Alcatraz Island

The occupation of Alcatraz Island in California by a group of Indians from various nations during the late 1960s and early 1970s became the symbol for Indian activism around the United States and inspired similar events in other parts of the country. The occupation of Alcatraz was more than a cause: it became a symbol of Indian pride and their determination to free themselves from the oppression of the American government.



In 1868 Alcatraz Island became a federal prison for military prisoners. As a federal military prison it was also used to house American Indian prisoners. In some cases, these Indians were not soldiers, but simply Indian leaders who did not support the United States take-over of their tribal governments. They were imprisoned without the benefit of legal proceedings, such as a trial.  

In some cases, Indians who had been tried in military courts as prisoners of war were sentenced to Alcatraz. Following the Modoc War in 1873, for example, two young warriors Slolux and Barnchohad their death sentences commuted by President Ulysses Grant and were sentenced to life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island. The young men had been tried without any legal counsel as the Army considered defense counsel a privilege rather than a right.

In 1933 Alcatraz became a part of the federal prison system.

Treaty Rights:

In 1962, the federal government closed its federal prison on Alcatraz Island, California. At the United Council meetings in nearby Oakland, Indian people discussed treaty provisions which promised surplus or abandoned federal lands to Indian tribes. Research determined that this right was granted to the Sioux in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.

In 1964, a group of about 40 Indians travelled to Alcatraz Island by boat. After landing on the island, Allen Cottier, a Sioux descendent of Crazy Horse, read a statement offering 47 cents per acre for the purchase of the island. This was the amount which the federal government was offering to pay for California Indian lands.

The Occupation:

In 1969, a group of young Indian activists, calling themselves “Indians of All Tribes” occupied the abandoned Alcatraz Island to protest Indian conditions. In a proclamation to the “Great White Father” they informed the government that they had reclaimed the island by right of discovery and that they were willing to pay a fair price ($24) for it. The price offered was $1.50 per acre which is more than the 47 cents per acre which the government was currently offering California Indians for their lands under the Claims Commission Act.

Under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, male Indian adults whose tribes were a party to this treaty are allowed to file for a homestead on abandoned federal lands. Since Alcatraz had been abandoned by the federal government in 1963, the Indians reasoned, they had a treaty right to file a claim on the island.

Occupied Alcatraz lacked decent housing, running water, and employment opportunities. Many Indians observed that in this way it was like a reservation.

Radio Free Alcatraz broadcast a 15 minute daily program hosted by John Trudell and aired by KPFA-FM. The program provided an ongoing narrative of the occupation for the listening audience.

Among those involved in the occupation was Wilma Mankiller who would later become Principal Chief of the Cherokee.

Writer Vine Deloria, who considered the occupation to be irrelevant, received a phone call from President Richard Nixon who ordered him to “get those Indians out of that prison or we’ll throw them in jail.”

Part of the occupation of Alcatraz Island stemmed from the formation of the United Student Council of American Natives (SCAN) by Indian students at San Francisco State University. The students saw themselves as warriors of a new era who needed to arm themselves with education. The founding members included Richard Oakes (Mohawk), Allen Miller (Seminole), Ron Lickers (Seneca), Mickey Gemmil (Pit River), and Gerald Sam (Round Valley). The group was instrumental in the formation of an American Indian Studies Department at the University and in the invasion of Alcatraz.

In 1970, six weeks after the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island had begun, a 13-year-old girl-Yvonne Oakes, step-daughter of Mohawk Richard Oakes-was killed in an accident. Oakes and his wife Anne suspected that Yvonne’s death was not accidental. They feared that it might have been the result of jealousy arising out of Oakes’s recognition as the Indian leader on Alcatraz by the press and government negotiators. There was, however, insufficient evidence to determine foul play.

In 1970, the Bay Area Native American Council (BANAC) was formed. The group represented 26 organizations which in turn represented some 40,000 Indians from 78 tribes. California governor Ronald Reagan approved a $50,000 planning grant for BANAC to address the needs of urban Indians in the Bay Area, but the grant was not able be used to support the Indians occupying Alcatraz Island. Many Indian people, particularly those who were occupying Alcatraz and providing logistical support for the occupiers, considered the grant an attempt to drive a wedge between the urban Indian population and the occupiers.

Finally in 1971, after having occupied the island for nineteen months and nine days, American forces armed with revolvers, M-1 carbines, and shotguns landed on Alcatraz Island and arrested the last 15 members of the Indian occupation force. The 15 Indian people on the island-six men, four women, and five children-offered no resistance. In less than thirty minutes the occupation was over.


