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) .
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, resistance, revolution, revival and re-Indigenization belongs to California Native voices. We stand in support of their efforts, and Indigenous movements underway.
Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Resources grounded in responsibility, reciprocity, and respect.
- Land Acknowledgement: You’re on California Indian Land, Now What? Acknowledging Relationships to Space & Place Toolkit – California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center/American Indian Studies at Cal State San Marcos
- “Are you planning to do a Land Acknowledgement?” at American Indians in Children’s Literature, March 9, 2019 blog post
- Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment – U.S. Department of Arts and Culture
- Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements for Cultural Institutions
- A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment – Native Governance Center, St. Paul, MN
Indigenous Land Trusts and Alliances located in what is currently known as California. Please consider supporting their efforts.
- Amah Mutsun Land Trust – an initiative of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to access, protect and steward ancestral territories of the Amah Mutsun ranging from Año Nuevo to the greater Monterey Bay area.
- Project Juristac – Mutsun Sacred Grounds Protection
- InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council – Consortium of 10 federally recognized tribes in northern California
- Kumeyaay-Diegueño Land Conservancy – protects and preserves environmentally and culturally sensitive lands within Kumeyaay aboriginal territory in Southern California and Mexico
- Maidu Summit Consortium – preserves, protects, promotes Mountain Maidu Homeland in northeastern California
- Native American Land Conservancy – focuses on aboriginal territory of tribes in present-day southern California
- Sogorea Te Land Trust – an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Tuluwat Island Restoration Project – cultural and environmental restoration of the Wiyot ceremonial site of of Tuluwat Island located in Humboldt Bay. “The Islands’s Return: The unprecedented repatriation of the center of the Wiyot universe,” North Coast Journal, October 24, 2019
Thadeus Greenson, “Dishgamu Humboldt: A groundbreaking, Wiyot-led effort to heal and rebuild while putting land back in Native hands takes root,” North Coast Journal, July 8, 2021.
Jessica Douglas, “Students and faculty urge deeper look at land-grant legacy,” High Country News, December 22, 2020
Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, University of Minnesota, Beyond the Land Acknowledgement: College “LAND BACK” or Free Tuition for Native Students, August 2020
Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, “Land-grab universities: Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system,” High Country News, March 30, 2020
- Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians, prepared by Debbie Reese, (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White)
- American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Best Books of 2020
California Indian Education For All – “California Indian Education for All (CIEFA) is a nonprofit that exists to help teachers and schools educate children and youth about the diverse histories, cultures and contributions of California Native peoples. CIEFA’s goals are to create culturally responsive resources that improve representations and classroom climates for teaching and learning about California’s first people.”
October 12 is Indigenous Peoples Day – For Our Future: An Advocate’s Guide to Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Day
National Congress of American Indians (2019). Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Native American Education for All. Washington, DC. September 2019.
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.
How to Cite Online Content
Please cite materials used from this website appropriately. If you have used documents such as essays, timelines, or newspaper articles in a research paper or publication, guidelines for citing them are provided here.
The examples in the guidelines are suggested models only. You should confirm preferred citations of online materials with your teacher, department, or publisher. A useful online citations, grammar, punctuation and plagiarism tool can be found at http://www.bibme.org/.
Video produced by the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. Developed in Partnership with Journeys to the Past, Inc. Conducted by Native Youth in Action, Tribal Youth Ambassadors Program. Used with permission for educational purposes only.