1906 Expulsion of the Chinese

January 24, 2016
The County photo is dated 1885, but Pfaelzer dates is 1906...

Source: Humboldt County Collection (notice the Yacht Club in the background)

Jeannie Pfaelzer included a photo in her book, Driven Out, The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, that references a Chinese expulsion in Humboldt County in 1906- I’ve finally found the story…

In the summer of 1905, the Tallant-Grant Co. of Astoria, Oregon established a cold storage plant at Port Kenyon on the Salt River and with the commencement of the salmon season in October, purchased the fishermen’s catches for two cents a pound. During two months of fishing and at various times, daily receipts of nine, ten, and twelve tons were recorded (Ferndale Enterprise, 1 Aug. 1905; 17 Oct. 1905; 27 Oct. 1905; 5 Dec. 1905). Because Eel River salmon were no longer of the size or grade most desirable for cold storage purposes and in order to handle this surplus, the Company explored the feasibility of developing a cannery at Port Kenyon (Ferndale Enterprise 2 Oct. 1906). An inquiry was made to the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce about the employment of Chinese labor, without which, the Company claimed such a plant could not be successful. The Chamber responded that there would be no objection as long as certain conditions were met,including 1) the Chinese would work only at the cannery, 2) stay no longer than the period of operations, and 3) they would not be permitted at any time to leave the vicinity of the cannery (Ferndale Enterprise 22 June 1906). The Tallant-Grant Company built a 110×50 addition to the Port Kenyon Cold Storage Company building for the cannery, which began operations during the 1906 season. The investors felt that such a facility would be economically viable by utilizing the smaller salmon caught by the local fishermen and easily exported via the Salt River (Ferndale Enterprise 4 Sept. 1906; 9 Oct. 1906). Read the rest of this entry »

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]

  Read the rest of this entry »

You could get hit by a truck tomorrow

August 21, 2009
Unidentified people in group portrait

Don't have a clue as to who these people are...


In my last post I urged people to talk to their elders and learn their family stories, family history.   Without meaning to lecture, today I will go further and say WRITE IT DOWN.   Any of it, all of it.  Memories are amazingly unreliable things… and while stories are interesting, they have a way of morphing with each telling, until they become the bullshistory that Ernie talks about. 

After Bret Harte left (or was forced from) Humboldt County, he didn’t write about his three years here (hence the “lost years” description).   Other than his editorials, and what he consciously or unconsciously reveals in his fiction, we don’t really know much about his experiences and likely never will. That part of history, that perspective,  is lost forever.

Don’t let that happen to your descendants.  While I’m being bossy, I’m going to go ahead and remind folks that this is history too.  This moment, right now.  Any genealogist hungry for family stories will appreciate what I’m saying here.   Record your own stories and your ghost will feel the love a hundred years from now.

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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…

  Read the rest of this entry »

When thugs ruled

August 11, 2009

Early Fort Humboldt, established to address the "Indian problem"

Early Fort Humboldt, established to address the "Indian problem"

Recently blog  reader Ernie B    observed  HERE  that at least some of the perpetrators involved in the massacres may have been coerced into doing so. 

 “… As you continue your research you will find that rule by intimidation was very prevalent. Many thugs had henchmen to do their dirty work. People that crossed the thugs were shot, and witnesses would swear that it was self defense. Many small ranchers were poisoned with strychnine…

It is not a stretch to think that the people that joined Larrabee in the Indian Island massacre were there through intimidation, or the desire to prove themselves to be one of the gang. Very much similar to some motorcycle gangs of today…

Most likely the people that were helping Larrabee were intimidated into being there, and that is why we don’t know who they were. They didn’t want anybody to know. Just a educated guess. “ ~Ernie B, 8 Aug 2009

Note  to readers unfamiliar with our history:   Hank Larrabee was often named in military and other documents as a perpetrator of the Indian Island massacre and other atrocities against the natives.

Ernie may be  on to something here… one of the most striking things about the massacre was the lack of justice demanded by the public on behalf of those murdered.   The perpetrators, though apparently known by at least a few, were never called to answer for their crimes.  It would be easy to assume that the  residents around the Bay didn’t care enough to bother…. but perhaps there was another reason.  

