In January 1851 a culture of greed and power by Anglo-Americans created an environment that normalized the murder and other genocidal acts of California Indians through legal means. The state of California was founded on these beliefs as the first civilian governor of California, Peter Burnett, declared, “that a war of extermination continue to be waged…until the Indian race becomes extinct,” and his statement was supported by California legislatures when they appropriated $500,000 to pay for the past and future Indian-hunting campaigns by California State militia units.
With the promise of gold in May of 1851 Anglo-Americans with their culture and legal precedent of Indian killings entered into our lands. In the Smith River Valley Prospectors from the east met “Shasta Volunteers” heading north to kill Rogue River Indians and the encountered “about 50” of our people. After failed negotiations with our people “the whites commenced fire”, killing 4 and wounding others. Gold was found in our tributaries by prospectors and the Tolowa Holocaust from 1851- 1856 began.
In a recent talk on at Humboldt State on November 2nd, 2016, Ben Madley, associate professor at UCLA, discussed the Genocide of the Tolowa during this time. He has studied Genocide in the Americas for 13 years and his work on the Tolowa culminated in an article in 2012 entitled, When the World Was Turned Upside Down: California’ and Oregon’s Tolowa Indian Genocide, 1851-1856. His work continues and resulted in a book specific to genocide in California in 2016 entitled, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873. This year during our annual Dee-ni’ Night in September Ben’s book was an option for the tribal gift. His presentation touched on information that is found both his article and book.
The population of our people is disputed and thus varies the severity of genocidal acts occurred upon us, Madley uses a base population of 5,000 Tolowa’s in 1851 that decreased by more than 80% of population to 900 in 1856. During this time Madley discussed multiple instances as examples of the mood, culture and general practice of killing Indians. This included multiple organized massacres at Taa-‘at-dvn, Yan’-daa-k’vt, ‘Ee- chuu-let, Duu-srxuu-shi’, Chit-xu and many others. This was accompanied with other smaller murders and other acts of the genocide such as rape, beatings, horrible living conditions, slavery, and stealing children. At this time no one in a Tolowa Family was safe as any member of the family, man, woman, child, infant, elder was subjugated to systematic acts of genocide. He shared a simple population graph that showed the impact of influx of Anglo-Americans into California. The decrease of California Indians was not by chance but the systematic and legal
practice backed by the State of California and United States Government.
Ben shared well rounded perspective as he includes historical accounts from multiple sources including accounts
through military personal, Anglo-travelers and from Tolowa Elders. It is refreshing to see a historian acknowledge our
accounts of historical events, as many scholars do not validate our oral teachings. Ben also had a presentation on
genocide in California and was asked why he only focused on genocide during this time, he stated that he had to focus his efforts. He will continue to work on genocide and encouraged others to take up this field of study. He implied that genocide has occurred up to this point in time and it will take the effort of others as well to sufficiently study and educate others on genocide in the Americas. To find out more information please find his presentation on the Humboldt State Library archive at this link,
You will find a video and audio file of the presentation that can be watched on your web browser or that can be downloaded. I encourage you to read his book and to also read his article on Tolowa Genocide. The article can be found on a virtual tour developed by the Waa-tr’vslh-‘a~ Department. The Virtual Tour can be found on the TDN website after you sign in as a Member. Information for this article was pulled from his article on Tolowa Genocide and from his presentation on November 2nd, 2016.
- Madley, B. (2016). An American genocide : The United States and the California Indian catastrophe, 1846-1873 (Lamar series in western history). New Haven: Yale University Press.
- When ‘The World Was Turned Upside Down’: California and Oregon’s Tolowa Indian Genocide, 1851-1856″ in Adam Jones, ed., New Directions in Genocide Research (New York: Routledge, 2011), 170-196.