The following year, Alcatraz Island became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service.

The Indian occupation of Alcatraz inspired a number of other political actions, including the seizure of the Mayflower II in 1970; the Indian occupation of Mount Rushmore in 1972; the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973; and the Longest Walk in 1985.

The occupation of Alcatraz helped to foster a general pan-Indian identity, sense of purpose, and pride. It inspired activism and movements to reclaim tribal cultures. Many feel that this was an important moment in the struggle for the enforcement of treaty rights, the recognition of tribal sovereignty and Indian self-government.  

Indian Resistence to the California Missions

( – promoted by oke)

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.

In 1771, Indians attacked the San Gabriel Mission in the Los Angeles basin. 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 1775, the Kumeyaay at the Mission of San Diego revolted, burning the mission and killing 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.

Northern California Indian Spirituality

( – promoted by navajo)

As with American Indians in other areas, the Northern California Indians traditionally viewed human beings, plants, animals, and objects as living things-“people”-who were basically equals. The relationship between human beings and animals, for example, was not one of exploitation but of reciprocity. Human beings respected the animal people and performed certain rites for them while the animals provided human beings with food and skins.

The non-human people-the trees, the rocks, the animals, the mountains, the springs, and others-are not only alive, but they have certain special powers and these powers can be shared with human beings when humans form a spiritual friendship and alliance with these other people. Traditionally, it was (and often, still is) the job of each individual to seek out and establish relations with the spiritual forces that were to become his or her special ally.

Among the Indian people of Northern California, dreams are the key to the spiritual world. It is in dreams that people meet the supernaturals and the spirits of birds and animals who can give them special gifts of knowledge and power. In some instances young people would go through special training and then seek a vision with the sponsorship of an elder. In other instances, the vision would simply come to people while swimming in a lake, river, or ocean.

The things that happen in dreams are just as important as those things which happen when one is awake. From the perspective of the California Indians, dreaming does not take place entirely in the mind, but is a type of communication, a way of gaining knowledge. Dreams are often more important than the events that happen when one is awake: dreams are the direct contact with the spirit world.

With regard to the ceremonies of the Northern California Indian nations, one of the most important was the World Renewal or Big Time. Among the Indians of Northern California – Karuk, Yurok, Hupa, Tolowa, Wiyot – this ceremony involved a series of complex dances, speeches, and displays of high status items. The purpose of this ceremony was to renew the world and to assure stability between the annual ceremonies. The death and rebirth of the world can be seen in the ceremonial rebuilding of ceremonial structures such as the sweathouse, ceremonial house, and dance areas.  

Among the Yurok, the World Renewal ceremony was traditionally carried out each spring and each fall. The ceremonies were held at specific historic spots along the Klamath River. As a part of the ceremony, the Wogé Spirits (the pre-human inhabitants of the earth) were given tobacco and angelica root which were thrown into the fire as offerings. The World Renewal rites were held to insure bountiful crops, abundant salmon and deer, and to prevent disasters such as earthquakes, falling stars, illness, floods, and the end of the world.

Among the Yurok, the Hupa, and the Karuk the White Deerskin Dance was an occasion for displaying antique obsidian blades and albino deerskins. During this dance albino or oddly colored deerskins were held aloft on wooden poles. Among the Hupa, the carefully prepared and decorated deerskins used in the ten-day ceremony are considered to be tribal rather than personal property.    

The Karok would traditionally hold their Jumping Dance at the place where the salmon had been created. The dance is held to prevent sickness, to bring happiness, and to bring good weather. According to one elder:

“When man and the world become unbalanced, then we must dance the great dances, rhythmically stamping upon the earth, exchanging with it and balancing all that brings health, strength, food, honor, good luck, and happiness for all.”

For the Jumping Dance, the dancers wear elaborate outfits, including headdresses with woodpecker scalps attached to the forehead band and topped with a feathered plume. Among the Yurok the participants would wear a headdress containing about 70 redheaded woodpecker scalps. In addition to the headdress, the dancers also wear dentalia shell necklaces and a deerskin skirt and they carry a Jump Dance basket in the right hand.

The Brush Dance was an important curing ceremony and was given for curing a sick child. During this ceremony, the roof planks were removed from the house during the dance so that people could watch from the outside (houses were dug down into the ground). The Brush Dance is also an occasion for community entertainment and courtship.