After  the massacre, the following letter was sent to the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin:

”Having lately arrived here from Humboldt Bay, I take the opportunity to inform the public…  of a few of the recent instances of shameful and horrible crime committed upon the Indians  in Humboldt county by white men (here the author describes the February massacres and then)…  Some time about the 18th March last, three desperate ruffians, armed with hatchets, entered the hotel at Hydesville, and demanded of the proprietor by what authority he had written a letter to Liuet. Hardcastel, of the U.S.A. at Fort Humboldt,  and if he had not convinced said ruffians that the letter was strictly private, and had no allusions to Indian affairs, and no communications for the Bulletin, he would have been assassinated on the spot. The names of these ruffians I shall withhold for the present.   Society is completely demoralized on Eel River; and the Thugs are largely in the majority, led on by Wiley of the Humboldt Times, and by Van Nest the Sheriff. Young men talk and think of nothing else but hanging and killing young Diggers and their mothers.  The pulpit is silent, and the preachers say not a word.  In fact, they dare not…  Men who detest and abhor the thugging system, from circumstances which surround them, are silent.  Two or three men who were on the last Grand Jury which sat at Eureka were thugs. … I append my name, privately , to this record of some of the atrocious deeds that have recently been perpetrated in Humboldt county. I have left that quarter for good; but as I have a few friends in the place, I do not wish that they should be molested for any doings of mine, and you had better, therefore, not communicate my name, except under such circumstances as you may consider necessary or proper for the public good. [Daily Evening Bulletin-: San Francisco, June 1, 1860]

It is unfortunate for us that the Bulletin editor chose not to make the writer’s name public and that the writer declined to name the thugs, though both decisions were probably fortunate for the author and his friends.  This was an ugly time….  and though I would love to judge those who refused to advocate on behalf of the Natives,  I do know it wouldn’t be fair.

My family recently watched Pale Rider, with Clint Eastwood, which was a typical western story, gold rush, good guys, bad guys who have the local law in their back pocket, and a hero that comes in and saves the town.

Kinda similar here.  Except it looks like perhaps the bad guys were the law… and no good guys came in to save the Indians.


August 10, 2009


White man w/ Native family

White man w/ Native family

 James Brown was a person of interest during the inquest called to investigate Lucy Romero’s murder .   

 Note: many of the Prestons believed that Lucy was murdered because she witnessed the Indian Island massacre and could implicate the killers.  This is unlikely, though, as she was killed two years after the massacre.

  During the inquest, witnesses recounted conversations they had with Brown,  though Brown himself was never called to testify.   One said Brown thought it would be “better for the County if all the Indians were all killed, squaws and all.” Another witness, added, though,  that he heard “Mr. Brown say… that he (Brown) would not kill any person’s squaw or little Indian” [Inquest record investigating the death of Lucy Romero, Jan 1862].

 So…?  So James Brown was one of the few men publically implicated in the Indian Island massacre (argh, I can’t find my source right now, but am pretty sure historians Jerry Rohde and Susie Van Kirk  will back me up on this one).  And many of the women that survived the massacre on Indian Island were “squaws” of white men. Lucy Romero, Sarah McQuire’s mother (Sarah’s father was white), Matilda Spears, Nancy Hitchcock, Josephine Beach, Hatteway’s squaw…

 Perhaps even  the monsters that slaughtered so many on the Island had some sense of honor and intentionally spared the women and children that ‘belonged” to their friends and neighbors (Brown was neighbors or had business dealings with the Hitchcock, Spears and Beach–he also owned property near Hatteway and Romero and would likely have known them).

Mad River Billy was a favorite among the settlers, and he, too, survived.  You don’t steal another man’s horse, you don’t shoot his squaw or “pet” Indian…

 The following is a list of names and records indicating massacre survivors, though many of the records describe that person as “the only survivor”… If others can add info or other names, it would be appreciated.

  Read the rest of this entry »