A Very Brief Overview of California’s Achumawi Indians

The aboriginal homelands of the Achumawi (also spelled Achomawi, Achomowi, Achemawi) people of North America was along the drainage of the Pit River between the Warner Range and Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen in present-day California. Achumawi villages were located along the Pit River or its tributary streams. The Achumawi villages, whose names were not recorded in the historical records, do not appear to have been politically united.

Linguistically, the Achumawi language, together with the Atsugewi language, form the Palahnihan branch of the Hokan language family.

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California Indians Lose Their Home

The United States acquired what would become the state of California under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war with Mexico. In the treaty, the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings, and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages.

In 1901, the Supreme Court in the case Barker versus Harvey decided that the Cupeño did not have the right to retain their homes at Warner’s Hot Springs in California. The Indians had argued that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico recognized the Indian right to villages on Mexican land grants. The Supreme Court, however, decided that the Indians had failed to bring their case to the Land Commission in the allotted time and that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had failed to bring about legislation to reaffirm the land rights for these Indians.

In 1851, Congress had established a Board of Land Commissioners to investigate all land claims in California. While the Commissioners were to have submitted a report to the Secretary of the Interior, no one has been able to find the report. In an article in the Journal of the West, Joel Hyer reports:

“Without confirming evidence, the Supreme Court believed that the Board of Land Commissioners informed all Indians—including those living in the isolated mountain communities at Warner’s Ranch—of the necessity of presenting land claims within two years.”

Hyer also reports:

“The Court based its decision on a supposition that someone visited these peoples, informed of their duty to file a land claim, and then made a report.”

The land in question actually belonged to the Mission San Diego which had reported them to be abandoned.

The Supreme Court decision affected 250 Cupeño families. Anthropologist Edward Castillo, in one of his entries in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:

“At several villages native families locked themselves in their homes as sheriff’s deputies broke down their doors with axes to evict them.”

Many influential California Anglos were sympathetic to the cause of the Cupeño and other Mission Indians. In 1902, the Sequoyah League was organized by writer Charles Fletcher Lummis. The goal of the new organization was “To Make Better Indians” and one of the primary concerns was the Mission Indians. Historian William Hagan, in his book Theodore Roosevelt and Six Friends of the Indian, reports:

“The fifty-odd people who attended the organization meeting including Episcopal and Catholic bishops from the area.”

Charles Lummis, who had worked with the Indian Rights Association, hoped that the new organization would not be adversarial, but would work with the government. Historian Sherry Smith, in her book Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Ango Eyes, 1880-1940, reports:

“Beyond addressing the needs of California’s Indians, the League intended to cooperate with the Indian Bureau while maintaining ‘a friendly watchfulness over’ reservations.”

While the League favored assimilation, it rejected allotment as the primary vehicle to accomplish this. Only one Indian was on the League’s board of directors: Francis LaFlesche (Omaha) who lived in Washington, D.C. According to Sherry Smith:

“In assuming Anglos were best qualified to direct Indian affairs, the Sequoyah League marched in step with other Indian reform groups of its time.”

In 1902, in an issue of Out West, Charles Lummis launched a campaign to help the Cupeño families who were being evicted from Warner Ranch. Lummis also denounced the directive from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs which specifies the proper length of an adult male Indian’s hair.

The Indian interest groups, such as the Sequoyah League, had an impact. They forced Congress to bow to public opinion and purchase a ranch in California’s Pala Valley for the Cupeño who had been evicted from the Mission San Diego land grant.

In 1903, government officials met with the Cupeño on Warner’s Ranch to inform them that they were to be moved to the Pala Reservation. In trying to explain why they don’t want to move, Cecilio Blacktooth told the officials:

“You see that graveyard out there? There are our fathers and our grandfathers. You see that Eagle-nest mountain and that Rabbit-hole mountain? When God made them, He gave us this place. We have always been here. We do not care for any other place.”

In spite of this plea, the Cupeños were removed.



The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

While Mexico declared its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810, it did not actually obtain its independence until September 27, 1821. In the Plan de Iguala, Mexico did away with all legal distinctions regarding Indians and reaffirmed that Indians were citizens of Mexico on an equal basis with non-Indians. In other words, Mexico, unlike the United States, gave Indians full citizenship and recognized that Indians had rights to their land.

In the newly established country of Mexico, Spanish policies were blamed for Indian poverty and many felt that by erasing racial, caste, and class distinctions that Spain’s legacy of paternalism could be rectified. According to Daniel Tyler, in an article in the New Mexico Historical Review:  “Even the word ‘Indian’ was supposed to be abolished on public and private documents.”  The Catholic Church, however, opposed equality and advocated a return to the colonial mission system. In reality, each state determined for itself how to incorporate Indians into the new nation.

In 1848, the United States ended its war with Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In this treaty, Mexico gave the United States what is now the Southwest. One newspaper reported: “we take nothing by conquest…Thank God.”

In the treaty, the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings, and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages. The Mexican negotiators won from the United States multiple promises that Indian land rights would continue as they had been under Mexican law. Van Hastings Garner, in an article in The Indian Historian, writes:  “A major concern of the Mexicans was that if the United States were allowed to follow her normal pattern of dispossessing Indians, northern Mexico would be inundated by a flood of refugees.”  Garner also writes:  “In essence, the United States had agreed by international treaty to continue the Mexican system of white-Indian relations throughout the Southwest, a system that was incompatible with the expansion of the United States, for it protected the property rights of the indigenous inhabitants.”

Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale, in an article in the New Mexico Historical Review, writes:  “Ironically, the American rationale for claiming these lands was to bring peace and stability to the region, but the United State only escalated the cycles of violence among Navajos, other Native peoples, and New Mexicans.”

As with many of its treaties, the United States tended to ignore any provisions which might be inconvenient. American Indian policy at this time was focused on removing Indians from their lands and confining them to reservations on lands considered to be unsuitable for agricultural and mineral development.

 With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States acquired what would become New Mexico and Arizona. Included in this territory were the Pueblo Indians who were agricultural peoples who lived in permanent villages. The Pueblos did not fit the established American stereotypes about Indians. In Santa Ana: The People, the Pueblo, and the History of Tamaya Laura Bayer writes:  “They had preserved their own ancient governments, traditions, and religions after three hundred years of contact with European civilization, and they clearly indicated their intention to continue to do so.”

The Pueblos were clearly sovereign entities who had developed the land. American Indian policies did not seem to fit the Pueblo situations. Under Mexican law, Pueblo Indians had been citizens, but under American law their lost their citizenship rights. Some people argued that the Pueblos should be given citizenship, while others felt that they should be considered to be corporate entities under territorial law. It was not clear legally if they should be considered to be “Indians” or not.

In 1850, James S. Calhoun, the first Indian agent in New Mexico, negotiated a treaty between the United States and the Pueblos of Santa Clara, Tesuque, Nambe, Santo Domingo, Jemez, San Felipe, Cochiti, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, and Zia. The treaty states that the boundaries of each Pueblo  “shall never be diminished, but may be enlarged whenever the Government of the United States shall deem it advisable.”  In addition, the treaty states that the Pueblos shall be governed by their own laws and customs. On the surface, the treaty seem to be in accord with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but the treaty was never ratified by the United States Senate.

Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States also acquired California, an area which had been densely populated prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Under the Spanish mission system Indian population had declined.

In 1850, Congress authorized the President to appoint negotiators to make treaties with the California Indians. Van Hastings Garner reports:  “These treaties were to set up reservations for Indians into which they could retreat from the encroachment of white settlers.  The price for this security, however, was the surrender of all claims to land not included in the reservations.”  In other words, the Indians were to give up all of the rights which had been reserved to them in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico.

In 1851, the United States formally negotiated 18 treaties with Indian nations which secured legal title to public land and which guaranteed reserved lands for Indians. The treaties were signed by about 400 Indian chiefs and leaders representing 150 tribes (about half the tribes in California). The Indian commissioners explained to the non-Indian residents of the state that the government had two options: to exterminate the Indians or to “domesticate” them. They argued that “domesticating” them was more practical.

None of the commissioners who arranged the California treaties knew anything about California Indians. According to anthropologist Robert Heizer, in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “Their procedure was to travel about until they could collect enough natives, meet with them, and effect the treaty explanation and signing. One wonders how clearly many Indians understood what the whole matter was about.”

Non-Indians in California fiercely opposed the ratification of the treaties. While these treaties were signed by both Indian and U.S. government leaders, they were not debated in Congress, thus did not appear in the Congressional Record, and stayed hidden for more than 50 years. The ratification of the treaties was opposed by the California legislature and Annette Jaimes, in a chapter in Critical Issues in Native North America, reports  “it is rumored that state representatives even succeeded in having the treaties hidden in the archives of the Government Room in Washington, D.C.”

In spite of the assurances given to Mexico by the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ensuing legislation deprived California Indians of the rights to their land. The impact on the Indians was immense: many lost their homes, and were persecuted and hunted by non-Indians. During the next 50 years, California Indian population decreased by 80%. In the Handbook of North American Indians, anthropologist Omer Stewart writes:  “The failure to ratify the treaties left the federal government without explicit legal obligation toward the Indians of California.”

In 1851, a number of California Indians were living on land grants issued to them by Spain and Mexico. As non-Indian greed turned to dispossessing these Indians of their lands, Congress passed a law to establish a commission to determine the validity of these land grants. While on the surface it looked like the commission should confirm Indian land rights under these grants, it actually served to do the opposite. Van Hastings Garner explains it this way:  “The law stipulated that no matter how secure the title to the land was, if the grant holder failed to appear before the commission, the grant would revert to public domain. This provision took away the rights of most Indian grant holders, few of whom were told of the commission’s existence, let alone that they had to appear before it.”  In addition, the Indians had to travel to San Francisco to appear before the commission. Only six Indian claims were confirmed.

The American Indian experiences in New Mexico and California with American government promises made to Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo suggest that treaty promises are not held in high regard by the United States.

Spiritual and Medicinal Plants Used by the Chumash Indians

In 1542, the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez de Cabrillo sailed along the coast of California. While he really didn’t discover anything, he did encounter the Chumash Indians who occupied the three northern large islands of the Santa Barbara archipelago and the shoreline from Malibu Canyon to Estero Bay. The Chumash were a coastal people with a maritime lifestyle.

Cabrillo described the Chumash this way:  “They were dressed in skins and wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings interwoven with the hair, there being attached to the strings many gewgaws of flint, bone, and wood.”  Regarding Chumash on Santa Cruz Island he reported:  “They are fisherman; they eat nothing but fish; they sleep on the ground; their sole business and employment is to fish.”

The Spanish noted that there were 10 rancherias (small Indian settlements) on Santa Cruz Island.  In addition, the Spanish mention the names of more than 20 villages on the mainland coast. It is generally estimated that at the time of contact with the Spanish, there were 75-100 Chumash communities with a total population of  20-30,000.

The villages usually contained between 15 and 50 houses roughly aligned along a street. Chumash houses were bowl shaped structures made of poles and covered with thatched tules. Anthropologist A. L. Kroeber, in his 1925 Handbook of the Indians of California describes the structure this way:  “The structure was hemispherical, made by planting willows or other poles in a circle and bending and tying them together at the top.”

The house diameters ranged from four to seven meters. Next to many of the houses were temascal, smaller dome-shaped structures covered with mud which were used as sweat houses.

One of the substances gathered and used by the Chumash was bitumen, a naturally occurring type of tar from the Channel Islands. The Chumash used this as a kind of all purpose glue. Paula Neely, writing in American Archaeology, reports:  “The Chumash gathered naturally occurring bitumen from numerous seeps throughout the islands. They used the gooey substance to waterproof canoes, line baskets used as water bottles, and to plug holes in shells that they used as food containers. They even chewed it.”

On the negative side, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon toxins in the bitumen may have led to major health problems, such as cancer, damage to internal organs, and reproductive impairment. This may have also lead to an overall decrease in Chumash stature of about four inches.

According to the oral history of the Chumash, all of the people originally lived on Santa Cruz Island. One day Xoy split the people into two groups. One group, the ka’ikiku, went over a rainbow bridge to Mount Pinos. The other group, the molmolokiku stayed with Xoy and learned how to make plants and animals for the ka’ikiku to use. Thus the ka’ikiku ask the molmolokiku for guidance in using plants and animals. Many of the plants were used medicinally and spiritually.

For the Chumash, as for many of the Indian peoples of California, one of the most important spiritual plants was jimsonweed (Datura) which was used to help produce visions. In many of the tribes, it was felt that jimsonweed was so powerful that it should be used only once. However, among the Chumash, John Baker, writing in Sacred Realms: Essays in Religion, Beliefs, and Society, reports:  “Individuals were allowed to use the plant as often as they saw fit, and they could take it right in their own village.”

Use of jimsonweed was seen as important to a person’s life, and higher status Chumash individuals tended to use it more than once in order to gain spiritual power.