An important element in the curing is the waving of sticks of burning sugar pine pitchwood over the baby while singing. This helps the baby grow stronger.  

Yurok House

Sacred American Indian Places in Northern California

( – promoted by navajo)

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. The diary below describes a few of these places.  

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, tells 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?”

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

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mount Shasta

Genocide in Northern California

During the last part of the nineteenth century some of the American settlers in the west, and particularly in California, began hunting and killing Indians for sport. Between 1847 and 1865 American hunters killed 4,267 Indians in California. In contrast, the Indians killed fewer than 300 Americans. By 1890, California’s Indian population was estimated at 15,238, down from an estimated 300,000 in 1848.

One of the Indian hunters in Northern California describes an Indian he was hunting as:

“dodging and ducking through the thickets like frightened deer. I brought down one with a shot from my double-barrel, but he was up and streaking it [sic] through the brush before I could lay hands upon him. Several of us followed him for a half-mile or more down the slope towards Little Dry Creek before we finished him.”

Organized groups of men hunted Indians and often bragged at the number they had killed. Baptist missionary Lee Thayer, writing in 1922, reports:

“Ezekiel Merrit, Commander of the Bear Flag Party, boasted nearly one hundred notches on his tomahawk handle, his record of Indians kills. Indian villages were used as targets for rifle practice and Indians were wantonly destroyed by the wholesale.”

The underlying reasons for exterminating the Indians were in part racism and the belief that Indians were somehow “not human”, and in part the ethnocentric view that Americans had a superior right to the land. Seizing beautiful California from the Indians and the Mexicans, in the minds of many American settlers, was not just self-interest but a moral duty and a boon to humanity’s progress.

In 1859, the superintendent for Indian affairs reported that the killing of Indians by unauthorized expeditions was a daily occurrence. He went on to warn that if the expeditions were not restrained the Indians would soon be exterminated.

In response to the report by the superintendent for Indian Affairs, a special treasury agent investigated the California situation. He reported that one man, with a commission from the governor of the state, had raised a company to slaughter Indians without regard to age or sex. Special Treasury Agent J. Ross Browne reported to Congress on his observations of the situation of the Indians in California:

“In the history of Indian races I have seen nothing so cruel and relentless as the treatment of these unhappy people by the authorities constituted by law for their protection. Instead of receiving aid and succor, they have been starved and driven away from the reservations, and then followed into their remote hiding places, where they sought to die in peace, and cruelly slaughtered, till but few are left, and that few without hope”

He suggested that military force would be needed to stop the genocide.

In 1860, a group of 50 to 75 prominent men of Humboldt County held a secret meeting to solve the “Indian problem.” They felt that extermination was the quickest and cheapest solution. They carried out their policy of extermination in a series of raids on peaceful villages. There was no pretext of retaliation which could have been used to justify the attacks. Their attacks were done with no official sanction. In all, they killed more than 300 Indian men, women, and children on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay. Unarmed women and children were often killed with clubs, hatchets, and knives. One of the ringleaders boasted that he had killed 60 infants with his own hatchet.

In Union, California, Bret Harte wrote an editorial for the Northern Californian in which he criticized the killing of Indians by Anglos. He called the killings “shocking and revolting.” Local citizens were so outraged by his criticism that Harte was forced to resign and leave town.

By 1861, American settlers were regularly seizing Indian children and selling them into slavery. In the Sacramento Valley, Indian boys were selling for $60 while girls, who were used for both labor and sex, could sell for up to $100. The Indian agent reported:

“These crimes against humanity so excited the Indians that they began to retaliate by killing the cattle of the Whites.”

The U.S. Army the retaliated against the Indians. The Indian agent reported:

“Ten kidnappers follow at the heels of the soldiers to seize the children when their parents are murdered and sell them to the best advantage.”  

When the regular army troops were ordered east to fight in the Civil War in 1861, volunteer troops in the Eel River area took charge of Indian affairs.  The volunteers set out to kill all Indians they could find and killed 77 Indians by the end of the year.

In 1862, non-Indian squatters entered the Round Valley Reservation and began to harass the Konkow and Atsugewi. The Indian agent provided no aid to the Indians. A war party of about 25 well-armed Americans surrounded an Indian camp and massacred 45 people. Fearing that they would be killed, 461 Konkow and Atsugewi fled from the reservation to the Chico area. The Red Bluff Herald reported:

“It is becoming evident that extermination of the red devils will have to be resorted to before the people … will be safe”

In another incident, two Indians from the reservation were accused of killing two non-Indian boys. They were tied to a tree and scalped. The squatters then demanded that the Indians be removed from their reservation or be exterminated.

