Owen Lloyd: Gold Rush and the Invasion of California

Owen Lloyd: Gold Rush and the Invasion of California

By Owen Lloyd / DGR News Service

There is a great deal of sentimentality in California around the gold rush that begun in 1848. A recent textbook described the rush as a sort of prototype for the American dream: a “dream of instant wealth, won by audacity and good luck”. [1] The cherished myth goes something like this:

When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, intrepid settlers began flocking for California, enduring terrible hardships on their path to a happier life. Men competed and struggled to the best of their ability, and with hard work and perseverance (along with a little luck) some won great wealth and happiness. Meanwhile, due to their civilizing presence, the land finally came under human use. It was now playing out its destiny in the shaping of history. It had finally taken its place in the annals of empire.

Insofar as indigenous people have played any role in this story, it is either as one of the “obstacles” overcome by the intrepid miners, or, more recently, as a sort of sentimental footnote on the inevitability of progress. For instance, the Wikipedia article on the California Gold Rush runs through essentially the same story I have mentioned above, and following this, there is a half-hearted and compulsory mention that 100,000 American Indians died in California between 1848 and 1868, 4,500 of them killed by settlers. (Numbers that must be seen as conservative, and come conveniently from the same State of California that helped facilitate the genocide.)

Justifying genocide

The first governor of California, Peter Burnett, was explicit in acknowledging the role of the state in this genocide. In January 1851 he stated in his annual address:

That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert. [2]

Note that he frames the total annihilation of American Indians as inevitable. Genocide is seen here as a sort of “realism” that we must simply accustom ourselves to, that cannot under any circumstance be resisted. The realization of genocide, in this sense, is merely the realization of a destiny bestowed upon us by the culture. Seeing genocide as fate manifesting itself allows one to enable a genocide without having to take responsibility for it. This was by no means the only way that people justified genocide in California.

Another method was to call murder benevolent, a sort of treatment for the “savage” condition. For instance, the Chico Courant opined in 1866 that “It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them, and a saving of many white lives. Treaties are played out — there is one kind of treaty that is effective– cold lead.” [3] A more liberal corollary of this position was the idea that only violence could placate Indians into accepting the treaties that represent their best interests.

Still another technique was to turn the situation upside-down, and frame the Indians as an oppressive class “preying” on settlers’ cattle. The word “depredation” was frequently used to justify or explain away the numerous massacres waged against the peoples of California. For instance, after 300 to 400 murders took place around Round Valley, the California Farmer said that “the cause of this wholesale killing, is stated to be the continued depredations by the Indians upon the stock of the settlers”.

It is amazing that mass murder is here being justified by the claim that some cattle were killed for food, particularly when the cattle are being raised on land stolen from them, and after white hunting parties had made such a concerted effort to kill off any game animals. Because the land takeover is taken as a given, the paper can report that the root “cause” of the violence was not the takeover of the same land that provided most of their food, but one of the adaptations made in response to that takeover.

Even some of the whites could not help but recognize the absurdity of this position. Senator Henry Wilson, responding to the situation in Round Valley, said:

As to the stock said to have been appropriated by the starving Indians, (far less savage than their persecutors), what does it amount to? Six hundred head taken by nine thousand Indians– driven from their lands and fisheries, and starving literally to death– were worth, at the outside, $12,000, let the State pay it, or double or treble the sum, and call upon the Federal Government to refund the amount. [4]

Very often, these depredations had no basis in reality, but were merely imagined in order to provide a justification for campaigns of violence. As the Daily Alta Vista put it in 1853, “The Indians have committed so many depredations in the North, of late, that the people are enraged against them, and are ready to knife them, shoot them, or inoculate them with small pox — all of which have been done.” In its final stages, this notion of the Indian as “predator” became a stereotype that no longer needed evidence. For instance, on March 2, 1861 the San Francisco Bulletin lauded the killing of seven “digger” Indians, saying that all members of the tribe could be classified as predatory. [5] This is in many ways the same approach used today to justify the killing of wolves who threaten to “depredate” the cattle of industrial ranchers.


