Apaches and Afghans, Geronimo and bin Laden: How the US military uses allies to fight their own people and then abandons them

In 1886, when Geronimo went “off the reservation” for the third time, the US military’s only hope of finding him was to use friendly Apache scouts. For most of the year, the US military, with 5,000 white soldiers and dozens of Apache trackers, chased Geronimo’s small band of 38 men, women, and children through the rugged mountains of Mexico.

When Geronimo finally surrendered, he and his band were all packed on a train and sent to a prison in Florida. The children were sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where a third of them died of tuberculosis. They were considered future terrorists. As Miles said, “the boys of today will become the Geronimos of a few years hence.” The Apache scouts were rewarded with the same fate— fourteen of them were also shipped off to prison in Florida. Also sent to Florida were hundreds of other Chiricahua Apache that never even left the reservation.

A photo showing most of Geronimo’s band en route to a Fort Marion in Florida. Also sent to prison were the Apache scouts who helped capture him, as well as about 400 other Chiricahua Apache that never even left the reservation.

In 2011, when Osama bin Laden was hiding in similarly remote country, the US military gave him the code name Geronimo, used Apache helicopters, and eventually found and killed him after ten years of searching.

There are deeper parallels. Essential to the US military effort in Afghanistan were —and still are— thousands of Afghan translators, engineers, and other professionals assisting US troops on a daily basis. Like the Apache scouts, most of them face the same risks on the job as American soldiers. Some have been killed in combat or by roadside bombs. More significantly, in a land where the Taliban controls most of the countryside, all their neighbors know who they are working for. They and their families are constantly at risk because they work for the Americans. In this way, they are sacrificing more, and putting more at risk, than US troops.

Recognizing this, in 2008 the US government created the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, offering these Afghan allies the chance to immigrate to the US with a permanent green card and work permit. That may sound like a golden opportunity for them, but they are only escaping their country because they have to. In most cases, they are leaving behind parents and other relatives, with little hope of ever returning. They are only allowed to bring their own children. When they get here, the US doesn’t actually do a whole lot for them. They get a one time stipend of about $900 per family member, most of which quickly goes to first and last months’ rent and a cleaning deposit for an over-crowded apartment. Imagine a family of eight in a small two-bedroom apartment where the a/c and furnace don’t work. I know. I’ve spent the past nine months befriending one such family. They get food stamps for six months, and enrolled in Medicare. They are on their own for transportation and a job and everything else. I was shocked to learn they are also obligated to pay back the US government the cost of their airfare from Afghanistan, which can total over $10,000 for a family. Most significantly, their engineering degrees and professional certifications aren’t valid in the US. So men that supervised the construction of military bases for US troops in Kabul are now driving Uber in Sacramento.

They are the lucky ones. The SIV application process, with includes extensive background checks because they may be future terrorists, is so bogged down that there are now over 20,000 waiting to be processed in Afghanistan. They are in line for just 4,000 visas; only about half actually get processed in a given year. The wait takes years. Every few months, Afghan refugee social media channels in the US are filled with the news of another colleague assassinated on the streets of Kabul or Ghazni. Since the election of Trump, the number of SIVs processed has slowed dramatically. In 2016, resettlement organizations in Sacramento, one of the top destinations for SIV refugees, worked with multiple new families arriving each week. Last year, new arrivals slowed to less than one a month.

One-hundred thirty years after the Apache scouts were sent to prison, helping the US military fight your own people is still a thankless task. The only “thank you for your service” that Afghans get is to be sent thousands of miles from their home with little support, just like the Apache scouts.

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Land acknowledgement: San Diego Bay, California

I recently found myself staying in San Diego. It was a work trip related to oil spill response– one of the things we gotta do in the modern industrialized world: prepare for oil spills. Keeping with my new year’s resolution, here’s my land acknowledgement.

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San Diego Bay may have changed over time, but the sky is probably much the same as always.

This was Kumeyaay country. Still is– only, like most Natives in southern California, they were moved off the expensive shoreline real estate to deserts and mountains inland. That’s still Kumeyaay country; for thousands of years, they occupied the San Diego area from the coast all the way to the Colorado River.