Among the Chumash, both men and women used jimsonweed. The first infusion of Datura was usually administered by a paid specialist who was skilled at preparing the plant. In some villages, the initial experience was supervised by five elders. Boys were always initiated alone, but girls were sometimes initiated as a group. After ingesting an infusion of the root of the plant, the initiate would become dizzy and start to tremble. The specialist would then tell the initiate to sleep and to dream. The initiate would generally sleep for 18-24 hours. As the initiate began to revive, the specialist would sing and the elders would ask about the dream and then interpret it.

There were a number of reasons why the Chumash would use jimsonweed after initiation. This would include the strengthening of the bond with the spirit helper, acquiring additional spirit helpers, and acquiring spiritual power in general. Women would use the plant to become immune to danger and to attain courage.

John Baker notes that among the Chumash:  “A person who ingested Datura for visionary purposes might do so in order to communicate with the spirit of a beloved person who had died, or to obtain a glimpse of his or her own future. Datura could also be used to locate lost objects.”

In addition to spiritual uses, jimsonweed was also used medically. Jimsonweed (Datura) was used as an anesthesia when setting bones. In addition, it might be ingested when treating bruises and wounds. John Baker reports:  “Datura was taken internally to ‘freshen the blood’ and to treat alcohol-induced hangovers (a post-contact innovation) and applied externally to treat hemorrhoids.”  Baker also reports: “It is clear that the Chumash use of Datura was based upon a thorough empirical knowledge of the effects of the plant.”

Specialists understood both the dosages needed to achieve different ends as well as the preparation and environmental factors which can influence outcomes.

Among the Chumash, a tea made from the root and rhizomes of Anemopsis californica (commonly called yerba mansa, swamp root or lizard tail) was used as a drink for colds, asthma, and urinary tract disorders. It was also used to wash cuts and sores and for bathing arthritic joints. According to pharmacology professor James Adams and the former director of the Chumash Interpretive Center Frank Lemos in an article in News from Native California:  “This plant has been used for a long time in California and should be investigated by scientists interested in new drugs for the treatment of venereal diseases and asthma.”

For headaches, stomach problems, and arthritis, the Chumash ate the root of hog fennel (Lomatium californicum). In addition, hog fennel seeds were eaten to treat colds and sore throats. Hog fennel root was worn on a necklace or on a belt as a means of repelling rattlesnakes.

Red shank (Adenostoma sparsifolium, also called greasewood or ribbonwood) had a number of medicinal uses among the Chumash. Sore throats, stomach problems, respiratory problems, and colds were treated with a tea made from red shank bark. A tea made from small branches was used for treating toothaches and for washing wounds.

Ephedra californica (commonly called joint fir, Indian tea, and desert tea) was used by the Chumash for purifying the blood and for treating urinary tract infections and venereal diseases. Other California tribes used this plant for stomach problems and backaches. Since one of the active ingredients found in the plant is psuedoephedrine, it was also used as a nasal decongestant and as a stimulant.

The Chumash and the Kumeyaay used an elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) flower tea for treating colds, flu, and fevers. This tea was also used to relieve premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea. The inner bark of the elderberry was used as an emetic and its berries were used as a laxative.

California’s War On Indians, 1850 to 1851

In 1850 California was admitted to the United States as its 31st state. As with some other states, Native Americans were not seen as desirable inhabitants of the state. For the first decade of its existence, the State of California carried on a series of privatized wars of extermination against the Native American population. California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, openly called for the extermination of Indian tribes.

In 1850, California passed an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. The Act stated that while both non-Indians and Indians may take complaints before a justice of the peace, that “in no case shall a white man be convicted on any offense upon the testimony of an Indian.”

In other words, if a non-Indian were to commit a crime, such as murder, rape, or theft, and the only witnesses were Indians, then no conviction would be possible. The act also curtailed Indian land rights.

The Act also allowed non-Indians to obtain Indian children by going before a justice of the peace and securing a certificate which allowed them to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of these children. The illegal sale of Indian children became common and during the next 13 years an estimated 20,000 California Indian children were placed in bondage.

James Parins, in his biography John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works, explains another ramification of the law:  “if an Indian was arrested on charges of drunkenness and could not pay his fine, a white rancher could pay the amount levied by the court and then set the prisoner to work until the debt was paid. The Indian had no voice in setting the terms of this transaction, those details being left to the judge and the rancher.”

The law empowered non-Indians to arrest Indian adults for loitering and other offenses and then the captives were sold to the highest bidder. Indians had to work for four months without compensation. In other words, this Act opened up the door to involuntary servitude of Indians, a form of slavery in a non-slave state.

In the San Joaquin Valley and in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas, the Miwok and the Yokut, under the leadership of Tenaya, began a war against the miners and settlers who had entered their territory as the result of the Gold Rush. The warriors attacked prospectors and burned James Savage’s trading posts. The conflict was known as the Mariposa Indian War.

In 1850, the governor launched a war against Indians who were accused of stealing stock near the mines in the central part of the state. A state militia of 200 men was called up. The militia encountered about 150-200 Miwok in a steep canyon. While they killed three Indians, the militia was forced to retreat. In a second battle which lasted for five hours, the militia killed 15 Indians. Two of the militia were killed. The one-month campaign in El Dorado County cost more than $100,000. For the militia commanders, the war was very lucrative while it was expensive for the California taxpayers.

 In 1850, the American military began a campaign against the Pomo at Clear Lake in revenge for the killing of two non-Indians the previous year. The Pomo leader Ge-Wi-Lih met the Americans with his hands up to indicate peace, but was shot. The soldiers shot women and children. They also bayoneted babies and burned one man alive. An estimated 135 Indians were killed.

 In 1850, the first American gold miners reached Hupa territory. When the Hupa offered hospitality to the miners, the miners asked them to leave their camp. While some shots were exchanged, the Hupa offered peace. Byron Nelson, in his book Our Home Forever: A Hupa Tribal History, explains:  “Knowing that a pitched battle in their homeland would involve many innocent people, the Hupa hoped to prevent disastrous violence. Instead of taking revenge, they came to restore harmony and offer food to the miners.”

In 1850, the Anglos in the newly created Shasta County gave a friendship feast for the Wintu. The food, however, was poisoned and 100 Wintu died.

Under the Constitution of the United States, Indian tribes are sovereign nations and during the nineteenth century the federal government negotiated treaties with Indian tribes as a way of obtaining their land. In 1851, the United States negotiated 18 treaties with California Indian nations which were supposed to secure legal title to public land and guarantee reserved lands for Indians. The Indian commissioners explained to the non-Indian residents of the state that the government had two options: to exterminate the Indians or to “domesticate” them. They argued that “domesticating” them was more practical.

None of the commissioners who arranged the California treaties knew anything about California Indians. According to anthropologist Robert Heizer in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “Their procedure was to travel about until they could collect enough natives, meet with them, and effect the treaty explanation and signing. One wonders how clearly many Indians understood what the whole matter was about.”

In the treaty council with the Karok, Yurok, and Hupa, the government promised to give the Indians a protected reservation and gifts if they would agree to wear clothes, live in houses, and become farmers. The government was apparently unaware that these groups had been living in plank houses for millennia.

Signing the treaty for the Hupa are what the Americans call the “head chief” and “under chiefs.” None of these men had formal authority over all of the villages. They were, however, men of great influence.

While these treaties were signed by both Indian and U.S. government leaders, they were not debated in the Senate, thus did not appear in the Congressional Record. For more than 50 years the California treaties were somehow lost or hidden. The ratification of the treaties was opposed by the California legislature and there were rumors that the state representatives managed to have the treaties hidden in the archives of the Government Room in the Capital.

Ensuing legislation deprived California Indians of the rights to their land. The impact on the Indians is immense. Historian Herman Viola, in his book After Columbus: The Smithsonian Chronology of the North American Indians, reports:  “Bereft of homes, unprotected by treaties, the Indians became wanderers, hounded and persecuted by whites.”

Anthropologist Omer Steward writes: “The failure to ratify the treaties left the federal government without explicit legal obligation toward the Indians of California.” During the next 50 years, California Indian population will decrease by 80%.”

In 1851, the Americans destroyed a natural bridge crossing Clear Creek in an effort to keep the Wintu on the western side of the creek. Miners then burned the Wintu council house in the town of Old Shasta and massacred about 300 people. Following the massacre, the Wintu consented to the “Cottonwood Treaty” which gave them about 35 square miles of land.

 In 1851, the Cahuilla, Quechan, and Cocopa under the leadership of Antonio Garra, Jr. in San Diego County revolted against the American federal, state, and local governments. The cause of the rebellion was a state tax imposed on Indian property. Garra attempted to put together a confederacy of several tribes, but was captured by a rival Cahuilla band and turned over to the Americans. He was tried in a paramilitary court, found guilty, and shot.

In 1851, the Modoc raided ranches in the Shasta Valley for horses and cattle. In response, the ranchers organized a party of volunteers to recover the livestock and kill the Modoc. The volunteers killed 20 Modoc men and captured 30 women and children.

In 1851, American settlers burned an Indian village on Mill Creek (possibly a Yahi village) in retaliation for the supposed theft of a cow.

In 1851, the United States paid out more than $1 million in bounties for Indian scalps.

Honoring and Celebrating Genocide

Cultural genocide is a concept expressed by many Native Americans to describe the deliberate destruction of American Indian languages, religions, ways of dress and housing, and interpersonal relations by the invading European powers and by the United States. Cultural genocide has led to the deaths of many American Indians either through deliberate murder or as the intended or unintended consequences of the deliberate destruction of Indian cultures. One of the classic cases of cultural genocide can be seen in California.

In 1758 Father Junípero Serra led a group of Franciscan friars north from Baja California into present-day California to establish a series of 21 missions, starting with San Diego de Alcalá in the south. The group was accompanied by a column of Spanish soldiers under the leadership of Captain Gaspar de Portolá. Robert Jackson and Edward Castillo, in their book Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians, report:  “The Franciscans attempted to restructure the native societies they encountered to further Spanish colonial-policy objectives.”  They also write:  “One of the primary objectives of the Franciscan-directed mission program in Alta California was the transformation of the culture and world view of the Indian converts congregated in the missions.”

Christianity, for these missionaries, meant not just accepting a new religion, but it also required a totally new way of living. The sites for the missions were selected on the basis of their suitability for agriculture and ranching as well as the availability of building materials. Indian people were expected to give up their traditional economic systems and to work as slaves in European-style agriculture and ranching.

Indian people did not come joyously or freely to live and work at the new missions. In his book Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, Peter Nabokov writes:  “Soldiers snatched Indian families from outlying hamlets to convert them, change their social habits and turn them into an American peasantry.”  In other words, recruitment was very similar to a slave raid. The Indian response to the missions was to flee, either in small groups or in large groups.

In his book From the Heart: Voices of the American Indian, Lee Miller notes:  “Spain continued to operate under the European assumption that non-Christian nations were base and immoral, and the church was obligated to effect conversion.”  Furthermore, the Spanish, according to anthropologist Edward Castillo (1978a: 99):  “were steeped in a legacy of religious intolerance and conformity featuring a messianic fanaticism accentuating both Spanish culture in general and Catholicism in particular.”

The Franciscans sought to set up a utopian Christian community among the Indians. Malcolm Margolin, in his book The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, writes that the Indians:  “would be weaned away from their life of nakedness, lewdness, and idolatry. They would, under the gentle guidance of the Franciscan fathers, learn to pray properly, eat with spoons, wear clothes, and they would master farming, weaving, blacksmithing, cattle raising, masonry, and other civilized arts.”

For this utopian Christian community, the Indians were to live at the mission. Unmarried males and females were confined to separate quarters to prevent any sexual relationships. The Indians were told who they could marry and what kind of clothing they were to wear. For most Indians the mission communities were death camps. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians Sherburne F. Cook and Cesare Marino note:  “the physical confinement and the restriction of social as well as sexual intercourse was completely contrary to native custom and acted as a powerful source of irritation.”

Father Junípero Serra, who is revered by many of today’s Catholics, is described by Malcolm Margolin as being “driven by inner torments and a quest for personal martyrdom.” He lashed and burned his flesh before his congregations. Anthropologist Eve Darian-Smith, in her book New Capitalists: Law, Politics, and Identity Surrounding Casino Gaming on Native American Land, describes him this way:  “He was a man of extreme conviction in his commitment to convert California Indians to Catholicism and make them productive citizens of the Spanish colonial state.”

The Franciscans asked the Indians who came to see them to be baptized, even if they did not understand the meaning of this European ceremony. Once baptized, they could be held at the missions against their will. Soldiers were stationed at the missions to capture those who tried to escape. Escape attempts were severely punished by the Franciscans.

The Franciscan missions were slave plantations, requiring the Indian people to work for the Spanish under cruel conditions. Most of the Indians died in the new mission environment because of brutality, malnutrition, and illness. One early visitor to the missions remarked about the Indians that “I have never seen one laugh.”