The squatters attacked a Wailaki camp on the reservation and massacred 20 men, women, and children. As a result of this incident, martial law was declared and army troops entered the reservation. The squatters blamed the Indians for burning a barn and in response the army executed five Indians while the squatters destroyed the Indian crops. Instead of providing security for the reservation, the army troops further agitated the natives when the soldiers seized a number Indian women for their sexual pleasure.

In 1866, the Chico Courant reported:

“It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them, and a saving of many white lives. Treaties are played out-there is only one kind of treaty that is effective-cold lead.”

In 1867, 45 Yana were killed at Dye Creek. The bodies were left on the ground as there were not enough Yana left alive to bury them. In a period of about 20 years the Yana had been reduced from 1,900 individuals to probably fewer than 100 while the deaths of fewer than 50 settlers can be attributed to them with any degree of certainty.

California’s Mission Indians

( – promoted by navajo)

At the time of first European contact, California had the widest variety of Native American languages and cultures in North America: there were more than 100 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse area in North America. We don’t know exactly how many tribes there were in California prior to the Spanish invasion. Today, there are many different Indian nations in California which are classified as “Mission Indians.” There are many tribes, such as the Luiseño, Gabrielino, and Juanino, who take their names from the Spanish missions rather than their aboriginal designations. In order to understand how these Mission Indian nations were formed, we must start by looking at the Spanish missionary efforts in California.  

The Spanish entered the Americas driven by the Three Gs: Gold (some authors prefer to use Greed), Glory, and God. The massive amounts of wealth that the Spanish acquired through their conquests of Mexico and Peru inspired expeditionary forces to move north into Florida, New Mexico, and California. In all of these areas, the initial invasion was a Christian missionary force backed up by soldiers.

The Spanish missionary program was designed to bring about the total conversion of the Indians: to change them from pagans into Christians and from Indians into tax-paying Spanish citizens. This process was envisioned as having four basic stages:

(1) misión (mission) which was to include initial contact and the explanation of the importance of God and the King. Spain, like other European nations, operated under the assumption that non-Christian nations were base and immoral, and the church was obligated to effect conversion. The Spanish were steeped in a legacy of religious intolerance and conformity which featured a messianic fanaticism accentuating both Spanish culture in general and Catholicism in particular.

(2) reducción (reduction) which was to reduce the Indians’ territory by bringing them into a segregated community centered around a church. Indian people did not come joyously or freely to live and work at the new missions. Soldiers simply snatched Indian families from outlying hamlets to convert them, change their social habits and turn them into a New World peasantry. The Indian response to the missions was to flee, either in small groups or in large groups.

(3) doctrina (doctrine) in which the Indians would receive instructions on the finer points of Christianity.

(4) curato (curacy) in which the Indians would become tax-paying citizens.

The formation of the Mission Indians began with the Spanish policy of congregación: the forced resettlement of Indian populations in nucleated settlements. The formation of large communities facilitated the conversion to Catholicism of the Indians. Many priests felt that it was a burden to have to visit the many small dispersed Indian communities. It was also easier for royal officials to collect tribute and organize labor drafts in the new larger communities.

The missionaries, with the help of well-armed soldiers, congregated Indians into fairly large communities which were organized along the lines of those in the core areas of Spanish America. Here Indian converts were to be indoctrinated in Catholicism and taught European-style agriculture, leatherworking, textile production, and other skills deemed useful by the Spaniards. By using Indian labor to produce surplus grain supplies for the Spanish military garrisons, the Franciscan missionaries were able to view Indians as both potential converts and labor.

The Franciscan missions were basically slave plantations which required the Indian people to work for the Spanish under cruel conditions. Indians did not come freely to the missions and once there, they were held against their will. Many attempted to escape, and the soldiers stationed at the mission would attempt to recapture them. Escape attempts are severely punished by the Franciscans.

The Franciscans, backed by a small number of soldiers stationed at the missions, imposed a rigid system of coerced and disciplined labor, enforced by the use of corporal punishment and other forms of control. This punishment including public flogging, and the use of the stocks and shackles. While the public use of corporal punishment humiliated and physically injured the individuals being punished, and it did not necessarily alter or control the behavior that the Franciscans found objectionable.

One early visitor to the missions remarked about the Indians that “I have never seen one laugh.” Most of the Indians died in the new mission environment.

