GENOCIDES OF CALIFORNIA
If this be the policy [genocide] of this government toward - Anonymous letter to the editor
this people, it will form a dark page of history, if it does not
bring the vengeance of heaven upon us as a nation.
Los Angeles Star (1853)
- Anonymous letter to the editor
Yahi | Tongva | Chumash | Modoc | Wintu | Wiyot | Pomo Pre-holocaust map of California
Sinkyone | Karuk | Yokuts | Cupeño | Shasta
Pre-holocaust map of California
Today here are more than 500 federally recognized indigenous nations in the US comprising nearly three million people. These are descendants of the circa fifteen million native people who once inhabited this continent. The centuries-long genocidal program of the United States has largely been omitted from history. The documentation is readily available, but is for the most part ignored. Each of the fifty states has its own traumatic indigenous history. California‘s “other” history is an epic tragedy still ongoing.Despite his uneasiness over this military operation, the officer nevertheless felt the desire to continue serving and obeying the authors of this “unexampled horror”, when Henry David Thoreau, at about the same time as this atrocity, wrote: “A man cannot without disgrace be associated with [this American government].”
At the time of Columbus, California had the highest population density on the continent: circa 60 nations, 500 tribelets, 120 languages. Such variety and congestion of languages in such a small geographic area is only known in Sudan and New Guinea. One of the world's largest cities appeared in Southern California in (historically speaking) a very short period of time. The ancient race of ocean-faring sorcerers upon whose realm Los Angeles sprawls today, when their genocide was a bitter fact, left behind subtle emanations on this place of power which the invaders tapped into without even being aware of it. This might also be the reason that many of the other big cities on the continent appeared where they appeared – tapping into emanations already existing on ultra-ancient sites that for time immemorial had been places of power. The Americans are living in the aboriginal world without knowing it. They founded their cities on sites already used as settlements by the tribes. They paved routes over which the tribes carried on trans-continental trade for centuries. They navigated the same rivers, climbed the same mountains, stood in awe before the same oceans.
Genocide is such a strong word that people find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept as a part of the history of their country. No one in California whom I have met, including family, is willing to do this. Many narratives resemble those of Auschwitz and the Soviet gulags. Such is the history of the Yelamu people when mission San Francisco was built on their peninsula in 1776. On one side of the continent a successful war of independence was being waged. On the other side a successful war of subjection and genocide. And yet, in this year the Spanish were oddly the veritable protectors of the Yelamu. The war-like Ssalson, located twelve miles south on the peninsula, attacked the Yelamu, who were their traditional enemies. According to the priest Francisco Palóu, “there were many dead and wounded on both sides.” The Yelamu fled to the other shore of what is today the Golden Gate and to the eastern Oakland side of the bay:Apparently the Indians of this vicinity [Yelamu] were defeated, and so fearful were they of the others [Ssalson] that they made tule rafts and all moved to the shore opposite the [San Franciso] presidio, or to the mountains on the east side of the bay. We were unable to restrain them, even though we let them know by signs that they should have no fear, for the soldiers would defend them. (Francisco Palóu, Journal 1773-1783, as cited in A Time of Little Choice: The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1769-1810 by Randall T. Milliken, Ballena Press Anthropological Papers, 2009.)
The threat to their culture came not from the Europeans in the beginning, but from fellow Native Americans. Eventually however, the “protection” provided by the Spaniards turned into wretched servitude at the missions that were being constructed along the coast, from San Diego to Sonoma. The Native Californians were afflicted by the three muchos that would provoke armed revolts: “much work, much punishment, much hunger.” While the United States of America celebrated its victory over the British tyranny on the east coast, on the west coast the Spanish tyranny was victorious and all-powerful over peoples who had inhabited California for thousands of years. The scope of the genocides all over California, all over North America, is too vast to comprehend. The map below of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1770s is a microcosm of the continent, teeming with tribal groups with different languages and dialects, as was the other central area for genocides in California: Los Angeles and environs.
Today sixty-nine indigenous tribal groups from all over North America have their home in California, with a population over 300,000. What follows are some of the tragic stories that led to California becoming a state.
The most well-known Native Californian is the Yahi man known as Ishi. The Yahi, like hundreds of other peoples across the continent, were victims of Amerika's “final solution”, extermination and genocide the scope and efficacity of which far surpassed that of the Third Reich. Ishi’s story is to be found in Theodora Kroeber's Ishi in Two Worlds. Ishi spent forty of his fifty-odd years of life hiding in the hills of northern California to avoid such massacres as happened in Kingsley Cave, which left only thirteen members of the once-flourishing Yahi tribe alive, among whom was the boy Ishi. His last three years before becoming a captive were spent in desperate solitude. His little band of Yahi villagers had made one of the most defiant last stands of any other tribe, held out longer than any other, against impossible odds.
The United States’ Army, citizen vigilante groups, scalp-hunters and other proud-to-be-Americans hunted them down and massacred men, women, children and babies with Anglo-saxon efficiency and “endowment of mind” of which Thomas Jefferson was so proud. Thousands of women and children were lawfully abducted to be used as slaves, often subjected to repeated rape, or forced into prostitution and concubinage.
West of the Mississippi, in the last half of the nineteenth century, it was a pandemonium of massacres. When the aboriginal peoples were not killed off outright like the Yahi and so many others, the straggling remnants of once great nations were sent off to reservations as efficiently as Jews being sent to nazi concentration camps. Californian immigrants created “volunteer armies” that swooped down upon native villages, killing men, women, and children indescriminately. After such raids the men presented expense vouchers to the state and federal governments for a bounty on each killed soul. Ancestral homelands were seized and sold to the invaders. Along with the vouchers, native scalps were often presented as proof of a kill.
Captain Good was a sheriff in the region of Ishi’s sacred mountain Waganupa (Mount Lassen). Captain Good was considered by all the inhabitants of his town as a “good” man, a man who protected the settlers from murderous savages and who stood for “law and order”. His honored position in California society allowed him special privileges of a man of esteem and political fame: “The captain was always entitled to the scalps. At one time Good had forty hanging in the poplar tree by his house.” (Sim Moak, injun-killer) Captain Good liked to stroll through town with strings of Yana and Yahi scalps fastened at his belt and ankles of both legs instead of buckskin tassles. It became quite fashionable for the other men to imitate Captain Good. Oh, but mind you well indeed, this was nevertheless quite a civilized form of head-hunting, and the Californians of today have no more respect and admiration for their governor than they had at the turn of the century for evil Captain Good.
The photograph taken of the captured Ishi (“man” in the Yahi language) on August 29, 1911 in the Oroville jail shows an exhausted and dazed man, dressed in rags, emaciated, his hair burnt as a sign of mourning for his dead family and annihilated tribesmen. Bewildered by the photographer's sulphurous explosion, he appears as if stopped by hecklers on the way to Golgotha Hill to be crucified. He may even have experienced this strange new thing, the camera, as the manner by which he was to be executed. The photographer was thinking of all the money he would make with the picture of the “wild man”, like one of the pleasure-seeking spectators of Jesus’ final trudge up the slope of Golgotha. Unable to speak any language but Yahi, Ishi could very well have been crucified by the zealous Americans who wanted to exploit this “wild man” for all he was worth, had not blessed fate brought Thomas T. Waterman, Dr. Saxton Pope and Alfred Louis Kroeber to his aid. Kroeber was director of the newly formed San Francisco Museum of Anthropology, which was to be Ishi's home for the remaining five years of his life. It was here that Ishi was "employed" as a janitor for $25 a month, sweeping around installations, artifacts and reconstructed native huts like those in which he lived in the remote wilderness of Deer Creek.
