The California Genocide refers to actions in the mid to late 19th century by the United States federal, state, and local governments that resulted in the decimation of the indigenous population of California following the U.S. occupation of California in 1846. Actions included encouragement of volunteers and militias to kill unarmed men, women and children.
Under Spanish rule their population was estimated to have dropped from 300,000 prior to 1769, to 250,000 in 1834. After Mexico gained independence from Spain and secularized the coastal missions in 1834, the indigenous population suffered a more drastic decrease to 150,000. Under US sovereignty, after 1848, the Indigenous population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000 in 1870; it reached its nadir of 16,000 in 1900. Between 1846 and 1873, European Americans are estimated to have killed outright some 4,500 to 16,000 California Native Americans, particularly during the Gold Rush. Others died as a result of infectious diseases and the social disruption of their societies. The state of California used its institutions to favor settlers' rights over indigenous rights and was responsible for dispossession of the natives.
Since the late 20th century, numerous American scholars and activist organizations, both Native American and European American, have characterized the period immediately following the U.S. Conquest of California as one in which the state and federal governments waged genocide against the Native Americans in the territory. In the early 21st century, some scholars argue for the government to authorize tribunals so that a full accounting of responsibility for this genocide in western states can be conducted.
|Part of American Indian wars, Native American genocide|
Members of the Round Valley Indian Tribe retrace the 1863 route of the Nome Cult walk, a forced relocation of Indians from Chico, Calif., to Covelo, CA.
|Genocide, ethnic cleansing|
|Deaths||4,500-16,000 Indigenous Californians outright killed, thousands more died due to disease and other causes|
|Perpetrators||United States Army, California State Militia, white settlers|
Prior to Spanish arrival, California was home to an indigenous population estimated at 300,000. The largest group were the Chumash people, with a population around 20,000. The region was highly diverse, with numerous distinct languages spoken. While there was great diversity in the area, archeological findings show little evidence of intertribal conflicts.
The various groups appear to have adapted to particular areas and territories. California habitats and climate supported an abundance of wildlife, including rabbits, deer, varieties of fish, fruit, roots, and acorns. This resulted in a high level of food independence. The natives largely followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving around their area through the seasons as different types of food were available.
California was one of the last regions in the Americas to be colonized. Spanish missionaries, led by Franciscan administrator Junipero Serra and military forces under the command of Gaspar de Portola, did not reach this area until 1769. The mission was intended to spread the Christian faith among the region's indigenous peoples and establish places to develop area resources and products for the empire. The Spanish built San Diego de Alcalá, the first of 21 missions, at what developed as present-day San Diego in the southern part of the state along the Pacific. Military outposts were constructed alongside the missions to house the soldiers sent to protect the missionaries.
In the latter half of the 19th century California state and Federal authorities, incited aided and financed miners, settlers, ranchers and people's militias to enslave, kidnap, murder, and exterminate a major proportion of displaced Native American Indians. The latter were sometimes contemptuously referred to as "Diggers", for their practice of digging up roots to eat. Many of the same policies of violence were used here against the indigenous population as the United States had done throughout its territory.
Simultaneous to the ongoing extermination, reports of the decimation of Native Americans were made to the rest of the United States and internationally.[notes 1]
The California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was enacted in 1850 (amended 1860, repealed 1863). This law provided for "apprenticing" or indenturing Indian children to Whites, and also punished "vagrant" Indians by "hiring" them out to the highest bidder at a public auction if the Indian could not provide sufficient bond or bail. This legalized a form of slavery in California.
A notable early eyewitness testimony and account: "The Indians of California" 1864, is from John Ross Browne, Customs official and Inspector of Indian Affairs on the Pacific Coast. He systematically described the fraud, corruption, land theft, slavery, rape and massacre perpetrated on a substantial portion of the aboriginal population. This was confirmed by a contemporary, Superintendent D.J. Spencer.