The Spanish sought to Christianize the Indians by enslaving them. The Spanish intent was to expropriate not only Indian lands and resources, but Indian labor as well. Part of their goal was to obliterate all features of Native American culture and society and to create a replica of Spain in California in which land-owning Spanish would be served by an Indian peasant class.

From the viewpoint of the Spanish, Indians were a form of labor which could be exploited. The success of the Spanish colonies in the Americas were based on this exploitation. In order to maximize the profits of their colonial enterprise, the Spaniards created institutions that siphoned off surplus agriculture products and provided labor for major building projects. One of these Spanish institutions was repartimiento.

Repartimiento was the Spanish policy which gave the Spanish colonists the right to use native labor for religious education. Repartimiento functioned as a part of the Spanish mission system in all parts of the Americas, including California. Under this system, labor quotas and the conscription of people to serve on labor gangs were organized through the villages served by the missions (or, from an Indian viewpoint, the villages which served the missions).

In addition to using Indian labor for themselves, the Franciscans also provided Indian labor for both military garrisons and for individual Spanish colonists. Access to mission Indians gave settlers additional labor at key points in the agricultural cycle, as well as for other uses, such as building construction. In other words, the Spanish colonization of California would have been more difficult without the Indian slave labor.

The Death Toll in the Missions

The death rate among Mission Indian was quite high-high enough that it alarmed the Spanish officials. In 1797, the Spanish governor outlined the causes for the high Indian mortality rates in the missions: (1) the heavy work load and poor diet of the Indians living in the missions, (2) the practice of locking women and girls in damp and unsanitary dormitories at night, (3) poor sanitation, and (4) loss of liberty and mobility in the missions.

The governor’s report described the dampness in the dormitories and reported that many did not have even a single blanket to use at night. The use of the dormitories for the women and girls was a form of social control as the missionaries felt that the Indians were promiscuous. Thus they used the dormitories to protect and control the virtue and virginity of single girls and women.  

One of the problems of congregation was that it placed large populations in fairly spatially compact communities. This contributed to problems of sanitation and water pollution. It also facilitated the spread of disease.

Death rates were chronically higher than birth rates among the Mission Indians and this meant that for the missions to maintain their Indian workforce they had to continually “recruit” from the outlying tribes.

In the California missions, the new European diseases-smallpox, mumps, measles, malaria- killed many of the Indians who were forced to live there. The Mission Indians also died from respiratory ailments and illnesses caused by poor sanitation. They died from syphilis-introduced to the Indians by the soldiers and the colonists-and by the use of mercury for treating it. The death rate was probably enhanced by the lack of medical attention. The missionaries tended to believe that epidemics were a punishment sent by God and that they should not interfere with the will of God. The ultimate objective of the Franciscan missionaries was to ensure the Indians’ eternal salvation by their conversion. From the Franciscan viewpoint, there was no moral dilemma as long as the deaths of thousands of converts contributed toward populating heaven. Suffering on earth and receiving the sacraments were seen as necessary for salvation.

While epidemics, such as measles and smallpox, were devastating to the Mission Indians, these epidemics do not adequately explain the chronically high mortality rates in the California missions. The missions were geographically isolated from the rest of New Spain until the early nineteenth century and this tended to isolate them from many epidemics.  However, the climate of coercive social control that existed in the missions engendered a negative psychological response among Indian converts. This contributed to stress which reduced the efficiency of the body’s immunological system.

One response to the stress of mission life and its destruction of Indian cultures was for women to have abortions. This, in turn, contributed to the population decline.

For Indian women of childbearing age the death toll in the California missions was exceptionally high. When the missionaries attempted to destroy native cultures, they also denied young women access to traditional child-care knowledge.  

Another cause for the high death rate among Indians who were enslaved in the missions was the unsanitary conditions in which they were forced to live. This was particularly true in the dormitories for the women and girls. While the Spanish understood that there was a correlation between disease and unsanitary living conditions, the missionaries’ concern for social control was stronger than their concerns for sanitation.

The Great California Genocide

( – promoted by navajo)

  What do you think of when someone says “California”?

Beaches? Sunshine? Hollywood?

  How about the largest act of genocide in American history?

“The idea, strange as it may appear, never occurred to them (the Indians) that they were suffering for the great cause of civilization, which, in the natural course of things, must exterminate Indians.”

 – Special Agent J. Ross Browne, Indian Affairs

[note: I was asked to cross-post this diary here.]

 California was one of the last areas of the New World to be colonized.