During their unbelievably long and artful concealment in which they walked only on stones and left not the slightest broken twig or trampled blade of grass as evidence of their presence, the remaining Yahi were, however, not living a natural existence. Many people have romantic notions of Ishi as a “natural man”, when in truth he and his fellow Yahi who had survived terrifying American atrocities, lived in an unnatural manner, even while hiding in a natural wilderness for decades. Ironically, Ishi may have had the most stress-free existence as a captive of the Americans for almost five years, in which, thanks to Kroeber and his other friends, he no longer suffered the anguish of running, hiding and worrying about being captured and put to death by Americans as happened to so many of his tribesmen.
Ishi lived five years in captivity among scholars, calling the museum which housed the booty of his and other other tribes “home”. All hope for his people and culture had been snuffed out by the American Dream. And yet, he remained cheerful to the very end, when the last word ever uttered on earth by a Yahi man in his own language evaporated forever into the poisoned air of America. Ishi, as Theodora Kroeber writes, was unimpressed by modern technology, and looked upon occidentals as clever children who had gone astray of the Way. At his death Ishi’s brain, was removed “in the interest of science”, and sent to Washington D.C.
POSTSCRIPT: For unexplainable reasons, Ishi was not allowed a final sacred rest by the anthropologists - even in death. Does it matter that this ghoulishness excuses itself because it is carried out "in the name of science"? At his death in 1916, Ishi's brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The scientific information thus obtained (whatever that may have been) was regarded as more important than the most rudimentary respect granted the dead all over the world. Anthropologist Orin Starn's research eventually led him to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum where he beheld Ishi's brain: "Ishi's brain was right there in Tank 6 of the Wet Collection...There were thirty-two other brains floating in the stainless steel tank, each in a cheesecloth sack tied with a plastic accession tag." (American Indian Quarterly Summer/Fall 2005) It took almost one hundred years for Ishi's remains to be released by the scientists for a proper burial by Native Californians. This criminal betrayal of a friend is perhaps the greatest shame Alfred Kroeber's memory shall have to bear. (Excerpt from Anthropology Answerable)
The proud-to-be-Americans are unable to acknowledge the truth about themselves. Nor was King Oedipus. When the seer Teiresias unwillingly came to the king, he refused to tell the king the truth about himself, since the seer knew it would destroy the asker. But the king was enraged and called the seer an “insolent scoundrel”. To defend himself, Teiresias told the truth: “Your enemy is yourself.” On hearing the truth, the king at first called it a lie, and was going to put the seer to death. The seer put this question to the king, a question which all Americans should also ponder: “Have you eyes, and do not see your own damnation?” (Sophocles, King Oedipus)
Very close to where we stood hitch-hiking was the ancient site of the village Puvungna ("gathering place"), birthplace of Chinigchinich where he later revealed himself as lawgiver, avenger, healer and solar deity. Further north, on the Porciuncula river where once a patch of poison oak grew, was a medium-sized Tongva village named Yangna. They say it means “place of the poison oak”.
Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote that the Tongva were considered “the enlightened ones” by the surrounding tribes, and he himself referred to them in his Handbook of the Indians of California as “the wealthiest and most thoughtful of all the Shoshoneans.” The sites of their villages and holy places now lie buried beneath the concrete and asphalt of Los Angeles and environs. Identified by anthropologists with the misnomer "Gabrielino" (because they were enslaved by Mission San Gabriel), their descendants today call themselves Tongva. Despite the overwhelming metropolis which sprawls over much of coastal Southern California, and despite what seems to be veritable genocide, remnants of this culture, and others kin to it, exist today and the ancient arts and ceremonies are still being kept alive. Almost no one in Los Angeles is aware of this genocidal crime that resulted in the founding of "the city of angels."
The people of Yangna were robust, healthy and happy, finding food in abundance in the nearby forests, marshlands and ocean. But the poison oak of Yangna, but a small patch, omened more poison, much more than the most lucid of seers could ever imagine in the depths of his horror. With the first Europeans came small-pox, diphtheria, syphilis and christianity. Mass shootings, forced migrations and hangings were the American way of interpreting the Biblic phrase: “love thy neighbor”. The once happy people of Yangna were afflicted with great sorrow and their lamentations were many.
Next came alcohol, which the people of Yangna received as “salary” for their slave labor in the vineyards around the mission built on their plundered land. When they got drunk on the poison they had been given, they were imprisoned for “loitering” and sold to the highest bidder, although it was called “paying a fine. The priests had been alternately harsh and sympathetic to the broken villagers of Yangna, only using the whip, branding-iron and garrot when they thought it necessary, at other times seeing them as “children”. But the Americans showed them nothing but contempt and brutality, treating their dogs and livestock better than the dying Ocean People. The new laws of the land stated that no Indian (sic) could testify in court, even in his own defense. They were denied all rights of citizenship, all rights of human beings. The poisons kept flowing and along with the toxic effects of greed, perversity, and irreverence, the first automobile rolled through the streets laid out over Yangna, emitting poisonous gases into the air.
And yet there was still more poison to come that would clog the very skies with soot and infect the rivers and even the ocean with the vile excrement of industry. The tribe was in the death throes. All hope had died. Their primitive magical power and cheerfulness was sucked out of them by their degradation. They no longer lay naked on the beach, basking in the sun as before, happy with their lot. They were stripped of everything. They were looked upon by the Americans as stray dogs. Yangna was now a shanty town in turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, near Union Station. It was a favorite place for soldiers and citizens to go whoring. The Indian (sic) women were easy. And cheap. Their husbands were too drunk on their “salary” to protest. Children were a thing of the past. Mothers killed them rather than to force them to endure their misery. Food was no longer hanging on trees or running in the forest as before. It cost money now.
The women sold themselves for food in downtown Los Angeles. Now the poison of concrete covered the earth everywhere like a scab and vile poisons hung in the air, oozed from the ground as greedy men groveled for oil to burn in their automobiles to fill the air with more, still more, ever more poison. The invaders have faith in poison. Their dreams of the future depend on poison. Their fondest desires have led us stupidly to this horrid Age of Assassins and glorified each of our eras with halos of radioactive smog.
There was great woe among the straggling few inhabitants of Yangna left. The great Ocean People were dying, their subtle sorcery lost forever. In the past they commanded respect throughout the realm as “the enlightened ones”. And now they were dying like dogs. J. Ross Brown, a Dubliner who became Inspector of Indian Affairs in 1855, wrote:The inhabitants of Los Angeles are a moral and intelligent people, and many of them disapprove of the custom [genocide], and hope it will be abolished as soon as the Indians are all killed off.101
As in an evil fairy tale, the ancient Tongva culture was wiped off the planet – it was most convenient for Los Angeles this way. At the beginning of the 20th century, an old man of the Ocean People, Jose Zalvidea, spoke some of the last syllables of his language ever uttered into the ear of John P. Harrington: “Wikumimuk taraxat we” (When the people died the villages ended.)102
And before you could hum one refrain of “Amerika the Beautiful” Yangna was no more. The genocide of the Ocean People was a fact. And with the obliteration of Yangna, a vast cancerous growth (as seen from the objective lens of a camera from outer space) scatters its lewd neighborhoods over the once serene landscape, while boisterous barbarians raise Hell, all convinced that Los Angeles is an improvement over that which was.
101. Robert F. Heizer, Alan J. Almquist, The Other Californians, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971.
102. Bernice Eastman Johnson, California’s Gabrielino Indians, Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, 1962.
see The Chumash as the Keepers of the Western Gate
(After Anatole and I "trespassed" on the beach near Big Sur) According to American law, the Modoc people were also “trespassing” in the region of Klamath Lake, on the California-Oregon border, “trespassing” on their own homeland as they had done for countless generations. An envoy from Washington D.C. came one day with a piece of paper and informed the Modoc people that they were, indeed, in violation of American law, whereunto they were illegally and with intent “trespassing” on federal property and would have to leave. The Modoc people were forcefully removed from their ancestral homelands by the US army and squeezed into the Klamath reservation in Oregon.