By one estimate, at least 4,500 California Indians were killed between 1849 and 1870. Contemporary historian Benjamin Madley has documented the numbers of California Indians killed between 1846 and 1873; he estimates that during this period at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians. Most of the deaths took place in what he defined as more than 370 massacres (defined as the "intentional killing of five or more disarmed combatants or largely unarmed noncombatants, including women, children, and prisoners, whether in the context of a battle or otherwise"). Professor Ed Castillo, of Sonoma State University, estimates that more were killed: "The handiwork of these well armed death squads combined with the widespread random killing of Indians by individual miners resulted in the death of 100,000 Indians in the first two years of the gold rush."
|Year||Date||Name||Current location||Description||Reported casualties||Claimants|
|1846||April 6||Sacramento River massacre||California||Captain John C. Frémont's men attacked a band of Indians (probably Wintun) on the Sacramento River in California, killing between 120 and 200 Indians.||120-200|||
|1846||May 12||Klamath Lake massacre||California||Captain Frémont's men, led by Kit Carson attacked a village of Klamath Indians) on the banks of Klamath Lake, killing at least 14 Klamath people.||14+|||
|1846||June||Sutter Buttes massacre||California||Captain Frémont's men attacked a rancheria on the banks of the Sacramento River near Sutter Buttes, killing several Patwin people.||14+|||
|1846||December||Pauma massacre||California||11 Californios were killed by Indians at Escondido, California, leading to the Temecula massacre.||11 (settlers)|||
|1846||December||Temecula massacre||California||33 to 40 Indians killed in revenge for the Pauma Massacre at Escondido, California.||33-40|||
|1847||March||Rancheria Tulea massacre||California||White slavers retaliate to a slave escape by massacring five Indians in Rancheria Tulea.||5|||
|1847||March 29||Kern and Sutter massacres||California||In response to a plea from White settlers to put an end to raids, U.S. Army Captain Edward Kern and rancher John Sutter led 50 men in attacks on three Indian villages.||20|||
|1847||late June/early July||Konkow Maidu slaver massacre||California||Slavers kill 12-20 Konkow Maidu Indians in the process of capturing 30 members of the tribe for the purpose of forced slavery.||12-20|||
|1850||May 15||Bloody Island Massacre||California||Nathaniel Lyon and his U.S. Army detachment of cavalry killed 60–100 Pomo people on Bo-no-po-ti island near Clear Lake, (Lake Co., California); they believed the Pomo had killed two Clear Lake settlers who had been abusing and murdering Pomo people. (The Island Pomo had no connections to the enslaved Pomo). This incident led to a general outbreak of settler attacks against and mass killing of native people all over Northern California. Site is California Registered Historical Landmark #427||60-100|||
|1851||January 11||Mariposa War||California||The gold rush increased pressure on the Native Americans of California, because miners forced Native Americans off their gold-rich lands. Many were pressed into service in the mines; others had their villages raided by the army and volunteer militia. Some Native American tribes fought back, beginning with the Ahwahneechees and the Chowchilla in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley leading a raid on the Fresno River post of James D. Savage, in December 1850. In retaliation Mariposa County Sheriff James Burney led local militia in an indecisive clash with the natives on January 11, 1851 on a mountainside near present-day Oakhurst, California.||40+|
|1851||Old Shasta Town||California||Miners killed 300 Wintu Indians near Old Shasta, California and burned down their tribal council meeting house.||300|||
|1852||April 23||Bridge Gulch Massacre||California||70 American men led by Trinity County sheriff William H. Dixon killed more than 150 Wintu people in the Hayfork Valley of California, in retaliation for the killing of Col. John Anderson.||150|||
|1852||November||Wright Massacre||California||White settlers led by a notorious Indian hunter named Ben Wright massacred 41 Modocs during a "peace parley".||41|||
|1853||Howonquet Massacre||California||Californian settlers attacked and burned the Tolowa village of Howonquet, massacring 70 people.||70|||
|1853||Yontoket Massacre||California||A posse of settlers attacked and burned a Tolowa rancheria at Yontocket, California, killing 450 Tolowa during a prayer ceremony.||450|||
|1853||Achulet Massacre||California||White settlers launched an attack on a Tolowa village near Lake Earl in California, killing between 65 and 150 Indians at dawn.||65-150|||
|1853||Before December 31||"Ox" incident||California||U.S. forces attacked and killed an unreported number of Indians in the Four Creeks area (Tulare County, California) in what was referred to by officers as "our little difficulty" and "the chastisement they have received".|||
|1855||January 22||Klamath River massacres||California||In retaliation for the murder of six settlers and the theft of some cattle, whites commenced a "war of extermination against the Indians" in Humboldt County, California.|||