The Spanish arrived in the late 1700s. That’s pretty late by European conquest standards, especially since they had already been in Mexico for 250 years. California was hard to get to. Like an island, it was protected on the inland side by harsh deserts. On the ocean, Spanish vessels coming up from Mexico struggled against northwest headwinds. They finally made it in 1769. But who made it was a lunatic fringe, Father Junipero Serra. He set up a tyrannical mission system that was considered out of control by European visitors, Mexican authorities, and Catholic authorities in Rome. The Mexican authorities shut them down 57 years later.

The missions were devastating to the Natives. I could write books on conditions inside them– and many have. I’ll limit it to this: In 1790 the missionaries reported to Mexico City that there were 13,308 Indians living in the missions. They reported 4,780 had died so far that year. That’s 26%. There were still six more weeks left in the year.

The Mission San Diego de Alcalá was built in 1769. But the Kumeyaay did not accept enslavement easily. Six years later, over six hundred of them sacked the mission, burned it to the ground, and bludgeoned three Spaniards to death, including a priest.

Today the Kumeyaay live on 13 different reservations, as well as off reservations, and are associated with 11 different federally-recognized tribes. There are also five Kumeyaay communities in Baja California.

 

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Land acknowledgement: Covington Catholic High School, Park Hills, Kentucky

I said I’d do a land acknowledgment for every place I stayed this year. I started with my home. I’m adding one more: Covington Catholic High School, located on Dixie Highway in Park Hills, Kentucky, a wealthy suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. I haven’t been here, but with Native leaders reaching out to the school to help educate its staff and students, I offer this for historical context.

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Covington Catholic High School in the foreground, with Cincinnati and the Ohio River (brown) in the background.

CovCath, as they call themselves, is located about a mile south of the Ohio River. The Ohio River Valley, which occupies a vast swath of woodlands from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River, has long been prime real estate in North America. For over 10,000 years it has been a hunting ground, meeting place, and transportation corridor all at once. It’s a place where people and ideas converge.

It was home to the Mississippian mound building culture pre-Columbus, a culture famous for its large cities (larger than Paris and London at the time) and temple mounds. After apparently suffering de-population from diseases spread by DeSoto, though he never went this far north, survivors and other groups maintained a presence. By the 1600s, the great Haudenosaunee Confederacy (the Five Nations of the Iroquois), one of the world’s oldest democracies, managed much of the Ohio River Valley essentially as the world’s large game refuge. They burned the forest undergrowth annually to create a giant deer park. It was overseen by vassal states, called Half-Kings.

By 1750, the valley was embroiled in a massive turf war between the French and the British, each seeking exclusive rights to trade with the local Iroquois, Shawnee, Cherokee, Miami, Kispoko, Maumee, Mingo, and others. A world war started here: the Seven Years War (known in North America as the French and Indian War). The British won it in 1763 and prohibited European settlement west of the Appalachians– supposedly.

In 1772, after a massive influx of illegal white settlements, this part of Kentucky became Cherokee cession #5, ceded to the British governor of Virginia. Like the Iroquois, the Cherokee were only using it as a hunting ground; they had no villages or towns here.

With US independence, the flood of white settlers intensified. Barges loaded with furniture, supplies, and settlers poured down the Ohio River. The Shawnee occasionally attacked them. Tecumseh tried to unite all the tribes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to form a curtain to stop the white settlers, to create an independent Native nation state. He was trying to win back large parts of the Ohio River Valley that older chiefs, forced into debt by the fur trade and lack of game, had already signed over in exchange for annuities which never arrived. Tecumseh was defeated and the great game refuge, now bereft of most of its deer, reverted to white settlement.

Here I could focus on physical changes in the land in the last two hundred years: economic development, environmental degradation, etc. But I’ll focus on the myths and beliefs of the white settlers.

