Little Known History of Slavery in California

January 22, 2013
Child captives (who became child slaves)

Child captives (who became child slaves)

I was honored recently to be able to participate in the TedX Eureka  event where I presented on the History of Slavery (indenture) in California. That video is now posted on youtube:

Link to TedX Video

If you would like me to give a presentation similar to that in the video to your civic group or classroom, please email me at  

It is not pleasant history, but it is important and has been lost and forgotten too many times.


A contagious obsession

January 21, 2010

 Randy, a blogger parked at, 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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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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Setting the stage for legalized slavery In California

September 22, 2009
1847 Map of Yerba Buena, aka San Francisco

1847 Map of Yerba Buena, aka San Francisco


As early as 1846, the powers that be in California were setting the stage for legal indenture, or enslavement, of Native Americans. 

 Captain John B. Montgomery was commander of the U.S.S. Portsmouth stationed at Yerba Buena, later known as San Francisco, when he received orders to claim the town for the United States.    Montgomery placed an American flag at the Plaza on July 9, 1846 and worked with Lieutenant Washington Bartlett, a junior officer on the Portsmouth, over the next five months to organize a local government for  San Francisco.

 In September, 1846, Montgomery issued the following proclamation.  On the surface, it appears to guard the Natives against illegal capture and enslavement, and in fact the title of the San Francisco history page where the proclamation is posted is called “End of Indian Slavery in San Francisco”.  But if you read closer, the wording simply transferred control of those natives from non-Americans to Americans by requiring those wanting Indian servants to obtain a contract from an American Justice.      It also requires that all natives “obtain service”, so they had to work for someone or risk “arrest and punishment by labor on the public works”.  

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Saving a starfish

September 4, 2009
Baskets were sometimes the only thing of value the Natives had

Baskets were sometimes the only thing of value the Natives had

While walking along the ocean, a man saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the water during low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed a young man picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the water.

After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said, “There must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly save enough to matter.”

The young man smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and tossed it back into the ocean. “It matters to this one,” he replied.

                This story is used by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)   an organization near and dear to me that provides volunteer advocates for children in foster care.  I’ve included the little story because I  believe the same sentiment can be applied here.  

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Where are my heroes?

September 3, 2009


Unknown subjects

Unknown subjects

There has been much discussion of the treatment of Native Americans during the settlement period, and if present day folks really have a right to judge the settlers for their actions when we can’t truly understand their experience. (Ernie’s Blog  is a good place to read some different perspectives on the topic).

I have been following the discussion with the unspoken conviction that there were good people here during the settlement period.  People that recognized the inhumanity of the treatment of the natives and did what they could to help.  When I first found Carpenter’s article, Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago,

published in the Overland Monthly,  by Bret Harte,  I thought I’d found a progressive thinker and I was thankful that someone had provided us with such a vivid  and sympathetic picture of the settlement period and the experience of children kidnapped and indentured. 

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Among the Diggers

September 2, 2009


Another "quail" by Grace Carpenter-Hudson, Helen's daughter

Another "quail" by Grace Carpenter-Hudson, Helen's daughter

This is the third part of a three part series containing excerpts of an article, Among the Diggers of Thirty Years Ago,  written by Helen Carpenter, a resident of Mendocino County during the settlement period.





 It is interesting to note the  Carpenter’s article was published in the Overland Monthly—  in 1893, by our own Bret Harte .

 Click HERE for Part 1

  and HERE for Part 2 …

 … On one of Cap’s trips down from his stock ranch, he stopped for the night at a farmhouse. Three Indian boys accompanied him, and although the weather was cold, they had no clothing except shirts, miner’s sizes at that, although the boys were little higher than a chair. Cap told quite a pathetic little tale of the death of their parents, and friends of the boys wanted him to raise them, etc, etc., all of which was not disputed by the boys, as they could neither speak nor understand one word of English ; but they knew how to eat, and the farmer’s wife fairly stuffed them before making them comfortable for the night in the kitchen, before a large open fireplace. In an adjoining shed hung half a beef, and those little fellows put in a good part of the night cooking and eating such scraps as they could haggle off with a dull case knife; and then before it was fairly daylight they captured a lot of young chickens, thinking no doubt they were grouse. Timely interference saved the chickens, to the disappointment of the boys.

Of course, the Indians had names, but no amount of persuasion could induce them to disclose any. If asked “What is your name?” the stereotyped answer was, “No name.” ” O, yes, you have a name. What is it in Injun ?”

” No name.”

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When slavery was the better alternative

September 1, 2009

This next part of Carpenter’s story brings up an important issue.  Indenture amounted to legal slavery, but it appears that even some Natives pursued this option over being imprisoned on a reservation.  Reservations were notoriously dangerous places, where Natives were dependent on incompetent and downright abusive Indian agents for food, shelter and protection.  Ironically, they also became collecting spots for Indian traders.   The concentration of Natives on a reservation made it easier for men to gather children and young squaws without the trouble of hunting them down.  Natives who attempted to leave the “protection” of the reservation were sometimes shot, even if they were starving and in search of food.

I believe there were quite a few settlers that offered asylum to the Natives through indenture.  It was a scary time to be Indian, and for some, falling under white protection, even if as a slave, may have been their only hope.

Continued from 8/31/09 post


… About this time the Department of Indian Affairs ordered all Indians living in their tribal relations to the reservation. Many of them had been there, and not liking the treatment they received, preferred rations of acorns a part of the time and starvation afterwards to going under Uncle Sam’s protection.

An attempt was made to force them to the reservation, but they fled to the hills and did not return until the officers were at a safe distance. The local story runs that then a learned judge of Cal- pella in his blandest tones tried persuasion. ” Now, boys,” he said, addressing them, ” I have been here among you a long time, and you all know I am ami- cus humani generis, or I wouldn’t be talking to you today; and I am thoroughly convinced that it would be to the interest of every one of you to go sine. mom. Of course you would be kept sumptibus publicis, and if everything didn’t go adgustus, it certainly is the great desideratum. We do not intend to force you to go nolens volens, but as I have tried to make you understand, it most assuredly is commune boiium.”

O, why did n’t he say ” nix cum rouse,” and give them a certain time in which to guess the puzzle ! [Lynette’s note… this is completely lost on me… anyone that can explain this is encouraged to try]

Before the second appearance of the officers, determined to enforce the governmental order, many of the Indians took advantage of the State law, and obtained guardians,— whole families being bound to one person. The rest again sought shelter in the mountains. Conspicuous among the latter were Captain John and family.

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Mass murder made acquiring slaves easier

August 28, 2009


Grace Carpenter's depiction of captured Indian children

Grace Carpenter's depiction of captured Indian children

Boy, when I read that title, it seems harsh, but why shouldn’t I call it as it was… The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was established in California in 1850, and among other provisions it allowed for the legal indenture of Native Americans under many circumstances. 

Indenture is a pretty word for slavery.  In the case of children, the indenture granted the petitioner a certificate,   “authorizing him or her to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of such minor, until he or she obtain the age of majority. Every male Indian shall be deemed to have attained his majority at eighteen, and the female at fifteen years.”

 The ages were extended under many circumstances and adults were often indentured in a similar manner.

Because Indian children considered “quite docile and very good servants, learning to work and to speak English very readily,” they were coveted by families seeking cheap and reliable labor and people would pay to have them  [Humboldt times, Oct 5, 1861] . 

 Human trafficking in Indian children became a popular and lucrative business  in Humboldt County but, because Indian parents were generally “loath to part with their offspring at such ages as would make them most susceptible of training”  [Humboldt Times, March 1, 1860] traders used other means to acquire them.

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