|1856||March||Shingletown||California||In reprisal for Indian stock theft, white settlers massacred at least 20 Yana men, women and children near Shingletown, California.||20|||
|1856–1859||Round Valley Settler Massacres||California||White settlers killed over a thousand Yuki Indians in Round Valley over the course of three years in an uncountable number of separate massacres.||1,000+|||
|1859–1860||Jarboe's War||California||White settlers calling themselves the "Eel River Rangers", led by Walter Jarboe, kill at least 283 Indian men and countless women and children in 23 engagements over the course of six months. They are reimbursed by the U.S. government for their campaign.||283+|||
|1859||September||Pit River||California||White settlers massacred 70 Achomawi Indians (10 men and 60 women and children) in their village on Pit River in California.||70|||
|1859||Chico Creek||California||White settlers attacked a Maidu camp near Chico Creek in California, killing indiscriminately 40 Indians.||40|||
|1860||Exact date unknown||Massacre at Bloody Rock||California||A group of 65 Yuki Indians were surrounded and massacred by white settlers at Bloody Rock, in Mendocino County, California.||65|||
|1860||February 26||Indian Island Massacre||California||In three nearly simultaneous assaults on the Wiyot, at Indian Island, Eureka, Rio Dell, and near Hydesville, California white settlers killed between 80 and 250 Wiyot in Humboldt County, California. Victims were mostly women, children and elders, as reported by Bret Harte at Arcata newspaper. Other villages massacred within two days. The main site is National Register of Historic Places in the United States #66000208.||80–250|||
|1863||April 19||Keyesville Massacre||California||American militia and members of the California cavalry killed 35 Tübatulabal men in Kern County, California.||35|||
|1863||August 28||Konkow Trail of Tears||California||On August 1863 all Konkow Maidu were to be sent to the Bidwell Ranch in Chico and then be taken to the Round Valley Reservation at Covelo in Mendocino County. Any Indians remaining in the area were to be shot. Maidu were rounded up and marched under guard west out of the Sacramento Valley and through to the Coastal Range. 461 Native Americans started the trek, 277 finished. They reached Round Valley on 18 September 1863.||184|||
|1864||Oak Run Massacre||California||California settlers massacred 300 Yana Indians who had gathered near the head of Oak Run, California for a spiritual ceremony.||300|||
|1865||Owens Lake Massacre||California||White vigilantes attacked a Paiute camp on Owens Lake in California, killing about 40 men, women and children.||40|||
|1865||Three Knolls Massacre||California||White settlers massacred a Yana community at Three Knolls on the Mill Creek, California.|||
|1868||Campo Seco||California||A posse of white settlers massacred 33 Yahis in a cave north of Mill Creek, California.||33|||
|1871||Kingsley Cave Massacre||California||4 settlers killed 30 Yahi Indians in Tehama County, California about two miles from Wild Horse Corral in the Ishi Wilderness. It is estimated that this massacre left only 15 members of the Yahi tribe alive||30|||
Native American scholar Gerald Vizenor has argued in the early 21st century for universities to be authorized to assemble tribunals to investigate these events. He notes that United States federal law contains no statute of limitations on war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide. He says:
Genocide tribunals would provide venues of judicial reason and equity that reveal continental ethnic cleansing, mass murder, torture, and religious persecution, past and present, and would justly expose, in the context of legal competition for evidence, the inciters, falsifiers, and deniers of genocide and state crimes against Native American Indians. Genocide tribunals would surely enhance the moot court programs in law schools and provide more serious consideration of human rights and international criminal cases by substantive testimony, motivated historical depositions, documentary evidence, contentious narratives, and ethical accountability.
Vizenor believes that, in accordance with international law, the universities of South Dakota, Minnesota and California Berkeley ought to establish tribunals to hear evidence and adjudicate crimes against humanity alleged to have taken place in their individual states. Lindsay Glauner has also argued for such tribunals.
The Wiyot massacre refers to the incidents on February 26, 1860, at Tuluwat on what is now known as Indian Island, near Eureka in Humboldt County, California. In coordinated attacks beginning at about 6 am, white settlers murdered 80 to 250 Wiyot people with axes, knives, and guns. The February 26 attacks were followed by similar bloody attacks on other Wiyot villages later that week.Achulet massacre
The Achulet Massacre was an 1854 massacre of more than 65 Tolowa people by European-American settlers at the village of Achulet (Tolowa: 'Ee-chuu-le',) near Lake Earl in Klamath County (now Del Norte County, California). In the years between 1845 and 1855, many Easterners and immigrants had migrated to California in the climactic years of the gold rush. This village developed as a huge shipping and trade center.