Throughout the 1800s, white US school children were taught that the old Mound Builders were probably white, probably from Europe, but were wiped out by “merciless Indian savages”. Thus, in a way, the white American settlers were only re-claiming their own land; they were the true Americans.

Today, the “mound builder myth” is being revived by neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and Fox News. That myth is probably not taught at Covington Catholic High School, but it’s not clear what is. Though they reside on former Native land, they seem to have no respect for Native Americans nor understanding of their history. The students of CovCath bring with them, of course, their religion from overseas. They claim to follow Jesus, who preached that God’s love applied not just to Israelites, but “to all nations”, including –especially– marginalized people: women, lepers, Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, and other ethnic groups. Yet they wear “Make America Great Again” hats, a message specific to one nation and one ethnic group, a symbol of white supremacy, a symbol likely to offend the very marginalized groups they should be committed to serving.

The students at Covington Catholic High School, and by extension their parents, teachers, and priests, appear to be occupiers with no understanding of their past nor of their own stated beliefs.

Below is an official statement from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska regarding Nathan Phillips’ encounter with the CovCath students. It concludes with, “America to us will always be our homelands, and for that it will always be great.”

omahamessage

 

 

 

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The smug face of white privilege

smugThat smug face that brims with confidence. It has a smirk that says

I will win.

I’ve already won.

I cheat to win.

I can buy the judge, buy the cops, write the rules, make the laws.

I create alternative facts. I have my own news stations. I pay off porn stars.

I got the pipeline moved from my neighborhood to your neighborhood with only a short private conversation at the golf club.

I don’t need to protest. You do.

I don’t need to bang a drum to be heard. You do.

I’m only seventeen and you’re an elder, but I still have more power than you.

My elders bought my land fair and square from the Cherokee.

I can act with impunity. I’m innocent; I’m not even saying anything. I will tell my teacher I did not participate. I have nothing to do with all my friends behind me mimicking you and your people. My campaign may have colluded, but I did not. I just looked at you, that’s all.

But some day that smug face won’t have a smirk any more.

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America, meet the real Pocahontas

Pocahontas2These facts are well-documented: Pocahontas was kidnapped by the men of Jamestown. Then, while in captivity, she was impregnated by and married to one of her captors, John Rolfe. Like one of the Boko Haram girls. He took her to London and showed her off. She got sick there and died far from home. She was twenty-one. Like so many missing and murdered indigenous women (#MMIW). Then she was forgotten for two hundred years. Then she was resurrected, reconstructed, and appropriated to justify the ethnic cleansing and genocide of her people.

Here are some of the details, according to written records from the Jamestown colony and oral history from the Powhatan people.

Pocahontas was born around 1596, the daughter of Chief Powhatan. By all accounts, she was precocious, vivacious, and boisterous. As a child, she led the boys around the English fort at Jamestown, stark naked, doing cartwheels thru their town. Everyone knew the chief adored her. He had many children, most through the wives of vassal villages to cement their allegiance to him. But she was his child through his wife from his own village, the wife he loved. And she was his youngest and last child, for her mother died giving birth to her. Her real name was Matoaka. Pocahontas was a nickname meaning “little wanton one”, what we might call “wild thing”.

Pocahontas4

Pocahontas supposedly sparing John Smith. She would have been eleven years old at the time. In most paintings, her skin is white.

In 1607, the people of Jamestown were starving. Of ninety, fifty had died. In their desperate search for food, they attacked local villages. The Powhatan guard captured John Smith, their red-haired, red-bearded warrior. Brought before Chief Powhatan, he concocted a story, that they were fleeing the Spanish and were blown off course. They would be rescued soon, he said. May we have some corn? The myth is that Powhatan ordered the execution of Smith, but Pocahontas intervened and saved him. It is true that among many Native cultures, women had the power of clemency, but Pocahontas would have been about eleven years old. In reality, Powhatan cut a deal with Smith, essentially turning Jamestown into a vassal state, adopting John Smith as his loyal son, and taking the colonists’ weapons, including two cannons and a large grindstone. In return, Powhatan offered them corn. Smith took the deal; Pocahontas probably had nothing to do with it.