It wasn’t until 1769 that the first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, was built in California at present-day San Diego. It was the first of 21 missions, which would become the primary means for the Spaniards to subjugate the natives. The leader of this effort was Franciscan monk Junípero Serra.

 Despite whatever the movies portray, the missions were coercive religious, forced labor camps. Through bribes, military intimidation, and the eventual onslaught of European diseases (that usually targeted children), the colonizers ensured that eventually sick and desperate indians would come to the missions for help.

 The indians that wound up there had their children taken from them, and harsh, manual labor was the rule. Beatings and filthy living conditions were common. The death rate at the missions was appalling. By 1818 the percentage of Indians who died in the missions reached 86 percent. Over 81,000 indian “converts” eventually managed to successfully flee the missions.

 Soon there were indian revolts.

The San Diego Mission was burnt down in 1775 during the Kumeyaay rebellion. Mohave Indians destroyed two mission in a dramatic revolt in 1781. Military efforts to punish these indians and reopen the route to the pueblas of New Mexico failed.

 San Gabriel Mission indians revolted in 1785, and suffered because of it. The Santa Barbara and Santa Inez Missions were destroyed in the Chumash revolt of 1824. Some time after 1810 a large number of guerrilla bands arose that raided the missions and kept them in a virtual state of siege. This led to draconian laws to restrict the movement of indians and forced them to carry papers proving their employment.

 In 1834, Mexican Governor Jose Figueroa freed the indians from the mission system and stripped the padres of their power. More than 100,000 indians had died because of the mission system, out of over 300,000 indians that lived in California before the Catholic church arrived.

  But that didn’t mean that things returned to how it was before. The Spanish didn’t give the land back to the indians. Instead the land was distributed to political insiders, and a system of ranchos developed. By the start of the Mexican-American War, 26 million acres were controlled by just 813 ranchers.

The True Story of Sutter’s Mill

 Your high school history book mentioned something about Johann Sutter, and how James Marshall, who was building a sawmill for Sutter, discovered gold on the morning of January 24, 1848. Thus forever changing the history of California, and they all lived happily ever after.

 Your high school history book left out all the interesting parts.

Sutter traveled to Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) in 1839. He became a Mexican citizen in 1840, and got a land grant of 48,827 acres on June 18, 1841, that became Sutter’s Mill. The history books left off one important piece of information – there were about 200 Miwok Indians already living on that land.

  Wikipedia says that Sutter “employed” indians at his mill. Tour guides at Sutter’s Mill will say the same thing today. But the written history says otherwise:

“I had to lock the Indian women and men together in a large room to prevent them from returning to their homes in the mountains at night. Large numbers deserted during the daytime.”

 – Heinrich Lienhard, one of Sutter’s managers

 Sutter armed Indian men from nearby villages to steal children from more distant villages and sold the captives in San Francisco to pay his debts. Another writer wrote that Sutter “was fond of the young Indian women,” implying that Sutter forced the Indian women into sexual relations.

 The real situation was reflected in the testimony of one California Indian who wrote: “My grandfather was enslaved by Sutter to help in building the Fort. While he was kept there Sutter worked him hard and then fed him in troughs. As soon as he could, he escaped with his family and hid in the mountains.”

“The Indians of California make as obedient and humble slaves as the Negro in the south. For a mere trifle you can secure their services for life.”

 – Pierson Reading, another of Sutter’s managers

 The gold rush that followed didn’t enrich either Sutter or Marshall. Marshall was forced off his land claim by whites even more ruthless than him. In the chaos of the gold rush, almost all of the indians enslaved at Sutter’s Mill escaped, leaving no one to harvest the wheat. Sutter’s land claim was challenged in court and overturned. Sutter died in poverty.

 Ironically, the chief of the Coloma Nisenan Tribe had warned Sutter beforehand, “[the gold was] very bad medicine. It belonged to a demon who devoured all who searched for it”.

Gold Rush and Genocide

“A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”

 – California Governor Peter H. Burnett, January 1851

“We hope that the Government will render such aid as will enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed. Extermination is no longer a question of time–the time has arrived, the work has commenced and let the first man who says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor.”

 – Yreka Herald, 1853

 In 1840 only about 4,000 Europeans lived in California, only 400 of them were Americans. Now a hoard of 100,000 adventurers, gold-seekers, and murderous thugs descended on California. The authorities were completely overwhelmed. The indians faced a catastrophe of biblical proportions.

