Remembering Genocide in the Sacramento Valley

This story is breaking out across Indian Country:

sacstate1History Professor Denies Native Genocide: Native Student Disagrees, Gets Expelled From Course

The ultimate irony is that the university is Sacramento State.  Though no one much talks about it, the Sacramento Valley is home to one of the most complete and thorough genocides ever documented.  In the 1850s and 60s, entire tribes were wiped out, deliberately, sometimes in the span of a few years, with most members suffering violent deaths.

The stories reached a newspaper in New York City, which reported:

We have been informed through the papers, of the murderous outrages committed on the aboriginal inhabitants of California by men with white skins. We regret to say that there is no exaggeration in these accounts… In the Atlantic and Western States, the Indians have suffered wrongs and cruelties at the hands of the stronger race. But history has no parallel to the recent atrocities perpetrated in California. Even the record of Spanish butcheries in Mexico and Peru has nothing so diabolical.

The primary targets were the hill tribes, called “Diggers” by the white pioneers, who occasionally fought back or stole livestock for food.  The valley tribes were already pacified, largely working on white ranches and farms as domestic servants or field hands.  In Shasta County, settlers collected funds to pay bounties for Indian scalps. In Sacramento, a newspaper asserted that “the people are enraged against them, and are ready to knife them, shoot them, or inoculate them with smallpox – all of which have been done.”  In Marysville, the newspaper observed, “The Diggers can be saved from forcible extermination only by the intervention of Uncle Sam. There should be troops enough employed at each Reservation to keep them corralled.”  Thus the hill tribes were so hunted like game that they came to the US military for protection. A captain in the 2nd Infantry reported, “the tribes are kept in constant fear on account of the indiscriminate and inhumane massacre of their people in many places, for real or supposed injuries.”

The federal Indian agent at Klamath noted a pattern in the attacks, “to kill the agent first.” A US Army major general made a plea for help from Indian Affairs: “Something ought to be done for these miserable creatures, who it appears were not in the wrong, and whom the White inhabitants are determined to exterminate.”

An editorial in San Francisco echoed the concerns of white liberals: “It will be wise as well as benevolent to gather them as soon as convenient where they can be fed and saved from slaughter. Their race is fast passing away, and the least we can do for them is to prevent their ending from being hurried and violent.”

A slave trade evolved, with extensive sex trafficking in women and girls.

One of the most dramatic genocidal events took place in the last two weeks of August, 1864, on the farms and ranches between Sacramento and Redding.  Responding to the murder of two white women, white ranchers formed a vigilante group called the “Guards”.  They met at Pentz Ranch near Oroville and planned to kill every member of the Northern and Central Yana tribes, including women and children.  One member explained, “We must kill them big and little, nits will be lice.”

In a scene reminiscent of modern accounts from Rwanda, they went door to door, farm to farm, ranch to ranch.  They knew exactly who had Yana working for them.  On Little Cow Creek, they shot down three Yana men working in a barn, against the protestations of the rancher’s wife. Outside of Redding, they tore a girl from the arms of her white employer and slaughtered her in the yard. At a ranch house north of Millville, they were looking for a young maid whom they knew.


Ishi, last surviving member of the Yahi, 1911

“Eliza, come out. We are going to kill you.”

The girl replied, “Don’t kill me; when you were here I cooked for you, I washed for you, I was kind to you; I never asked pay of you. Don’t kill me now.”

But they pulled her out of the house, with her aunt and uncle, and pumped them full of bullets.

A farm to farm search in Cottonwood yielded twenty more. The largest haul came at Oak Run, where three hundred Yana had gathered to celebrate the harvest. No one survived.

The death squads killed nearly all of the two thousand remaining Yana.  (The nearby Yahi went into hiding in a canyon; years later their sole survivor would be Ishi.  Some of his belongings reside in the California Indian Museum about a mile from the Sac State campus.)

The United Nations definition of genocide doesn’t require the deliberate physical killing of every member of a tribe, but if that’s the definition that Professor Maury Wiseman of Cal State Sacramento is using, all he needs to do is look out his window and back a few generations.

Source:  Heizer, Destruction of Calif Indians
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