 

Pocahontas3

She was painted in whiteface and paraded around London as a model Indian.

The English were poor vassals. Still starving, they attacked neighboring villages. Powhatan subjected them to an embargo.

 

Starving again, the English of Jamestown resorted to cannibalism. In 1610, they abandoned their colony and left. As their vessel sailed out of Chesapeake Bay, they encountered another vessel sailing in. It was England providing more food and bodies to sustain the colony. They turned their boat around.

Three years later, tensions between Jamestown and Powhatan continued to simmer. The English still wanted their cannons and grindstone back. Pocahontas was now 17. She was married to Kocoum and had a child. Because Powhatan feared the English might kidnap her, she moved out of her father’s village to another up Potomac Creek. But the English found her, killed her husband, and took her captive.

Powhatan paid her ransom, so the English demanded a second ransom. Pocahontas’ captivity dragged on. They allowed relatives to visit her, but they would not release her. She married John Rolfe, the founder of tobacco farming in the colonies, gave birth to a child, and converted to Christianity. We have no idea how sincere she was. We do know she was a teenage captive at the time. We do know that her uncle, a Powhatan leader and later successor to her father, was a sincere believer in Powhatan traditions.

After she was married to John Rolfe, he took her to London to demonstrate the taming of the savages. He referred to her as a “creature”. While there, at a banquet hosted by the Bishop of London, she ran into John Smith.  It was the first time she had seen him in many years. She recalled his concocted story that night in the council lodge when she was a girl and his broken pledge of fealty to her father. Still a wanton one, she confronted him angrily. His subterfuge led to the war between her people and his people, the slaughter of Powhatan children, the desecration of Powhatan temples, and, ultimately, to her capture. Her father should have killed him. It’s one of the last stories we have of Pocahontas’ life.

Then she largely disappeared for two hundred years.

Pocahontas7

In the 1800s, her breasts and blowing hair helped sell chewing tobacco.

Her story was revived in the 1800s. While white Americans passed the Indian Removal Act, shouted “Exterminate them!” and collected bounties for Native scalps, they also became obsessed with Pocahontas, the savage who saw the light of civilization, found Jesus, and married into white society. She was the good Indian, appealing to children from school books and jigsaw puzzles. Burlesque dramas told her story in blackface. A Confederate militia called themselves the Guard of the Daughters of Powhatan.

 

This story of her story persisted.

Today her portrait, with white skin and brown wavy hair and a face like English royalty, attired head to toe in the latest London fashion, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. A painting of her baptism, twelve feet tall, seventeen feet wide, with life-sized characters, hangs in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC. It is one of eight paintings memorializing American history, although four of them depict scenes of white conquest before the Pilgrims even landed. Three of those paintings feature native women, all raped or about to be raped. 

Pocahontas5

The baptism of Pocahontas is a massive oil painting that hangs in the Capitol Rotunda. The artist was not shy about his purpose: “She stands foremost in the train of those wandering children of the forest who have at different times—few, indeed, and far between—been snatched from the fangs of a barbarous idolatry, to become lambs in the fold of the Divine Shepherd. She therefore appeals to our religious as well as our patriotic sympathies and is equally associated with the rise and progress of the Christian Church as with the political destinies of the United States.”

Disney gave her the body of Barbie, sexy, alluring, exotic and erotic, an object of forbidden jungle love. As a good Indian, she spread her legs to welcome white penetration. Now she is Pocahottie. And, most importantly, in the white re-make of Pocahontas, now she loves John Smith. Thus the wild thing has been tamed, but only in myth.

Pocahontas6

This theme of male-Euro conquest of female-America began five hundred years ago. In 1946, Samuel Eliot Morison won a Pulitzer Prize when he wrote that “the New World gracefully yielded her virginity to the conquering Castilians.”

On a related note: Previous blog post on Native reaction to Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test.

 

 

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What do Native Americans think about Elizabeth Warren?

<> on February 23, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland.

A conservative politician makes fun of Elizabeth Warren.

It’s complicated.