In 1948, the United Nations formally defined genocide and classified it as a crime against humanity. Many of the actions of the Franciscans under Serra can be considered acts of genocide under the U.N. definition.

Today, many Native Americans, particularly those who have a California Indian heritage, consider Serra to have been a brutal oppressor whose actions killed many thousands and helped to destroy ancient cultural heritages. While we don’t know for sure if Serra personally killed anyone, his actions led to death, destruction, pain, suffering, slavery, and poverty.

The Catholic Church appears to honor and celebrate the brutality and cultural genocide promoted by the Franciscan priest: he will be declared a Saint by Pope Francis in September of 2015. Some Catholics, such as Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, applaud the creation of this new saint.

The Channel Islands in the Terminal Pleistocene

There was a time in archaeology some fifty to sixty years ago, when the basic hypothesis regarding the peopling of the Americas suggested that towards the ends of the last major ice age, as the two major ice sheets covering North America separated to create a passage from the Yukon to the Northern Plains, that people began migrating across Beringia (the land bridge connecting Asia and North America) and then spread out through the Americas. It was a hypothesis that was simple, neat, appealing, and wrong. One of the alternative hypotheses that have been developed over the past half-century or so suggests that some of the early (and perhaps earliest) migrations into the Americas may have been by boat. Part of the data supporting the water craft hypothesis has come from archaeological findings from the Channel Islands which date to the Terminal Pleistocene (an era that dates from about 19,000 years ago until 10,500 years ago).

Channel Islands National Park in California is composed of five of the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. The first four are the northern islands and Santa Barbara is a part of the southern Channel Islands. This national park may be one of the most important archaeological areas in the Americas, particularly with regard to understanding the early human habitation of the continent. According to the Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment: “Both prehistoric and historic archaeological resources within the Park have an unusually high level of significance in terms of criteria for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, they may be considered among the most valuable in North America, if not the world.”


During the Terminal Pleistocene, much of North America was covered with ice fields and the ocean levels were much lower. At this time, there was only one northern channel super-island, Santarosae. As the great ice sheets melted and sea levels rose, Santarosae became four islands.

During the Terminal Pleistocene, the fauna on the islands included a number of animals which would go extinct: a giant mouse (Peromyscus nesodytes), a flightless goose or scoter (Chendytes lawi), and a pygmy mammoth (Mammuth exiliis). All of these overlapped with human occupation. Human occupation on the Channel Islands has been dated to more than 13,000 years ago. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment:  “Significantly, there is more evidence of occupation on the northern Channel Islands during this period than in most other areas of comparable size elsewhere in California or North America as a whole.”

There are more than 50 archaeological sites on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz islands that have been dated to between 13,000 years ago and 7,000 years ago. This is the largest cluster of early coastal sites currently known in the Americas. The earliest people on the Channel Islands are often called the Paleocoastal Peoples and their presence on the island at this time lends support to the hypothesis that the ancient people arrived in the Americas by boat. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment:  “The archaeological evidence for early maritime settlement of the Channel Islands also has had a significant effect on the growing recognition that a maritime migration may have contributed to the initial human colonization of the Americas.”

While one of the first archaeologists to work on Santa Rosa Island has proposed that mammoth-hunting humans first came to the islands over 40,000 years ago, very few archaeologists today accept this early date. The earliest verified evidence for human occupation in the Channel Islands comes from more than 13,000 years ago when a woman died at Arlington Springs on Santa Rosa Island. At the time she died, the sea level was 150 feet lower than it is today and the Northern Channel Islands were still connected as a single island.

In 1959, archaeological excavations under the direction of Phil Orr uncovered two femurs buried about 30 feet deep in the side wall of Arlington Canyon. The remains were initially identified as male and called the Arlington Springs Man. Orr estimated that the remains were about 10,000 years old. Thirty years later, Orr’s successor at the museum, Dr. John Johnson, re-analyzed the Arlington Springs remains using modern techniques of radiocarbon dating. At this same time, the original site was relocated and re-studied. The new studies determined that the remains were female rather than male and that they were about 13,000 years old. According to Dr. John Johnson, Curator of Anthropology, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: “This woman’s presence on an island at this early date is significant, because it demonstrates that the earliest Paleo-Indians had watercraft necessary to cross the Santa Barbara Channel.”


Immediately above the layer of soil in which the remains of Arlington Woman (originally called Arlington Man) were found is a distinctive layer dated to about 12,900 years ago that is linked to the extraterrestrial event that caused an abrupt climate change resulting in the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna and the end of Clovis culture.

By about 12,000 years ago, people were occupying the Cardwell Bluffs sites near the east end of San Miguel Island. These sites appear to have been multipurpose quarry, workshop, and habitation sites. Among the stone artifacts are chipped stone crescents and small, stemmed Channel Island Barbed points. While shellfish remains show that the people had a marine diet, the crescents and stemmed points suggest that they were also hunting. Both the crescents and stemmed points have been linked to other coastal sites and support the idea of a coastal migration following the North Pacific Rim from Northeast Asia into the Americas.

Daisy Cave along a remote and rocky stretch of San Miguel Island shows evidence of human occupation dating back to 11,500 years ago. The site has a shell midden dominated by rocky shore shellfish including red abalone, black turban (Tegula funebralis), California mussel (Mytilus californianus), giant chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri), and crab. While this is one of the oldest shell middens in North America, it leaves a number of questions unanswered. According to Channel Islands National Park Archaeological Overview and Assessment: “…who were these early maritime people, where did they come from, what technologies did they employ, and what was the nature of their broader economies and lives?”

Humans and Pygmy Mammoths:

The first report of mammoth remains on Santa Rosa Island came in 1853 and by the 1920s these were classified as a new species. In the 1940s, Phil Orr, Curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara, conducted archaeological field studies in which mammoth bones were found in conjunction with features which were interpreted as hearths. Orr concluded that humans had been hunting and consuming pygmy mammoths. However, recent studies have not substantiated this claim.

Humans and the pygmy mammoths co-existed on the island for at least 200 years. This raises a number of interesting questions regarding the extinction of the pygmy mammoths. Was this simply a coincidence or did human hunting contribute to the extinction? Archaeological data shows that humans on the mainland were hunting mammoths. Did the people on Santa Rosa Island have mammoth hunting skills and knowledge, or was their subsistence lifestyle marine oriented?

Some researchers feel that the extinction of the pygmy mammoths was caused by a cosmic impact which is supported by data from sediments at this time.

Indian Rebellions at the California Missions

While it is not uncommon for some textbooks to give the impression that the California Native Americans passively accepted the missions, Spanish domination, and conversion to Christianity, this was not the case. In fact, the initial reception of the Franciscans by the California Indians was anything but hospitable. Resistance to the Spanish Franciscans was organized by village chiefs and influential shamans and this resistance was expressed through attacks on both the Spanish soldiers and the Franciscan missionaries. During the first years of the Franciscan mission program the overt hostility of the Indians slowed the rate of the establishment of the new missions and created a reliance on soldiers to protect the Franciscans.

By Spanish law the process of converting Indians into Christians was to take ten years and was to involve four stages: (1) misión (mission) which was to include initial contact and the explanation of the importance of God and the King, (2) reducción (reduction) which was to reduce the Indians’ territory by bringing them into a segregated community centered around a church, (3) doctrina (doctrine) in which the Indians would receive instructions on the finer points of Christianity, and (4) curato (curacy) in which the Indians would become tax-paying citizens.

In 1771, Spanish Franciscans founded the San Gabriel Mission in the Los Angeles basin. The new mission was given the name La Misión del Santo Príncipe El Arcángel, San Gabriel de Los Temblores. Shortly after the mission was established, it was attacked by Indians. The two attacks were triggered by the rape of a Kumi.vit woman by the soldiers who were assigned to protect the Franciscans. One chief was killed and the Spanish soldiers placed his head on a pole as an example to other Indians who might wish to rebel against Spanish authority.

In 1769, the Spanish Franciscans established La Misión San Diego de Alcalá in the homeland of the Kumeyaay Indians. In 1775, the Kumeyaay revolted, burned the mission and killed one of the priests.

Fearing reprisals from the nearby Spanish presidio, the attackers quickly fled into the interior, taking with them some booty in the form of clothing, trinkets, and religious icons. Spanish troops were called out to capture the ringleaders.

The Spanish priests blamed Satan for the uprising against the San Diego Mission. Father Francisco Palóu wrote:  “The enemy, [Satan] envious and resentful, no doubt because the heathen in that territory were being taken away from him, and because the missionaries, with their fervent zeal and apostolic labors, were steadily lessening his following, and little by little banishing heathenism from the neighborhood of the port of San Diego, found a means to put a stop to these spiritual conquests.”

From an Indian perspective, the rebellion against the oppression of the Spanish mission was the result of forced labor and the rape of several Kumeyaay women. The Indians viewed the Spanish priests as shamans and held them responsible for the disease and misfortune which was befalling them. Thus, the killing of the priest—an evil shaman in the eyes of the Indians—and the removal of sacred objects from the mission was a way of cleansing the land of the spiritual evil that was growing on it.

Spanish investigation revealed that at least fifteen villages took part in the rebellion, including several so-called Christian villages. Leaders of the insurrection were identified as Oroche of Macate, Francisco of Cullamac, Rafael of Janat, and Ysquitil of Abusquel.

In 1776, the Spanish Franciscans selected a number of Ohlone and Costanoan Indians to be flogged and threatened with execution. The action was intended to stop any resistance to their missionary activities.

In that same year, Indians attacked the San Luis Obispo Mission and set fire to the roofs of the buildings.

In 1785, Toypurina (Gabrielino) convinced Indians from six villages to participate in a revolt against the San Gabriel Mission. Toypurina was a medicine woman who was considered to have supernatural powers. At the attack on the Mission, she killed people with her magic, but the priests and soldiers had been warned and the insurgents were arrested. At her trial, Toypurina denounced the Spanish for trespassing on and destroying Indian lands. Another Indian leader, Nicolas Jose, spoke out against the Spanish prohibition of traditional Indian ceremonies. Most of the Indians were sentenced to 20 lashes and Toypurina was deported to the San Carlos Mission. The public flogging of the Indians involved in this revolt was a ritual designed to restore Spanish domination, a common practice throughout Spanish America.

The Mission Indians often rebelled against the Franciscan missionaries with their feet: they ran away from captivity. In 1795, over 200 Costanoan staged a mass escape from Mission Dolores and 280 Indian “converts” fled from the San Francisco Mission.  The following year, another 200 Indians fled from the San Francisco mission. In 1798, 138 Indian “converts” fled from the Santa Cruz Mission. In 1805, 200 Indian “converts” fled from the San Juan Bautista Mission.

In 1811, Nazario, a Mission Indian cook at the San Diego Mission, was subject to 124 lashes. He then poisoned one of the priests. Since the Indians often viewed the Franciscan missionaries as powerful shamans or witches, it was appropriate in Indian culture to poison them as this was the traditional Indian way of dealing with such people.

In 1812, a group of Indian converts at the Santa Cruz mission murdered a Franciscan missionary because of his plans to punish Indians with a cat-o’-nine-tails with barbed metal on the ends of the leather straps.

In 1824 the Chumash at the La Purísima Mission revolted against the ill treatment and forced labor imposed by the priests and soldiers. The revolt was sparked by the routine beating of an Indian at the Santa Ynez mission.

A force of 2,000 Indians captured La Purísima and were soon bolstered by Indians from Santa Ynez and San Fernando. For more than a month, the Indians who occupied the La Purísima and Santa Ynez missions were able to resist Spanish military attempts to restore order.

The news of the revolt soon reached Santa Barbara and the Indians attacked the soldiers, sacked the mission, and then retreated to the back country.

The Spanish recaptured the missions after four months. The four leaders of the revolt – Mariano, Pacomio, Benito, and Bernarde – were sentenced to 10 years of chain-gang labor.

Another factor in the revolt was the appearance of a twin-tailed comet in the night sky. According to traditional Chumash beliefs, such a sign foretells of great changes which are about to happen.

In 1828, Mission Indians, under the leadership of Yokuts chiefs Estanislao (Stanislaus) and Cipriano, revolted against the Mexicans in the San Joaquin Valley. Among those joining the revolt were refugees from the Santa Cruz, San José, and San Juan Bautista Missions. Estanislao established a fortified village which was ringed with deep trenches. The Indians were successful in repelling three counterattacks by the Mexican army.

In 1829, Mexican troops attacked Estanislao’s stronghold. After several hours of intense fighting, the Mexicans breached the stockade using canon fire. They then retreated for the night. In the morning, the Mexicans found the Indian camp deserted. Thinking that Estanislao and his rebels had fled to another stockaded village about 10 miles away, the Mexicans attacked the village. They set fire to the stockade and shot all who tried to escape. They found that Estanislao was not among the dead.

Estanislao secretly returned to the Mission San José and asked the priest for a pardon. The priest agreed that he could return to the mission if he promised never to raid again.

