California Indian History
    Primary Sources and Information, 1846-1879

    Did You Know?

    Did you know that during California’s Gold Rush and for decades afterwards:

    • Thousands of California Indians were killed by settlers?
    • The State of California financially supported local militias that were formed for the purpose of “defense” and engaged in killing California Indians?
    • Representatives of the United States federal government negotiated treaties with California tribes—but the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaties?
    • California Indian children were captured and taken by settlers to work as domestic servants or slaves?
    • California Indians, by law, could not testify against a white person in court?

    See, Kimberly Johnston-Dodds, Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians, (California Research Bureau, September 2002) .

    Kimberly Johnston-Dodds is an independent scholar with extensive legal, policy analysis and historical research and writing experience. In 2002, as a senior policy analyst at the California Research Bureau, State Library, she worked with the office of John L. Burton, California Senator President pro Tempore, providing the above report to the California State Legislature. Since that time, Kimberly has been further investigating and researching the early California laws and policies related to state militia, volunteers and independent companies and related financial records to identify the high-level state and federal decision makers, along with local perpetrators who benefited financially and otherwise by implementing the “Expeditions against the Indians” during 1851 to 1859 and beyond. With the assistance of the website contributor team over the years, she has completed the research in numerous repositories in California and across the nation. Using her public finance, statistical analysis, and transactional legal skills she is now focused on turning her findings into an accessible book publication. The working title of the project is “Financing Atrocity and Attempted Erasure: The Men and Money Schemes Behind the 19th Century California Indian Massacres.”

    Purpose of this Website

    The California Indian History website makes available online, in one place, primary sources from various archival and historical collections that were authored or reported by non-Indian witnesses, and oftentimes perpetrators, who documented Euro-American violence against California Indigenous people. The scope of the website is statewide from the Gold Rush period into the second half of the 19th century. The website also provides a growing body of educational resources, allowing anyone the ability to review, evaluate, and draw their own conclusions about the history experienced by California Indigenous people. Key documents and digital images include:

    • Annotated timelines listing state and federal government documents chronologically
    • Thousands of statewide California newspaper articles
    • State and federal correspondence and reports
    • Rosters that identify thousands of men on official muster rolls of militia units or independent companies kept by the State of California Adjutant General found in the State Archives

    Who We Are and Why We Do This

    We are a voluntary group of colleagues – historians, educators, archivists, librarians, and information technology experts – united in a common purpose to:

    • bear witness to 19th century events that occurred in what is now known as California; and
    • contribute to breaking a longstanding silence surrounding these events by providing free, online access (to anyone) to digitized 19th century primary sources of documentary evidence, the originals of which are housed in miles of cardboard boxes, on microfilm, and in vaults or on shelves of publicly-owned settler repositories in California and beyond.

    We receive no remuneration, and do not seek to make a spectacle of these cataclysmic events. Our work strives to acknowledge and expose the acts, name the perpetrators, and provide access to the evidence in order to foster effective change in how the State of California acts toward Indigenous people.

    From our perspective, we believe the telling of Indigenous histories of survival, resilience, revolution, revival and re-Indigenization belongs to California Native voices. We stand in support of their efforts, and Indigenous movements underway.


    Native Ways of Knowing Booklist – Decolonizing and Indigenizing Classrooms and Libraries

    The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and California Indian Education for All (CIEFA) have designed a Native Ways of Knowing Book List: Decolonizing and Indigenizing Classrooms and Libraries to help educators and parents choose high-quality Indigenous authored books. The list includes K-3, 3-6, Young Adults, and Educator books.

    California Indian Education Resource Guide, 2022-2023, San Diego County Office of Education, Multilingual Education and Global Achievement Team (MEGA)

    “The 2022-2023 American Indian Education Catalog provides and overview of SDCOE American Indian Education projects, networking opportunities, and grants that are supporting in collaboration with tribal leaders and educators. The professional learning (PL) opportunities offered in this catalog are designed specifically to ensure local education agencies (LEAs-school/districts and charter schools) can establish, expand and refine successful American Indian Education learning programs in collaboration with tribal governments, AI/AN students and families, and tribal community members.”

    California Indian Education For All – Resources For Educators

    Mission – help teachers and schools educate children and youth about the diverse histories, cultures and contributions of California Native peoples.

    Goal – create culturally responsive resources that improve representations and classroom climates for teaching and learning about California’s first people.

    Read, Learn, Teach

    American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) Year in Review for 2022 and Recommended Books by Native Authors

    American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Best Books of 2021

    Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians, prepared by Debbie Reese, (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White)

    Joy Harjo 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate – Living Nations, Living Words: A Guide for Educators

    “This guide offers teachers and other educators ideas for using U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s signature project, ‘Living Nations, Living Words,’ in the classroom.”

    Identity and stereotypes: Why Do Representations Matter?

    “A learning resource from the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the California State Archives.”


    Working to Realize Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the U.S. Native American Rights Fund, August 9, 2021.

