What can’t be understood

August 6, 2009
Indian Island-site of one massacre

Indian Island-site of one massacre

When I first learned that Lucy had been on Indian Island at the time of the massacre, I tried to imagine her experience.

The holocaust was the closest thing that came to mind.  The same genocide. The same mindless slaughter.  Millions died in Germany and probably only thousands here, but families were ripped apart and the  bodies piled up just the same.   

There are differences I still can’t quite get my head around. We’ve seen movies where there is a heavy knock on the door and man with a German accent demands entrance, looking for Jews.  We’ve read Anne Frank and seen images of cattle cars filled with hollow eyed captives….    

But the women and children slaughtered on Indian Island were attacked before daybreak and killed without warning. 

“…the assassins…stealthily approached the shore and landed…     They … penetrate each lodge; one holds the light to show where to strike, and while the faces of the poor women and children … are… turned up…, they begin their work of death with axes, hatches and knives.  Amidst the wailing of mutilated infants, the cries of agony of children, the shrieks and groans of mothers in death, the savage blows are given, cutting through bone, and brain.  The cries for mercy are met by joke and libidinous remark, while the bloody ax descends with unpitying stroke, again and again, doing its work of death, the hatchet and knife finishing what the ax left undone.  A few escaped—a child under the body of its dead mother, a young woman wounded, and another who hid in the bushes.

 In an hour they had accomplished their work and were gone, laden with the spoil of Indian blankets, leaving their victims strewed around, weltering in their gore—some dead, some dying, some writhing in pain and anguish, exhibiting a scene such as not tongue can tell, and no eye had ever seen before on our continent, even thought savages practiced in cruelty were the perpetrators.  ~ Reader, this is no fancied sketch, no exaggerated tale; it falls short of the stern reality.  But a short time after, the writer was upon the ground with feet treading in human blood, horrified with the awful and sickening sights which met the eye wherever it turned. Here was another fatally wounded hugging the mutilated carcass of her dying infant to her bosom; there, a poor children of two years old, with its ear and scalp tore from the side of its little head.  Here a father frantic with grief over the blooding corpses of his four little children and wife; there a brother and sister bitterly weeping an, and trying to soothe with cold water, the pallid face of a dying relative.  Here, an aged female still living and sitting up, though covered with ghastly wounds, and dyed in her own blood; there a living infant by its dead mother, desirous of drawing some nourishment from a source that had ceased to flow.  ~The wounded, dead and dying were found all around and in every lodge the skulls and frames of women and children cleft with axes and hatchets, and stabbed with knives, and the brains of an infant oozing from its broken head to the ground… “  [Daily Evening Bulletin, S.F., 13 March 1860]

Indian Island was only one massacre, made public by the proximity to Eureka.  Many other natives were killed in their villages and in the surrounding countryside, atrocities hidden by isolation and secrecy.   

Maybe such a thing shouldn’t be imagined.