Living with the Klamath tribe proved to be intolerable, and soon the Modoc began leaving the reservation and returned to their own land. In 1872, after long nights of dancing the forbidden Ghost Dance which had swept over California from the Paiute in Nevada, the Modoc War began. This was the final stand of a fierce and heroic people against the devastators of their culture. They fought all the more fiercely knowing that destiny had condemned them to extermination - they had nothing to lose.
Sixty Modoc warriors were able to hold off the United States’ army for seven long months, winning nearly every battle thanks to ingenious cunning and odyssean wits. The sixty warriors were led by Kientpoos, although Stephen Powers seemed to think him a “cowardly man” who “rather followed than led the bolder spirits.” (Indeed, Kientpoos at first did not want to fight, and along with thirteen other Modoc warriors, voted to surrender. Thirty-seven voted to fight to the death, and so it seems that in agreeing Kientpoos did follow “the bolder spirits”.)
The Modoc War became an item of idle gossip back in New York, a sort of gladiator arena for over-fed, bored city dwellers. On the front page of the Illustrated Newspaper for July 12, 1873, Chief Kientpoos was referred to as “Captain Jack”. Other derogatory Anglo-saxon names were used to identify other courageous Modoc warriors, names like “Boston Charley”, “Scar-faced Charley”, “Steamboat Frank” and “Shacknasty Jim”.
The Modoc band had their stronghold in the rugged lava beds of Tule Lake where they met the first attack made by a division of three hundred soldiers with howitzers and repeating rifles. After two days of fighting, nine soldiers had been killed and twenty-eight wounded. And yet, not one single Modoc warrior was even sighted during this time! And then, as happened in the Vietnam war, pampered, over-fed diplomats like Henry Kissinger offered to “negociate”. The commissioners wanted the Modoc captain “Hooker Jim” and several of his warriors for having killed twelve white settlers in retaliation for the massacre of unarmed (even sleeping) Modocs.
Kientpoos was astonished over this hypocrisy and from his stronghold in the lava beds he sent a message to the commissioners: “I have a bad heart about those murders. I have got but a few men and I don’t see how I can give them up [to be hanged]. Will they [the commissioners] give up their people who murdered my people while they were asleep?” Even while the government’s forked tongues wagged promising a truce, the army was being reinforced to one thousand able-bodied men to destroy the sixty warriors. The white flag waved by the “peace commission” from the nation’s capital was seen by the alert warriors as just what it was: more American treachery. Without warning the Modoc warriors opened fire on the “peace commission”, killing General E.R.S. Canby, who had waged war against the Navajos in New Mexico twelve years earlier. Also killed was reverend H.T.T (“Holier-Than-Thou”) Thomas, who proclaimed that Modoc sacred rituals were “unlawful”.
And then the crafty warriors disappeared in a flash into the lava beds, hiding among the jagged volcanic rocks, the ledges and caves of which they knew in all their topographical detail. The thousand soldiers moved in and pressed an attack for two days, supported by massive artillery fire. Using the meagerest of resources the Modoc warriors deployed themselves with uncanny efficiency. On one flank of the battlefield eight Modoc warriors held four hundred troopers to an advance of half a mile during the six hours of fighting. These were impeccable warriors making their last stand, waging war against a horde of clumsy boys led by commanders who had ordered the massacre of sleeping villagers, and who, like those who laid waste Vietnam, had no idea of the evil for which they and coming generations would be answerable. The troopers finally penetrated Kientpoos’ stronghold, but the Modoc had disappeared again!
By this time, mock photographs of the war were being printed in the Illustrated Newspaper back in New York to accompany the mock journalism reporting the Modoc War. Peaceful reservation “injuns” who were not Modoc were posed behind rocks holding rifles and photographed to represent the real warriors. The New Yorkers were as amused as any Roman public gloating at gladiators fighting in the Coliseum. The over-fed citizens of California were also amused. A certain reader of the Yreka Journal even contributed a pome for the jolly occasion:
In truth it was a gallant sightThere were more skirmishes in the lava beds. During one of these, the slaughter of the army patrol was so extreme that by midday Kientpoos’ field commander (named “Scar-faced Charley” by the newspapers) called off the Modoc warriors, shouting to the soldiers like Nestor taunting the Trojans:
To see a thousand men of might
With guns and canons, day and night
Fight sixty [crafty] Indians.
-All you fellows that ain’t dead had better go home. We don’t want to kill you all in one day.
But soon the sixty were reduced to thirty-eight fighting against a thousand. “Hooker Jim” and his band, who had found refuge with Kientpoos when the commissioners wanted them handed over for hanging, abandoned his chief and surrendered to the whites, volunteering to track down Kientpoos in exchange for amnesty, illustrating that treachery and cowardice are not only European traits.
At the battle of Sorass Lake the luck of the Modoc warriors ran out. In spite of heavy casualties and the extreme odds against them, the remaining warriors continued to out-maneuver the army for another month. Kientpoos and his warriors surrendered on June 1, 1873. He and three of his commanders (“Skonchin John”, “Black Jim” and “Boston Charley”) were sentenced to be hanged. The remaining Modoc captives were put aboard a Central Pacific Railroad train bound for banishment in a tiny reservation in Oaklahoma, half-way across the continent from their homeland. The killing of the commissioners (which Powers called “perfidious butchery”) was an act of vengeance in retaliation for the massacre perpetrated by Ben Wright years before when Kientpoos’ father and many others were brutally murdered under a flag of truce. An eye or an eye.
Stephen Powers claimed that “Boston Charley”, although a “mere boy”, was the bravest warrior, going to the scaffold with “cool and reckless unconcern”. Before dying he said:
- Although I am a boy, I feel that I am a man. When I look at the others, I feel that they are women. When I die and go to the other world I don’t want them to go with me. I am not afraid to die. I am the only man in this room today.
Before the hangings “official” photographs were taken of the captives. In spite of Powers’ derogatory remarks concerning Kientpoos, I see the calm features of a courageous warrior ready for death in one of these photographs, beneath my gaze at this very moment. Perhaps death by hanging was a better option than seeing his homeland overrun by barbarians, his women folk raped and turned into concubines, his children sold into slavery, his people banished to a distant and hostile land, and his ancient language and culture exterminated.
The elegant photographic document is in the oval carte de visite style (3¼ x 5 inches), printed following the regulations of the Library of Congress, signed and witnessed by two officers of the United States army, with fashionable shading effects by the photographer, and proudly offered to the public “with the courtesy of Watkins’ Yosemite Art Gallery”. And with routine protocol, chief Kientpoos, “Skonchin John”, “Black Jim” and “Boston Charley” were hanged.107
A brief postscript to this tragic tale: after the hangings the heads of the Modoc leaders were cut off and shipped to the Army Medical Museum in Washington D. C. where science would begin its evil monkey-business. (In what dark jungle could one fine more gruesome head-hunters?) Kientpoos’ headless cadaver was secretly disinterred by American grave-robbers, who took it to Yreka for a taxidermist to stuff like a game animal. It became a carnival attraction in eastern cities for 10¢ admission.
I would suppose that if the curious historian inquires around in the nation’s capital, he may even be able to locate the four severed heads today, pickled in bottles of formaldehyde in a scientific museum, gazing out through the curved glass with a silent curse for the Excited States of Amerika still moist on their lips.
107.Peter Palmquist, “Imagemakers of the Modoc War”, The Journal of California Anthropology, winter 1977.
It went no better for the Wintu people of central California. When Jedediah Smith entered Sacramento Valley in 1826, neither he nor the Wintu could foresee the epic tragedy that would result from this first contact with Euro-Americans. Four years later the long chain of calamities - which have not ended to this day - began with a malaria epidemic introduced from Oregon by trappers, wiping out three-fourths of the entire Wintu population in upper and central Sacramento Valley. With such a disadvantage, they, like young Telemachus before the brawling and drunken suitors of his mother and queen, were hard put to fight off their enemies.