The Anglo people were also eager to acquire land occupied by the Tolowa. This led to a very brutal encounter between the two groups. An Indian was suspected of stealing the horse of a white man. In response, armed whites hid in the brush near the village at night, agreeing not to shoot until the Tolowa left their dwellings in the morning. At daybreak the whites fired as soon as someone emerged into the village, and then the men, women, and children of the village were "shot down as fast as the whites could reload their guns". Some Tolowa tried to escape into Lake Earl; armed whites pursued them, shooting whenever the Tolowa showed above the waterline. The attackers reported killing 65 Indians, but this tally did not include victims whose bodies sank in the lake.
After the attack, the settlers renamed the village as Pay Way, after Old Pay Way, one of the few Tolowa survivors.Bloody Island massacre
The Bloody Island massacre occurred on an island in Clear Lake, California, on May 15, 1850.
A number of the Pomo, an indigenous people of California, had been enslaved by two settlers, Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone, and confined to one village, where they were starved and abused, until they rebelled and murdered their captors. In response, the U.S. Cavalry slaughtered at least 60 of the local Pomo.Bridge Gulch massacre
The Bridge Gulch massacre, also known as the Hayfork massacre or Natural Bridge massacre, occurred on April 23, 1852, when more than 150 Wintu people were killed by about 70 American men led by William H. Dixon, the sheriff of Trinity County in northern California.California Indian Wars
The California Indian Wars were a series of massacres, wars, and battles between the United States Army (or often the California State Militia, especially during the early 1850's), and the Indigenous peoples of California. The wars lasted from 1850, immediately after the acquisition of Alta California during the Mexican–American War became the state of California, to 1880 when the last minor military operation on the Colorado River that ended the Calloway Affair of 1880.
Following the acquisition of the Mexican Cession in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican–American War, the small Federal garrison west of the Rocky Mountains was spread out over that vast territory. Shortly afterward, the economic effects of the California Gold Rush encouraged desertions that further weakened the garrisons within the territory of California. Following statehood, California State Militia became the parties engaged in most of the early conflicts with the Indians within its boundaries before the American Civil War. The state would seek compensation from the United States federal government for the cost of the operations and for the "depredations" of the Indians, that would not be settled for decades. Often the local miners or other settlers, impatient at the bureaucratic delay or political opposition involved with organizing militia companies, organized locally to operate against the Indians.
Later during the American Civil War, California and Oregon State Volunteers replaced Federal troops west of the Rocky Mountains and engaged in many conflicts with the Indians in that region including in California, Nevada and Utah, New Mexico and Arizona Territories. Within California they fought in the ongoing 1858-1864 Bald Hills War and in the 1862-1863 Owens Valley Indian War. Minor skirmishes occurred between local militias or Volunteers and the Yahi, Yana and Paiute in northeastern California into the 1870's. Following the Civil War, most hostilities in California were over except for a few minor skirmishes in the Owens Valley and in the Mojave Desert against the Timbisha and Chemehuevi. Federal troops replaced the Volunteers between late 1865 and early 1866 and again engaged in military actions in the remote regions of the Mohave Desert, Owens Valley and the northeast of the state against the Snakes and later the Modoc in the next two decades.Kabyai Creek massacre
Kabyai Creek massacre or Kaibai Creek massacre (August 17, 1854) was a massacre against Winnemem Wintu people. A party of white settlers attacked a Winnemem Wintu village at Kabyai Creek, on the McCloud River. 42 Winnemem Wintu men, women and children were killed.