In 1830, Christian Indians under the leadership of Francisco Jímenez, the Indian alcalde of the Mission San José, attempted to capture some Indians who had run away from the mission and were living with the Ochejamne Miwok. The Miwok repelled the invaders. Jímenez then recruited the aid of some American trappers, including Kit Carson, who fought the Miwok for an entire day, killing many Indians, and burning the village. They took some captives back to the mission.

Later the Sierra Miwok captured about 60 horses from the American trappers. Kit Carson and others chased the Miwok for over 100 miles into the Sierras. They attacked the Miwok camp, killing eight and taking three children captive. They recaptured most of their horses.

In 1833, American fur trappers found a village of Spanish-speaking Chumash living near Walker Pass. This group of Indians were renegades who fled from the Spanish missions during the 1824 revolt. They were raising corn and had horses.

In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the California missions. Mission properties were sold or were given to soldiers who had fought against Spain in the revolution.


The Hokan Language Family

During the nineteenth century linguists—scholars who are engaged in the scientific study of language—began to adopt a biological model of language development in which they viewed languages evolving in much the way that organisms had. With this model, linguists were able to put together family trees which provide a simplified genealogy of a language’s development and relationships. This genealogy groups related languages together into language families. With regard to American Indians, the study of language families helps us understand the relationships among different tribes, their histories, and their migrations.

The California culture area of Native Americans includes seven major language groups and more than 100 languages. This means that this area is the most linguistically diverse culture area in North America. The oldest language family in California is Hokan which includes Chimariko, Palaihnihan, Yana, Esselen, Salinan, Karok, Pomo, Shasta, Seri, and Washo. Several of these languages are not well-known as they are endangered or extinct.

Some linguists feel that Hokan may have been the language first spoken by American Indians 20,000 years ago. According to one hypothesis, Hokan speakers may have originally inhabited the great intermountain basin north of the Grand Canyon. Eventually, the Uto-Aztecan speakers moved north into this area and displaced the Hokan speakers.

Outside of the California Culture Area, the Coahuiltecan-speaking people of the Western Gulf Culture Area in Texas and Mexico appear to be related linguistically to the Hokan.


The Chimariko language was spoken by only a few hundred people in the Trinity River area. There are no known speakers at the present time.


The Palaihnihan group includes two languages: Achumawi and Atsugewi. These two languages are the most closely related in the Hokan Family. There were an estimated 3,000 Palaihnihan-speakers in aboriginal times.

Achumawi is nearly extinct at the present time with only older adults speaking the language. All speakers are considered semi-speakers or passive speakers. Some linguists have reported that there were originally nine dialects of Achumawi.


The Yana group has two languages: Yana and Yahi. The last known speaker of Yahi was Ishi. One of the characteristics of Yana is the distinction between the speech of men and women. Men’s speech was longer in that in women’s speech the final vowel of nouns more than two syllables in length is devoiced. When men were talking to men, men’s speech was used. At all other times, women’s speech was used. Women would use men’s speech only if they were giving a direct quote.


Very little is known about the Esselen language which was spoken by only a few hundred people in the area around the Carmel River and the Big Sur coastal area. Esselen was the first Native American language in California to go extinct after Spanish colonization. During the mission era, a few word lists were collected. There are currently attempts to revive this language.


 The Salinan language was spoken by about 2,000 people and had two or three major dialects, including Antoniano and Migueleño. There are presently no known speakers of this language. The last speakers died in the early 1960s. There is, however, interest at the present time in language revival.


In aboriginal times there were an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Karok speakers. Presently there are only 10 speakers. This language is the most distantly related of the Hokan languages.


The Pomoan group includes seven languages which are designated by area: Northeastern, Eastern, Southeastern, Northern, Central, Southern, and Southwestern. One of the interesting features about Central Pomo is the remarkable array of prefixes. Using the root yól which means “to mix” some examples of prefix use include:

ba- means “orally” and thus bayól means “to insert words suddenly while humming; that is, mix orally”

s- means “by sucking and thus syól means “to wash down cookies or doughnuts with coffee; that is, to mix by sucking”

da- means “by pushing with the palm” and thus dayól means “to fold in dry ingredients while baking”

m- means “with heat” and thus myól means “to throw various ingredients into a pot; that is, to mix by heating”

qa- means “by biting” and thus qayól means “to eat several things together, such as meat and potatoes; that is, to mix by biting”

By 2000, it was estimated that there were only 255 speakers of the Pomoan languages. Of these, 45 are between the ages of 5 and 17, including 15 with limited English proficiency.


The Shastan group consists of four languages: Shasta, New River Shasta, Okwanuchu, and Konomihu. There are currently no known speakers of this language.


 The Seri people live along the Sonora, Mexico coast. The language is still spoken by all age groups. Some linguists feel that this is a language isolate rather than a part of the Hokan language family.


Washo is the only language in the Great Basin culture area which is not a part of the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan family. While the 2000 Census counted 252 Washo-speakers, there are some who feel that there are only about 10 fluent speakers.

Shellfish and The California Tribes

Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Pacific Ocean provided the Indian Nations of California with an abundance of shellfish: clam, abalone, mussel, olivella, and dentalium. These provided not only food, but the shells were the raw material for beads, jewelry, currency, and fishhooks.

Archaeology has found that clamshells – Saxidomus nuttalli and Tivela stultorum – have been used to make beads since about 1200 AD. Clamshell beads were traded inland into central California and Nevada. The clamshell beads, also called clam disc beads, are flat, white, and round. They are drilled in the center and can be up to one inch in diameter. Some of the clamshell beads made by the Coast Miwok were tiny and a great deal of work was required to grind them to a small size. Therefore, these small clamshell beads were not worn as casual or ornamental jewelry, but were considered to be a form of wealth which could be given to others or inherited.

The Coast Miwok traded clamshell beads and abalone shells to the Wappo and Pomo for obsidian. Clamshell beads were also used as a kind of money which could be used to pay for songs and prayers, dancers, doctors, and instruction in special skills. Among the Coast Miwok, men tended to be the beadmakers.

Olivella shells (Olivella biplacata) were either strung whole for jewelry or they were used for making small sequins for decorating ceremonial items. Unlike the clamshell beads, beads made from olivella were not used for money. Their use by the Hoopa, Yurok, Karuk, Wiyot, and Miwok was primarily ornamental.

Hupa Shaman

Shown above is a photograph of a Hupa shaman by Edward Curtis. Notice the shell beads.

Olivella beads were also used on baskets. Some of the large coiled baskets displayed in some museums have designs in white sequin-sized beads. Each of the beads was stitched in place as the basket was woven.

Many different species of abalone are found in the Pacific waters. Abalone meat was considered a delicacy and the shells were made into large ornaments, fishhooks, and beads.


Shown above is a Wishram woman photographed by Edward Curtis who is wearing a dentalia bridal shell headdress and earrings.  

Dentalium hexagonum is a shell which is shaped like a small tusk. While it is not native to the California area (it is found off Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada) it was widely used by the California Indians for money, ornaments, necklaces, pendants, and earrings.

In California there were two different types of shell beads. The first of these were the “money” beads which could be obtained by selling goods (both food and manufactured products such as baskets). “Money” beads could be used by anyone. Among the Yurok, Karuk, and Hupa, dentalium could be used as a kind of money for arranging marriages, settling debts, and in other situations. The shells were usually kept in long strings.  There were some individuals who had lines tattooed on their arms for measuring the strings of beads.

The Chumash also manufactured the flat shell beads which were used as a form of currency throughout California.  

The second type of shell beads were associated with social class or rank. In northern California, wealth permeated every aspect of the Native American cultures and great importance was placed on the accumulation and display of personal wealth.

California and Great Basin Art (Photo Diary)

C4641 map

California and the Great Basin is an area of great cultural diversity. With regard to art, this is an area well-known for its basketry. Among some of the tribes, such as the Hupa and Maidu, woven baskets were used for cooking. The weaving on the baskets is so tight that they can hold water. When they were filled with water, hot rocks were used to bring the water to a boil. Shown below are some of the items from the California and Great Basin First Nations which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  






















The Klamath River Salmon War

Traditionally fish were an important food resource to most of the northern California tribes. Indian nations such as the Hupa, Karuk, Achomawi, and Yurok relied heavily on the salmon.  Also important to some of the tribes were steelhead, sturgeon, trout, and lamprey eels.

Yurok Plankhouse

A Yurok plankhouse is shown above.  

Hupa by Curtis

A photograph of a Hupa woman and child by Edward H. Curtis is shown above.

Traditional Fishing:

Fishing was often done by building a fishing platform on the end of a stream and then catching the salmon with a lifting net which was lowered and raised with an A-frame. The sites for these fishing platforms were privately owned. Salmon was sliced thin and then smoked-dried which preserved it for winter use. In this form, salmon was preserved for a long time.

Using weirs, nets, and traps, the Karuk were able to catch the whole winter’s fish supply in just a few days. The tail of the salmon was cut off to drain the blood. Then the head and backbone were removed, leaving two large slabs of salmon flesh which were placed on scaffolds above a small fire to be dried and smoked.

The First Salmon Ceremony:

Since the salmon were an important part of Indian subsistence, they were also important to Indian ceremonies. Many of the tribes held, and still hold, a First Salmon Ceremony to honor the Salmon-people.

Among the Karuk, the First Salmon Ceremony was a ten-day ceremony held in late March or early April at the village of Amaikiaram on the west bank of the Klamath River several miles below its confluence with the Salmon River. It celebrated the beginning of the fishing season. One of the elements of the ceremony was the “crooked immortals” – ten sacred stones which were set on top of the sweat house. During the ceremony, unburned tobacco was given to the stones as an offering.

Among the Hupa, the First Salmon Ceremony included the narration of the mythical creation and journey down the river and back. At the end of the ten-day ceremony, there would be a community feast and public fishing for the salmon would be opened.  

Among the Yurok, the First Salmon Ceremony was held in April at Welkwau, a village at the mouth of the Klamath River. Prior to this ceremony no salmon caught at the mouth of the river could be eaten.

Yurok Festival 2

Yurok Festival 1

The Yurok Salmon Festival is shown above. The photos are from the tribe’s website.

The Salmon War:

In 1978, the State of California imposed a ban on sports and Indian fishing in the Klamath River estuary. The reason given for the ban was the decline in the salmon run even though the findings of the fishery biologists pointed to habitat degradation from logging and offshore commercial fishing as the cause of the decline. The result of this ban was a short-lived (as far as the media was concerned) Salmon War which pitted the tribes of northern California against both the State of California and the Department of the Interior, the federal agency which is supposed to be the guardian of the tribes.

Klamath River

Klamath Map

The Klamath River and a map of the river are shown above.

Federal agents began to assert control over the Indian gillnetting fishery on the Klamath River. About 20 agents armed with billy clubs grabbed five Yurok Indians and confiscated their salmon catch. The Department of the Interior set up a Court of Indian Offenses to prosecute the cases, however, the judge dismissed the charges and ordered the fish returned to the Indians. The Yurok informed the Department of the Interior that they planned to continue fishing in spite of the fishing ban.

In the conflicts which followed, Indian boats were rammed by federal officials and Indians arrested and jailed by heavily armed agents. In one instance, a federal agent held an Indian’s head under water until he was out of air, let him breathe, and then pushed him back under water. In another instance, an Indian woman was sexually fondled while in handcuffs.

The Yurok called for a temporary truce while the Secretary of the Interior visited the area. The Secretary had an Indian salmon barbeque without realizing that the fish for the barbeque had been illegally caught.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a part of the Department of the Interior, placed a moratorium on all per capita payments to the Yurok and Hupa. The per capita payments, which included timber revenues, were the sole income for many Indians.

As the salmon run tailed off in the fall, the conflicts over the Salmon War dissipated and disappeared from the media. The war was over as far as the media was concerned and they moved on to other stories. There was no real ending to this Salmon War and the Indians and their concerns for the salmon once again became invisible. An agreement reached in 2009 calls for the removal of four dams along the river which should help restore the salmon run.

President James Polk and the Indians

James K. Polk was the dark horse who became President of the United States in 1845. Polk set four goals for his administration and two of these had major implications for American Indians: (1) the acquisition of the Oregon Territory, and (2) the acquisition of California and New Mexico. Polk himself had little direct contact with Indians, but the policies established during his administration had long-lasting ramifications for Indian tribes and Indian people.  

During Polk’s presidency, the concept of Manifest Destiny became popular. In 1845, the New York Democratic Review wrote about

“our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

In 1846, Senator Thomas Hart Benton said:

“It would seem that the White race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth, for it is the only race that has obeyed it-the only race that hunts out new and distant lands, and even a New World, to subdue and replenish.”

Indian Administration:

President Polk appointed William Medill as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Medill felt that Indians must be “civilized” and they had to be instructed in morality, religion, and the work ethic. Medill considered Indians to be ignorant, degraded, lazy, and possessed of no worthwhile cultural traits.

