Bad fathers

 I belong to Toastmasters, an international organization that focuses on helping folks improve their public speaking skills.  Recently I had the honor of listening to an Icebreaker speech (the first one given by a new member), and the speaker talked about how his father left the family when the speaker was three years old.  This speaker also shared that as he grew and matured, he realized his father’s leaving may have been the greatest contribution his father ever made to the family.


When I began researching Lucy,   I talked to everyone I could find about local history.  

 One member of the Yurok tribe sadly shared a story he had heard about a white man in Weichpec who, when the county became more populated with emigrants, or “whites”, “bashed his own (Indian) child’s head against a rock to kill him-and hide the fact that he had had an Indian family here”.   Some men weathered the social stigma of taking an Indian “wife” and having half-breed children,  but apparently too many did not.  The following was reported by a local military commander, Charles Hubbard, from his camp on the upper Mattole in 1862.  

“So far as I can ascertain, all the Indians in this portion of the country are hostile; in fact, will ever be so, so long as there are no active and vigorous steps take to put an end to cold-blooded murder, kidnapping, and treachery. These are in my opinion the sole causes of all these difficulties with the Indians, more especially in this portion of the country and on Eel River. Cold-blooded Indian killing being considered honorable, shooting Indians and murdering even squaws and children that have been domesticated for months and years, without a moment’s warning, and with as little compunction as they would rid themselves of a dog, and, as I am informed, one man did, beating his own child’s brains out against a tree and killing the squaw, its mother, for no other reason than that he had no means else of disposing of them, and to keep them from falling into other persons’ hands…”

Admittedly this confuses me… maybe the man needed to leave…  I really don’t know and Hubbard doesn’t elaborate, but the resultant deaths of the woman and child are horribly clear. 

Fortunately not all Native families suffered the fate described by Hubbard, but many suffered.  Heacock, (background HERE)  an early settler in northern Mendocino County, adopted local indigenous customs early in the settlement period  and “married” not one, but three Indian wives.   Unfortunately, according to Jeremiah Standley, who later told his story, Heacock  eventually

“realized that he had made the biggest mistake of his life in taking these women into his life as his wives and that his life with them and the half-breed children was not what he now wanted to do.”

 He grew fond of a white woman, Agnes Stokes, and determined to marry her, despite his existing family.  He “decided to propose marriage to Miss Agnes… and make some moral attempts to take care of his little family of red people.”

Unfortunately Heacock neglected to tell Agnes about “little family of red people”,  and failed to treat that family well.

To be continued…


7 Responses to Bad fathers

  1. Nan Abrams says:

    not to be entirely glib but I would say that these men were thinking with the wrong part of their anatomy.

  2. Joel Mielke says:

    Although I doubt that I can offer useful insight here, Ms. Abrams’ comment offers no insight whatsoever. Neither sex has a franchise on sexual impulse, and this was racism, a sense of god-like entitlement and the callous murder of family.

    • lynette77 says:

      Oh, I wish I could agree with you here, but I do think at least part of the domination was sexual.

      Pioneers/settlers didn’t have white women here to make socially acceptable wives. There were few, if any, prostitutes, so… unfortunately they turned to Native women to fulfill sexual urges. Ugly, but true. And the lack of law enforcement allowed them to do so without fear of retribution or criminal prosecution, for the most part.

      I think that power and racism played a part, but doesn’t power play a part in any domination, sexual or otherwise?

      Not long ago a local Native American woman told me that at least one local tribe has a song thanking the Creator for bring white women into the area, because it was only after white women arrived that the Native women were left alone…

  3. olmanriver says:

    Women and children were also spoils of war for the vigilante/volunteer groups that fought the Indians.
    I just finished a few books written and published in the early 1870’s, Life Amongst the Modoc by Joaquim Miller and the Indian History of the Modoc War, written by the son, who with his white father and Indian mother were part of the war. In these books there are a few descriptions of eager citizens looking for squaws before going out on a raid on Indians, taking a wife had a very literal meaning when it came to early white settler behavior. Both of those books are excellent for viewing those times through the eyes of those living then… so helpful.
    The taking of children as pets/slaves, and women as partners provoked many many an attack on whites, though history rarely records the initial provocation, or both sides of the story.

    In the Sohum histories it is said that Mrs. Schumaker, an early pioneer wife in Garberville, took in many an unwanted halfbreed baby and found homes for them.

    History, being “history” keeps poor records of “herstory” of rape.

  4. olmanriver says:

    Jefferson Davis Riddle, whose parents were go-betweens and translators, was the author of the Indian History of the Modoc war. Life Amongst the Modoc is in very florid prose, as one might expect from a poet. Riddle continually apologizes for his lack of education affecting his writing skills, but he has a lucid and no frills description of the events of those days.

  5. A Son says:

    Such tragedy. It makes me think whether we are not still living a legacy of bad fathers that affect our families and society in so many ways.

    • Lynette M says:

      Absolutely we are. Though I have to hope that over time we learn — if only by committing to do the opposite of what we experienced ourselves…

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