways that later in life they regretted–or maybe never came to regret at all–it was within the norms of the time–or they were just a scoundrel–but it is still their story. Will I be pleased to write that Augustus Jacoby probably had an indentured “Indian” girl when all I want to write about is what a visionary and civic leader he was? No, I will not be pleased to write it, but I will. Because it happened–I have evidence that it happened.

  2. olmanriver says:

    I just put down Life Among the Modocs: Unwritten History, by Joaquin Miller, which has a brutal scene of liquored up white miners on the Klamat (his spelling) River slaughtering an emaciated tribe camped on the riverbed in winter. The miners roiling and ruining the water had killed or discouraged fish from coming upstream, depriving the Indians of their winter stores. Dying of starvation they move their camp near the main mining town. The bar, aptly named the Howlin’ Wilderness, has a few Indian scalps hanging from the mirror. When a white miner, of acknowledged low quality, is found dead in the Indian camp, calmer minds quell the initial calls for revenge. But one man instigates another round for all and whips up the crowd mentality in the heavily inebriated and 50-60 men attack the Indians in their sleep. An Indian baby is dangled by the feet and shot in the head by the worst of the whites. Some whites don’t go for killing children. One older boy and girl are saved by the protagonist in the story, all the other Indians were slaughtered. The subdued sobriety of the white killers as they walked away was palpable to the narrator, Joaquin Miller as a sensitive young man.
    Joaquin Miller was the son of a Quaker father who had moved his family across the plains to settle amongst the Indians of S. Oregon, living in peace for twenty years without violent incident.

    I digress. Alcohol was a huge factor in fueling the worst behaviors in men in this time period. And no doubt a tool of forgetting. Men used to drink hardier and heavier in bachelor dominated frontier cultures. This is such an obvious statement, but must be added to our attempt to view the barbarities of the Indian war period in California. I could not cite the number of times I have read of white men getting liquored up as a group to attack Indians, Round Valley history is replete with such accounts. And that is only what is recorded. Lots could be said, but I just wanted to mention Demon alcohol and its influence, historical, and present.

    Do mean people find guilt and remorse later? Good question. Early on this blog we shared the story out of the Mattole of Aldrich, a noted Indian hater, who brutally killed two babies in the Squaw Creek attack. He went crazy as an older man from hallucinating seeing those dead babies in his yard. Joaquin Miller records the Klamat baby’s murder and in the next paragraph chronicles “with a feeling of perfect delight” that the baby killing whiteman was later hung in Idaho by a Vigilante Committee squealing like the coward he was.

    Seguing to the topic of your other thread.
    Miller tells of returning back to the Willamette six months previous to the storyline to find only three remaining Indians. Captain Jim had resisted and been captured and taken to the Reservation, only to escape a year later with his wife. He was recaptured and returned with his wife and a wife from a neighboring tribe. “His squaws gather berries and sell them to the whites. Sometimes they take a great fancy to children, and give them all the berries they have, and will take nothing for them. Captain Jim says this is not good management. One day some one asked him why he had two squaws. He studied awhile, and said he had two squaws so that they could bury him when he died” (p. 159)

  3. olmanriver says:

    Wow. What a great novel, just finished it. Once again, I eat crow for not realizing that I was reading fiction, so wrapt in the story telling was I. Near the end of the story of the decimation of the Indians around Mt. Shasta, the ancient leader of a well hidden encampment of surviving Indians bemoans the enormous losses of the Indians, and the fact that he once had seven wives, and now he only had two.
    Life Amongst the Modoc was a rare voice for the Indians in this time period. My apologies for assuming that it was a true account of the brutalities, though I think anyone will find it to be realistic for the times.

    • lynette77 says:

      That must be one heck of a writer, and those accounts pretty darn accurate, for you to think it was non-fiction, OlMan !
      Thanks for the correction, but the mistake sounds understandable–and reading that book still sounds like a great way to get a better feel for what was happening back then.
      Strict non-fiction can be pretty cold, and leave the people part out, whereas an author can “fictionalize” truth, and give a story more depth.

  4. olmanriver says:

    In the back of the book it details just how much the story does follow Miller’s actual experiences, with his poetic embellishment and detail. I guess there is more reason for my confusion than I thought. I used to live in the Soda Springs area and didn’t know this Siskiyou historical novel.
    When this came out Harte was jealous, Twain loved it. I guess my post was a glorified bookreview, and I do heartily recommend it as a window into white/Indian relations in the mid 1800’s in northern California.

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