Friday, December 21, 2007

It's going to take awhile.

A few days ago on the “Redheaded Blackbelt” I posted a reply to Kym, that I felt that she might be judging a relative to harshly. The relative was a member of Captain Jarboe’s Eel River Rangers that had massacred dozens of Indians.

In putting together an accounting of the way people thought back in the 1850’s, I have ran into so many interesting stories, of the interaction that the new settlers and the Indians had, that I have become side-tracked.

I called my cousin Penny in Laytonville who has an accounting of Mrs. Bowman’s flight from Hydesville to Laytonville to escape an Indian attack. Mrs. Bowman was gravely injured and was almost killed, yet she got herself and her kids to a neighbors cabin. Where the story gets even more dramatic. I called her because I knew she had a printer-ready copy of the story, and I didn’t want to re-type it.

While we were talking she casually mentioned; “You knew that Great, Great, Grampa and Gramma Middleton were the only survivors of an Indian attack in Arizona on their way to California didn’t you? ( I guess that I didn’t know that story was about my folks) Then she went on to say “You knew about the Indian attack on their cabin at Mud Springs, when the Indian sneaked down the chimney didn’t you? I vaguely remember that. But the good thing is her father, my uncle Ben, wrote the story down and she still has it, and we are going to get together at the next family reunion and photo copy it. Later I will transcribe it into my computer.

I also know that I had a Great Aunt who had her throat cut by an Indian, but his knife was dull and she was able to survive the attack

Anyway these are the same ancestors that helped hide the Indians, and help feed them, through the times of great strife. When they and anyone protecting them was being murdered.

It’s going to take a great deal longer to write about my feelings on this subject than I thought. It may even be a chapter in the book that I want to write about this canyon that I like so much.

I’m very much interested in any true stories about the early days. No, I haven’t read Ray Raphael’s new book yet. I don’t want my mind going in too many directions, until I get my thoughts together. I’ve always thought that there were two sides to the story, and all that I’m interested in is the truth.

Most of what people did back then was survival related, and I think that I can make that point glaringly clear.


Ben said...

The point of Jarboe's or Fleming's militias was to simply clear this country of Indians for the whites. Indians were not considered human beings by the majority of settlers in those days. They were not allowed to testify in court nor was killing an Indian considered a crime. The justification for killing an Indian baby was: "Nits make Lice." and this phrase was common not just here, but throughout the west. However, Indian children were useful as servants and so were captured and sold to whites. Woodman Crek near Laytonville is named for the notorious slaver George Woodman.The indentureship law allowed this even after the Emancipation Proclimation and the Civil War. The Army was the only law in Southern Humboldt and they were under orders to kill any Indian male who was not attached to a white settler or on the Reservations at Ft. Bragg or Round Valley. Within ten years, the Indian population was reduced to about a tenth of what it had been when whites arrived. The introduced diseases of smallpox and syphyllis reduced the population further. Thousands died.The absence of any Rancheria in Southern Humboldt is evidence of the efficiency of the genocide in our area.
Mrs. Bowman was living near Camp Grant when she was attacked. The year was 1869. There is evidence that the Indians involved were a renegade group of Chilula from Redwood Creek. The Bull Creek Indians said that they were also attacked. The vicious attack on Mrs. Bowman and her children was used as an excuse for more forays against local Indians. An entire culture, probably as complex and beautiful as the surviving culture of the Klamath and Trinity area waas wiped out. Songs, dances and language were lost. It is important to remember what happened here. That we had slavery, just like the South and that human beings were hunted like animals.
My umpty great uncle was tomahawked and killed on the banks of the Ohio River in Indiana. His brother was captured and made a slave of the Kickapoo in Illinois. He escaped and spent quite a bit of his time hunting Indians afterwords. Some of my more recent Indiana relatives were sympathetic with the Ku Klux Klan. As long as we stayed away from politics, we got along fine. They were terrific guys. Just a bit backward.

Kym said...

I'm having a heck of a time writing comments in your blog.

I think the new adjustments being made to the comments section isn't allowing me to enter but now entering under a nickname maybe will work.

I don't know any Native American stories about my family. But we do have a legend that my ancestor, Wm Cole was involved in a battle at Fort Ross. He took a bottle and a bell from the fort which our family still has.

However, the people at Fort Ross were unaware of any such fight. Sooo...

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm really anxious to finish my thoughts on this subject, but I’ve got to help my wife get her store through Christmas.

Ben, thanks for your comments, I think you know where I’m heading.

Kym, it really was survival. And the only law back then was who was the meanest. In the case of Covelo, it was “Cattle King White. And his bidding was done, or your family didn’t do well.

EkoVox said...

I received Raphael and House's "Two People, One Place" from my daughter for Christmas.

I'm going to attempt to read it with a wide-open mind.

Thus far, the prologue is filled with apologies and excuses for political correctness in the writings. But, that is usually the view from this era of Humboldt historians. At least Ray Raphael admits to that and wonders what future generations will write about his era.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Ernie - I'm willing to accept that some or most of these individuals were motivated by survival and not blind fear and hatred. But whether that motivation was reasonable, especially so late in the game, is another question. In fact, those massacres were just as likely to lead to reprisals as submission, particularly from those Indians who had lost their families and had little left to lose.

