|Part of the American Indian Wars and the Native American genocide|
|Genocide, ethnic cleansing|
|Deaths||4,500–16,000 indigenous Californians outright killed, thousands more died due to disease and other causes|
|Perpetrators||United States Army, California State Militia, white settlers|
The California Genocide refers to actions in the mid to late 19th century by the United States federal, state, and local governments that resulted in the decimation of the indigenous population of California following the U.S. occupation of California in 1846. Actions included encouragement of volunteers and militias to kill unarmed men, women and children.
Under Spanish rule their population was estimated to have dropped from 300,000 prior to 1769, to 250,000 in 1834. After Mexico gained independence from Spain and secularized the coastal missions in 1834, the indigenous population suffered a more drastic decrease to 150,000. Under US sovereignty, after 1848, the indigenous population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000 in 1870; it reached its lowest point of 16,000 in 1900. Between 1846 and 1873, European Americans are estimated to have killed outright some 4,500 to 16,000 California Native Americans, particularly during the Gold Rush. Others died as a result of infectious diseases and the social disruption of their societies. The state of California used its institutions to favor settlers' rights over indigenous rights and was responsible for dispossession of the natives.
Since the late 20th century, numerous American scholars and activist organizations, both Native American and European American, have characterized the period immediately following the U.S. Conquest of California as one in which the state and federal governments waged genocide against the Native Americans in the territory. In the early 21st century, some scholars argue for the government to authorize tribunals so that a full accounting of responsibility for this genocide in western states can be conducted.
Prior to Spanish arrival, California was home to an indigenous population estimated at 300,000.[discuss] The largest group were the Chumash people, with a population around 20,000. The region was highly diverse, with numerous distinct languages spoken. While there was great diversity in the area, archeological findings show little evidence of intertribal conflicts.
The various groups appear to have adapted to particular areas and territories. California habitats and climate supported an abundance of wildlife, including rabbits, deer, varieties of fish, fruit, roots, and acorns. This resulted in a high level of food independence. The natives largely followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving around their area through the seasons as different types of food were available.
California was one of the last regions in the Americas to be colonized. Spanish missionaries, led by Franciscan administrator Junípero Serra and military forces under the command of Gaspar de Portolá, did not reach this area until 1769. The mission was intended to spread the Christian faith among the region's indigenous peoples and establish places to develop area resources and products for the empire. The Spanish built San Diego de Alcalá, the first of 21 missions, at what developed as present-day San Diego in the southern part of the state along the Pacific. Military outposts were constructed alongside the missions to house the soldiers sent to protect the missionaries.
California statehood and genocide
In the latter half of the 19th century California state and Federal authorities, incited aided and financed miners, settlers, ranchers and people's militias to enslave, kidnap, murder, and exterminate a major proportion of displaced Native American Indians. The latter were sometimes contemptuously referred to as "Diggers", for their practice of digging up roots to eat. Many of the same policies of violence were used here against the indigenous population as the United States had done throughout its territory.
Simultaneous to the ongoing extermination, reports of the decimation of Native Americans were made to the rest of the United States and internationally.[note 1]
The California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was enacted in 1850 (amended 1860, repealed 1863). This law provided for "apprenticing" or indenturing Indian children to Whites, and also punished "vagrant" Indians by "hiring" them out to the highest bidder at a public auction if the Indian could not provide sufficient bond or bail. This legalized a form of slavery in California.
A notable early eyewitness testimony and account: "The Indians of California" 1864, is from John Ross Browne, Customs official and Inspector of Indian Affairs on the Pacific Coast. He systematically described the fraud, corruption, land theft, slavery, rape and massacre perpetrated on a substantial portion of the aboriginal population. This was confirmed by a contemporary, Superintendent Dorcas J. Spencer.
By one estimate, at least 4,500 California Indians were killed between 1849 and 1870. Contemporary historian Benjamin Madley has documented the numbers of California Indians killed between 1846 and 1873; he estimates that during this period at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians. Most of the deaths took place in what he defined as more than 370 massacres (defined as the "intentional killing of five or more disarmed combatants or largely unarmed noncombatants, including women, children, and prisoners, whether in the context of a battle or otherwise"). Professor Ed Castillo, of Sonoma State University, estimates that more were killed: "The handiwork of these well armed death squads combined with the widespread random killing of Indians by individual miners resulted in the death of 100,000 Indians in the first two years of the gold rush."