In 1846, Congress created the Smithsonian Institution to fulfill the terms of the will of James Smithson. The Smithsonian was given custody of all federal government museum collections, including collections of Indian artifacts. The Smithsonian’s regents encouraged the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to collect items which illustrated the history, manners, and customs of the Indians.

In a lecture at the inaugural meeting of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft pointed out that it was the task of museums to preserve the full array of artifacts produced by each Indian nation before these nations disappeared. He told the Regents:

“It is essential to the purposes of comparison, that a full and complete collection of antiquarian objects, and the characteristic fabric of nations, existing and ancient, should be formed and deposited in the Institution.”

The law creating the Smithsonian also stated that

“all collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology and ethnology [made by or for the government], when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum.”

In 1846, St. Louis Superintendent of Indian affairs, Thomas H. Harvey, heard complaints from the Plains tribes about non-Indians wantonly destroying the buffalo. He alerted Washington to these complaints and asked for a general council with the Indians to negotiate peace treaties. He also called attention to

“the necessity of buying out a road or roads to the mountains, and paying the Indians through whose country they might pass, such compensation as the government might deem proper.”

In describing Indians in 1847, one Indian superintendent said:

“I consider them a doomed race, who must fulfill their destiny. …I will further remark that I fear the real character of the Indian can never be ascertained because it is altogether unnatural for a Christian man to comprehend how so much depravity, wickedness and folly can possibly belong to human beings… I have never been fully convinced of the propriety or good policy of admitting and acknowledging the right of Indians to the soil.”

The 1848 annual report of Indian Commissioner William Medill stressed the belief that Indians must make way for the superior race of civilized people. He characterized Indians as wedded to savage customs, prejudices, and habits; as finding labor repugn¬ant. Medill felt that education and Christianization were needed.

One of the far-reaching changes in Indian administration came in 1849 when the Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was transferred from the Department of War to the newly created Depart¬ment of the Interior.

Oregon Territory:

Since 1818 the Oregon Territory (which includes present day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming) had been jointly administered by the United Kingdom and the United States. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 set the new boundary at the 49th parallel and thus the United States acquired sole administration of the territory. The new boundary cut across many traditional Indian territories, placing part of their people under American jurisdiction and part of them under British jurisdiction.  


Indian nations were not consulted about the new boundary. International law recognized that Indians held title to their land, but sovereignty was granted to the European nations – the United Kingdom and the United States, in this case — because of the “right of discovery.”

Congress passed the Oregon Organic Act in 1848 which established Oregon Territory and set the stage for statehood. The Act included five provisions dealing with Indians. The Act:

1. indicated that lands were not to be taken from the Indians without their consent and affirmed the rights of person and property for Indians.

2. granted 640 acres to occupied mission sites at the time of its enactment.

3. created the office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory.

4. extended the Ordinance of 1787 to all of Oregon Territory which included the philosophical idea that Indians are to be dealt with in utmost good faith.

5. appropriated $10,000 for the purchase of presents to the tribes.

California and New Mexico:

Following the Mexican War, the United States acquired California and New Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under this treaty, ratified in 1848, the United States acquired what would become California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

California Territory

The acquisition of New Mexico by the United States brought new dangers to the Pueblos. Under Spanish and Mexico rule, the Pueblos had adopted Catholicism and had combined this with their own religious practices without any loss of the basic fabric of their life. With the American administration, however, they were faced with proselytizing Protestant Christians bent on imposing their own religion upon the Indians.

Sacred Places in Northern California

Throughout North America there are two basic kinds of sacred American Indian sites: (1) those which are sacred because of human acts of consecration, dedication, and ritual practice, and (2) those which are intrinsically holy, places which are endowed with great spiritual power. Religious traditions which are based on animism-the view that all things are alive and have souls-tend to have sacred places that are natural rather than being made by human beings. Instead of building churches, animists tend to use special places in the natural landscape as portals to the spiritual world.  

The Indian nations of Northern California had many different areas which they considered to be sacred. Some of these were places in which creation had occurred; some are places where healing powers can be obtained; and some are places where it is easier to make contact with the spirit world. A few of these are described below.  

Mount Diablo, located east of San Francisco Bay, is a sacred place to many of the tribes of Central California. For the Miwok, for example, this is the place where creation took place and where human beings acquired fire.

Mount Shasta is a key figure in the stories and ceremonies of several Indian cultures, including the Karuk, Yurok, Shasta, Hupa, Yana, Pit River, Wiyot, and Wintu. It is one of the main sacred mountains to the Wintu. The souls of the dead go first to Mount Shasta and then to the Milky Way.

In 1988, the Forest Service issued permits for a ski resort on Mount Shasta. Prior to issuing the permits the Forest Service talked with groups who consider Mount Shasta to be sacred — Wintu, Pit River, Shasta, and Karuk. Florence Jones, who is considered the “top doctor” by the Wintu, told them:

“The mountain is where I get my information to treat people. If you ruin my spiritual place, how will I take care of my people as a doctor?”

Hupa Shaman

A photograph of a Hupa shaman by Edward Curtis is shown above.

However, the Forest Service archaeologists found no cultural resources on Mount Shasta which would interfere with the development of a ski resort.

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta is shown above.

Patrick’s Point is celebrated in Yurok stories and songs as the last abode of the immortals. These immortal beings left the other parts of Yurok territory when the Yurok people were created. However, they still continue to linger at Patrick’s Point. Among the important spiritual people who are found here are the Porpoise People (the porpoises are considered to be a people.)

In 1992, the Yurok people working with the California Department of Parks and Recreation constructed the Yurok village of Sumeg at this site. The village includes three living houses, two sweat houses, and a Brush Dance pit. A ceremonial Brush Dance is held at the site.

Medicine Lake in the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California was formed 100,000 years ago with a volcanic eruption which left a caldera or basin in which the lake formed. This is an area which is of spiritual importance to the Pit River, Modoc, Klamath, Shasta, Karuk, and Wintu. According to the Pit River Tribal Council:

“The area of the Medicine Lake Highlands is important to the culture, religious practices of the Ajumawai and Atwamsini Bands of the Pit River Nation, and to the Pit River Tribe as a whole”

The Medicine Lake area is still used for vision quests, for gathering healing herbs, and for other ceremonies.

Medicine Lake Highlands

A photograph of the Medicine Lake Highlands by the U.S. Forest Service is shown above.

In 1998, the federal government granted leases which allow for the development of geothermal energy sources around the volcanic Medicine Lake Highlands. The following year, the Medicine Lake caldera was found eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural District because of its long use by Northern California tribes.

Klamath Curtis

A photograph of the Klamath by Edward Curtis is shown above.

Cave of Hands is located in Pico Blanco in Monterey County. The Cave of Hands, sacred to the Costanoan, contains more than 250 hands made by tracing and filling in. Archaeologists estimate that these painting were done more than 3,190 years ago.

Mount Offield is considered the most sacred mountain in Karuk territory. The Karuk call this place Ikxaréeyav Túuyship which means “mountain of the immortals.” During the World Renewal Ceremony, the Karuk would burn the brush on the slope of the mountain (a practice which was stopped by the Americans).

Crater Lake in southern Oregon is sacred to the Klamath. The lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano – Mount Mazama – erupted and collapsed. The caldera then filled with water making it the deepest lake in North America (1,943 feet). Oral history tells of the volcanic eruption and the formation of the lake. The eruption reflected the battle between Llao, a mountain spirit, and Skell. After the lake was formed, the Klamath used the area as a vision quest site. They call the lake Giwas and it is here that the vision seekers can become one with all creation and obtain their spiritual power.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is shown above.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. I realize that I have not provided a great deal of detail about the nature of these sites, but since I am not affiliated with any of the Northern California tribes, it would be inappropriate for me to provide greater detail.

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part III

( – promoted by navajo)


photo credit: Aaron Huey

The Battle of Lost River

In Part II, I had concluded with the Third Generation’s great crisis. The Modoc were destroyed as an independent people, and forced into being part of the Klamath Tribes on Klamath Indian land, to the north, in Oregon. Keintpoos with Cho’ocks and Scarfaced Charley and their families had left the reservation to go back to lost river. The Battle of Lost River, which broke out when the army and a Linkville militia attempted to force the return of the people, and their disarmament, ended with deaths and injuries on both sides. The Modoc all retreated near Tule Lake to Lava Beds. Hooker Jim’s band massacred settlers in the area around the lake, right at the heart of the Applegate Trail in Modoc country.

It was the last day of November, 1872.



  • Old Schonchin

  • Schonchin John, his brother

  • Keintpoos, or Captain Jack

  • Winema, known as Toby Riddle, interpreter

  • Cho’ocks, or Curley-Headed Doctor, spiritual leader

  • Hooker Jim

  • Scarfaced Charley

  • Boston Charley
  • Slolux
  • Brancho
  • Black Jim
  • Shacknasty Jim
  • Bogus Charley
  • Steamboat Frank

  • Ellen’s Man

  • Mary, Keintpoos’ sister

  • Lizzie, Keintpoos’ wife
  • Old Wife (of Keintpoos)

  • Rose, Keintpoos’ daughter.
  • Stimitchuas, or Jennie Clinton
  • Elvira Blow


  • Ulysses S. Grant, US president

  • General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman

  • E.S. Canby, Brigadier General, peace commissioner

  • Alfred B. Meacham, Oregon Indian Agent, peace commissioner

  • Rev. Thomas Eleazer, peace commissioner
  • Elijah Steele, Indian Agent for Northern California
  • Lindsay Applegate, founder of the Applegate trail, Oregon Indian Subagent

  • Frank Riddle, peace commissioner, settler, husband to Winema/Toby

  • L.S. Dyar, peace commissioner

  • Eadweard Muybridge, photographer

  • End Game

    Lava Beds proved a brilliant strategic move by the Modoc. Lava Beds is a naturally complex series of trenches, caves, and volcanic features. One species of fern present in one cave is not found except for hundreds of miles to the west, in far more moderate lands. Perhaps this is an appropriate symbol of the Modoc’s refuge. Only a few dozen Modoc warriors were able to elude and frustrate the US Army, modernized though the Army was, and well equipped after the Civil War and Indian wars, in the dead of winter.

    Already they wanted Keintpoos for murder; in keeping with tradition, he had slain a healer who had failed to cure his sick child. His family, including his wife Lizzie and young daughter Rose, dwelled in their own cave.  The cave is exposed to the sky, but they all remained alive and hidden during the ordeal.

    Stimitchuas and other Modoc children were sent to retrieve the cartridges from fallen soldiers.

    Ojibwa has already delivered an overview of the Modoc War of 1872-1873, so I will try to emphasize other aspects to the story while explaining the basics. From Ojibwa:

    The spiritual leader of the group was Curley Headed Doctor [Cho’ocks]. In the lava beds, he had a rope of tule reeds woven, dyed red, and stretched around the campsite. He claimed that no American soldier could cross this rope. Since no soldiers cross this rope during the conflict, the Modoc assumed that it worked.

    …In one encounter, the 400 soldiers who were sent in to subdue the Modoc encountered a thick fog and soon retreated in panic and disarray. From the Modoc perspective, Curley Headed Doctor’s medicine had worked. He had brought a fog to confuse the enemy, and then he turned the soldiers’  bullets so that no Modoc was hurt.

    In another instance, a large patrol blundered into a carefully planned ambush. The army and the press labeled this a massacre. The soldiers had left on the maneuver as though they were going to a picnic rather than a battle. One of the Modoc leaders, Scarface Charley, had called down to some of the survivors: “We don’t want to kill you all in one day” and through this generosity several soldiers escaped.

    In one incident, the army soldiers found an old woman-described as being 80 or 90 years old-in the rocks near the stronghold. The lieutenant asked: “is there anyone here who will put that old hag out of the way?” A soldier then placed his carbine to her head and shot her.

    Embedded Journalism

    Toby Riddle, 4 Modoc women and 2 settlers

    Originating in the Crimean War twenty years prior, modern war photography and journalism had become something refined by the time of the Lava Beds War. Eadweard Muybridge (born Muggeridge in England) was one of the most influential photographers in the early statehood period of California. One generation later, his interest in capturing motion on film would prove deeply influential to the rising motion picture industry. A true archetype of the Old West, Muybridge was a constant self-reinventer. Also a fabulous deceiver and liar, he later murdered his wife’s lover and got away with the crime. During the beginning of the lava beds campaign, Muybridge captured some fascinating images to be sold to magazines and newspapers. For instance, take this photo of Toby Riddle between two California militia men, with 4 old Modoc women. However, some were fabricated: Muybridge had a non-Modoc man pose at some rocks as though he were shooting at Army soldiers. “On the start for a Reconnaissance of the Lava Beds “ reads the title for one photograph.

    Journalists followed the Army around and reported on events as people around the world followed their stories with relish. Interestingly, reporters even went into Lava Beds to document and interview Modoc people.