    “Since 1995, the United Nations has designated August 9 as the annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The day marks an occasion to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous Peoples and to highlight the continued work necessary to protect and promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.”

    United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

    The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine).

    Years later the four countries that voted against have reversed their position and now support the UN Declaration. Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.”


    “The ‘Tribal Implementation Toolkit,’ produced in collaboration between the Native American Rights Fund, the University of Colorado Law School, and UCLA Law’s Tribal Legal Development Clinic, considers how tribes can support and implement the Declaration through tribal lawmaking.”

    Digital edition here

    Text version for those using screen readers or other accessibility aids here

    Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change

    United Nations Secretary-General’s Statement on the IPCC Working Group 1 Report on the Physical Science Basis of the Sixth Assessment. August 9, 2021.

    “Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity.  The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:  greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”

    Indigenous Peoples Increasingly Engaging in Climate Action,” UN Climate Change News, August 9, 2021.

    “’Indigenous peoples must be part of the solution to climate change. This is because they have the traditional knowledge of their ancestors. The important value of that knowledge simply cannot — and must not — be understated,’ said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.”


    Human trafficking, the kidnapping and selling of Indigenous women and children and the violence associated with it, are not recent phenomena in California. One of the earliest laws enacted by the first California Legislature in April 1850, five months before California became a state, was “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.” This statute, and further amendments to it in 1860, sanctioned an economic and judicial system that promoted the kidnapping and selling of Indian children. A further explanation of this law and amendments can be found at pages 5-12 of the 2002 report, Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians, provided to the California Legislature. A link to primary sources that evidence what happened in California during the second half of the 19th century is here.

    Recent scholarship related to this history:

    Beth Rose Middleton Manning and Steven Gayle, “Enslaved in a Free Country: Legalized Exploitation of Native Americans and African Americans in Early California and the Post-Emancipation South,” Journal of Law and Political Economy Volume 3, Issue 2, 2022, online access.

    “In 1850, California joined the United States as a free state. However, one of its first laws, the 1850 Law for the Government and Protection of Indians, legalized the enslavement of California Indians. Drawing comparisons between early Californian and Southern statutes that maintained racialized political economies, we argue that the institutionalized oppression perpetrated against Native Americans in California bears important legal similarities to that perpetrated against African Americans in the South, both before and after Reconstruction. This similarity is not a coincidence; the presence of both African and Native American populations in Southern legislation, the movement of Southerners to the West to participate in California’s development, the regional history of Mexican and Spanish systems of Indigenous enslavement, and a political economy reliant on racialized underpaid or unpaid labor, all created the conditions for California to legally retain de facto systems of slavery in a context of de jure freedom.”

    In March and May 2022, we chose to draw attention to Indigenous projects and organizations focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIW) in what is currently known as California and the United States. We continue this effort. Below is a list of resources:

    Yurok Tribal Court’s Third and Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, July 29, 2022.

    “The Yurok Tribal Court’s To ’Kee Skuy ’Soo-Ney-Wo-Chek’ (I will see you again in a good way) Project ’s third and final report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People contains the first ever roadmap to guide tribal, state and federal agencies’ response to new and existing MMIP cases.”

    To ’Kee Skuy ’Soo-Ney-Wo-Chek’ – I Will See You Again in a Good Way, July 2022 Year 3 Progress Report

    Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 TITLE VIII – Safety for Indian Women: Section-by-Section Summary, Prepared by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Offices of Chairman Brian Schatz and Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski, March 16, 2022.

    Here are the key provisions of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022:

    • Reaffirmation of tribes’ jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, and obstruction of justice
    • Gives tribes authority to prosecute non-Natives who assault tribal law enforcement officers
    • Tribal nations in Maine and Alaska can exercise tribal jurisdiction under the act
    • Non-Native defendants must exhaust all tribal court remedies
    • Funding for and ensuring tribes can access national crime information systems via the Tribal Access Programs
    • Increased resources for tribes “to exercise Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction and establish a reimbursement program to cover tribal costs”
    • Re-establishes the Tribal Prisoner Program

    MMIWG2&MMIP Organizing Toolkit – A publication by Sovereign Bodies Institute, in partnership with MMIWG2 families, Indigenous survivors of violence, and their allies

    “The movement for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people is older than all of us. Indigenous peoples have resisted colonial violence against our women and girls since colonization began, and many of our peoples have stories that teach of the sacredness of our women and girls by telling stories about women who were stolen or hurt, such as Abalone Woman (Yurok, Wiyot) and Deer Woman (various Plains/Midwestern tribes). While this movement is guided by those ancestral teachings and traditions, it is also guided by decades of leadership and movement building beginning in Canada, now stretching throughout the Americas…

    This toolkit is for anyone who has learned about MMIWG2 and asked, ‘How can I get involved? What can I do in my community?’ There are entry points for people of all identities, locations, skill and education levels, occupations, and passions. We are sharing these entry points in this toolkit, with the aim of giving readers a comprehensive road map to getting started in the movement. This is not a how-to manual, it is a wayfinding guide. We can’t tell you what to do in your community, but we can help you navigate the options and give you the tools to decide for yourself what is needed.”