Armed to the teeth with the newest firearms, the proud-to-be-Americans were known to go on night rampages, slaughtering sleeping families, taking scalps, burning villages. For the Wintu, mass murder was their introduction to western thought, and the warriors still left alive were therefore at a great disadvantage when settlers came into the area, overrunning the land with their cattle and sheep (thereby destroying vital food sources in nature on which the tribes depended), damming and polluting ancient waterways, defiling the dead, massacring the living and bringing eternal disgrace upon mankind.
The Wintu left alive after such onslaughts by proud patriots were hardy and ever alert in the midst of their lamentations. Such small bands of keen warriors among the Cupeño, Modoc, Yuki, Yahi, Yokuts and other peoples made valiant and hopeless last stands against the devastators of their ancient homelands, struggling against impossible odds. The Wintu had it no better. Their warriors were few. The greater part of their people were dead. When they least needed another visit from the proud-to-be-Americans, Captain John C. Fremont and his troops invaded California in 1846, slaughtering one hundred and seventy-five Yana and Wintu.
[Note: The so-called “annexation” of California by the United States was in truth an armed invasion as that of Palestine, in which the rightful inabitants were pushed aside and those not killed outright were forced into remote regions to live desperate lives as fugitives or as peons and slaves of the rich invaders. These latter stole all of the land comprising California, land which was legally part of the sovereign nation of Mexico. Of course, the huge ranchos and land grants stolen from the Spanish-speaking Californios had been stolen by these latter from the original Native Californians. As with the current war in Iraq, the president and his advisors concocted a shameful lie in order to invade California and other portions of Mexico. President Polk wailed: “American blood has been shed on American soil!“ A certain skeptical congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, introduced the “spot bill” asking the president to identify the “spot” where American blood had been shed. Lincoln meant that the blood spilling, whether in Texas, Arizona or California, was not officially in the United States and therefore no reason to go to war. The war with Mexico (1846-1848) began nonetheless.]
And yet, gentle reader, the woes of the Wintu had only just begun...Two years later gold was discovered on Wintu land and the entire nation went insane. Disease, pestilence, calamity, atrocity - that is all the friendly Wintu people ever knew of European civilization. The settlers took the best land and shipped the People off to reservations, justifying the desecration of sacred shrines by pointing to pages in the Bible. The rivers were quickly polluted by mining operations, and the delicate cycle of returning salmon was done violence. Gold! That was all the proud barbarians coveted - gold!
The remaining stragglers of the devastated Wintu nation were used as slave labor in the mines, although the patriots did not refer to it as slave labor since the People were given scraps of paper after a hellish day of misery and anguish in the mines. But even more calamities awaited the Wintu still alive in Sacramento Valley. Much more. In 1850 Shasta County was founded as one of the first official acts of California’s new statehood. The proud-to-be-Americans held a “friendship feast” in honor of the Trinity Wintu, poisoning the food and killing one hundred souls. Survivors of the “friendship feast” tried to warn the neighboring Wintu triblet. They were too late: at least forty-five were killed in the same manner. And thus, the First Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth two centuries earlier was repaid by the Dinner of Death given the Wintu people by the Excited States of Amerika.
There remained several Wintu groups living on either side of Clear Creek, a sacred waterway in their cosmogony, a living element in their myths and song-cycles. A natural rock bridge spanned the creek over which the People crossed. The rock bridge was one of the most sacred elements of Wintu cosmogony, and many spirits and gods had crossed over it in the past. The last surviving Wintu, weary and traumatized by the American Dream, were consoled by the murmur of Clear Creek in the shadow of their sacred bridge. They had already survived ordeals that can only be compared to the ordeals of the Jews at the hands of the nazis, or millions of Russians and other Slavs in the Kolyma death camps and the whole gulag archipelago. They still could look on the rock bridge in reverence, by it linked to something clean and good which proud Americans, for some reason, wished to deny them.
The patriots were not satisfied with the bloody results of Fremont’s massacre, nor with the “friendship feast” which also claimed many innocent lives. They wanted to control all the land and tried to force the surviving Wintu to the west side of Clear Creek. All the nasty “legal” methods were exhausted and the Americans were again getting ready to draw blood and make the genocide of the Wintu people a historic fact. Ignorant of “legal” matters, the People continued crossing their sacred stone bridge to the forbidden east side of Clear Creek. The invaders planted a charge of dynamite on the sacred stone bridge and blew it up.
However, the end of the Wintus’ woes was still far away... In the town of Old Shasta, miners burned down the sacred ceremonial house where Wintu medicine people and holy men would gather in desperation like the Jewish leaders in the ghettos of Warsaw. All was lost. In a patriotic frenzy the miners went on a rampage and killed three hundred innocent people. When corrurpt officials from Sacramento thrust papers at the surviving Wintu who could not read, they had no other choice than to put their mark on the “Cottonwood Treaty”, as disgraceful a smear as ever soiled papier hygiènique. The treaty “allotted” them thirty-five square miles of their own homeland. This “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” was duly ratified by the state congress in 1852 with all the fine forma1ities and polite rhetoric which came from similar mouths at the “friendship feast”.
A proud and vain man was named “agent” and a fort built in his name with federal funds amounting to $25,000, a tiny drop which fell unnoticed into the ocean of misfortune which was that of the remaining Wintu people. Despite the money (thirty pieces of silver after inflation) the Wintu could only look ahead to worse times. Three years after Fort Reading was built, miners-again invaded their “allotted” land, polluted the streams and attacked the People, who tried in vain to defend themselves. But, believe it or not, incredulous reader, this was only a prelude to more, ever more misfortune. Three years after the attack by the miners, citizen vigilantes and army troops waged an all-out war of extermination against the tenacious Wintu people. The year-long war resulted in one hundred dead and three hundred survivors sent forcefully to the Mendocino reservation. During and after the Civil War, Wintu stragglers were hunted down, murdered or marched to coastal reservations. As with the African and Jewish peoples, great suffering awoke great inner spiritual strength among the aboriginal inhabitants of the New World.
At the turn of the century the Wintu revived forgotten rites (rites forbidden them by christendom), a revival which is taking place on a massive scale among the aboriginal groups of the continent at this very moment. But the proud-to-be-Americans were able to produce poisons, prisons and calamities at a much faster pace than the medicine people could perform the delicate and complex rites of purification and world renewal. First gold was their misery and now it was copper. Copper-processing plants poisoned and destroyed natural vegetation and large groves of trees vital to the Wintu as food sources. And then, as a final stroke of bitterest irony, the remaining Wintu, survivors of unimaginable carnage and All-American ill-will, were granted “citizenship” in 1929!
But, of course, citizenship did not guarantee them any happiness in the unending tempest of sorrows which was theirs. What was the American flag to them other than a symbol of everything they considered evil? Citizenship did not efface the racist hatred directed at them, and Wintu children were not permitted in American public schools until the year before they were granted “citizenship”. Now they were to be educated to be modern slaves toiling at the mills of Idiocy’s Industry for a few wrinkled bills, as do I.
If the reader should now deign to believe that the troubles of the Wintu were over, she will be sadly mistaken. One year before the outbreak of World War II, Shasta dam was built, destroying huge areas of Wintu territory along with three other dams. Almost the entire tribal domains of the two communities were inundated, and the last remaining concentrations of Wintu people were dispersed. Government “land-parceling” produced even greater havoc. Today the remaining mixed and full-blood Wintu live widely over the Excited States, incorporated into the American Inferno. Many remaining Wintu suffer from unemployment, indecent housing and apathy, although still lodged in their hearts is the sting of the obscene injustice which proud Amerika inflicted on their culture. Despite centuries of woe, some still maintain delicate contact with ancient traditions, still trying to salvage the Golden Age which was theirs from the Hell which is ours.108
108. Frank R. LaPena, “Wintu”, Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1978. (Note: Frank LaPena is a well-known Wintu artist and spiritual leader.)