    Divides, Assassination

    Winema, called Toby Riddle, was one of the Modoc on the other side of the conflict. Similar to the contemporaneous Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Toby Riddle was a US Army interpreter, and her husband Frank was a settler. During the war she mostly acted as a messenger. Although she had already borne a son she ran across the lavascape. Because she was a cousin to Keinpoos, Winema remained safe venturing into Lava Beds.

    Brigadier General E.S. Canby was in charge of the Lava Beds campaign. Meacham, described in Part II, again appears as a participant.

    The war was divisive for Modoc people. Most remained under the authority of Old Schonchin up north during the war, in turn outnumbered by the Klamath in the “democratic” government. Schonchin John had joined the Modoc encampment. Within the Lava Beds community there were strong divisions. Keintpoos wanted the war brought to a carefully-arranged end that would secure peace and the right to live in the area of Lost River with his family.  Others wanted to drive out the European-Americans.

    Months of peace negotiations unfolded. Canby grew annoyed by the interference from the Oregon governor, who was eager to hang multiple Modoc at the moment of surrender.

    In the meantime, Canby’s men seized Modoc horses while the negotiations played out. To the Modoc this was unacceptable. At a gathering, the Modoc warriors proposed assassinating Canby at the peace commission. In the northwest and basin, killing an enemy’s leader typically ended conflict. Furthermore, the Third Generation did not forget the Ben Wright Massacre and its false flag of peace in the dead of night. Keintpoos differed from those proposing the killing. Some of the group, possibly Hooker Jim among them, considered Keintpoos cowardly and unfit to be their leader. They tossed a female woven hat at the leader as shaming. By now, the warriors were mostly in favor of assassination. It would be a dangerous move.

    Winema learned of the assassination plot and warned Canby and others.  She went unheeded. Elijah Steele warned Canby by letter, too, but in response Canby wrote that his duty overrode concerns for safety.

    At their peace negotiation on Good Friday, 1873, Canby left many soldiers waiting just off from the peace tent, which was situated halfway between the Modoc and Army encampments. The mere presence of so many troops would deter any threats, was his thought. Also there were the Riddles, the Methodist minister Eleazer Thomas, and agent Alfred Meacham, L.S. Dyar, and two soldiers carrying concealed weapons. Keintpoos tried one last time to make progress. Schonchin John wanted a reservation for his band at Hot Creek.  However, the commissioners were single-minded and resolved to accept nothing less than total surrender.

    Keintpoos revealed his revolver and shot Canby dead. Slolux and Brancho pulled forth rifles and fired. Reverend Thomas also died from gunfire, and Meacham was wounded. Frank Riddle and Commissioner Dyar fled; Winema remained behind. Someone began scalping Meacham but Winema intervened and saved him by warning of the coming soldiers. Keintpoos, Black Jim, Boston Charley, and the rest escaped.


    Replacement General Jefferson C. Davis swelled the ranks to 1,000 troops. William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Army, urged Davis to kill every Modoc man, woman and child in retaliation. Sherman instructed a colonel, “[y]ou will be fully justified in their utter extermination.”

    The first Modoc defeat happened at the Battle of Dry Lake on May 10. Despite the routing, only several Modoc died including the band leader Ellen’s Man. Recognizing that a precise time had come, Hooker Jim and his band left Lava Beds and changed allegiance.  Hooker Jim, Bogus Charley, Shacknasty Jim and Steamboat Frank and others helped end the war earlier by enabling US Army to track down Keintpoos. They and their families were allowed to return to Klamath reservation unguarded. In exchange for Captain Jack, these Modoc received amnesty for the Tule Lake killings.

    Keintpoos surrendered at the beginning of June, 1873.

    Military tribunal. Winema interpreted. Keintpoos, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, Black Jim, Slolux and Brancho were sentenced to death. In yet another ironic turn, they were convicted of war crimes, the only time American Indians would be. None had legal counsel.

    Ulysses S. Grant would later commute the sentences of Slolux and Brancho, giving them life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island, far to the southwest. The rest were hanged. Their heads were severed and shipped to Washington, D.C. Over a century later, Keintpoos’ relatives would finally retrieve custody of his head from the Smithsonian.

    Keintpoos’ wife Lizzie, his Old Wife, his daughter Rose and sister Mary were, with all the remaining Modoc from Lava Beds, boarded on cattle cars and shipped to Oklahoma on a non-stop journey. It is said that they became so starved that upon being released on a field in Oklahoma, the captives found a cow in the field, killed and ate it there on the ground. Rose died in Oklahoma, Keintpoos’ only child.

    Curley-Headed Doctor fell into disfavor. His power had failed the Modoc, so the people believed. The Modoc in Oregon converted to Methodism and those in Oklahoma were converted by the Quaker. As time passed on, Curley-Headed Doctor’s heart grew heavy.  One cold morning, he went outside to behold a gigantic flock of crows.  Their movement signified a great event, and he died soon after. He is still buried in Oklahoma. The Third Generation mostly passed by 1900.


    Winema lived the rest of her life on the Klamath Reservation with Frank and her son Jeff. Influenza claimed her in 1920.

    The last Modoc War survivor was Stimitchuas, remembered as Jennie Clinton. It’s unknown when she was born, but she was one those shipped to Oklahoma after the war, and returned to Oregon in 1918. In 1922, Jennie Clinton divorced her husband. She spent the rest of her life in a cabin on the Williamson River. She made beadwork but did not weave.

    Elvira Blow was an even older Modoc War survivor (she already had children before the war) who continued traditional basket-making into the 1930s.

    In the 20th century, Oklahoma Modoc were able to return to Oregon. About 50 remained behind at Quapaw. That is why there are two separate Modoc tribes within two different nations today: one in Oregon, one in Oklahoma.

    Jennie Clinton died in 1950, somewhere between the ages of 89 to over 100. She was the last, having survived forced migration, hunger, poverty, and bloodshed. The Fourth Generation was gone and the Fifth was mostly gone. Four years later, an act of congress would terminate the existence of the Klamath Tribes.

    Subsequent generations of Modoc history will be described in upcoming diaries.


    Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part II

    ( – promoted by navajo)


    photo credit: Aaron Huey


    Prior to contact, the Modoc people inhabited an area approximately 5,000 square miles in southern Oregon and the northeastern corner of California, where today Modoc County corresponds somewhat to traditional geography. To the southwest (moowat and Tgalam) Mt. Shasta rises up, covered in shining blue ice. Modoc people would make pilgrimages to the sacred mountain every year, but would not dwell there.  Sacred journeys were also made to Medicine Lake: a healing volcanic feature now used as a recreation park.  To the east (lobiitdal’) lies Goose Lake, and to the north (yaamat) in Klamath land is Mt. Mazama.  Today, Mazama is known as Crater Lake.

    Thousands of years ago, oral traditional states, the ancestors of the Modoc and the much more numerous Klamath people hid in caves from the catastrophic eruption of Mazama.  Beyond the terrifying images of raining ash and fire imaginable, this event affected world climate.

    In between these boundaries are Klamath Lake, Tule Lake, Lost, Williamson and Sprague Rivers, hundreds of marshes, many seasonally dry, pine forests, the lush Cascade mountains, high desert, and alkali flats most desolate in appearance.  The geography dictated the lifestyle: considered harsh by other Indian peoples, Modocs were nonetheless blessed with the bounty of wocas, a pond-lily seed, during the annual harvest season, salmon and suckerfish, as well as plentiful duck, pelican, goose and other waterfowl, many deer, moose, bear, elk, and delicious berries and roots like camas. Traditionally, they are a weaving and hunting people. Tule reed is the principle fabric source.

    This stark land was one of the last places in the 48 where European settlers, desirous for land, timber and gold, would venture. It would become the setting for the most expensive Indian war in US history.


    In Part 1, I gave an overview of Modoc life as it existed for 8,000 years from the eruption of Mt. Mazama to contact, and from there, disease, increasing tension between Modocs and European-Americans, and bloodshed, up until the Ben Wright Massacre and its crippling effect on Modoc people.

    At least 41 Modoc men, women, and children died in the Ben Wright Massacre, an assault at night on a Modoc village. Schonchin John, brother of Old Schonchin, was one of the only survivors.



  • Old Schonchin

  • John Schonchin, his brother

  • Keintpoos, or Captain Jack

  • Toby Riddle, interpreter

  • Cho’ocks, or Curley-Headed Doctor

  • Link River Doctor

  • Hooker Jim

  • Scarfaced Charley

  • Mary or Queen Mary, Keintpoos’ sister

  • Lizzie, Keintpoos’ wife
  • Old Wife (of Keintpoos)

  • Rose, Keintpoos’ infant daughter.

  • Jeff Riddle, Toby’s son.


  • Ulysses S. Grant, US president

  • Alfred B. Meacham, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs

  • J.W. Perit Huntington, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs
  • Elijah Steele, Indian Agent for Northern California
  • Lindsay Applegate, founder of the Applegate trail, Oregon Indian Subagent

  • O.C. Knapp, Subagent

  • Captain James Jackson, Army

  • Frank Riddle, settler, husband to Toby

  • The Second Generation’s Passing, The Rise of the Third

    After the Ben Wright Massacre, wars broke out between the US and multiple tribes across the northwest and great basin, and even more treaties were made. These treaties dealt with issues that are still politically tense today: fishing, farming, and timber, and with these, water rights. US government was to protect American Indian rights in exchange for their reservation captivity, peace and the forfeiture of much more land.

    For Modocs, the second generation since contact began to disappear, either plagued by tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza or other disease, or massacred by settlers.  Old Schonchin who had led the raid on settlers at Bloody Point and his brother John passed into elderhood.  The Modoc children alive during the Ben Wright Massacre of 1852 matured into adulthood. These included Keintpoos who would become known as Captain Jack, his wife Lizzie, and his sister Queen Mary.

    The Valentine’s Day Treaty

    Keintpoos met with Elijah Steele. Steele was Northern California’s Indian agent and a Republican Party boss, former prospector, judge and a founding settler of Siskiyou County, California.  Keintpoos and his band felt cheated by the process up north.

    In The Modocs and Their War, Keith A. Murray describes their horribly modest goals:

    [T]hey asked Judge Steele to draft a treaty for them, even thought they were no longer under his agency.  Steele knew that his jurisdiction no longer extended to the Modocs [relocated to Oregon] and Klamaths and, furthermore, that he had no authority to negotiate treaties with any Indians. Nevertheless, he felt that an informal treaty was better than none, especially when the Indians themselves asked for one. He thought he could turn over to the new superintendent a fair accompli.  By the terms of the treaty, the Modocs and others who signed it promised to stop stealing stock and to refrain from further child stealing. They agreed to quit selling their women to the miners, though marriage by purchase to other Indians was permitted.  They also agreed to cease quarreling among themselves.  They conceded the right of soldiers to punish them if they broke the agreement.  In return, they were given permission to trade, to acts as guides, and to operate ferries for a fee.  They also agreed to get permission from the soldiers at Fort Klamath whenever they wished to leave a reservation that would be set up for them.  Steele promised, bound only by his own word, to try to get a reservation for Jack’s band just west of Tule Lake along the Lost River.

    This reservation would have cost $20,000 and appeased Keintpoos, a much smaller sum than the over $1,000,000 Modoc War that would follow.

    The Klamath Tribes Treaty of 1864

    There was another treaty, one that became binding. This October treaty, signed in Oregon, required the Modoc and Yahooskin tribes (a band of the Snake Indians) to enter a reservation on Klamath land.  You can see a text of the treaty here, along with the names of the signers.  Modoc participants included Old Schonchin and Keintpoos, recognized by treaty as chiefs of the Modoc people, with Schonchin recognized as the superior.  Although the Modoc spoke a dialect of Klamath, intermarried, and traded with Klamath people, their relationship was not friendly. The Klamath saw the Modoc people as a country people, coarse in their speech and hardscrabble in their existence.

    ARTICLE 9. The several tribes of Indians, parties to this treaty, acknowledge their dependence upon the Government of the United States, and agree to be friendly with all citizens thereof, and to commit no depredations upon the person or property of said citizens, and to refrain from carrying on any war upon other Indian tribes; and they further agree that they will not communicate with or assist any persons or nation hostile to the United States, and, further, that they will submit to and obey all laws and regulations which the United States may prescribe for their government and conduct.

    ARTICLE 10. It is hereby provided that if any member of these tribes shall drink any spirituous liquor, or bring any such liquor upon the reservation, his or her proportion of the benefits of this treaty may be withheld for such time as the President of the United States may direct — from the 1864 treaty.

    In 1865, Keitpoos led his band (there had been 4 villages on the Lost River before the Ben Wright Massacre) back to his ancestral home on the Lost River after the government did not recognize him as chief. He had grown disgusted with the US favoritism towards Old Schonchin. With dozens of men, women and children with him, Keintpoos spent 4 years coming and going through the Klamath basin. Because the 1864 treaty was not ratified by the US senate and therefore not in effect, Applegate could not coerce Keintpoos to leave his homeland.