This association of Indians with wolves was part of a general campaign to dehumanize the indigenous people of the area. American Indian women were regularly called “squaws”; the men were called “bucks”. This language helped the settlers visualize their victims as totally lacking in agency, will, or humanity. Such was the extent of this dehumanization that Charles Hubbard reported that one man beat “his own child’s brain out against a tree” and then killed the child’s mother, an Indian woman, “for no other reason than that he had no means elsewise of disposing of them”. [6]

As this story indicates, women and children were by no means exempt from genocidal violence. On the contrary, they often bore the brunt of the violence because they were far more accessible. In 1860, for instance, a group of white men set out to massacre Indians came to a place called Roff’s Ranch, and massacred nine men. As the rest of the men escaped, the women and children remained, believing that they were not at risk. However, as the San Francisco Bulletin reported:

In this way they were mistaken; for not only in the ‘excitement’ of the moment, but throughout the greater part of the day, they searched around among the ‘haystocks’ with the hatchet, and split the children’s heads open. In this way there were over forty women and children butchered… [7]

Describing the Indian Island massacre of Wiyot people that same year, the Bulletin reported:

In one of the settlements, an aged and feeble chief collected the women around him, when they were about flying on the approach of the human bloodhounds, assuring them that white men did not kill squaws and that they would be safe. But they all perished together. One of our informants saw twenty-six bodies of women and children collected in one spot by the more humane citizens preparatory to burial. Some of them were infants at the breast, whose skulls had been cleft again and again. The whole number slaughtered in a single night was about two hundred and forty. [8]

Massacres like these were considered a vital public service by the State of California, which often played an active role in assisting them. Between 1850 and 1859 alone, the federal government was estimated to have reimbursed the government of California $924,259 for its efforts in killing Indians throughout the state. [9] Adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of about $23.3 million in 2012.

Sexual violence was also utilized as a means of warfare by settlers, against both women and young girls. In 1860, a report in the San Francisco Bulletin by a resident of Mendocino County revealed that an effort was being made to exterminate the Clear Lake Indians by means of venereal disease:

Of five or six hundred squaws, from ten years old and upwards, he was assured that not a solitary individual was exempt. Civilized humanity will scarcely believe it possible for human beings to be degraded so far below savages, as are the filthy wretches who infect the frontier settlements, and commit such deeds of rapine and blood as we have here but inadequately described. [10]

In the town of Cottonwood, a party of men organized themselves under the name the “Squaw Hunters” and as the name indicates, their “avowed purpose was to get squaws by force if necessary”. Stalking Shasta Indian women, they attacked a small group returning from a hunt, killing three men, two women, and three children. In response, the Shasta barricaded themselves in a cave. The Squaw Hunters claimed they were planning a campaign of war and plunder, and organized a force of 28 men to fight them out. However, the Shasta stopped the assault, killing four of the Squaw Hunter party, and losing one of their own. [11]

In Mariposa County, the sheriff and “sole civil and judicial authority ” outlawed the very existence of Indian people, as if they were phantoms, rather than living beings. decreeing:

I pronounce the Indian outlawed. Consequently, everyone is permitted to kill the Indians he encounters anywhere in the county of Mariposa, on the sole condition of burying them and of letting the sheriff know where and how many of them he has killed. [12]

Other counties in California produced similar legislation, and some also legalized the scalping of Indian people by members of the white occupation. Even in counties where murder was illegal, it was extremely rare for white people who killed Indian people to be tried in court, let alone convicted. [12]


In 1850, California passed a law called the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. Like many laws with nice-sounding names, this act did nothing to “protect Indians”. On the contrary, this law legalized the sale and indenture of American Indian children within the state. Between 1850 and 1863 (when the law was terminated by federal emancipation), more than 5,000 children were sold as slaves; another 5,000 women and young girls were sold as sex slaves. Indian girls under 10 years of age were often sold for upwards of $100, equivalent to $2,500 today. [13]

An 1861 letter to the Humboldt Times illustrates one man’s appreciation for this law, despite its “limitations”:

This law works beautifully. A few days ago V. E. Geiger, formerly Indian Agent, had some eighty apprenticed to him, and proposed to emigrate to Washoe with them as soon as he can cross the mountains. We hear of many others who are having them bound in numbers to suit. What a pity the provisions of the law are not extended to greasers, Kanakas, and Asiatics. It would be so convenient to carry on a farm or mine, when all the hard and dirty work is performed by apprentices! [14]