As the reader can see, the history of California since the Conquest is a story of gruesome atrocities and carnage. The more I delve into the available material, the more I am struck by the horror of it all. And after all the written accounts of atrocities committed against the indigenous nations have been exhausted, there remain the silent atrocities unrecorded by history and unknown to all except the avenging spirits. The Forty-niners and those who followed them casually slaughtered the People, often for amusement, as if hunting jackrabbits. The slaughter went from the hands of vigilante groups to the hands of the army in blatant wars of extermination like the Modoc War.
When a warrior retaliated for his people being murdered in their sleep by taking revenge on one of the salaried scalp-hunters, the white society became outraged and went on the rampage. Such was the case in 1860 at Hayfork on the Trinity River, when white vigilantes attacked a village and killed one hundred and fifty people. No mercy was shown to women and children. At the fork of this very same Trinity River and the Klamath there once existed one of the most carefully balanced cultural regions on the continent, and it was here that the carnage was exceptionally intense.
Alfred Kroeber writes that on the three arms of these converging rivers were assembled three nations representing three of the five great linguistic families of the continent: Algonquian (Yurok), Hokan (Karuk) and Athabascan (Hupa). The coastal Wiyot and Yurok comprised the only Algonquians in California, a distant and rare outpost on the Pacific of a great racial family concentrated east of the Mississippi and along the northern Atlantic coast. What unknown, epic migrations do these two remote Algonquian tribes represent? With the aid of the science of glottochronology, it is said that the Yurok and Wiyot languages diverged from a common parent languge over two thousand years ago. The origin of the Algonquian languages, as all the other languages of the continent, is unknown. Some region in the heart of pre-historic Asia gave root to them, where today, perhaps some remotely related language is spoken, its link with Algonquian unknown to linguists.
The Wiyot people on the northwestern coast of California were the victims of one of the most evil atrocities in the history of the state. When the white vigilantes (all well-respected citizens of the region) had finished their work on February 26, 1860, one hundred and eighty-eight people lay dead on Gunther Island. The dead were mostly women and children. An army officer who participated in the carnage wrote an official report revealing how babies were slaughtered as they suckled at their mothers’ breasts, who as well were slashed with bayonets as their milk mingled with rivers of blood.
The Yurok were the only ones from surrounding tribes to help the desperate Wiyot people from rampaging American patriots. Although the Yurok story-teller Che-na-wah Weitch-ah-wah (Lucy Thompson) wrote that the Yurok looked down on their linguistic kinsfolk, her father sheltered an influential Wiyot man during the terrible massacre. (One is reminded of Anne Frank and her family hiding from rampaging nazis.) Mrs. Thompson wrote in her memoirs: “Sometimes it seems hard to think of man’s inhumanity, but as sure as the sun goes down, the white man will suffer for his wicked treatment of the Humboldt Indians.”109
Nine days after the massacre on Gunther Island, the weekly newspaper Northern Californian from Union (now Arcata) wrote: “Some had their heads split in twain by axes, others beaten into jelly with clubs, others pierced or cut to pieces with Bowie knives… others had almost reached the water when overtaken and butchered.” It required half the day to murder the people on that fated island in Humboldt Bay. Today it is peaceful and calm with forests, meadows and houses (one owned by the mayor of Eureka), as the citizens sail their pleasure boats past it, most ignorant what happened there such a short while ago. This terrible crime against humanity went unpunished. No one was even charged with these murders. Those guilty of this crime were most certainly known, and were just as certainly protected by people in power. Like certain men who docilely participated in the massacres in Vietnam, an officer who viewed the scene was a little uneasy as he filed his report:
I beheld a spectacle of horror, of unexampled description - babes, with brains oozing out of their skulls, cut and hacked with axes, and squaws exhibiting the most frightful wounds in death which imagination can paint.110
The Wiyot people came within a hair’s breadth of being totally exterminated as a result of this genocidal crime sanctioned by the federal government. Only a baby survived the massacre on the island, Jerry James. This was not the only massacre that took place that night. Two other village sites were attacked - one on the Eel River and another on the South Spit. These crimes abruptly ended centuries of ceremonial dancing and celebration. (The murdered Wiyot men, women and children were sleeping when the atttack began, exhausted from a week of ceremonial dance.) Today, both the descendants of the survivors of this massacre and the killers live in close proximity, with a certain tension still existing between the two groups.
The Wiyot people today hold a yearly memorial gathering for the massacre victims on or around February 26. Following the massacres, the vitality of the Wiyot people suffered greatly. U.S. troops collected the surviving Wiyot from other villages ranging between the Mad and Eel Rivers, confining them to the Klamath River Reservation. Today there are 300 enrolled tribal members. It is difficult being a Euro-American citizen of the “land of the free” and maintain allegiance in the face of many such atrocities committed all over the continent of Turtle Island with the benediction of the American government. Such shame as ours is impossible for ordinary people to endure. And so they blot it out of their minds forever, and continue with their patriotic nightmare, still refusing to respect the rights of the Native Americans. One of the organizers of the yearly memorial said recently: “The Wiyot are no longer invisible. We’re here. They tried killing us off in the 19th century. We’ve survived the 20th century. And we’re going into the 21st century.”111
Although the Native Californians suffered terribly under the Spanish and Mexicans, their sufferings increased tenfold with the coming of the Americans. In 1849 the gold rush began and massacres like the “friendship feast” given the Wintu were to increase dramatically. In the year of the gold rush one hundred and thirty-five Pomo people were massacred at Clear Lake. They had been previously kept as slaves by a man named Kelsey and his partner Stone. The Stone and Kelsey massacre resulted from the enslavement, starvation, torture and killings of the Pomo by these two newly arrived Americans, who fed their livestock better than their slaves.
The Pomo story-teller William Ralganal Benson, born in 1862, learned about this massacre directly from some of its survivors, and related the story in English when he was seventy. His mother tongue was Pomo, but he taught himself to read and write English. The Pomo who were enslaved on Stone and Kelsey’s ranch in 1849 were being starved to death. They were given small rations of cooked wheat, and if they begged a house servant for more to save a dying relative, they were tortured, whipped or shot dead, as happened to a boy who, in an attempt to save his dying mother, was discovered with more than his ration of wheat.
In total desperation over the sadistic treatment, five Pomo warriors went to the ranch house and killed the two wretches who were responsible for this agonizing misery. A military expedition was sent by the U.S. government to avenge the killings, and the Stone and Kelsey massacre was a fact. State and federal governments subsidized these killings on a large scale, for such military operations (killing innocent civilians - including babies) were very costly. In 1932 William Ralganal Benson wrote the story, of which the following is only a small part:
one old man said that he was aboy at the time he said the solders shoot his mother, she told him to climb high up in the tree, so he did and from there he said he could see the solders running about the camp and shooting the men and women and stabing boys and girls. he said mother was not yet dead and was telling him to keep quit. two of the solders heard her talking and ran up to her and stabed her and child. and a little ways from his mother, he said laid a man dieing, holding his boy in his arms the solders also stabed him, but did not kill the boy, they took the boy to the camp, crying, [...] it was aboy about three years of age, when the solders were getting redy to move camp, they raped [wrapped] the boy up in ablanket and was stell crying, and that boy is alive today, his name is bill ball, now lives in boonville...112The straggling survivors of the massacre went on forced marches, had salt rubbed into the sores and cuts on their feet and bayonet wounds, and those who could not keep up were shot and left for scavenging wild animals to devour. One old man told Benson that after narrowly escaping the rampaging American soldiers, he finally made it back home, constantly looking over his shoulder to see if soldiers were following him. His mother and sister lay slaughtered on the ground before his home. "he said he sat down under a tree and cryed all day."
