Northern California Indian Historiography, 1847-1866


The Present Does Not Recognize the Past

California’s Indigenous Peoples are unsurpassed in their range of diversity of languages, cultures, and extraordinary survival within the confines of an equally rich and diverse geographic region within the United States. Through the centuries, both the original peoples and the land have endured devastating impacts from periodic waves of newcomers. In more recent history, the epic mass migration related to the California Gold Rush of the 1850s irrevocably damaged California Native cultures and threatened their survival. Along with their thirst for land, opportunity, and a higher standard of living, the wave of Euro-American migrants brought their cultural, political, religious heritages, and worldviews with them. The actions and official governmental policies of these migrants unequivocally decimated and dislocated California Native populations, along with dispossessing the remaining survivors of their ancestral lands and natural resources.

The history of federal and state government policies towards California Natives, and its impact on tribal and cultural sovereignty are particularly complex in California. The evidence of the roles played by the State of California and the federal government during the first Gold Rush to dispossess California Indians from their land, and almost destroy their communities and cultures is known in certain academic circles. However, such information remains absent in public and official venues such as public school curricula, museum exhibits and interpretive programs, and state government policies. Thus, Californians and the general public continue to lack a fundamental understanding of California Native cultures, history, and sovereignty beyond the confines of their public school experience of building sugar cube mission replicas in the fourth grade.

Why This Web Site Was Created

This website documents federal, state and local government officials’ intentional denial of resources and lands for California Nations to survive culturally and economically. Furthermore, this website bears witness to the widespread and systematic violence perpetrated by Euro-Americans against Northern California Indigenous Peoples from around 1850 to the mid-1860s. The timelines and documents show, how in one state, California, Euro-American 'militias,' and organized companies of local citizens acted as political and social institutions to systematically exterminate and destroy Indigenous Peoples within the United States. The rosters compiled from state records show at least 4,899 names attached to fifty-four militia or independent company units supported by the Governor, the Legislature and the Adjutant General. The newspaper accounts reveal violent activities against California Indians in sixteen counties within a fifteen-year period. The northern California counties include: Butte, Del Norte, El Dorado, Humboldt, Klamath, Lassen, Mendocino, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity, and Yuba.

Historians and others may argue that all Native cultures of North America suffered the same consequences along with California Natives during this time period. After reviewing the information provided in the timelines and documents accessible on this website, it should be unmistakable that California Natives suffered at the most extreme range of this awful spectrum.

Suggested Reading

The following documents may also be of interest: