A contagious obsession

January 21, 2010

 Randy, a blogger parked at http://www.bayofrezanov.blogspot.com/, has gotten interested in our local history, in part, he says, because of this blog:  

A special shout out to Lynette and her awesome history blog (see sidebar) for getting me all fired up about this subject again.

He seems appreciative now, but I don’t know that it will last.   Jim Baker, a local historian, once told me that Lynwood Carranco, co-author of Genocide and Vendetta, warned him that researching  local history of the settlement period would become an addiction… and that he should try to keep some distance (some sort of life, most likely) before it became an obsession.  Jim Baker, thanks to his research into the notorious Hank Larrabee, was unable to heed that warning and has been researching the indian killer for the last thirty years.  But maybe Randy can do it– keep an emotional distance despite the things he’ll learn that haunt his sleep.  Perhaps Randy can do it, but probably not.    

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Sending decent people into the world

November 18, 2009

As a mother I often wonder what it takes to create a decent human being.  What lessons should be taught by parents, and which can only be learned by experience.  There is no magical book for parents, and so often we just cross our fingers and keep moving forward.

I recently ran across a paper entitled “Collected documents on the Causes and Effects of the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850.”  Humboldt had many tragedies during the settlement period,  but we weren’t alone with our atrocities.

The Bloody Island Massacre was committed by a group of white men set on avenging the killing of two settlers in the Clear Lake area,  Andrew Kelsey and a man known as Stone.   Many believed that Natives killed Kelsey and Stone after suffering years of abuse in which hundreds of Natives died.   There were also stories of Kelsey and Stone taking the wives of their Native servants as concubines, and starving and beating their workers  with little or no provocation-the beatings often administered as entertainment for visitors.  These were cruel, horrible men but NO ONE STOPPED THEM.   Until the natives finally revolted, of course, and killed them.  Which instigated the Bloody Island Massacre and other murders of Natives.  Tragedy compounding tragedy though it didn’t have to be that way.

I would love to think that these tragedies are ancient history, but the recent gang rape of a fifteen year old girl in Richmond  shattered my blissful ignorance.  

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If your grandparents disappeared

October 19, 2009
Willie Childs and Jim James

Someone's ancestors


I have a friend who, according to the 1928 Bureau of Indian Affairs records, is of the Numsoose Tribe.  Trouble is that the Numsoose don’t exist anymore, and haven’t for long enough that people think they’ve heard of them, but can’t quite say where.

Many people figure “Indian” is “Indian” and the tribe isn’t all that important.  That is like saying the fact that you were born in Mississippi or have family in Ireland is irrelevant.   Or that Mexican, Spanish and South American are all pretty much the same.    

They’re not.

Legacy of slavery in California

September 30, 2009
Native Children on the Hoopa Reservation

Native Children on the Hoopa Reservation


I started this blog just before the Hoopa Tribal Chair was arrested in an incident involving an argument, a gun, and a family member or two (see article ).

While the incident was shocking and sad for all involved, thankfully no one got hurt, physically.  Emotionally it may have been a different story, and not just for the family and the tribal members involved.    Comments from readers of the Times Standard article ranged from sympathetic  to racist and hate- filled.  

It was unbelievable and far too familiar.  These were the same ignorant , misguided, judgemental beliefs that caused such suffering here so many years ago when the whites came in and marginalized the indigenous people.      

Last night  Patricia Whitelily commented that even now being Native American is  looked at as a deficit by some people,  and though I’d really like to argue with her,  some of the evidence falls in her favor.

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Native Resistance

September 28, 2009
Lucy Young

Lucy Young


Not all of the natives went peacefully to the reservations .  Last night I was contacted by a descendent of Chief Lassic (Lassac, Lasac, Lassik), who was noted for his resistance of white incursions.

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.


And it appears he did draw blood…

 Corp Larrabee is seriously wounded with an arrow (it appears this happened while attacking Lassic’s band where four Indians were killed). [June 22, 1861, Humboldt Times]

Note that Larrabee was a known Indian killer, and thought to be a main perpetrator of the Indian Island Massacre  and other murders of Natives.

 Lassic was captured and held for a time on the makeshift Indian prison created out of the Samoa Peninsula in Humboldt Bay in 1862.  A local newspaper editor toured the “indian quarters”,  noting that “to a person who has never seen a band of 700 to 800 wild Indians of all ages together, the sight is truly novel”.

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When aggressors became the protectors

August 26, 2009
Fort Humboldt, intially established to protect the settlers, became a temporary haven for the Natives

Fort Humboldt, intially established to protect the settlers, became a temporary haven for the Natives

While there were many who wanted the natives driven from the Humboldt Bay area, there were some, such as Exodus,  that recognized the injustice of it all.

Major Raines was in charge of Fort Humboldt in 1860, and after the massacre, he provided asylum to the surviving Natives. He initially refused to force them to the Klamath Reservation, but I think he eventually capitulated.  Does anyone know more of this story?

As an aside, I think it is very telling that Raines basically says that Sheriff Van Nest is in bed with the bad guys…

I could edit these articles and but I figure there is lots of info and don’t want to accidently omit something that might be interesting to someone…

Removal of Indians at Fort Humboldt to Klamath–Raines refusal to compel the Indians to leave -The Indian Department and Major Raines—After the massacre at Indian Island and South Beach, Major Raines issued orders that the survivors should be provided for and protected at Fort Humboldt, until some other disposition could be made of them. This was a judicious movement at the time and one that the circumstances required.  A few weeks ago the agent in charge of the Klamath reserve went word to the Major, to the effect that he was prepared to receive the Indians and ready to remove them.  Maj. Raines replied to the messenger that the was “truly glad to hear it, and that it would afford him great pleasure to co-operate with the agent, to the extent of his ability”.  Immediately upon his arrival in the county… Mr. Buel waited upon the Major and received assurance of this desire to be relieved of the Indians and that he would do all in his power to assist the agent in their removal.  The Major then had the Indians summoned, and said to them that Mr. Buel had “provided safe homes for them at the LK, that he was their friend and would talk nothing but the truth, and that it was for their own good that he wished them to go with him,” etc. etc.  So are it as all plain sailing with our officials;  but at an interview the next morning, Major R. gave the agent to understand that it would be necessary first to obtain the consent of the Indians, and that he would use his influence to induce them to agree to go, but that he had no authority to compel them.  to this Mr. Buel objected that it was “immaterial whether the Indians wished to go or not; that he was there to remove them and willing to use force to compel them to obey him, if requisite.”—Mr. Buel then left the Fort and subsequently sent the letter (follows)—to which the Major declined to make any reply.– Without pretending to know whether Major Raines is acting in accordance with orders or not, we submit that Fort Humboldt is not a proper place for these Indians. The question of employing force in the removal of the Indians at the Fort, is a mere abstraction.  There are but about seventy of them all told, men, women and children,… and it requires nothing but moral force to make them obey—But whether this should prove sufficient or not, we maintain that it is of no importance whatever, except as a matter of convenience, what the Indians think or wish in the premises.  They must be made to understand that henceforth they are to be taken care of by government, and they must yield implicit obedience to the officers appointed to take charge of them.  [Northern Californian, April 15, 1860]

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Wrong upon wrong

August 21, 2009
Unidentified man in front of traditional house

Unidentified man in front of traditional house

After the massacres  “Exodus”  wrote a letter to the San Francisco Bulletin.  In the letter (s) he observed

“Individuals constitute a community, and the acts of each member make up the common character of the whole body.  It must be expected that villains will grumble and snarl; but it is the duty of the Press, the Bench, the Pulpit, and of every honest man, to denounce crime.  This is a duty which we owe to Heaven and the society  in which we live—not merely a passive duty, for their villainies must go unpunished, and each good citizen will be victimized in his turn—but an active, zealous duty, bringing to justice especially those who out-savage the savage.  We must not lay the flattering unction to our souls that in the great day of account and retribution, when the catalogue of human frailties and crimes is read out, we have disapproved sufficiently by our silence along, lest the Mene Tekel—“thou art weighted in the balance and found wanting”—be pronounced against us and “thou shouldst not follow a multitude to do evil”. [San Francisco Bulletin,  April 23, 1860]

Exodus was prompted by what he (I’m just going to say “he” though ok, it might have been a woman) saw as a compounding of wrong upon wrong.

Many, or a few very verbal and outspoken, in Humboldt County saw the massacre as the inevitable result of racial intermixing and segregation as the only solution.  I could comment on the following, but the articles say too much already…

 1860, Mar. 28–Plan to Remedy the Indian Difficulty

To any one who has given the subject the least attention, or is acquainted with the Indian character, it must be apparent that the two races cannot live together.  The Indians  of this coast are not capable of either honesty, industry, or gratitude.  They cannot be controlled except with a strong hand. Before they can be made to respect and obey, they must be taught to fear the consequences of disobedience. The natives must be removed by some means or the county abandoned to their possession. To make war upon them with the purpose of indiscriminate “extermination,” is neither wise or humane, neither good policy nor right.  Some other mode to rid the country of their dangerous presence should be adopted. Those living near the settlements should be removed to the Reservation.