The violently deranged sociopolitical organization of California under the newly arrived Americans can be compared to that of developing countries in Africa and Asia today, where the random enslavement and killing of women, children and non-combattant men is routine. The nazi defendants at the Nuremburg trials rationalized their executions of innocent children by arguing that such children would grow up to hate those who killed their parents. Such arguments were used 100 years earlier by the vigilantes in California to rationalize the killing of native children: “because a nit would make a louse.”
One summer morning in 1969 five people were sadistically murdered in a mansion located within an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood known as Benedict Canyon. Among those found dead the following morning was the actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant. Later that night a wealthy couple, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, were also stabbed to death in their home near Hollywood. When the lunatic killing spree of Charles Manson and his followers ended, modern Californians were horrified over such barbarity and did not hestitate to condemn the killers as demented monsters. And yet, the founding of their state was made possible by such people commiting such crimes over and over again to such a point that now any famous weight-lifter from any town in Austria can now be their governor, without possessing any true merit. As a final bit of of bitterest irony, the remaining Pomo today must endure seeing the city that grew, profited and prospered from the massacre of their ancestors bearing the name "Kelseyville", as the American Dream elevates yet again a vile wretch to the highest status.
The Sinkyone were among the Athapaskan-speaking peoples of northern California. Along with neighboring tribes, they were the target of subsidized "ethnic cleansing" and mass murder, as shamefully manifest in the massacre at Needle Rock. One Sinkyone survivor of this massacre, who was only a girl at the time, watched in horror from her hiding place as an American cut out the heart of her baby sister and threw it in the brush. Later, as a married woman, she told her story.
"My little sister was just a baby, just crawling around. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared that I guess I just hid there a long time with my little sister’s heart in my hands." This Sinkyone girl and the other survivors of the Needle Rock massacre fled into the cold forest with no food or clothes, unable to light a fire for fear of the white men finishing them off. Malcolm Margolin, publisher of the highly regarded News from Native California, has described the mood in California that preceded this and other massacres:
Supported by a community fearful of the "Indian menace" and greedy for Indian land, legitimized by newspapers that extolled the "manifest destiny" of the white race, groups of men throughout northwestern California formed "volunteer armies" that swooped down upon Indian villages, killing men, women, and children indescriminately. After such raids the men – often a ragtag group of unemployed miners – would present expense vouchers to the state and federal governments for actions against the "hostile Indians." In 1851 and 1852 California authorized over one million dollars for such excursions. It was nothing short of subsidized murder.
Along with the vouchers, native scalps were often presented as proof of a kill. Margolin observes that while the Native Californians had a place (albeit a miserable one) in the social structure of Spanish and Mexican California, they had no place whatsoever in Anglo-American California, and were hardly considered human. He continues: "Atrocities against the Native Californians were not just the result of a few demented individuals; atrocities were built into the social structure, even written into the laws. [...] An Indian could not bear witness against a white in court; thus whites who entered Indian villages and committed rape, mayhem, and murder could not be prosecuted on the witness of Indians alone."
Those who believe that these evil deeds belong to our past, and that Americans have been reformed, should confront the facts of the Vietnam war, and such crimes as the massacre of 504 innocent villagers of My Lai, where even babies were machine-gunned by American soldiers. Far from being punished for their war crimes, they live comfortable suburban lives today. And yet, the government that pardons their war crimes avidly seeks the prosecution of war crimes committed in Bosnia and Hercegovina, threatening economic sanctions if the criminals are not extradited to the Hague trubunal.
Living today as they have for thousands of years along the banks of the Klamath river in northern California, the Karuk people experienced this catastrophic violation of their homeland like the Deluge – like the Apocalypse. As gold finds after 1849 spread to distant corners of California, more and more tribes felt the full evil impact of the gold rush. Hydralic mining was introduced by the gold-rushers, huge high-pressure water nozzles that swiftly washed away the topsoil of the river gorges and valleys to reveal the gold. The muddied river interfered with the cycle of returning salmon, a vital food source to the Karuk. Fifty years after the gold rush, only twenty-five percent of the Karuk were left alive. Other neighboring cultures didn’t have as much luck, and were exterminated to the last man, woman and child. But the Karuk survived against impossible odds.
Today they still dance the White Deerskin Dance and keep their language and ceremonies alive. This was very difficult when school children were punished for speaking Karuk, and their ceremonial regalia and sacred objects were looted and sent to museums in San Francisco or back east. Common everyday household utensils were usurped, scientifically catalogued and packaged for shipment. Even the chairs were removed from their houses to be sent to the Smithsonian Institution! The Karuk singer, dancer and writer, Julian Lang, has recently written that his son’s generation is the first of five generations not to be forced to attend government-sponsored boarding schools. He continues:
The destruction occurring during the first fifty years of contact in northwestern California was as pervasive and horrific as the modern-day nuclear holocaust would have been if it actually had happened. [...] The problems caused by the Forty-Niners’ thirst for gold at all costs, both human and environmental, are only now beginning to be resolved, one hundred and forty-four years later.
In 1850, the year of California’s statehood, the US government began rounding up native Californians by force to be placed on reservations on the King and Fresno rivers. Reading of the atrocities that resulted from this federal policy, one automatically thinks of the nazis rounding up Jews to be sent to concentration camps.
In 1854 there was a white man named Mann living near Tulare Lake who had a Yokuts wife. They had been living there for years. The United States calvary rode up to their home and their commanding officer demanded the woman, for, like the Jewish wife of a non-Jewish man confronted by nazi soldiers, she was seen as inferior and unworthy of the common rights of a citizen. Mann protested, saying the woman was his wife, that he had provided for her for several years, and was quite able to continue doing so in the future.
The army officer ordered Mann to bring out his wife, and when he refused, the door to his home was broken open and his wife, who was hiding under the bed, was dragged out. She cried out to her husband for help. Mann ran to her aid, and was shot in the back by a soldier and killed. His wife was led off to another of the many American concentration camps called reservations.
This account comes from Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, who lived among the Yokuts between the ages of 6 and 16. Not until he was 84, months before his death, would he speak of his life among them “because I had very little to tell that the white people liked to hear.”81 The terrible frequency of such events in California and the rest of the nation made wars of self-defence inevitable. Such was the Garra uprising, the failed attempt of a Cupeño warrior chieftain to ward off the genocide of his race.
In 1852 (the year of the Garra uprising) the Senate Standing Committee sat down to business and quickly passed a law denying any recognition of Indian [sic] rights to California land. After millennia of habitation, a man in Washington signed his name to a paper, and they were homeless, forced to beg from the invaders to survive, humiliated as few people on earth have been humiliated.
J.J. Warner had a ranch about four miles south of the Cupeño village Kupa (Agua Caliente , one of the several places where dying Mukat was taken to bathe in the hot springs). Warner had sympathy for them, although his allegiance was never once in question during the Garra uprising: he was on the mormons’ side. Cahuilla warriors initiated an attack on his ranch, led by the chieftan Chapuli (who was later to be killed in a battle in Coyote Canyon), Panito, and Mocate. And yet, I have the impression that Warner understood that their grievance was justified as he awaited the attack at his rancho, having been warned ahead of time by Lázaro. He had already sent his family to San Diego and was preparing to follow.