Two white politicians are in conflict. One, virulently racist and anti-Native in thought, word, and deed, verbally ridicules the other, who is an ally of Natives on most policy issues.

Let’s start with the ally, Elizabeth Warren. To quote Opechan from IndianCountry Reddit, she has been active in promoting and sponsoring “pro-Indian legislation concerning safety, health, and food-on-the-table issues.” She has also allied herself “with Representatives Haaland and Davids, the first Native American women elevated to Congress.” On issue after issue, Warren is united with Native Americans and she is anti-Trump.

That said, she doesn’t really understand Native Americans. She stumbled awfully and publicly into the complex topic of Native identity and sovereignty when she claimed, based on an old family story, that she had some Native ancestry. That, in and of itself, is not surprising, especially for someone from Oklahoma. But what she didn’t have was a long-standing family or personal connection to the Cherokee Nation.

At this point, she should have acknowledged as much and dropped the subject. But she didn’t. She took Trump’s bait and proceeded to stumble more, taking a DNA test to prove that old family story.

That’s when Native reaction really split, resulting in fierce debate.

The most public Native condemnation of Warren, at least as reported by the white media, came from Chuck Hoskin, the Cherokee Nation Secretary of State, who said, “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.”   Within Indian Country, there was plenty of additional condemnation of Warren, the basic point being that she did not understand the difference between a DNA test and an actual relationship with a Native community, nor the distinction between tribes as ethnic groups and sovereign nations. It looked like she was trying to purchase Native identity, appropriate it for political gain, and circumvent Cherokee sovereignty regarding citizenship. Natives called her a “pretendindian”. Academics fit her behavior into a paradigm of white people “playing Indian”.

Then a second conflict erupted, between anti-Warren Natives and the Huffington Post. Jennifer Bendery wrote an op-ed asserting that Native criticism of Warren was overblown. Her subtitle was “Tribal leaders and Native people say the senator is an ally — and they support her look at her ancestry. But hardly anyone asked them.”  Bendery, like Warren, did not have a full understanding of Native American cultural complexity and, like Warren, also stumbled. She claimed she had spoken to many Native “leaders”, and that none of them had spoken out against Warren. Bendery then went on to quote Doug George-Kanentiio, co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), who explained that tribes were busy addressing “serious problems with domestic abuse, youth suicide, environmental contamination, loss of territory and horrifying levels of missing and murdered Native women.”

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Elizabeth Warren with Debra Haaland

This struck a raw nerve with many Natives. It sounded like: We’ve spoken to your chief, he’s on our side, don’t be offended by this, just go home and focus on your poverty. Natives have been dismissed like this for centuries. First, Native leaders, even elected ones, don’t speak for everyone. In the age of Trump, you would think the mainstream media would understand this concept. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the United States routinely targeted weak corruptible village chiefs, bribed them or threatened them, and then got them to sign over thousands of acres of Indiana or Illinois or Georgia. In return, the tribes got annuities, like $5 per person per year (“forever” but usually curtailed after one or two years). The annual payments addressed the hunger and poverty they were experiencing because their harvests had been lost to white settlers and the game was disappearing due to market hunting, which was the only way they could earn cash income. So the Natives were hungry. Often they were in debt, having borrowed money for guns and bullets for hunting. They were in a debt-poverty spiral, and the only way to get out was signing over their land, which just further exacerbated the spiral. But not all Natives agreed with this approach; they wanted to keep their land. We know their names: Tecumseh, Crazy Horse, Captain Jack, Chief Joseph, Geronimo. At times, younger Natives killed old village chiefs for signing away their land. So when Bendery focused her argument on “elected leaders”, a whole lot of Natives cried foul. Also, it was clear she didn’t look very hard for other Native voices. She didn’t even go to the Cherokee Phoenix, the oldest bastion of Native journalism, a newspaper founded in 1828.

Second, Bendery’s implication that Natives should not be offended by Warren’s DNA test but instead worry about more material issues is also a tired old line. That’s what Natives are told when they object to offensive Native mascots. As if Natives can only think about one issue at a time.

