The Legislature’s Majority and Minority Reports on the Mendocino War (1860)

 The Legislature’s Majority and Minority Reports on the Mendocino War (1860)

Extracted from Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians
By Kimberly Johnston-Dodds, California Research Bureau, California State Library, September 2002

In 1860, the California Legislature created a Joint Special Committee on the Mendocino Indian War to investigate incidents of Indian stealing and killing of settlers’ stock, and alleged atrocities committed by whites against the Indians.[1]
The Joint Special Committee traveled throughout Mendocino County and adjacent locations taking depositions and testimony of prominent settlers in the region. This testimony is part of the official public record, along with the committee’s majority and minority reports about the events.

The Majority Report of the Joint Special Committee

O’Farrell, Dickinson, Maxon and Phelps were authors of the Majority Report. The following are excerpts of the majority’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
In Mendocino County…the Indians have committed extensive depredations on the stock of the settlers…The result has been that the citizens, for the purpose of protection to their property, have pursued the tribes supposed to be guilty to their mountain retreats, and in most cases have punished them severely. Repeated stealing and killing of stock, and an occasional murder of a white man, has caused a repetition of the attacks upon the offenders with the same results. The conflict still exists; Indians continue to kill cattle as a means of subsistence, and the settlers in retaliation punish with death. Many of the most respectable citizens of Mendocino County have testified before your committee that they kill Indians, found in what they consider the hostile districts, whenever they lose cattle or horses; nor do they attempt to conceal or deny this fact. Those citizens do not admit, nor does it appear by the evidence, that it is or has been their practice or intention to kill women or children, although some have fallen in the indiscriminate attacks of the Indian rancherias. The testimony shows that in the recent authorized expedition against the Indians in said county, the women and children were taken to the reservations, and also establishes the fact that in the private expeditions this rule was not observed, but that in one instance, an expedition was marked by the most horrid atrocity; but in justice to the citizens of Mendocino County, your committee say that the mass of the settlers look upon such act with the utmost abhorrence…

Accounts are daily coming in from the counties on the Coast Range, of sickening atrocities and wholesale slaughters of great numbers of defenseless Indians in that region of country. Within the last four months, more Indians have been killed by our people than during the century of Spanish and Mexican domination. For an evil of this magnitude, some one is responsible. Either our government, or our citizens, or both, are to blame…


The pre-existing laws and policy of Mexico, as to the status of the Indian, need not have interfered with the views to be taken by our government. Mexico protected the Indian, in her own way, much more effectually than we have done. The very land upon which the aborigines of this State have dwelt, as far back as traditions reach, has been allowed by our government to be occupied by settlers, who thus have the authority of law for a forced occupation of the Indian country. A natural, humane, and proper policy would have protected the Indian in his undeniable rights to the hunting grounds of his forefathers, and would have prevented our border men from entering into a conflict which has cost both lives and property…

 

Your committee do [sic] not think that the wrongs committed upon the Indians of California are chargeable alone to the Federal Government. The evidence appended to this report, disclose facts, from the contemplation of which the mind of peaceful citizens recoil with horror, and prompts the inquiry, if such outrages upon the defenseless are permitted by the proper authorities to go unpunished?


No provocation has been shown, if any could be, to justify such acts. We must admit that the wrong has been the portion of the Indian – the blame with his white brother.


The question resolves itself to this: Shall the Indians be exterminated, or shall they be protected? If the latter, that protection must come from the Federal Government, in the form of adequate appropriations of money and land; and secondly, from this State, by strictly enforcing penal statutes for any infringement upon the rights of Indians. In relation to the recent difficulty between the whites and Indians in Mendocino County, your committee desire to say that no war, or a necessity for a war, has existed, or at the present time does exist. We are unwilling to attempt to dignify, by the term “war” as slaughter of beings, who at least possess human form, and who make no resistance, and make no attacks, either on the person or residence of the citizen.
[2]
The authors of the Majority Report recommended that the California Legislature pass “a law for the better protection of the Indians of California.” [3]

The Minority Report of the Special Joint Committee

Lamar authored the Minority Report and dissented fundamentally from the majority’s view of the events, and their recommendations. Lamar stated, “the testimony will disclose the guilty parties, and from the just indignation of outraged humanity I have no desire to screen them; but for the mass of citizens engaged in this Indian warfare, I claim that they have acted from the strongest motives that govern human action, the defense of life and property.” [4]
Lamar further stated that certain tribes living outside of reservations in the region were “domesticated Indians,” a great number of whom were employed by settlers, receiving “liberal compensation for their labor.” [5] Lamar proposed the following general Indian policy that the State should pursue.
The General Government should first cede to the State of California the entire jurisdiction over Indians and Indian affairs within our borders, and make such donations of land and other property and appropriations of money as would be adequate to make proper provision for the necessities of a proper management.