Twenty warriors attacked, and after being awakened by their war-cries he managed to escape on horseback after shooting two of them. At the same time, other warriors raided two other ranchos in the area killing four Americans. Juan Verdugo’s life was spared. Warner rode back to his rancho later that day, on the way seeing a straggler from the raiding party carrying some of his belongings. When he tried to draw an arrow, Warner shot him. His rancho had been stripped of everything when he got back, and all his cattle had been driven off. (Only the work-horses and breeding mares were left.) And still Warner understood their grievances against the invaders of Guachama when he wrote:
Will it be said that the land is not broad enough for them and us or that while our doors are open to the stranger from the uttermost parts of the earth, we have not spare room for the residence of the once sole inhabitants of our magnificent empire? Shall future generations seek in vain for one remaining descendant of the sons of the forest? Has the love of gold blotted from our minds all feelings of compassion or Justice? 82I don’t know if this was written before or after Warner’s rancho was raided by the Cahuilla war-party, his cattle driven off and his belongings seized. But such refined sentiment was a rare thing among the pioneers, who were otherwise massacring villagers and encouraging betrayal among the native warriors, as they encouraged the Mountain Cahuilla chief Juan Antonio to betray his comrades-in-arms in the Garra uprising of 1852. The betrayals among the southern California tribes were many, as they were among the Sioux after they had learned the white man’s ways. Several great warriors betrayed Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull), which resulted in his own people treacherously riddling him wih bullets, fulfilling Meadowlark’s prophecy to the great medicine man: “The Sioux will kill you.”
In a like manner, Tomás el Diegueño betrayed the rebel Kamia chieftain Gerónimo (not to be confused with the Apache chieftain of the same name). Gerónimo was one of the last warriors to be killed in the uprising of 1852, along with Antonio Garra. The latter led the fierce but short-lived revolt (they planned to slaughter as many whites in southern California as possible and drive out the rest).
Tomás el Diegueño was put on the US-army payroll, his tendancy for cowardice and betrayal well appreciated. Through treachery alone he was able to murder Gerónimo and was prompt to deliver to his US-army superiors the Kamia chieftain’s scalp along with one ear (an army custom that would be continued in the Vietnam war). With one scalp and one ear of a courageous warrior, Tomás purchased for himself a fine government appointment. In thanks for his cowardice and treachery, the United States government awarded him with a brand new American flag and appointed him “general” of all southern California Indians [sic].
But the People could not stomach such a wretch, doomed as well to be food for the avenging spirits of Chinigchinich. The government had no other choice but to dismiss their “general” when it became known that those whom he was supposed to command only had contempt for him. It was the Cupeños under the leadership of Antonio Garra who stayed on the war-path to the bitter end. Their war-cries resounded with those of forty years before, when Taqwus shook the mountains and valley violently, and the settlement of San Bernardino was first attacked, in el año de los temblores. (1812)
The plan of attack for the initial uprising was a vast, hopeless scheme for justice, with all the millennia-old intelligence and craftiness of the aboriginal Californians. But the three weird sisters who weave the fate of all things and Shakespeare’s thirty-eighth play had already decided that the great peoples should perish. No amount of sorcery could stop that which was meant to be. After the rebellion had started, dissention appeared among the united tribes of southern California. It was centered around the same issues which were debated in all the tribal councils over the entire continent: whether to fight or negociate with the forked tongues of minadistrators. Either way was doomed. The debate was archetypal, reminiscent of Arjuna arguing against fighting (even from his war chariot), and Krishna arguing for it, in the Baghavad Gita. A tiny but fierce minority among them fought to the death, as did Gerónimo, Chapuli and Garra.
As the uprising in southern California unfolded, Antonio Garra began spending too much time bickering with other chieftains over the dividing of rustled sheep and cattle, or other booty of war. Garra valiantly attempted to unite all the southern California tribes in one last effort to regain their plundered homelands. Many courageous warriors made their last stand as fiercely as did those of Troy. Antonio Garra’s vision was as vast as the dream of Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas who sent the war-belt of wampum and the red tomahawk of war to all the Algonquin tribes scattered along the Mississippi. Unlike Garra, Pontiac united all the tribes under his command, and then set to work with his strategy. They would slay their way to the Atlantic seabord, taking no prisoners and driving any Englishman or Dutchman left alive into the sea. As in Garra’s case, the conspiracy of Pontiac was a reaction against evil legislation from an invading horde, “God’s chosen people.” In 1763, the king of France ceded all of Pontiac’s country to the king of England - without even informong Pontiac!
But Antonio Garra’s dream of justice was much less organized than that of Pontiac. When Garra appealed to the Cahuilla chief Juan Antonio for aid, he got a treacherous ally, who would soon bring about Garra’s betrayal, arrest, imprisonment and execution. Juan Antonio could be compared to the “hangers-around-the-fort” of Lakota history, too friendly with the enemy. Garra had, like Pontiac, sent out his envoys to the tribes in the vast area of southern California. As a gesture of his willingness to fight, Juan Antonio sent envoys to the Yokuts in the San Joaquin valley to gather warriors. The plan of attack was established. The Yokuts and Chumash were to attack Santa Barbara, the Cahuilla and Cupeño would attack Los Angeles, and the Yuma (“sons of the river”) and Kamia (“those from the cliffs”) would strike San Diego, assisted by tribes from Baja California. Only Americans would be killed. Garra said this to Juan Antonio just before his betrayal:
- If we lose this war, all will be lost - the world. If we win this war, then it is forever. Never will it stop. This war is for a whole life.
It was then that Juan Antonio went weak in the knees. All of a sudden, he went about declaring himself a “friend” of the mormons, promising to deliver the renegade Garra into their hands. Antonio Garra was a learned man, raised as a Luiseño but chief of the Cupeño. He was known to have many books. He had the gift of eloquent oratory, and was crafty enough to make certain of his warriors believe that he had charmed the bullets of the white men so that they would fall off the skin like drops of water in a spring rainstorm.
He was very likely a former initiate in the toloache (datura) rite of the Luiseño people, and aware of the all-powerful god Chinigchinich and his avenging spirits. It is uncertain that he had influence on tribes other than the Luiseño and Cupeño. But he failed to forge an alliance with all the southern Californian tribes, as was his wish. The tribes wished the same thing. But there was no one with enough power like Pontiac or Sitting Bull to unite them under one commander - at least he never came forward.
Juan Antonio was a traitor even before he betrayed Garra. In 1847, five years before the uprising, Juan Antonio and his followers slaughtered thirty-eight Luiseño and Cupeño tribesmen, to get in good with the mormons of San Bernardino. His course was determined by the hope of gain and calculations of which side would reward him best. He had a reputation for dishonesty. He boasted to the whites that he was a “good Indian”, but after his betrayal of Antonio Garra, whites and natives alike looked upon him as a traitor.
As he was plotting to capture Garra, a cold winter came to the valley. In thatched huts somewhere between the Inland Center Shopping Mall and Palm Springs tramway, the people were starving and freezing. They huddled around the hot-springs of the area, weeping and in despair as was the dying Mukat when he came to seek a cure in the warm water. The women more and more resorted to prositution to feed their families. (Yes, they had adopted European ways as the padres insisted.) Many unwary men were intoxicated on the liquor of their conquerers. They gambled with the dishonest white men and lost all their belongings, or sold their $100 horse for $15 which was then sucked up in a poker game. Many natives worked on ranchos like Warner’s for slave wages and received repeated floggings, perhaps right where the Mall Bookstore stands today. Thievery where ever they turned.
Once before, Juan Antonio had captured Garra’s brave son and had insulted him. Young Garra stabbed the Cahuilla chief in a rage, saying,
- I am your prisoner, but I will not permit you to insult me!
Now the treacherous man was out after the father. He wrote a letter to Garra as a friend, requesting a meeting in the desert. Unsuspecting, Garra went to the place agreed upon. Juan Antonio ordered him seized. The renegade was stripped of his clothes and Juan Antonio cursed him, calling him Isil (Coyote or “devil”). He hated Garra for his courage, and had a grudge against him ever since young Garra stabbed him that time. (Garra’s son was also to die before an American firing squad.)