As historian Frank H. Baumgardner III has said, “The California Constitution and the state’s Indian codes made it very easy to enslave Indians, especially women as well as both young boys and girls.” [15] Near Round Valley, extensive kidnapping rings developed. White settlers regularly raided Round Valley and captured Indian women and children for use as slaves. Although kidnapping rings were never legal in California, no effort was made to stop them. A prominent white kidnapper named George Woodman was among the few ever tried; when he and his partner were found guilty in court, they each paid a fine of $100 and were quickly released. [16]

What should we take from this history? I think we need to take from it a recognition that any of us living on land claimed by the United States is living on land stolen away in some manner from indigenous people. Those of us who are settlers need to recognize that we are the beneficiaries of genocide and colonialism. And we need to use what privileges we have to assist indigenous people in their quest for justice and a liveable future. In spite of everything, indigenous people are still here, and are still trying to navigate living amidst a culture of occupation that is seeking to destroy them.

More than this, we need to start abandoning the myths the dominant culture has been teaching us for so long, myths that highlight the courageous, manly exploits of genocidal settlers, and overlook what their “settling” of the landscape looked like to those whose land they were invading. It’s a story that will justify absolutely anything– genocide, ecocide, murder, rape, kidnapping, slavery, torture– in the name of civilization.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Age-Gold-California-American/dp/0385720882
[2] Alonzo Delano, Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings; Being Scenes and Adventures of an Overland Journey to California, p. 320. 1854.
[3] Clifford E. Trafzer and Joel R. Hyer, Exterminate Them!: Written Accounts of the Murder, Rape, and Enslavement of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush, p. 1
[4] Frank H. Baumgardner III, Killing for Land in Early California: Indian Blood at Round Valley, 1856-1863
[5] Exterminate Them!, p. 78
[6] Jack Norton, Genocide in Northwestern California: When Our Worlds Cried, p. 96
[7] Robert F. Heizer, The Destruction of California Indians, p. 96
[8] Exterminate Them!, p. 129
[9] Genocide in Northwestern California, p. 76
[10] Exterminate Them!, p. 130
[11] The Destruction of California Indians, p. 84-85
[12] M. Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, p. 87
[13] Penny Hess, Overturning the Culture of Violence, p. 118
[14] The Destruction of California Indians, p. 240-241
[15] Killing for Land in Early California, p. 31
[16] Killing for Land in Early California, p. 33

Awá people shut down railway servicing world’s largest iron mine

Awá people shut down railway servicing world’s largest iron mine

By Survival International

A protest involving Earth’s most threatened tribe, the Awá, has forced the world’s largest iron ore mine to suspend operations along its main railway line.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Indians including the Awá, took to the tracks of Vale’s Carajás railway to voice their opposition to Brazilian government plans that could weaken their land rights, if legalized.

The demonstration follows months of anger surrounding a draft text called Directive 303, which prohibits the expansion of indigenous territories.

The government has refused to scrap the proposed directive, despite it violating national and international laws by suggesting certain projects can be carried out on Indian land without proper consultation.

Frustrations spilled over on Tuesday, with several different tribes uniting to demand that their land rights are respected.

The blockade is the latest in a string of controversies to involve mining giant Vale, whose railway borders the territory of the Awá.

Last month, a judge reversed a ruling that had stopped the company from doubling its railway line to increase production.

The decision was a blow for the Awá, who blame the railway for bringing thousands of invaders into their lands and scaring off the animals they hunt.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘If Brazil wants to lead the way and show the world that it respects its indigenous peoples, it should not be entertaining the harmful propositions of a handful of rural lobbyists. This protest shows that for tribes like the Awá, land rights are make or break.’

From Survival International: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8722

Guatemalan soldiers massacre seven indigenous protestors

By Moises Castillo and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena / Associated Press

Thousands of indigenous Guatemalans shouted in anger Friday and some threw themselves at the coffins of six local people who were shot to death during a protest over electricity prices and educational reform in a poor rural area.

A seventh victim died later at a hospital in the western city of Quezaltenango.

President Otto Perez Molina acknowledged that government forces had opened fire during the protest Thursday, after saying earlier that police and troops on the scene had been unarmed and the protesters had provoked the clash.

Human rights groups condemned the government’s actions and charged they were part of a pattern of excessive use of force against protesters.

The protesters were blockading a highway near the town of Totonicapan, about 90 miles west of Guatemala City, when two vehicles carrying soldiers arrived to help police who had been ordered to evict the demonstrators. Gunfire erupted after the troops came. Bullets killed seven people and wounded 34, officials said.