 Numerous vigilante type paramilitary troops were established whose principal occupation seems to have been to kill Indians and kidnap their children. Groups such as the Humbolt Home Guard, the Eel River Minutemen and the Placer Blades among others terrorized local Indians and caused the premier 19th century historian Hubert Howe Bancroft to describe them as follows.

“The California valley cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering on respectability. It can, however, boast a hundred or two of as brutal butchering, on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as any area of equal extent in our republic……”

The handiwork of these well armed death squads combined with the widespread random killing of Indians by individual miners resulted in the death of 100,000 Indians in the first two years of the gold rush. A staggering loss of two thirds of the population. Nothing in American Indian history is even remotely comparable to this massive orgy of theft and mass murder. Stunned survivors now perhaps numbering fewer than 70,000 teetered near the brink of total annihilation.

 The local authorities not only ignored the genocide in their midst, they encouraged it.

Rewards ranged from $5 for every severed head in Shasta City in 1855 to 25 cents for a scalp in Honey Lake in 1863. One resident of Shasta City wrote about how he remembers seeing men bringing mules to town, each laden with eight to twelve Indian heads. Other regions passed laws that called for collective punishment for the whole village for crimes committed by Indians, up to the destruction of the entire village and all of its inhabitants. These policies led to the destruction of as many as 150 Native communities.

 The state of California also got involved. The government paid about $1.1 Million in 1852 to militias to hunt down and kill indians. In 1857 the California legislature allocated another $410,000 for the same purposes.

  In 1856 the state of California paid 25 cents for each indian scalp. In 1860 the bounty was increased to $5.

 The most famous of these massacres was the Clear Lake Massacre of 1850, in which between 80 and 400 Pomo indians were slaughtered. A marker placed there in the 1960’s which called the event “The Battle of Bloody Island” was destroyed by vandals in 2002.

 To put this into perspective, around 200 indians were killed at the much more well-known Sand Creek Massacre of 1863, and just over 300 were killed in the famous Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Yet you would be hard pressed to find a single person living around Clear Lake today that even knew a massacre had taken place there.

 The scale of the genocide in California absolutely dwarfs anything that happened to the Great Plains indians, and is even larger and more complete than the fate of the eastern indians.

 The number of massacres are too numerous to list here, but a short accounting include the Bridge Gulch Massacre, the ConCow Maidu Trail of Tears, and the Wiyot Massacre, just to name a few. I don’t even have a name for the massacre of 400 Tolowa indians at the village of Yontoket in 1853, nor the massacre of hundreds more of the same tribe the following year.

 What does it tell you about the state of American history in which massacres don’t even have names?

   On April 22, 1850, the California government passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. This law allowed for any white settler to enslave an indian child with the permission of the parents, or if the child was orphaned. Since indians weren’t allowed to testify in court against a white, this gave white settlers free reign to grab up any indian child that was found. Most didn’t even bother with the laws and just purchased them outright. To give an idea of how the authorities treated the law, consider this letter written by Indian Commissioner G.M. Hanson in 1861.

In the month of October last I apprehended three kidnappers, about 14 miles from the city of Marysville, who had nine Indian children, from three to ten years of age, which they had taken from Eel River in Humboldt County. One of the three was discharged on a writ of habeas corpus, upon the testimony of the other two, who stated that “he was not interested in the matter of taking the children:” after his discharge the two made an effort to get clear by introducing the third one as a witness, who testified that “it was an act of charity on the part of thr two to hunt up the children and then provide homes for them, because their parents had been killed, and the children would have perished with hunger.” My counsel inquired how he knew the parents had been kill? “Because,” he said, “I killed some of them myself.”

The law was later expanded to include indian adults.

 According to California law, indians were forbidden to own property, carry a gun, hold office, attend public school, serve in juries, testify in court, or intermarry. On the statement of any white an Indian could be declared a vagrant and bound over to a white landowner or businessman to work for subsistence.

“But it is from these mountain tribes that white settlers draw their supplies of kidnapped children, educated as servants, and women for purposes of labor and lust…there are parties in the northern portion of the state whose sole occupation has been to steal young children and squaws …and dispose of them at handsome prices to the settlers who…willingly pay $50 or $60 for a young Digger to cook or wait upon them, or $100 for a likely young girl.”

  – Marysville Appeal

 In 1853 the U.S. Senate began negotiating with the indians to set up reservations. The indian tribes gladly agreed to give up millions of acres of land just to have the promise of military protection from the genocide that raged. The indians began moving to the reservation areas in anticipation.