List of recorded massacres
|Year||Date||Name||Current location||Description||Reported casualties||Claimants|
|1846||April 6||Sacramento River massacre||California||Captain John C. Frémont's men attacked a band of Indians (probably Wintun) on the Sacramento River in California, killing between 120 and 200 Indians.||120–200|||
|1846||May 12||Klamath Lake massacre||California||Captain John C. Frémont's men, led by Kit Carson attacked a village of Klamath Indians) on the banks of Klamath Lake, killing at least 14 Klamath people.||14+|||
|1846||June||Sutter Buttes massacre||California||Captain John C. Frémont's men attacked a rancheria on the banks of the Sacramento River near Sutter Buttes, killing several Patwin people.||14+|||
|1846||December||Pauma massacre||California||11 Californios were killed by Indians at Escondido, California, leading to the Temecula massacre.||11 (settlers)|||
|1846||December||Temecula massacre||California||33 to 40 Indians killed in revenge for the Pauma Massacre at Escondido, California.||33–40|||
|1847||March||Rancheria Tulea massacre||California||White slavers retaliate to a slave escape by massacring five Indians in Rancheria Tulea.||5|||
|1847||March 29||Kern and Sutter massacres||California||In response to a plea from White settlers to put an end to raids, U.S. Army Captain Edward Kern and rancher John Sutter led 50 men in attacks on three Indian villages.||20|||
|1847||late June/early July||Konkow Maidu slaver massacre||California||Slavers kill 12–20 Konkow Maidu Indians in the process of capturing 30 members of the tribe for the purpose of forced slavery.||12–20|||
|1850||May 15||Bloody Island massacre||California||Nathaniel Lyon and his U.S. Army detachment of cavalry killed 60–100 Pomo people on Bo-no-po-ti island near Clear Lake, (Lake Co., California); they believed the Pomo had killed two Clear Lake settlers who had been abusing and murdering Pomo people. (The Island Pomo had no connections to the enslaved Pomo). This incident led to a general outbreak of settler attacks against and mass killing of native people all over Northern California. Site is California Registered Historical Landmark #427||60–100|||
|1851||January 11||Mariposa War||California||The gold rush increased pressure on the Native Americans of California, because miners forced Native Americans off their gold-rich lands. Many were pressed into service in the mines; others had their villages raided by the army and volunteer militia. Some Native American tribes fought back, beginning with the Ahwahnechees and the Chowchilla in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley leading a raid on the Fresno River post of James D. Savage, in December 1850. In retaliation Mariposa County Sheriff James Burney led local militia in an indecisive clash with the natives on January 11, 1851 on a mountainside near present-day Oakhurst, California.||40+|
|1851||Old Shasta Town||California||Miners killed 300 Wintu Indians near Old Shasta, California and burned down their tribal council meeting house.||300|||
|1852||April 23||Bridge Gulch massacre||California||70 American men led by Trinity County sheriff William H. Dixon killed more than 150 Wintu people in the Hayfork Valley of California, in retaliation for the killing of Col. John Anderson.||150|||
|1852||November||Wright massacre||California||White settlers led by a notorious Indian hunter named Ben Wright massacred 41 Modocs during a "peace parley".||41|||
|1853||Howonquet massacre||California||Californian settlers attacked and burned the Tolowa village of Howonquet, massacring 70 people.||70|||
|1853||Yontoket Massacre||California||A posse of settlers attacked and burned a Tolowa rancheria at Yontocket, California, killing 450 Tolowa during a prayer ceremony.||450|||
|1853||Achulet Massacre||California||White settlers launched an attack on a Tolowa village near Lake Earl in California, killing between 65 and 150 Indians at dawn.||65–150|||
|1853||Before December 31||"Ox" incident||California||U.S. forces attacked and killed an unreported number of Indians in the Four Creeks area (Tulare County, California) in what was referred to by officers as "our little difficulty" and "the chastisement they have received".|||