The site of the village is on the McCloud River at the mouth of Kabyai Creek across the river from the McCloud Bridge Campground in the Shasta–Trinity National Forest, in Shasta County, California. The village site is among those of the Winnemem Wintu being threatened with being submerged by Shasta Lake if the proposed raising of Shasta Dam occurs.Keyesville massacre
The Keyesville massacre occurred on April 19, 1863, in Tulare County, now Kern County, California, during the Owens Valley Indian War. White settlers and a detachment of the 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry under Captain Moses A. McLaughlin, killed 35 Tübatulabal and Owens Valley Paiute men, "about ten miles from Keysville [sic], upon the right bank of Kern River".Klamath Lake massacre
The Klamath Lake massacre refers to the murder of at least fourteen Klamath people on the shores of Klamath Lake, now in Oregon in the United States, on 12 May 1846 by a band led by John C. Frémont and Kit Carson.Klamath and Salmon River War
Klamath and Salmon River War, or Klamath War, or Red Cap War, or Klamath River Massacres, was an American Indian War which occurred in Klamath County California from January to March 1855. The war began from incidents between local settlers and local Indians and a rumor of an Indian uprising against the miners along the Klamath River by the Yurok and Karok Native American tribes. Local miners wanted the Indians armed with guns and ammunition disarmed, anyone trading them to the Indians whipped and expelled from the County and any Indian found with firearms after that time was to be killed. Some of the Indians, mainly a group called the "Red Caps", refused to disarm, and hostilities began between them and the miners. Troops from the California State Militia and U. S. Army were necessary to stop the war.The massacres of Native peoples along the Klamath River are considered to be part of the California Genocide. This fighting is not to be confused with the Rogue River Wars which occurred in southern Oregon beginning in 1851 with fighting from June 17 to July 3, 1851, then again from August 8, through September 1853, and then again during 1856 from March to June.Mendocino Indian Reservation
Mendocino Indian Reservation, a former Indian reservation in Mendocino County, one of the early Indian reservations to be established in California by the Federal Government for the resettlement of California Indians. It was established in the spring of 1856, in the vicinity of modern Noyo. Its area was 25,000 acres (100 km2) and its boundary extended north from what is now Simpson Lane at 39°24′43″N 123°48′30″W to Abalobadiah Creek and east from the Pacific Ocean to a north–south line passing through the summit of Bald Hill.Nome Cult Trail
The Nome Cult Trail is a northern Californian historic trail located in present-day Mendocino National Forest which goes along Round Valley Road and through Rocky Ridge and the Sacramento Valley. It is also known as the Konkow Trail of Tears. On 28 August 1863 all Konkow Maidu were to be at the Bidwell Ranch in Chico to be taken to the Round Valley Reservation at Covelo in Mendocino County. Any Indians remaining in the area were to be shot. 435 Maidu were rounded up and marched under guard west out of the Sacramento Valley and through to the Coastal Range. 461 Native Americans started the trek, 277 finished. They reached Round Valley on 18 September 1863.Peter Hardeman Burnett
Peter Hardeman Burnett (November 15, 1807 – May 17, 1895) was an American politician and the first elected governor of California, serving from December 20, 1849, to January 9, 1851, and the first to resign from office. Burnett was elected governor almost one year before California's admission to the United States as the 31st state in September 1850, and was the last governor during the interim period that began with US military occupation during the Mexican-American War.Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation
The Round Valley Indian Reservation is a federally recognized Indian reservation lying primarily in northern Mendocino County, California, United States. A small part of it extends northward into southern Trinity County. The total land area, including off-reservation trust land, is 93.939 km² (36.270 sq mi). More than two-thirds of this area is off-reservation trust land, including about 405 acres (1.64 km2) in the community of Covelo. The total resident population as of the 2000 census was 300 persons, of whom 99 lived in Covelo.Sutter Buttes massacre
The Sutter Buttes massacre refers to the murder of several California Indians on the Sacramento River near Sutter Buttes in June 1846 by a militarized expeditionary band led by Captain John C. Frémont of Virginia.Temecula massacre
The Temecula massacre took place in December 1846 east of present-day Temecula, California, United States. It was part of a series of related events in the Mexican–American War. A combined force of California militia and Cahuilla Indians attacked and killed an estimated 33 to 40 Luiseño Indians. The Mexicans took the military action in retaliation for the Indians' killing 11 Californio lancers, in what was called the Pauma Massacre.Tule River Indian Tribe of the Tule River Reservation
The Tule River Indian Tribe of the Tule River Reservation is a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans. The Tule River Reservation is the name of the tribe's reservation, which is located in Tulare County, California. The reservation was made up of Yokuts, about 200 Yowlumne, Wukchumnis, and Western Mono and Tübatulabal.
Tribal enrollment today is approximately 1,857 with 1,033 living on the Reservation.Tule River War
The Tule River War of 1856 was a conflict where American settlers, and later, California State Militia, and a detachment of the U. S. Army from Fort Miller, fought a six-week war against the Yokut in the southern San Joaquin Valley.Yana people
The Yana are a group of Native Americans indigenous to Northern California in the central Sierra Nevada, on the western side of the range. Their lands, prior to invasion, bordered the Yuba and Feather rivers. They were nearly destroyed during the California Genocide in the latter half of the 19th century.Yontoket massacre
The Yontocket massacre or Burnt Ranch massacre was an 1853 massacre of Tolowa people at the village of Yontocket (Tolowa: yan'-daa-k'vt ), northwestern California.