The State should, then, adopt a general system of peonage or apprenticeship, for the proper disposition and distribution of the Indians by families among responsible citizens. General laws should be passed regulating the relations between the master and servant, and providing for the punishment of any meddlesome interference on the part of third parties. In this manner the whites might be provided with profitable and convenient servants, and the Indians with the best protection and all the necessaries of life in permanent and comfortable homes. [6]

The Mendocino War Reports and the 1860 Amendment to “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians”

On January 19, 1860, the first version of Assembly Bill No. 65, entitled “An Act amendatory of an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” was introduced in the California Legislature. [7] Assembly Bill No. 65 proposed broader apprenticeship laws than those contained in the 1850 Act. Various amendments and substitute versions of the bill found in the California State Archives Original Bill File appear to reflect the degree of debate surrounding Indian prisoners of war from expeditions, Lamar’s proposed Indian policies, and more expansive Indian apprenticeship laws. Transcriptions of the proposed versions of of the bill, and the original enrolled version are contained in the Appendix.

 

Appendix. Original Bill Material Pertaining to California Statutes 1860, Chapter 231

This Appendix contains a verbatim transcription of the Original Bill Materials, located in the California State Archives, that are related to the 1860 amendment of the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians passed April 22, 1850. The first document is the initial Assembly Bill No. 65 introduced for consideration on January 19, 1860. The second document is a “substitute” Assembly Bill No. 65, introduced for consideration on February 17, 1860. The third document is the engrossed bill that was enrolled on April 6, 1860.
The first page of each transcribed document in this Appendix contains the legislative history of the bill. This information is handwritten and originally signed by each legislative officer on the front page of the original documents. The language originally contained in the proposed bills, but subsequently deleted from the text during the course of the legislative process is noted in brackets.

 

 

 

An Act amendatory of an act entitled An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians passed April 22, 1850


The People of the State of California represented in Senate and Assembly do enact as follows:


Section 1st , Section third of said Act is hereby amended so as to read as follows

 

An act amendatory of an act entitled an act for the Government and Protection of Indians passed April 22, 1850


Section 3d Any person having or hereafter obtaining any Indian child or children male or female from the parents or relations of such child or children [stricken from text: with their] and wishing to domesticate said child or children and any person desiring to obtain any Indian or Indians either children or grown persons that may have been taken prisoner or prisoners [stricken from text: and wishing to domesticate either children or grown persons in any expedit] of war [stricken from text: in any] and wishing to domesticate said Indians, such person shall go before a Justice of the Peace of the County in which such Indians may [stricken from text: be] reside at the time and if the Justice of the Peace becomes satisfied that no compulsory means have been used to obtain the said child or children from its parents or friends or that the said child or children or other Indian or indians of either sex have been taken and are held as a prisoner or prisoners of war, he shall enter on record, in a book kept for that purpose the sex and probable age of the child or children or other indians, and shall give to such person a certificate authorizing him or her to have the care custody control and earnings of such child or children or other Indians, for and during the following term of years, such children as are under twelve years of age, until they attain the age of twenty five years, such children as are over twelve and under eighteen years of age until they attain the age of thirty years, and such indians as may be over the age of eighteen years, for and during the term of ten years then next following the date of said certificate, any person or persons [stricken: being] having any indian or indians in his or their possession as such prisoners shall have the preference to domesticate as many of such indians as he or they may desire for their own use, every indian either male or female in the possession or under the control of any person under the provisions of this act shall be taken and deemed to be a minor Indian, [stricken from text: for such]


Sec. 2nd Section seventh of said act is hereby amended so as to read as follows,

 

Sec 7. If any person shall forcibly convey any Indian from any place without this State to any place within this State, or from his or her home within this State, or compel him, or her, to work or perform any services against his or her will,