“We were protesting right next to them when they opened fire on us,” said Rolando Carrillo, a 25-year-old protester with a bandaged arm and lacerated face that he said resulted from being hit during the clash.

The president told reporters Friday afternoon that armed security guards had driven the soldiers to the protest. One of the guards apparently was the first to start shooting and then an unspecified number of others fired at the crowd, Molina said.

He said seven soldiers injured in the confrontation had said they only fired into the air to protect themselves from what they considered to be a threatening crowd.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said the president had suspended the order to evict the protesters from the highway.

Some 20 human rights organizations called an emergency meeting in the capital to discuss the incident and called for a protest in front of the presidential palace.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that the army’s use of force brings with it the risk that something like this could happen,” said Francisco Soto, a representative of the Center for Legal Action and Human Rights.

Six of the dead were buried Friday afternoon in Totonicapan, where thousands gathered to watch their coffins pass through the town’s central square. Hundreds shouted “Justice! Justice!” while dozens of mourners hurled themselves toward the coffins in grief.

Read more from The Washington Post:

Ct. Supreme Court frees man who raped severely disabled woman because she didn’t fight back

By Zack Beauchamp / Think Progress

In a 4-3 ruling Tuesday afternoon, the Connecticut State Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction of a man who had sex with a woman who “has severe cerebral palsy, has the intellectual functional equivalent of a 3-year-old and cannot verbally communicate.”

The Court held that, because Connecticut statutes define physical incapacity for the purpose of sexual assault as “unconscious or for any other reason. . . physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act,” the defendant could not be convicted if there was any chance that the victim could have communicated her lack of consent. Since the victim in this case was capable of “biting, kicking, scratching, screeching, groaning or gesturing,” the Court ruled that that victim could have communicated lack of consent despite her serious mental deficiencies:

When we consider this evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict, and in a manner that is consistent with the state’s theory of guilt at trial, we, like the Appellate Court, ‘are not persuaded that the state produced any credible evidence that the [victim] was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault.’

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), lack of physical resistance is not evidence of consent, as “many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent.” RAINN also notes that lack of consent is implicit “if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect” as the victim did in this case.

Anna Doroghazi, director of public policy and communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, worried that the Court’s interpretation of the law ignored these concerns: “By implying that the victim in this case should have bitten or kicked her assailant, this ruling effectively holds people with disabilities to a higher standard than the rest of the population when it comes to proving lack of consent in sexual assault cases. Failing to bite an assailant is not the same thing as consenting to sexual activity.”

An amicus brief filed by the Connecticut advocates for disabled persons argued that this higher standard “discourag[ed] the prosecution of crimes against persons with disabilities” even though “persons with a disability had an age-adjusted rate of rape or sexual assault that was more than twice the rate for persons without a disability.”

From Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/10/03/947981/court-requires-disabled-rape-victim-to-prove-she-fought-back-calls-for-evidence-of-biting-kicking-scratching/

Study suggests U.S. Army tested radioactive chemicals on poor black neighborhoods

Study suggests U.S. Army tested radioactive chemicals on poor black neighborhoods

By David Edwards / The Raw Story

A college professor from St. Louis, Missouri has released research claiming that the U.S. Army conducted secret Cold War tests by spraying toxic radioactive chemicals on cities like St. Louis and Corpus Christi.

St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor told The Associated Press that her research showed that the Army may have sprayed radioactive particles with zinc cadmium sulfide while claiming that it was testing a smoke screen that could prevent Russians from observing St. Louis from the air.

Those tests were concentrated in predominately-black areas of the city, which Army documents called “a densely populated slum district.”

In 1994, the Army confirmed to Congress that St. Louis was chosen because it resembled Russian cities that the U.S. might have to attack with biological weapons.

“The study was secretive for reason,” Martino-Taylor explained to KDSK last month. “They didn’t have volunteers stepping up and saying yeah, I’ll breathe zinc cadmium sulfide with radioactive particles.”

Documents showed that the Army used airplanes to drop the chemicals in Corpus Christi, but sprayers were mounted on station wagons and buildings in St. Louis.

“It was pretty shocking. The level of duplicity and secrecy. Clearly they went to great lengths to deceive people,” Martino-Taylor observed. “This was a violation of all medical ethics, all international codes, and the military’s own policy at that time.”

“There is a lot of evidence that shows people in St. Louis and the city, in particular minority communities, were subjected to military testing that was connected to a larger radiological weapons testing project.”

