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.