Except as provided in this act, he or they may be upon conviction fined in any sum not less than fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars, at the discretion of the Court

 

 

Section 1st Section third of said Act is hereby amended so as to read as follows:


Section 3: County and District Judges in the respective counties of this State shall by virtue of this Act have full power and authority, at the instance and request of any person having or hereafter obtaining any Indian child or children male or female under the age of fifteen years from the parents or person or persons having the care or charge of such child or children with the consent of such parents or person or persons having the care or charge of any such child or children, or at the instance and request of any person desirous of obtaining any indian or Indians whether children or grown persons that may be held as prisoners of war, or at the instance and request of any person desirous of obtaining any vagrant Indian or Indians as have no settled habitation or means of livelihood and have not placed themselves under the protection of any white person, to bind and put out such
Indians as apprentices to trades — husbandry or other employments as shall to them appear proper, and for this purpose shall execute duplicate Articles of Indenture of Apprenticeship on behalf of such Indians, which Indentures shall also be executed by the person to whom such Indian or Indians are to be indentured: one copy of which shall be filed by the County Judge [stricken from text: with the] in the Recorders Office of the County and one copy retained by the person to whom such Indian or Indians may be indentured; such Indenture shall
authorise [sic] such person to have the care custody control and earnings of such Indian or Indians and shall require such person to clothe and suitably provide the necessaries of life, for such Indian or Indians for and during the term for which such Indian or Indians shall be apprenticed, and shall contain the sex name and
probable age of such Indian or Indians, Such Indentures may be for the following terms of years, such children as are under fourteen years of age, if males until they attain the age of twenty five years; if females until they attain the age of twenty one years; such as are over fourteen and under twenty years of age if males until they attain the age of thirty years; if females until they attain the age of twenty five years; and such Indians as may be over the age of twenty years for and during the term of ten years then next following the date of such Indenture at
the discretion of such Judge. Such Indians as may be indentured under the provisions of this section shall be deemed within such provisions of this act as are applicable to minor Indians


Section 2d Section seventh of said act is hereby amended so as to read as follows,


Section 7 If any person shall forcibly convey any Indian from any place without this State to any place within this State or from his or her home within this State, or compel him or her to work or perform any service against his or her will except as provided in this Act he or they shall upon conviction thereof be fined in any sum not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars before any court having jurisdiction at the discretion of the Court, and the collection of such fine shall be enforced as provided by law in other criminal cases, one half to be paid to the prosecutor and one have [sic] to the County in which such conviction is had

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

 

[1] The Joint Special Committee was comprised of Jasper O’Farrell (Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino), and W.B. Dickinson (El Dorado), as the Senate Committee. Joseph B. Lamar (Mendocino, Sonoma), William B. Maxon (San Mateo) and Abner Phelps (San Francisco) comprised the House Committee. Don A. Allen, Legislative Sourcebook: The California Legislature and Reapportionment, 1849-1965, (Sacramento: Assembly of the State of California, 1965), 364, 374, 450, 456.

 

[2] “Majority Report of the Special Joint Committee on the Mendocino War,” in Appendix to Journals of the Senate, of the Eleventh Session of the Legislature of the State of California, (Sacramento: C.T. Botts, State Printer, 1860), 4-6.

 

[3] Ibid., 7.
[4] “Minority Report of the Special Joint Committee on the Mendocino War,” in Appendix to Journals of the Senate, of the Eleventh Session of the Legislature of the State of California, (Sacramento: C.T. Botts, State Printer, 1860), 10.

 

[5] Ibid.
62 Ibid.
[7] Journal of the House of Assembly

 

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4 Responses to The Legislature’s Majority and Minority Reports on the Mendocino War (1860)

  1. olmanriver says:

    This is wonderful to have so accessible Lynette, thanks.
    The Minority report, or slavery option, seemed reasonable to many in power. It was only a few years after becoming a state that the legislature started the indenture laws, continuing the use of a cheap Indian labor force that the Spaniards had practiced.

    • Lynette M says:

      Hey River,
      I’ve actually had this awhile and was digging through old “files”–glad you’ll find it useful.

  2. Chris Dichtel says:

    FYI, the “Abner Phelps” who was the San Francisco representative on the Joint Special Committee mentioned here happens to have been the same Abner Phelps who had built for himself what is now one of the oldest residential home in San Francisco.

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