Juan Antonio was a veritable Shakespearian fiend. When one of his Mountain Cahuilla killed a white settler, he would appease his mormon “friends” by burying the murderer alive in the same grave as the victim. He accused Garra of being Isil (Coyote), the mistrusted outcast and trickster, and shuddered at the sight of Garra standing naked before him, calm and unafraid on the desert with Cosme, his comrade in arms, also taken prisoner and stripped of his clothes.
Juan Antonio did not have the nerve to himself kill his rival, so he ordered one of his men to murder Garra. Juan Bautista intervened and convinced the Cahuilla chief that Garra was as good as dead already, as soon as they delivered him to the Americans. The prisoners were led off to Coyote Canyon, ill-fated place since de Anza’s first arrival there seventy-seven years before. There, Garra and his remaining warriors (he said he never had command over more than forty) were to stand trial before a kangaroo court à la Américaine (Fr., amer = bitter).
The Cupeño people, for whom Antonio Garra was chief, are a unique case in California’s ethnography. From Alfred Kroeber’s Handbook we learn that they were one of the smallest distinct groups in California and only possessed two villages: Wilakal (San Ysidro) and Kupa (Agua Caliente), which was burned down after the uprising. “Cupeño” is a mongrel word which means “Kupa-people”.
Although related to the Shoshonean Cahuilla and Luiseño, the tiny culture was distinct and possessed a unique language of its own, but, as with the surrounding tribes, shared the myth of the bewitched god cremated on a funeral pyre. It is interesting that such a tiny culture was so fierce, fighting tooth and nail to the last as did Ishi’s band of crafty Yahi warriors in central California, and Kientpoos’ band of crafty Modoc warriors in northern California. The smaller tribes were extra skillful at surviving among the violent invaders from the east.
The past hides many things of a frightening nature in the history of the Cupeño people. The legend says that long ago the Cupeño were exterminated by a neighboring tribe. Only one baby boy, Hubuyak, survived, escaping south with his Diegueño mother like Mary and Joseph fleeing Palestine. When he grew up to be a man, Hubuyak returned to Kupa and slaughtered those who had destroyed his people, settling there with two Luiseño wives, fathering the modern Cupeño people.
Antonio Garra must have known this story well, perhaps seeing his own role as that of Hubuyak, avenger of his plundered and murdered people... Garra stood before the army officers conducting the trial as alone as any just man can be. The ruler of the empire was not emperor Tiberius but president Buchanan. The judge was not named Pontus Pilatus, but general Joshua Bean: Los verdugos. (Twenty-five years later, Tasuke Witko - Crazy Horse - was to confront similar American verdugos who murdered him after he unwittingly responded to another “friendly” meeting with the authorities.)
But Antonio Garra would not receive a bayonet in the back from an American soldier while being held by three men, as happened to the great Oglala warrior. He would die before a military firing squad as did his own son, with a curse for all European culture unuttered on his lips. When the council of war at Coyote Canyon reached its verdict, Garra was escorted to the spot of his execution by a ten-man squad. He seemed unconcerned. A reporter from the San Diego Herald wrote that his whole bearing was that of a courageous man prepared to meet his death with dignity. Gerónimo, his Kamia ally, was dead. Chapuli, chief of the warring Los Coyotes Cahuilla, had been slain in Coyote Canyon in a battle with captain Heintzelman’s troops.
After the battle, Heintzelman ordered five remaining chiefs to dig their own graves in Coyote Canyon at ten o’clock on Christmas morning, into which they all fell after the volley of rifle fire from the firing squad. More than 100 years later, in a skimpy sleeping bag, I went coldly to sleep in Coyote Canyon, hearing the coyotes howl and the ghosts tread softly. Howling at the verdugos. With Garra’s execution the uprising of 1852 ended. A catholic priest hovered around him, urging him to seek forgiveness for his sins. Smiling, with a steady and calm voice, Garra responded to the pestering padre and all the other proud-to-be-Americans gathered to murder him:
- Gentlemen, I ask your pardon for all my offenses. Now you must ask my pardon!
Blindfolded, kneeling at the head of his grave, Antonio Garra was shot to death.82
(Note: the following updates are not excerpts from my book Theophany.)
There are two traditional sources when considering "history": written documents and the oral tradition. In both falsehood and truth are mixed, but western tradition craves documented proof to verify a historical event. Without documentation a historical event from the oral tradition will always be open to suspicion to western observers. Such is the case with the alleged mass poisoning of the Shasta. “Shasta” refers to this northern Californian people as well as to a sacred extinct volcano in their homeland. Alfred Kroeber states that this name is “veiled in doubt and obscurity. It seems most likely to have been the appellation of a person, a chief of some consequence, called Sasti.” (Handbook of the Indians of California)
The Shasta oral tradition tells of a massacre of some 3,000 Shasta people being fed strychnine-laced beef and bread during a feast at a peace treaty signing ceremony at Fort Jones on November 4, 1851. (Coincidentally, I am presently writing on November 4, 2007.) This story was handed down through the generations along with the rest of Shasta oral tradition. In 2001 Paul Fattig spoke with the believers and the doubters of this massacre and wrote of it in the Mail Tribune for southern Oregon. He quoted the 67-year-old Shasta descendent Betty Hall from Fort Jones: “I've heard about this all my life. They try to say that Auschwitz didn't happen, either, but we know it did. Our oral tradition is very strong. We are still very close to this. We know it happened.” She added that her great aunt knew people who witnessed the poisoning.
What they believe occurred 156 years ago today is reminiscent of the September 11 terrorist attack, noted Roy Hall Jr., the son of Betty and her husband, Roy. “We know what the New Yorkers and the Washingtonians and all of the United States feels,” he wrote in an e-mail to Fattig. “We have been there, too. After 10 generations, we are still struggling to live with the knowledge that our people and culture were destroyed for the ‘good’ of the country.” Many historic scholars are not convinced there was such a massacre. The Shastas, whose members live largely in Southern Oregon and Northern California, never have been recognized as an official tribe by the federal government. “That remains a goal of the tribe,” Betty Hall said.
Yreka resident Keith Arnold, a retired California Highway Patrol officer and vice president of the historical society, found out about the allegation in the mid-1990s. He did an exhaustive study on the subject, and told Fatttig: “I've always been interested in this kind of stuff, but I had never heard of this before. It had to be written down someplace.” He studied countless historic documents at libraries. While he found evidence of other atrocities by whites upon Native Californians, he found nothing about a massacre on November 4, 1851: “None of the letters or diaries or newspapers from that time period mention it. Even the Sacramento Union, which was very friendly to the Indians, fails to mention it.” After four years of research, Arnold concluded it didn't happen.
Ashland anthropologist Nan Hannon told Fattig that oral histories handed down through the generations often prove true. She observed there are verifiable incidents of militia volunteers and settlers intentionally poisoning Native people during the mid-1800s. However, poisoning innocent people was not something that was duly noted for posterity: “I think that a devastating event did happen around the time of the signing of the treaty that has persisted strongly in the cultural memory of the Shasta. Just because CNN or the Associated Press wasn’t there to document it in a way considered legitimate by some historians doesn’t mean that it didn't happen. I would no more dismiss the Shasta oral tradition of a devastating event contemporaneous with the McKee (1851) treaty than I would the Jewish oral tradition of exile in Egypt.”
Betty Hall and her supporters continue to point to their oral history as evidence of a massacre. But she intends to continue searching for documents to prove to those who want to see it in black and white. “I will continue looking. There has to be something out there.”
sacred Lakota mountain ..................... sacred Lakota mountain defiled
This famous mountain, blown apart in the 1930s and misnamed after an insignificant New York lawyer, is really called Tunkasila Sakpe (Six Grandfathers), one of the sites on the legendary vision quest of Lakota medicine man Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk). Which version truly possesses beauty?
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