A California genocide vignette

On June 18, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom made headlines with an executive order apologizing for a past “war of extermination”, emphasizing the state’s commitment (via AB 52 and executive order) to tribal consultation (including many non-federally-recognized tribes), and establishing a “Truth and Healing Council”.

MadleyThe coordinated and deliberate genocide of Native Americans in California, largely during the Gold Rush, is one of the most well-documented genocide in history. The state offered bounties, reimbursed vigilante groups (white death squads), and regulated the enslavement of Native children (where girls sold for twice the price of boys). While there are many books on the topic, largely relying on old newspaper accounts, none are more comprehensive than Benjamin Madley’s An American Genocide.

Here’s one story from 1864, related in Kroeber’s book Ishi.

The Northern and Central Yana are already “brought in”, with most of them working as farmhands and domestic workers on farms and ranches in the Sacramento Valley. (Ishi and the related Yahi remain in the hills.)

Two white women are found killed and the ranchers want revenge.

They convene a meeting at Pentz’s Ranch near Oroville and call themselves “guards”. They steal onto farms and ranches, entering barns and homesteads. They look for “Diggers”, as they call the Northern and Central Yana. Reminiscent of Rwanda, they know exactly who has Yana working for them, which ranches, which farms, and where they sleep.  In many instances, they know the names of their victims.

They go door to door, farm to farm, ranch to ranch. On Little Cow Creek they shoot down three Yana men working in a barn, against the protestations of the rancher’s wife. Outside of Redding, they tear a girl from the arms of her white employer and slaughter her in the yard. At a ranch house north of Millville, they seek a young maid.

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

The girl replies, 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 pull her out of the house, with her aunt and uncle, and pump them full of bullets. They count eleven bullets in Eliza’s breast, and then bash in her skull for good measure, saying, I don’t think that little squaw is dead yet.

The farms of Cottonwood yield twenty more. The largest haul comes at Oak Run, where three hundred Yana had gathered to celebrate the harvest. No one survives.

In the last two weeks of August, the death squads kill nearly all of the two thousand remaining Yana. As one member explained, We must kill them big and little, nits will be lice. The same comment is made at Sand Creek, Colorado, the same year.

Sometime later the pioneer men discover that the two white women had not been killed by Yana after all.

Today, surviving Yana live at the Redding Rancheria, among other places.

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