    In 1869, Keintpoos met with Oregon’s superintendent for Indian Affairs, Alfred B. Meacham. Keintpoos, who was by now known as Captain Jack, (allegedly a man in Yreka found Keintpoos similar in appearance to an old mariner) fled with all warriors at the sudden and unexpected appearance of US soldiers. Meacham ordered the women and children (who had been left behind) to be boarded on wagons bound for the reservation.  Meacham entreated Queen Mary, the sister of Captain Jack, to go persuade the man and his band into heading back north. Captain Jack relented. The Modoc were all together again on the reservation.

    Reservation Woes

    What is cultural genocide?

    Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses the phrase “cultural genocide” but does not define what it means.[4] The complete article reads as follows:

    Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:

    (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

    (b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;

    (c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;

    (d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;

    (e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

    To what degree do these apply to the Third Generation’s pre-war story?

    The misfortunate of the Modoc was to be outnumbered by the Klamath, who could then control the distribution of promised goods delivered by the US. Because the reservation was so small, the Indian peoples had no choice but to depend on the deliveries of food, clothing and other supplies. Nor were the deliveries generous in size. Hunger and poverty began with the third generation.

    Because she was married to the settler Frank Riddle, Toby Riddle was free to come and go as she pleased, with her young son Jeff.  Since her English was among the best spoken by Modoc she found employment as an interpreter.

    Keintpoos, with his wife Lizzie, daughter Rose, his “Old Wife,” Cho’ocks, Hooker Jim, Scarfaced Charley and other Modoc all sojourned south from the reservation to the Lost River over the next several years. On the Klamath tribes reservation deep misery overtook the people. Those who stayed behind began a lifestyle of cattle ranching (growing crops failed) and forestry as instructed by the agents.

    Although Meacham had won acclaim for removing Indians from Iowa to the Pacific, his personal beliefs were not totally unsympathetic to the treatment of First Americans.  In fact, he was distressed:

    • one agent had told Meacham that the best solution for the Indian problem was to “wash out the color”; many Indian agents were impregnating Indian women
    • at Fort Klamath, Modoc women could not pay for the goods they wanted, and so engaged in prostitution
    • officers took Indian women from their husbands
    • Indian husbands would not take back wives who had been seized by whites
    • many male settlers moved onto reservations and lived in a casual state with women

    Meacham issued an ultimatum to settlers on the Klamath reservation: marry, or leave.

    Despite the Modoc abandoning their ancestral home for the exponentially increasing Applegate Trail settlers, treaty promises remained unfulfilled. One of the stipulations was the establishment of a saw mill, because the newly created Klamath tribes was to support itself through the harvesting of timber. No saw mill, as promised by the Applegates, had been built.

    As a good Methodist, Meacham stood fiercely opposed to the Modoc religion and its spiritual leaders. The new tribal elections system deliberately bolstered trustworthy, if not puppet, rulers, and reduced the political power of the traditional spiritual leaders. Methodist missionaries have been the primary religious establishment among the Klamath Tribes ever since.

    Many Modoc, including Keintpoos and Cho’ocks, felt great unease at these and more developments.  Across the west, Indians resisted the missionary influence of the Meachams and began to adopt a racial view of themselves.  This was facilitated especially by the Ghost Dance, a radical, pan-Indian spiritual movement that arose during the first reservation era. The goal of the Ghost Dance was to raise the dead, who had been taken by murder, mayhem and disease, and together expel the European-American settlers. Understanding its unifying potential, the US suppressed the Ghost Dance movement with force.  For the Modoc, Curley-Headed Doctor, or Cho’ocks, was now the main spiritual leader. He acquired knowledge of the Ghost Dance from the Paiute. Meanwhile, Link River Doctor faced arrest, trial and imprisonment in 1870 at the hands of Subagent Knapp, with Meacham’s encouragement, for the practice of Modoc religion.

    Modoc people raided settlers for food. Complaints deluged Meacham’s office.

    Meacham was both retained as an agent in the region and would prove a critical actor in later events. However, J.W. Perit Huntington replaced Meacham as Oregon Superintendent. Ulysses S. Grant was president, then, and this reshuffling was in keeping with politics at the time, including the “spoils system.”

    With a growing crisis in the region, Meacham requested a separated reservation for Keintpoos’ band down at the Yainax station in the southern part of the Klamath Tribes reservation.  Like the previous attempts by various actors, this too was ignored.

    It was 1872, and in one of a multitude of ironies, Captain Jack was to be arrested for the murder of a ‘shaman.’ Traditionally, the tribe would take the life of a healer who failed to cure the sick. Not only did Keintpoos exercise a tribal duty, (not the first time he would end up vilified for fulfilling tribal obligations) he had eliminated a person whom the government itself criminalized. Notwithstanding, a warrant was issued for Captain Jack’s arrest.

    The Battle of Lost River

    Cpt. James Jackson, on orders from Ft. Klamath, marched with 40 troops to Captain Jack’s camp to force a return to the reservation. They were joined by a citizen’s militia from Linkville, (now Klamath Falls) the main European-American settlement in the basin.  At the camp on November 29th, the Modoc were ordered to disarm. After doing so a fight broke out and firing commenced.

    Quickly, the Modoc reclaimed their weapons and fled to California. They took shelter at Lava Beds, a complex series of lava tubes near Tule Lake.

    Between November 29th and 30th, Hooker Jim led a band of Modoc on a series of raids that slaughtered 18 settlers around the lake.

    This was the beginning of the 1872-1873 Modoc War.

    Centuries of Genocide is a generational series on the destruction of First Americans, or American Indian peoples. I began this series with Part I of the Modoc story. Subsequent generations will be described in the upcoming entries.


    Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part I

    ( – promoted by navajo)


    photo credit: Aaron Huey

    Prior to contact, the Modoc people inhabited an area approximately 5,000 square miles in southern Oregon and the northeastern corner of California, where today Modoc County corresponds somewhat to traditional geography. To the southwest (moowat and Tgalam) Mt. Shasta rises up, covered in shining blue ice. Modoc people would make pilgrimages to the sacred mountain every year, but would not live on it.  Sacred journeys were also made to Medicine Lake, a healing volcanic feature now used as a recreation park.  To the east (lobiitdal’) lies Goose Lake, and to the north (yaamat) in Klamath land is Mt. Mazama.  Today, Mazama is known as Crater Lake.

    Thousands of years ago, oral traditional states, the Modoc and the much larger Klamath peoples’ ancestors hid in caves from the catastrophic eruption of Mazama.  Beyond the terrifying images of raining ash and fire imaginable, this event affected world climate.

    In between these boundaries are Klamath Lake, hundreds of marshes, many seasonally dry, pine forests, the lush Cascade mountains, high desert, and alkali flats most desolate in appearance.  The geography dictated the lifestyle: considered harsh by other Indian peoples, Modocs were nonetheless blessed with the bounty of wocas, a pond-lily seed, during the annual harvest season, salmon and suckerfish, as well as plentiful duck, pelican, goose and other waterfowl, many deer, moose, bear, elk, and delicious berries and roots like camas. Traditionally, they are a weaving and hunting people. Tule reed is the principle fabric source.

    This stark land was one of the last places in the 48 where European settlers, desirous for land, timber and gold, would venture. It would become the setting for the most expensive Indian war in US history.


    In the 1820s, Peter Skene Ogden, born in Quebec, became the first European trader (working for Hudson’s Bay Company) to venture into the Klamath basin.  Although the Hudson’s Bay Company operated great fur-trading in the Northwest, specifically at Ft. Vancouver, (it lay across the Columbia river from what is now Portland) and Astoria, the Klamath basin promised little. The region’s lack of pelts, and the inhospitable lands to the east, made venturing into the basin unattractive to the first wave of outsiders. In addition to being much drier than the Willamette Valley naturally, the growing season is very short with very snowy winters.

    Lindsay Applegate, a British-American from Kentucky, who had fought in the Black Hawk War of the 1830s, established an alternative trail to Oregon passing through the great basin in 1846.  Previously unknown diseases, including smallpox and tuberculosis, began taking a nearly apocalyptic toll on Oregon and California natives.

    The Modoc people felt both curious and offended at the sudden influx of people and cattle passing through their homeland.  Seeing these large animals on their land, some Modoc people killed cows. The bad blood was nearly instant between Modocs and some settlers.

    The first generation of Modocs to contact the European intruders adopted guns, and western shoes, skirts, trousers and blouses and tools. Their cultural flexibility and openness to change would become a running theme across each generation until the present.  As Modoc people interacted with Europeans, many assumed European names.

    But the offense grew quickly. Within one year of the Applegate Trail’s opening, the presence of so many settlers and cattle passing through their land alarmed and angered the Modoc. By the shores of Tule Lake, now known as Bloody Point, Old Schonchin and some warriors raided an emigrant party. Only three settlers survived the attack; two of them women, who were taken into the tribe; one man ventured the long distances over the Cascade Mountains to Yreka, California.  (Yreka is a town that prospered for three reasons: timber, mining and Indian blood: more on this later.)  Jim Crosby there raised a militia that buried the dead and fought in a skirmish against Modoc people.

    The Ben Wright Massacre and the Death of Hope for Peace

    In 1852, Indian hunter Ben Wright appeared in Northern California. We know that Wright wanted to keep the Emigrant Trail safe for settlers passing into Modoc land, and that secondly, he was anxious to retrieve the two white women still living with the Modoc.  (Fear of the defiling of European-American women at the hands of the Indian is a persistent theme in the American story.)

    Jeff Riddle, the son of Modoc woman Toby Riddle and the settler Frank Riddle, claims that Wright set out to murder as many Modoc as possible. Wright’s inherent animosity is not in dispute.

    By this point, several massacres of Modoc had been already committed.

    Wright and 36 men waited at the Lost River village, one of the more populated areas in Modoc country, for the retrieval of the captive women. With the growing presence of the Modocs encamped there, the militia became gripped by morbid fantasies while waiting for the women to arrive.  Jeff Riddle claimed that Wright planned for the events to follow, telling the volunteers that their lives were in danger from the villagers.

    There is ambiguity over the details of everything that happened, but the Ben Wright Massacre followed.

    During what was supposed to be a meeting to broker peace, which the Modoc were eager to achieve, Wright laced the banquet food with strychnine. However, the intended felt suspicion and refused to eat the food.  Wright’s men began firing pistols at the villagers. The Modoc with their bows retreated into the sage brush.

    In Chapter 9 of Reminiscences of a Pioneer, Colonel William Thompson, himself biased against the Indian, describes the massacre:

    It was now no longer a battle. The savages were searched out from among the sage brush and shot like rabbits. Long poles were taken from the wickiups and those taking refuge in the river were poked out and shot as they struggled in the water. To avoid the bullets the Indians would dive and swim beneath the water, but watching the bubbles rise as they swam, the men shot them when they came up for air.

    Wright’s company killed at least 43, possibly up to 80 Modoc people, and cleared the village from the face of the earth.

    One year later, Wright successfully demanded payment from the California legislature for his actions.

    Forever Broken, Omens of Destruction

    How great was this toll on the Modoc people? Riddle claimed that ever-after, the Modoc were forever broken, indicating an event devastating on the small population, and that the later Modoc War of 1872-1873 (Toby and Frank Riddle had a critical role in the events of the final war) was never the original intention of an already butchered and weary people.  In 1928, ethnologist Mooney estimated a pre-contact population 480 people.  Assuming the effect of disease, bloodshed and the very limited potential for population growth in the region kept the population at least flat, (if not much less) about 8-10% of the people died that day; much more if the higher number of casualties is to be believed.  The famous anthropologist Alfred Kroeber assumed twice as many living Modoc before contact; if in that somewhat improbable ballpark in 1852, about 5% of the population died in the Ben Wright Massacre. Population would continue to decline from disease, fueled by hunger and exposure but also more bloodshed. The 1910 Census recorded less than 300 Modoc, over 50 of whom lived in Oklahoma on the Quapaw Reservation (more on this later).

    That is a dramatic population decline within one century.

    Considering the specialized economies of American Indian peoples, where individual agents assumed responsibility for memorizing oral history, genealogy, custom, ethnobotany and medicine, language, spirituality, mysticism and religion, agriculture, tracking and food production skills, the sudden loss of so many people in one event undeniably produced a great cultural loss in addition to the deaths themselves.

    That the massacre happened in the context of a supposed peace deal provides an essential understanding of the much more widely known, somewhat fetishized and poorly interpreted assassination of General Canby (of whom Canby, Oregon is named after) during the US Army war against Modoc.  The Modoc War was fought by the children of the 1850s generation.

    The following generations of Modoc history will be described in subsequent diaries — Nulwee.


    The Migrations of the Yuman-Speaking Tribes

    The Yuma-speaking tribes live in the desert and semi-desert area along the Colorado and Gila Rivers in what is now Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja California Norte. This is an area that is nearly all desert or semi-desert, but the annual flooding along the Colorado River and along the Gila River made agriculture possible. Thus, there are agricultural oases with a fairly dense population.  