  However, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaties. Instead the indians were rounded up at gunpoint to “a system of military posts”. Indians on these “reservations” were hired out to work naked as pack animals.

 Each of these reservations would put into place a “system of discipline and instruction.” The cost of the troops would be “borne by the surplus produce of Indian labor.” No treaties were to be negotiated with the Indians; instead they would be “invited to assemble within these reserves.”

“The attacking party rushed upon them, blowing out their brains and splitting their heads open with tomahawks. Little children in baskets, and even babes, had their heads smashed to pieces or cut open. Mothers and infants shared the same phenomenon…. Many of the fugitives were chased or shot as they ran…. The children, scarcely able to run, toddled toward the squaws for protection, crying with fright, but were overtaken, slaughtered like wild animals and thrown into piles.”

 – Alta Californian newspaper, 1860

 The massacre that the Alta Californian reported, committed by a militia led by Captain W. S. Jarboe, was not only not discouraged, but on April 12, 1860 the state legislature approved $9,347.39 for “payment of the indebtedness incurred by the expedition against the Indians in the County of Mendocino.” The governor wrote a personal thank you letter to Captain Jarboe.

 There were some instances of resistance on the part of the indians. The most notable was the Modoc War of 1872-73, in which 53 warriors held off held off nearly 1,000 soldiers for several months, killing 57 of the soldiers in the process.

  But mostly it was a series of horrific, one-sided massacres. There were simply too many whites, in too short of period of time, that were too ruthless, against tribes of indians that were mostly peaceful.

 By the mid-1860’s only 34,000 indians remained alive in California, a 90% attrition rate, comparable to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917. Finally, in the 1870’s, the federal government began moving on creating indian reservations in southern California. 13 were created between 1875 and 1877. By 1930 another 36 reservations had been created in northern California.

DOI attorney faults BIA office in Palm Springs

An Interior Department attorney who has been locked out of his office at the Bureau of Indian Affairs accused the agency on Tuesday of failing to account for millions of dollars in trust funds.

After a stint in Oklahoma, field solicitor Robert McCarthy went to work for the BIA in Palm Springs, California, over three years ago. He said he quickly learned that the agency didn’t have a way to track more than $30 million in annual lease payments owed to members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Even when a payment was made, the BIA didn’t always pass it on to the beneficiary, McCarthy testified. In one case, the BIA kept a trust payment of $130,000 in a “special deposit account” for over 25 years because the agency didn’t know whose money it was.

Despite the apparent mismanagement, the BIA made money off of Agua Caliente landowners. “In virtually every case for virtually every type of administrative action,” the agency charged a fee for its services, McCarthy said.

For example, a fee of 1 percent was applied to every single land sale, McCarthy said. In Palm Springs — where real estate is big business — this amounted to payments to the BIA that were as high as $60,000, according to one document entered into evidence.

But federal regulations limit fees for land sales to $22.50, McCarthy said. The regulations also cap fees for leases at $500, though that apparently wasn’t followed in Palm Springs.

Similar problems were identified in a 1992 audit by the Interior Department’s Inspector General. The report recommended the BIA add a field solicitor to the Palm Springs office and develop a system to ensure Agua Caliente landowners were getting paid fair market value and that their leases were being enforced.

A computer system was purchased to track the leases, but McCarthy said he found it locked up in a back office and that it had never been used.

The situation prompted McCarthy to warn his superiors in the Solicitor’s Office, the Inspector General and eventually Jim Cason — the associate deputy secretary at DOI who was in charge of the BIA at the time — about the problems in Palm Springs. “I was kicked out of my office after I made my disclosures,” McCarthy told Judge James Robertson, who wondered why the solicitor was working from home — with pay — rather than at the BIA office.

“Everyone stopped talking to me,” McCarthy added. “I was shunned.”

And when McCarthy informed his superiors that he was going to testify in the Cobell trial, he was told he was going to be fired for allegedly disclosing confidential trust data to the media. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group is defending McCarthy, who has filed appeals over his employment status.


Trial Transcripts:
Day 1 AM | Day 1 PM | Day 2 AM | Day 2 PM | Day 3 AM | Day 3 PM | Day 4 AM | Day 4 PM | Day 5 AM | Day 5 PM | Day 6 AM | Day 6 PM |Day 7 AM |Day 7 PM |Day 8 AM

Inspector General Audit:
Indian Trust Investigative Review (July 2007)

Google Map:
Agua Caliente Lands in Palm Springs

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne –
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice –

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