Polygamists in Early Humboldt


Mad River Joe and his two wives

Just this weekend I had reason to look at 1900 Indian Census and noticed that one of the questions included in the bottom section, “Special Inquiries relating to Indians” was “Conjugal Relations; Is this Indian, if married, living in polygamy?”

 Which indicates that the government, at least, believed multiple wives to be common among the local natives.   Early census records and stories (about Jack Mann, for instance, and Sherwood ) give evidence that more than a few white settlers took up this practice when they arrived on the isolated north coast. 

I thought this to be a bad thing from the women’s perspective , but Ol Man River’s comments about the Heacock situation show (if the account is accurate) that at least some of the women (or girls, let’s face it, they were young), preferred not to be alone with these strange, white men.

Per the account that ‘River discovered, when Heacock took a “wife”, she ran away and refused to return until Heacock arranged to have her sister move in with them.  Later, the two girls insisted he take in a third.   All three then acted as “wives” and bore Heacock’s children.

Which may have been okay had Humboldt stayed isolated forever.  It didn’t.  And the influx of settlers (and modern “society”)  brought disastrous consequences for many of these native “wives” and their “half-breed” children.

To be continued…

4 Responses to Polygamists in Early Humboldt

  1. olmanriver says:

    In the early 1970’s the Briceland locals had had enough of the worst of the counterculture and a series of fires ensued. In the same newspaper account, there was mention of a Reverend Snake and his commune of ladies getting burnt out in the Ettersburg area.

  2. […] good white man” Continued from previous posts, Early Polygamists &  The […]

  3. Wondering... says:

    Why is the man naked and the women fully clothed? Just wondering…

    • lynette77 says:

      I’ve read early accounts that describe Native women as wearing skirts, often open in the back, while bare breasted.

      I am guessing that they learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t safe to have so much flesh exposed once the whites came in.

      Men, of course, didn’t face the same dangers…

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