 We are authorized by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of this State, to say that he will receive and retain them, if he can have the assistance and cooperation of our citizens. That officers require assistance in collecting the Indians together, and an assurance from our people to the Indians that they will not be permitted again to live in this county. This plan, no doubt, is perfectly practicable, and in a short time we may have riddance of a very large number, who, if they do not themselves commit depredations, have furnished arms and ammunition to the mountain Indians. The removal of these “friendly” Indians will cut off the supplies and break up the hiding places of those openly hostile.  To carry this plan into effect there must be favorable concert of action on the part of the people.  Let there be not favorites excepted, and no tampering with the Indians allowed. All of the coast Indians out of the way, measures can be taken toward those openly hostile, living in the mountains, that will effectually put a stop to their depredations. [The Northern Californian]

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Ghosts aren’t the boss of me, but they still kinda push me around

August 18, 2009
Bret Harte

Bret Harte

So I wrote Saturday’s post in what felt like an act of defiance, demonstrating that I have conscious control over the direction of my blog.  I talked about my love of historic homes and posted the photo of one where Bret Harte,  a well known 19th  century write and mentor to Mark Twain, once lived. 

Yet, as some readers may know, the story of Bret Harte leads me right back to the story of the Indian Island massacre.  His story of the massacre.  So much for conscious control :-/.

Some call Bret Harte’s time in Humboldt County his lost years.  He arrived here Humboldt in 1857, twenty-one years old, slender, quiet and a bit of a “dandy”,  in contrast to many of the local frontiersmen, who were rough, tough and armed.  Harte made friends here, but stayed out of the saloons and away from the miners and others who mocked his fine clothes and good vocabulary.

Harte came up here likely at the urging of his sister, Margaret Wyman, who lived in Union and was married to a local judge.  After his arrival, he taught local children, wrote stories and poems,  and eventually landed a job with the Union (Arcata) newspaper, the Northern Californian. 

Harte was acting editor of the paper in the last weeks of February, 1860 and is credited by many for bringing the details of the massacre before the public eye by publishing a description in the Northern Californian.  (I’ll post his article at the end of this post, so only folks that want to read it will see the details).

It was rumored that he was confronted by an angry mob for his sympathetic stance for the Natives and driven out of the county  to San Francisco, never to return.

After leaving the North Coast, Harte found  work editing the Californian and then The Overland Monthly.  It was in these that he published his well known The Luck of Roaring Camp, The Outlaws of Poker Flat and other well known short stories and poems that focused on frontier life in the west.

Harte did not write specifically about his experiences in Humboldt County-though it is obvious in his stories, such as the Three Vagabonds of Trinidad.

Ernie has helped to highlight that it wasn’t just bad guys here, and that a climate of hatred and fear permeated much of the local culture.  For Harte and others like him, it must have been overwhelming…

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Burying the dead

August 17, 2009
Indian Cemetery

Indian Cemetery


After the massacre,   John Preston, John Danskin, John Kneeland, Louis Chevret and others helped load the bodies of the victims onto wagons and transport them to the Indian burial ground along the banks of the Mad River.

“Not a word was spoken by the Indians—not a sign of mental suffering given while they were unloading the bodies from the boats until the form of an aged woman was reached, the body of the wife of their old chief.  Then their grief burst forth in the wildest form with frenzied wails and screams of human sorrow, which they seemed unable to control for a time.  Throughout the long day of transferring their dead, they showed no resentment or blame of any kind toward their friends and ever after showed their appreciation of the kindness and sympathy offered them in their trouble. “ [Arcata Union obituary of Caroline Wright, Lucy’s daughter), transcript provided by Susie Van Kirk].

My guess is that Sarah Preston, John’s wife, provided this description for the obituary.

My husband, as I’ve mentioned, is Yurok, and when a family member dies and is buried in Orleans, the family digs and prepares the grave by hand.  There is a great deal of important ceremony that takes place to ensure the departed is sent off to the next life with love and care.

So many people died that day.  Even if only the twenty-eight bodies that Gunther saw  were taken to Union for burial, that is twenty-eight graves to dig.  The equivalent of a classroom full of children .

A thing explained…?

August 12, 2009
Hopefuls on their way to California

Hopefuls on their way to California

Maybe, just maybe, there is some explanation for what happened here.

My daughter came to visit yesterday and I told her about Ben Madley’s paper—his discovery of certain patterns in any invasion.

1)      The indigenous people are surprised and unprepared for invaders and fail to realize they are a threat

2)      The native people start responding , resisting and retaliating to – the incursion and abuses suffered at the hands of the invaders

3)      The invaders see the native response as a threat to life, limb and successful settlement, and eventually determine that isolation or extermination is the only answer .  Of course many believed the savages couldn’t be trusted and wouldn’t stay put on the reservations, so extermination seemed to be the only choice.

I am starting to wonder if part of the reason things were so violent here is that though the natives in this area started at phase one, the invaders came in with phase three attitudes. Many emigrants grew up in areas where all three phases had occurred and crossed country where they were yet happening.  Some lost family to Indians and many more lived in mortal fear they might.   Many of the settlers that arrived in California were  already convinced that  Natives were violent, blood-thirsty, scalp stealing savages  that needed killing before they killed you. Any perceived threat was met with an extreme response because east of California, natives were a threat… not that you could blame those Natives if they experience anything like what happened here.

Of course others just equated  genocide with  natural progress.  Manifest destiny and all that.

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