|1855||January 22||Klamath River massacres||California||In retaliation for the murder of six settlers and the theft of some cattle, whites commenced a "war of extermination against the Indians" in Humboldt County, California.|||
|1856||March||Shingletown||California||In reprisal for Indian stock theft, white settlers massacred at least 20 Yana men, women and children near Shingletown, California.||20|||
|1856–1859||Round Valley Settler Massacres||California||White settlers killed over a thousand Yuki Indians in Round Valley over the course of three years in an uncountable number of separate massacres.||1,000+|||
|1859–1860||Jarboe's War||California||White settlers calling themselves the "Eel River Rangers", led by Walter Jarboe, kill at least 283 Indian men and countless women and children in 23 engagements over the course of six months. They are reimbursed by the U.S. government for their campaign.||283+|||
|1859||September||Pit River||California||White settlers massacred 70 Achomawi Indians (10 men and 60 women and children) in their village on the Pit River in California.||70|||
|1859||Chico Creek||California||White settlers attacked a Maidu camp near Chico Creek in California, killing indiscriminately 40 Indians.||40|||
|1860||Exact date unknown||Massacre at Bloody Rock||California||A group of 65 Yuki Indians were surrounded and massacred by white settlers at Bloody Rock, in Mendocino County, California.||65|||
|1860||February 26||Indian Island massacre||California||In three nearly simultaneous assaults on the Wiyot, at Indian Island, Eureka, Rio Dell, and near Hydesville, California white settlers killed between 80 and 250 Wiyot in Humboldt County, California. Victims were mostly women, children and elders, as reported by Bret Harte at Arcata newspaper. Other villages massacred within two days. The main site is National Register of Historic Places in the United States #66000208.||80–250|||
|1863||April 19||Keyesville massacre||California||American militia and members of the California cavalry killed 35 Tübatulabal men in Kern County, California.||35|||
|1863||August 28||Konkow Trail of Tears||California||On August 1863 all Konkow Maidu were to be sent to the Bidwell Ranch in Chico and then be taken to the Round Valley Reservation at Covelo in Mendocino County. Any Indians remaining in the area were to be shot. Maidu were rounded up and marched under guard west out of the Sacramento Valley and through to the Coastal Range. 461 Native Americans started the trek, 277 finished. They reached the Round Valley on 18 September 1863.||184|||
|1864||Oak Run massacre||California||California settlers massacred 300 Yana Indians who had gathered near the head of Oak Run, California for a spiritual ceremony.||300|||
|1865||Owens Lake massacre||California||White vigilantes attacked a Paiute camp on Owens Lake in California, killing about 40 men, women and children.||40|||
|1865||Three Knolls massacre||California||White settlers massacred a Yana community at Three Knolls on the Mill Creek, California.|||
|1868||Campo Seco||California||A posse of white settlers massacred 33 Yahis in a cave north of Mill Creek, California.||33|||
|1871||Kingsley Cave massacre||California||4 settlers killed 30 Yahi Indians in Tehama County, California about two miles from Wild Horse Corral in the Ishi Wilderness. It is estimated that this massacre left only 15 members of the Yahi tribe alive||30|||
Call for tribunals
Native American scholar Gerald Vizenor has argued in the early 21st century for universities to be authorized to assemble tribunals to investigate these events. He notes that United States federal law contains no statute of limitations on war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide. He says:
Genocide tribunals would provide venues of judicial reason and equity that reveal continental ethnic cleansing, mass murder, torture, and religious persecution, past and present, and would justly expose, in the context of legal competition for evidence, the inciters, falsifiers, and deniers of genocide and state crimes against Native American Indians. Genocide tribunals would surely enhance the moot court programs in law schools and provide more serious consideration of human rights and international criminal cases by substantive testimony, motivated historical depositions, documentary evidence, contentious narratives, and ethical accountability.