Doris Spates lived in one of those impoverished St. Louis neighborhoods as a child and has survived cervical cancer. But four of her siblings and her father weren’t as lucky. All five have died of cancer.

“I’m wondering if it got into our system,” Spates told the AP. “When I heard about the testing, I thought, ‘Oh my God. If they did that, there’s no telling what else they’re hiding.’”

Last month, both Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) demanded that Army Secretary John McHugh come clean about the testing. For its part, the Army refused to comment on the matter until it had responded to the senators, the AP reported.

From The Raw Story: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/04/u-s-militarys-secret-experiment-sprayed-radiation-on-low-income-housing/

Women gather in Guatemala to organize against devastating megaprojects

Women gather in Guatemala to organize against devastating megaprojects

By Patricia Ardón and Orfe Castillo

“In the struggle to defend our territory, our natural resources, what’s at stake is our very existence.” – Miriam Pixtún, Indigenous Women’s Movement Tz ́ununijá

In Guatemala, the policy of enclaves and extraction of natural resources fomented by the current development model and by the transnational corporations has a tremendous impact on the life of the communities, particularly on indigenous peoples and women.

With the aim of sharing experiences and analysis among women who lead organizing in defense of rights to land, territory and natural resources in Guatemala,   Sinergia No ́j, T ́zununijá, Just Associates (JASS), Uk ́Ux B ́e, Unit of Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), Association for Feminist Studies (AMEF) and the National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG) held the national meeting “Women in Defense of of Water, Life and Territory” on Sept. 11-12, 2012. More than forty women from different parts of the country participated in the meeting.

“We resist due to the disadvantages of the megaprojects; the development that the companies offer just leaves more poverty, sickness, deaths–all kinds of problems. They use pesticides, strong chemical products. They pollute the water… our house are cracked, animals have died, now the corn doesn’t grow, it’s dried up. Water is scarce and polluted. What kind of development is this?” said one participant.

According to Carmen Lucía Pellecer, Co-Directora of Sinergia Noj, the forum enabled indigenous women to talk about experiences of resistance, the acts they carry out in their communities and in their daily lives.

Another participant pointed out, “The megaprojects represent a clash with our vision of the world, the natural resources are interconnected elements of life, we are part of it. What the capitalist companies do has consequences for our way of living together, they use impoverishment to manipulate people, they affect our health, they cause illnesses of the skin, of eyesight. The hydroelectric plants block the flow of the rivers, they cause droughts. We have been exposed to high tension wires, the looting of our lands… All the community has united to stop it but at the cost of being criminalized. They attack us for not giving in, they threaten us with prison, they don’t respect the consultation processes that are binding. For women, all this implies a heavier workload, persecution, facing militarization that revives the horrors of the war–we see soldiers and it generates terror because we know what happened to our mothers, our aunts.”

The gathering also served to present the report of the Nobel Women’s Initiative/JASS delegation, led by Nobel Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú. The delegation visited Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico in January of this year to examine violence against women; most of the women present at the September gathering presented testimony to the delegation in January. Many participants noted that the report helped build a regional view of the situation and of women’s struggles. These links give women a stronger voice and more political influence, they asserted.

Miriam Plxtún of the Movement of Indigeous Women Tz ́ununija identified several major achievements of the gathering, including the importance of creating their own space for recognizing and strengthening the peaceful struggle in defense of territory and natural resources, the discussion of alternatives, and the effort to build cross-border alliances that spread information on the effects of mega-projects.  She also stated that the group made specific commitments to continue the analysis on key issues.

The organizations that called the event agreed on the importance of strengthening access to timely, specialized and accurate information on the impact of megaprojects on societies and on women, and of broadening networks and alliances from the local to the international level, drawing in all actors who can contribute to prevent the death and looting of the peoples.

Finally, at the gathering several women described the work being done by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative and the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala. These organizing efforts, they said, have increased recognition of women’s struggles and awareness of the security challenges for women human rights defenders.

Pixtún recalled that in Guatemala, indigenous women have a long way to go to recuperate the fundamental meaning of democracy, which is the power of the people. Women contribute in an essential way to the construction of dignified lives, she told the group, and it’s time for others–men and women–to join in this effort from all over. Indigenous peoples and women have the right to live according to their own cosmovision, to be recognized as full rightsholders and as important political actors.

From Americas Program: http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/7992