In response, NAJA wrote to the Huffington Post, decrying the article as “negligent and irresponsible”, and demanded an apology as well as suggesting cultural sensitivity training for all HuffPost staff. The HuffPost rejected these demands, but they did allow an opposing op-ed by Rebecca Nagle (Cherokee), who describes herself as a “writer, organizer and all-around agitator”. In that piece, Nagle provided a list of Native essays voicing concern over Warren’s DNA test, and argued that “Instead of listening to marginalized voices, Warren listened to Trump.”

But again, Nagle doesn’t speak for all Natives. That gets us to our third controversy, Natives versus Natives, because, as NAJA explained to Bendery, “Indigenous communities often hold conflicting viewpoints on important issues.” I’ll refer again to Opechan, who countered Nagle on IndianCountry Reddit. He counseled Natives to put the battle in perspective. He reminded us of Trump, who:

  • “Steamrolled Standing Rock and the Water Protectors by expediting the Dakota Access Pipeline in his first act of Federal Indian Policy;
  • Ended the celebrated Self-Determination Era inaugurated by President Nixon by insisting Tribal Nations be treated as “Ethnic Groups” by the Executive Branch;
  • Commenced a New Termination Era with the additional step of unrestrained implementation of the hated > Carcieridecision from the Roberts Court, beginning with preliminary steps towards seizure of Reservations;
  • Kicked the Indians out of DC through mandatory divisional transfers of divisions at the Bureau of Indian Affairs;
  • Promoted an “American Energy Dominance” Policy that prioritizes highway robbery resource extraction on trust lands above all else;
  • Eliminated Climate Change and land preservation initiatives intended to preserve the land we have;
  • Violated paid and bargained-for Treaty benefits by shuttering Indian Health Seevice with the Trump Shutdown;
  • Elevated President Andrew Jackson, architect of the Trail of Tears that disproportionately killed those in Nagle’s own Cherokee Nation, to a place of honor in the Oval Office and administration;
  • Appointed incompetent Indian tokens who don’t give a shit about Indian Country to high posts affecting Federal Indian Policy;
  • Appointed anti-Indian federal judges and Supreme Court Justices;
  • Fomented a frenzy of racial violence that puts brown folk like us in the crosshairs;
  • Mainstreamed and broadcasted Pocahontas as an in-context racial slur from high office…

…and this is just the abridged version since inauguration.”

Nagle and Opechan represent just two of many voices in Indian Country when it comes to Warren and Trump. Nagle acknowledged both sides of the issue, tweeting, “As cont Native Americans, we live in the space btwn Trump and Warren, btwn the stereotypes created to excuse the wholesale slaughter of our ppl and the stereotypes created to excuse the wholesale appropriation of our identity and cultures.”

So what does this Native American think of the whole controversy? Personally, in the war of words between Nagle and Opechan, they both make some good points. I can’t say the same for Warren or Trump, but I’ll take Warren over Trump any day if that’s my choice.

 

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Land acknowledgment: North Davis, Yolo County, California

My 2019 new year’s resolution is to do a “land acknowledgment” for every place I stay during the year. I’m starting with my home in Davis.

Land acknowledgments began recently with First Nations in Canada and are simply a public recognition of the history of the land. They are becoming regular at Canadian universities to open any kind of public meeting. To quote Kelly Benning, Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator at Grande Prairie Regional College in Alberta, “More and more, people are starting to do land acknowledgements whenever they do any kind of public event…. It’s just an opportunity for all people to recognize the Indigenous lands that they are standing on.”

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My street. I’ll try to post a sunset pic for every land acknowledgment. The structures on the land may change over time, but the sky doesn’t. This sunset would have been just as likely in 1819 as 2019.

For centuries, Putah Creek was Patwin country. Specifically, Southern Patwin, a band of the Wintun ethnic group. They had many villages, some with over 400 people, from Suisun Marsh to the Sacramento River. Yolo, as in Yolo County, is a Patwin word for rushes or grass.