    TAAQTAM MṺṺ’MUY’K, Hidden Bodies: MMIWG2 & MMIP of Central & Southern California, Sovereign Bodies Institute

    “For millions around the world, Southern California is imagined to be a paradise of palm trees, scenic coastline, and Hollywood glamor. However, Indigenous peoples of Southern California have a different experience–one marked by ongoing colonization of their homelands, and a too often silent, centuries long crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP).”

    To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-wo-chek’ – I Will See You Again in a Good Way: Year 2 Progress Report – July 2021, Sovereign Bodies Institute, July 2021.

    “This report is the result of nearly two years of work bringing together voices of survivors, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two spirit people (MMIWG2), tribal court staff, and researchers to fight for justice and safety for Indigenous women and youth in Northern California…

    This report contains stories of sexual violence, domestic and intimate partner violence, sex and human trafficking, and deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people. For that reason, it is an emotionally heavy read, especially for those who have been impacted by this violence. We have worked to write within the boundaries of what is authentic and true to what survivors and families have shared, and what is safe and appropriate to share publicly. This is a challenge we grapple with daily. We encourage families and survivors to read this with care, and seek out support from family, community, tribe, support services, cultural practices, and Sovereign Bodies Institute as needed.”

    Unbottling an Epidemic: Missing + Murdered Indigenous Women + Girls, Sovereign Bodies Institute

    “In ‘Unbottling an Epidemic: Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Jane Doe Edition’, artist fellow Elizabeth Skye created unique bottles that harbor the spirit of sacred Jane Doe cases, which are kept under the protection of SBI’s database. This project explores the use of pottery to bring life to the stories of our unknown stolen relatives, creating an impactful representation of the database. These vessels foster critical dialogue that brings to the surface the importance of every individual’s role in the movement to combat this ongoing epidemic.”

    Sovereign Bodies Institute

    “Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people.”

    United States:

    *This report contains strong language about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native Women.

    Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls: A Snapshot of Data from 71 Urban Cities the United States, Urban Indian Health Institute, A Division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, November 14, 2018.

    “Nationwide, the voices of Indigenous people have united to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls (MMIWG). Though awareness of the crisis is growing, data on the realities of this violence is scarce. To fill this gap, in 2017, Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a tribal epidemiology center, began a study aimed at assessing the number and dynamics of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in cities across the United States. This study sought to assess why obtaining data on this violence is so difficult, how law enforcement agencies are tracking and responding to these cases, and how media is reporting on them.”

    Our Bodies, Our Stories Project, Urban Indian Health Institute, A Division of the Seattle Indian Health Board.

    “Our Bodies, Our Stories is a series of reports that details the scope of violence against Native women across the nation. The first report highlighted data relating to sexual violence against Native women in an urban setting—Seattle, Washington. The second report provided a snapshot of the missing and murdered indigenous women & girls (MMIWG) crisis in—and the issues with data collection from—71 urban cities across the country.”


    Redwood forest returned to tribes: The transfer marks a step in the growing Land Back movement to return Indigenous homelands to the descendants.” Brian Melley, Associated Press, February 6, 2022.

    Return of Tribal Land: Ancestral land in Hat Creek returned to Pit River Tribe, Mike Mangas, Adam Robinson, November 8, 2021, KRCR TV in Northern California.

    Native tribes have lost 99% of their land in the United States: New data set quantifies Indigenous land dispossession and forced migration,” Lizzie Wade, Science, October 28, 2021.

    “Indigenous people in the United States have lost nearly 99% of the land they historically occupied, according to an unprecedented new data set. The data set—the first to quantify land dispossession and forced migration in the United States—also reveals that tribes with land today were systematically forced into less-valuable areas, which excluded them from key sectors of the U.S. economy, including the energy market. The negative effects continue to this day: Modern Indigenous lands are at increased risk from climate change hazards, especially extreme heat and decreased precipitation.”

    Land Back: A Necessary Act of Reparations, Nikki Pieratos and Krystal Two Bulls, Nonprofit Quarterly, October 11, 2021, Editor’s Note: this article is from the Summer 2021 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, “The World We Want: In Search of New Economic Paradigms.”

    “The concept of Land Back, let alone its practices, can be a struggle for non-Indigenous (and even at times for Indigenous) people to understand. Fundamentally, Land Back is the intersectional movement for racial justice by Indigenous peoples, with the end goal of having our lands returned to Indigenous stewardship. Land Back addresses the root of colonization—the theft of Indigenous lands (including their destruction through resource extraction), the violence committed against Indigenous peoples to build capitalism across the country, and the effects that our communities still experience today.”

    Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Resources grounded in responsibility, reciprocity, and respect.

    Indigenous Land Trusts and Alliances located in what is currently known as California. Please consider supporting their efforts.

    Who Should Use This Website?

    Policy makers, students, researchers and educators will find these resources useful for documenting this important history. What happened in California deserves to be included in the knowledge of United States history shared by all Americans and taught in our schools and universities.

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