    The Yuman-speaking tribes include:

    Cocopa: this is from the Mohave name for the tribe, Kwi-ka-pa whose meaning is unknown.  

    Mohave: this is a corruption of their native name Aha-makave which means “beside the water.”

    Maricopa: this is the Spanish version of the O’odham name for the tribe. Their own name is Pipa’ or Pipatsje which means “men” or “people.” They originally lived along the Colorado River near present-day Parker, Arizona, but later moved up the Gila River away from the Colorado River.

    Maricopa Curtis

    Shown above is a Maricopa portrait by Edward S. Curtis.

    Yuma: this is from the O’odham name, lum, for the tribe. Their own name is Quechan which is in reference to the trail they followed in leaving the sacred mountain.

    Hualapai: this is a corruption of their native name Hah-wah-lah-pai-yah which means “pine tree people.” In English the name is also spelled Walapai. The Walapai were divided politically into three subtribes: Middle Mountain People in the northwest, Yavapai Fighters in the south, and Plateau People in the east.

    Hualapai Curtis

    Shown above is a Hualapai portrait by Edward S. Curtis.

    Hualapai Winter Camp

    Shown above is a Curtis photo of a Hualapai winter camp.

    Yavapai: this may be derived from En-ya-va-pai-aa which means “people of the sun,” or from Yawepe which means “crooked mouth people.” The Yavapai were not a single political or linguistic entity, but rather they were a collection of locally organized groups speaking mutually intelligible but distinct sub-dialects.

    Yavapai Shelters

    Shown is a Curtis photo of some Yavapai shelters.

    Yavapai Basket

    Shown above is a Yavapai basket.

    Havasupai: this is from their native name Havasuwaipaa which means “Blue Water People.”


    The Yuman-speaking people, according to their oral history, were created at Avikwame (now designated as Mount Newberry). It was here that Mastamho (also known as Mustamxo and Kumastamxo) brought forth the different people and sent them to live in the different regions along the Colorado River.  

    Havasupai oral tradition tells of a migration from Moon Mountain, near present-day Blythe, California, on the Colorado River. The people settled for a while near present-day Peach Springs, Arizona. However, a dispute broke out and the groups who were settled there scattered to new homes. One group, the ancestors of the present-day Havasupai, came to Havasu Creek where they remained for many generations. When the population became too great for the canyon, a large group under the leadership of Mud Head left and continued their migration east.

    There is another Havasupai oral tradition which tells that the people once lived near the Little Colorado River. However, conflicts with the Whaje (Apache) drove them from their home and they crossed the desert to the San Francisco Mountains. They did not find peace here, so they continued their journey westward. They came to a canyon that cut across their path and they worked their way down to the floor where they found an oasis of green cut by a stream of blue water.

    Yavapai oral tradition tells that the people first emerged from the underground through a large hole called Ahagaskiaywa. Today this hole is identified as Montezuma’s Well. After some time, water flooded from the hole and destroyed all of the people except for a single woman who found refuge in a hollow log.

    Traditional Yavapai territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks in the north, to the Pinal Mountains in the east, and to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest.

    Some archaeologists feel that the Patayan culture which developed along the Colorado River about 1,300 years ago was ancestral to the Yavapai. These scholars suggest that about 700 years ago, some Patayan groups began leaving the Colorado River area and moving east into the highlands of Arizona. These groups then evolved into the Yavapai.

    The Yavapai have a number of oral traditions describing how they separated from the other people who emerged from the Ahagaskiaywa. Some stories tell of a children’s game that turned into a quarrel which then escalated into hostilities among the adults. As a result, the Yavapai drove the Pai people out of their homeland and the two became enemies.  

    American Deception in California

    United States military forces occupied California during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). In 1850 California was admitted to the Union as a free state, that is, a state in which slavery was supposedly prohibited. However, the concept of free did not apply to the Indians who lived in the state and they soon encountered American deception at both the federal and state levels.  

    Enslaving Indians:

    One of the first acts of the newly created state was to pass an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. The Act stated that while both non-Indians and Indians might take complaints before a justice of the peace, that “in no case shall a white man be convicted on any offense upon the testimony of an Indian.” In others words, Indians became invisible to the justice system. In effect, a non-Indian could commit a crime against an Indian-murder, rape, robbery-and could not be tried for that crime unless another non-Indian had witnessed it.

    The Act also allowed non-Indians to obtain Indian children by going before a justice of the peace and securing a certificate which allowed them to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of these children. The illegal sale of Indian children became common and during the next 13 years an estimated 20,000 California Indian children were placed in bondage. While California was a free state, these Indian children were slaves in all but name. They worked as servants, laborers, and concubines until they were considered adults.

    The Act also provided a mechanism by which Indians could be legally taken and forced to become unpaid servants or laborers. The law empowered non-Indians to arrest Indian adults for a number of offenses, including loitering. Once arrested the captives were sold to the highest bidder. The Indians were then required to work for four months without compensation. Since the Indians were not allowed to testify in court, the 1850 Act opened the door to abduction and involuntary servitude.

    The Act also stipulated that if an Indian were arrested for a crime such as public intoxication, the fine could be paid by a non-Indian and the prisoner would then be required to work for the person who paid the fine until the debt was paid. The Indian had no voice in this matter. The terms of the transaction-the amount of the fine and the length of “service”-were to be set by the judge and the person who paid the fine. For many ranchers in California, this was an inexpensive way of obtaining ranch hands.

    In 1850 there are an estimated 100,000 Indians in California. In 1500 there were an estimated 300,000 Indians living in what would become California. It is estimated that under this Act, about 10,000 California Indians were enslaved.

    The act also curtailed Indian land rights and set the stage for non-Indians settling on and obtaining title to Indian lands.

    Federal Government:

    In 1851, the United States federal government negotiated 18 treaties with California Indian nations which were intended to secure legal title to public land and which were meant to guarantee reserved lands for Indians. The Indian commissioners explained to the non-Indian residents of the state that the government had two options: to exterminate the Indians or to “domesticate” them. They argued that “domesticating” them was more practical.

    None of the American commissioners who arranged the California treaties knew anything about California Indians. What they did was to travel around until they could collect some Indians for a council, meet with them, and effect the treaty explanation and signing. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether or not the Indians really understood what the whole treaty process was about.

    In the treaty council with the Karok, Yurok, and Hupa, the government promised to give the Indians a protected reservation and gifts if they would agree to wear clothes, live in houses, and become farmers. The government was apparently unaware that these groups had been living in plank houses far longer than had people of European heritage.

    Signing the treaty for the Hupa were what the Americans call the “head chief” and “under chiefs.” In actuality the men who signed the treaty were probably the tribe’s spiritual leaders. While none of these men had formal authority over all of the villages, they were men of great influence in the tribe.

    While these treaties were signed by both Indian and U.S. government leaders, they were not debated in Congress, thus did not appear in the Congressional Record. For more than 50 years they were hidden from public and legal view. The ratification of the treaties had been strongly opposed by the California legislature and it was rumored that state representatives had the treaties hidden in the archives of the Government Room in Washington, D.C. Ensuing legislation at the state level then deprived California Indians of the rights to their land. The Indians, with no rights under the state and unprotected by treaties, became wanderers, hounded and persecuted by non-Indians. The failure of the federal government to ratify the treaties left the federal government without explicit legal obligation toward the Indians of California.

    In another action, Congress created the State Lands Commission in 1851 to examine Mexican land titles in California. While the commission had explicit instructions to seek out and determine Indian land rights, it ignored the papers concerning Indian land title which were submitted to the commission.

    The Genocide Begins:

    A year after statehood, California governor John McDougall told the California legislature:

    “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected… the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.”

    During the next year more than a million dollars would be paid out in bounties for Indian scalps and numerous small battles and massacres were encouraged by state and local officials.

    At Clear Creek, the Americans destroyed a natural bridge to keep the Wintu on the western side of the creek. American miners then burned the Wintu council house in the town of Old Shasta and massacred about 300 people. Following the massacre the Wintu consented to the “Cottonwood Treaty” which gave them about 35 square miles of land.

    In San Diego County, the Cahuilla, Quechan, and Cocopa under the leadership of Antonio Garra, Jr. revolted against the American federal, state, and local governments. The cause of the rebellion was a state tax imposed on Indian property. Garra attempted to put together a confederacy of several tribes, but was captured by a rival Cahuilla band and turned over to the Americans. He was tried in a paramilitary court, found guilty, and shot.  

    In the Shasta Valley, the Modoc were accused of raiding ranches for horses and cattle. In response, the ranchers organized a party of volunteers to recover the livestock and kill the Modoc. The volunteers killed 20 Modoc men and captured 30 women and children.

    In another instance, the Yahi were accused of stealing a cow, and in response the Americans burned the village on Mill Creek.

    During the next 50 years, California Indian population decreased by 80%.

    Indians 101: Acorns

    Long before the arrival of the first Europeans, California was the home to an extremely diverse variety of Indian cultures. The California culture area has the widest variety of native languages, ecological settings, and house types of any North American culture area.

    One of the mainstays of the diet for the region was the acorn which was used in soup, porridge, and bread. Sixteen different species of oak provided the acorns. Because of the nutrition provided by acorns, the Native American people in California did not develop agriculture. Acorns contributed to the fact that California peoples did not experience annual famine months or develop traditions or legends dealing with famine. It is estimated that among one tribe, the Yokut, a typical family consumed 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of acorns each year.

    While many of the early non-Indians in California noticed that the acorn oaks which were so important to many of the California Indian nations tended to grow in regular rows, they did not understand that these trees had been planted as orchards by the Indians.

    There are a number of steps involved in gathering and processing the acorns. They are gathered in September and October. Traditionally, the people gathered the acorns by climbing the tree and then beating off the nuts with a long slender pole. The acorns which are collected have white bottoms and no insect holes. The acorns are then dried in their shells, a process which takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, the acorns are stirred to increase air circulation and encourage drying.

    Once dry, the acorns are cracked to remove the nutmeat. This was traditionally done with a small, handheld stone pestle. The acorns are then ground or pounded into acorn flour. The flour is pounded as fine as possible. Once the acorns are ground into flour, it is then leached. Acorns contain tannic acid which is very bitter and which is poisonous in large amounts. The leaching process removes the tannic acid from the acorn flour. The leaching was traditionally done by digging a shallow sand pit near a creek. The flour was then carefully spread in the bottom of the pit and water was continuously poured over it until it was sweet. It would take several hours of pouring to leach the flour.

    One analysis of uncooked acorn meal shows that it is 21% fat, 5% protein, 62% carbohydrate, and 14% water, mineral, and fiber.

    Among the Miwok, the leached acorn meal was cooked as soup, mush, biscuits, or bread. The soup was a thin gruel. Mush was thicker and it was often eaten by dipping with the first and second fingers. A special mush stirrer was used in preparing the mush.

    To make biscuits, the acorn meal was first cooked as mush, then the mush was poured slowly from a height of about two feet into a cooking basket. This thickened the mush even more. When the material had reached the proper consistency, it was dipped out into another basket and placed in cool water-sometimes a running stream-for a minute or two. When the material remaining in the cooking basket had cooled, it was easily loosened from the sides of the basket by overturning the basket. This resulted in a small loaf of bread which was placed in water for a couple of minutes. The biscuits had the consistency of a modern gelatine desert. This was not only a daily food, but was also used at feasts.

    A kind of bread was made by adding a small amount of water oak bark ashes to the meal which would sweeten it. This was then baked on a hot stone or in an earth oven.  

    ( Mrs Ojibwa notes: There are easier, faster ways now in which to prepare acorn meal. A quick check on the internet turned up several. I’ve also heard, but do not know if it is true, that you can buy acorn meal where Korean food products are sold [I know, defeats the idea of gathering your own food or using Native American ingredients-but can be helpful for those who do not have access to their own acorns. Be careful not to buy acorn starch).

    The following recipe for Acorn Griddle Cakes has been modified for modern cooks from the traditional foods of the Northern California tribes: Hupa, Karok, Miwok, Pomo, and Yurok.

    The recipe:

    2/3 cup finely ground acorn meal or finely ground hazelnuts

    1/3 cup unbleached flour

    1 teaspoon baking powder

    ¼ teaspoon salt

    1 egg, beaten

    ¾ cup milk

    1 tablespoon honey

    3 tablespoons melted butter

    Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix together egg, milk, and honey and beat into dry ingredients to form a smooth batter. Stir in melted butter. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a hot, greased griddle. Cook, turning each cake when it is browned on the underside and puffed and slight set on top.

    (Mrs Ojibwa notes: Acorn meal can also be substituted for half of the cornmeal in things like cornbread or cornmeal muffins. Keep in mind that acorn meal has no glutin, so you don’t want to do a full substitution of acorn meal for other flours or meals.)