And now for a deeper dive into how exactly I came to hold a title to a house on Patwin land. For the Patwin, everything changed dramatically in a span of less than 30 years, starting in 1821.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

history of n Davis

Spain claimed California in 1769, but didn’t even visit this area until 1821, the same year Mexico gained independence and took over California. Within five years, the Patwin villages were visited by several fur trapping parties, including Jedediah Smith and two parties from Hudson’s Bay Company. One of them brought an epidemic, possibly malaria, that killed 20,000 Native Americans in the Central Valley, including a huge proportion of the Patwin in 1833. Their villages were abandoned and the survivors were taken to the missions, which were just being dissolved at the time. By the Gold Rush and the ensuing calls for Native extermination in California, the Patwin villages in the Davis area were already gone.

Mexico 1832 map

Mexico in 1832 (although the Comanche, Pueblo, and others would beg to differ).

The Spanish and Mexican governors granted thousands of square miles of Native land to politically connected individuals. As Mexican control waned during the Mexican-American War, they issued a flurry of land grants to the Mexican elite. Under terms of a treaty with the United States, these grants were honored as long as their boundaries and terms could be confirmed. That’s an important caveat– and white American courts used it as a way to take back the land from Mexicans. As California joined the United States, a land commission heard over 800 cases related to contested land grants. The average time to resolution was 17 years. White lawyers often ended up with a large chunk of the property in question.

puta ranchos

Land grants were first issued using hand drawn maps and crude boundaries. The pink parcel, Rancho Laguna de Santo Calle, turned out to be fictitious; no Mexican governor ever created or granted it.

The Davis area was a prime example of this legal battle over formerly-Native lands. Davis fell within the so-called Rancho Laguna de Santo Calle. This land grant was supposedly issued to Marcos Vaca and Victor Prudon in 1848, at the eleventh hour just before California fell into American hands. The entire grant was later discovered to be fraudulent, but not before Vaca and Prudon sold the Davis portion to Joseph Chiles in 1850. He, in turn, gave the Davis portion to his son-in-law, Jerome Davis, who further subdivided the land, sold off portions to investors, and established the town, originally called Davisville.

So Davis is a land twice stolen. It was taken from the Patwin and then fraudulently claimed by two Mexicans who sold it to an American, who then subdivided it and passed it on. Meanwhile, a small town was forming on the contested land. The case became so confused that, in 1864, the US Congress actually passed a law called the “Act to quiet the Titles to Lands within the Rancho Laguna de Santos Calle, in the State of California”, that allowed the current “owners” (and there were dozens by then) to certify their properties, for $1.25/acre, and settle the ownership question once and for all. The legal challenges actually continued thru 1884, as the Davis area was also claimed by the owners of the nearby Rancho Los Putos (named for the Native word for the river, not the Spanish slang).

The area were I live, called the Senda Nueva development in north Davis, was owned by several real estate investors (one of whom still lives down the street) and wasn’t built until the early 1980s. My house was built in 1986; I think I’m the second owner.

It’s not clear what happened to the Patwin immediately after 1833. In 1850, when California became a state, the first act passed by the state legislature regulated– and legalized– Native child slavery. It’s likely some of the Patwin ended up as domestic servants or ranch hands, probably scattered around northern California. Some may have ended up at a veritable slave plantation run by the Bariessa family along upper Putah Creek (under today’s Lake Berryessa) in the 1850s. There, they would have been subject to a massive Native child sex trafficking enterprise.

Yocha_dehe logoIn the late 1800s, the surviving Native Californians were eventually grouped with other tribes and sent to various reservations (called rancherias). That’s a long story in and of itself.

Today the nearest community of Patwin is the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation (formerly called the Rumsey Indian Rancheria) in Capay Valley. They are dedicated to maintaining their culture and restoring their language. In an interesting twist of fate, the Yocha Dehe, thru their casino, has become one of the largest employers in Yolo County, second only to UC Davis. Thru their earnings, they fund two endowed chairs at UC Davis, which is located at the site of their former village along Putah Creek.

 

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