Vizenor believes that, in accordance with international law, the universities of South Dakota, Minnesota and California Berkeley ought to establish tribunals to hear evidence and adjudicate crimes against humanity alleged to have taken place in their individual states. Lindsay Glauner has also argued for such tribunals.
Apology by California's governor
In a speech before representatives of Native American peoples in June, 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom apologized for the genocide. Newsom said, "That’s what it was, a genocide. No other way to describe it. And that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books."
- California Indian Wars
- California mission clash of cultures
- Genocide of indigenous peoples
- List of Indian massacres
- Aboriginal Americans. Quote: "Dr. MacGowan, in a lecture delivered at New York, estimated the present number of Indians in the United States to be about 250,000, and said that unless something prevented the oppression and cruelty of the white man, these people would gradually become reduced, and finally extinct. He predicted the total extermination of the Digger Indians of California and the tribes of other States, within ten years, if something were not done for their relief. The lecturer concluded by strongly urging the establishment of a Protective Aborigines Society, something similar to the society in England to prevent cruelty to animals. By this means he thought the condition of the Indian might be improved and the race longer perpetuated." The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 274 (Mar. 31, 1866), p. 350
- Madley, Benjamin (2016). An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873.
- "California Genocide". Indian Country Diaries. PBS. September 2006. Archived from the original on May 6, 2007.
- Lindsay, Brendan C. (2012). Murder State: California's Native American Genocide 1846-1873. United States of America: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 2, 3. ISBN 978-0-8032-6966-8.
- Castillo, Edward. "A Short Overview of California Indian History". Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
- On January 6, 1851 at his State of the State address to the California Senate, 1st Governor Peter Burnett said: "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."
- Burnett, Peter (January 6, 1851). "State of the State Address". California State Library. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Coffer, William E. (1977). "Genocide of the California Indians, with a Comparative Study of Other Minorities". The Indian Historian. San Francisco, CA. 10 (2): 8–15.
- Norton, Jack. Genocide in Northwestern California: 'When our worlds cried'. Indian Historian Press, 1979.
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- Lindsay, Brendan C. (2012). Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846–1873. University of Nebraska Press.
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- Trafzer, Clifford E.; Lorimer, Michelle (2014). "Silencing California Indian Genocide in Social Studies Texts". American Behavioral Scientist. 58 (1): 64–82. doi:10.1177/0002764213495032.
- Madley, Benjamin (May 22, 2016). "Op-Ed: It's time to acknowledge the genocide of California's Indians". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
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- Chapter III p284
- Browne, J. Ross (1864). The California Indians, a Clever Satire on the Government's Dealings with its Indian Wards. Harper Brothers. p. 17.
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- Kiernan 2007, p. 352
- Madley, Benjamin (2016). An American Genocide: The United States and the California India Catastrophe, 1846–1873. Yale University Press.
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- Letter, Brevet Capt. N. Lyon to Major E.R.S. Canby, May 22, 1850
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- Key, Karen (September 24, 2006). Prats, J. J. (ed.). "Bloody Island (Bo-no-po-ti)". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
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- Heizer 1993, Letter, Bvt. 2nd Lieut. John Nugens to Lieut T. Wright, December 31, 1853, pp. 12–13,.
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- Madley 2012b, pp. 21–22
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- Lindsay, Brendan C. (2012). Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846–1873. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 192–193. ISBN 978-0-8032-2480-3.
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- Madley 2012, p. 117
- "65 Yuki Indians Killed at Bloody Rock". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
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- Glauner, Lindsay (Spring 2001). "Need for Accountability and Reparations: 1830-1976 the United States Government's Role in the Promotion, Implementation, and Execution of the Crime of Genocide against Native Americans". DePaul Law Review. 51 (3): 915–916.
Therefore, in accordance to Article IV of the Genocide Convention , which requires all parties to prosecute those charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide, regardless of their capacity as a ruler or public official, in a competent tribunal within the State where the crime took place or in a competent international tribunal that has proper jurisdiction over the case, any persons or agencies that commit acts of genocide within the territory of the United States must be held accountable for their crimes.
- Cowan, Jill (June 19, 2019). "'It's Called Genocide': Newsom Apologizes to the State's Native Americans". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
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