Of course, early on the fear was probably justified. But the invasion itself was questionable - even by the prevailing ethos of the time as the government was signing treaties in an attempt to mitigate conflicts.

What is clear is that these killings would not have taken place had the federal government strictly enforced its own laws and treaties. Not that I would have supported this, but a few hangings would have eliminated the lynchings and massacres altogether.

EkoVox said...


Have you read Genocide & Vendetta: The Round Valley Wars in Northern California by Lynwood Carranco and Estle Beard. It is very difficult to find as it is a very rare, out of print book. But, if you can find a copy, it is an incredible depiction of Southern Humboldt/Northern Mendocino in the 1850's to about 1880's.

Here is a synopsis from a customer of Amazon:

The book consists of three major sections:

1) The genocide of the aboriginial inhabitants of Humboldt & Mendocino Counties. 2) The rise & fall of the Asbill brothers; two early settlers in the area. 3) The story of the infamous George E. White. Cattle King of Round Valley & the Yolla Bolly country in northwestern California from the 1850's to 1902.

The first section is difficult to read. Partly because of the content, & partly because of the format. Appears to be written in the format used for a Master's thesis. Does contain a wealth of information. Some of it repeated from various sources. Gives an overview of the Indian population decline as well as graphic descriptions of some of the murderous incidents. Horrific. Bosnia today has nothing on what a few pitiless men did in the Yolla Bolly country during the 1850's & 1860's. Easier reading covering some of the same material are "The Story of the Stolen Valley," by Rena Lynn, and "The Saga of Round Valley The Last of the West," by John E. Keller.

The second section is easier reading because it is based largely on the narrative of Frank Asbil. Son of Pierce Asbill & nephew of Frank Asbil. Follows their story from their arrival in the Yolla Bolly country as hide hunters through the rise & fall of their livestock operations. Colorful & entertaining. My favorite part of the book. If you like this section, look for the "Last of the West" by Frank Asbill & Argle Shawley

The third section relates the story of George White's livestock empire. Includes examples of the brutal methods used by his henchmen to control the rich grazing land of the Yolla Bolly country. These included threats, theft, arson, perjury, false accusations, corrupt officers of the law, & murder by various cowardly means: poisoning, shooting in the back from ambush. Over a twenty year period in a population of only a few hundred people, over fifty murders occurred FOR WHICH NO SUSPECTS WERE EVER ARRESTED. Because of the large number of crimes, the authors present selected incidents to illustrate typical methods used by these organized outlaws to keep out homesteaders for nearly fifty years. This section reaches it's climax in the murderous vendetta against the two men that ultimately stood up to George White's outlaw buckaroos, and in the accounts of the killers' trials in Weaverville. It has lighter portions too. These cover cattle ranching methods of the day as well as anecdotes illuminating the character of some individuals involved. For fictionalized adventures in the Yolla Bolly country from this era look for the book "Wylackie Jake of Covelo."

Contains an epilogue and an extensive bibliography. Compliments to Lynwood Carranco & the late Estle Beard on their thorough telling of this chilling history. Should be made into a movie by someone like Robert Redford

Ernie Branscomb said...

What I say repeatedly, is that the mistake we are making, is that we are judging who we are now, and what we would do now, and placing that in a different context that most of us have no concept of at all.

I agree with Ekovox, you need to read a little history about what people were like back then. Especially Cattle King White. Then you need to imagine what you would do if his henchmen came to your door, and told you what you were going to do, understanding full well that you were going to do their bidding, or you would die! And your family would die! Remember, you just bought the land that you were on, had no place to go even if you could afford it. And the law, and all of people in authority, were afraid of cattle king White, and would do nothing to protect you…. In that context what would you do? Be honest.

It makes you think doesn’t it? Remember, there were many unreported murders and disappearances, food poisonings, etc. One man, that had paid a good deal of money for his ranch, crossed White over a land use issue, and he was offered enough money to “get out of town” for his ranch, and again, it was well understood that to refuse the offer was sure death. Whites henchmen would kill you for the boots that you were wearing if they caught you out in the open. What the folks did back then had far more to do with survival than morality.

I would love to see any of the moralist that spout about what everyone did wrong back then, go back and live there for just one week. I wonder how many times that they would compromise their integrity for their families survival.

To even judge the people that survived back then is arrogant. Was what they did wrong? Yes! Did they have any choices? Slim, and damn few.

The Indians were caught in the middle of this mess, and King didn’t want them around, because they were taking up valuable grazing space. When the pony soldiers pulled out for the Civil War, the area was left to be “protected” by private contractors, like Jarboe’s Eel River Rangers, who were hired to keep the Indian population under control. Most all of these men had connections to people like Cattle King white, or other wealthy, but ruthless, land owners. The current thinking of the time was “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”. The backlash to the planned massacres is what finally brought some recognition of the problems that the Indians faced to the civilized parts of the world, and the killing was stopped.

Honestly. Tell me where do you think that you would have fit in in this mess. Remember you have no money, no education, no where to go, and you love your wife and kids. Why don’t you put yourself at about the head waters of Keckawaka Creek, just north of Covelo. Cattle Kings men come by to eat dinner every month or so. What are you going to do? Piss them off?

keith pace said...

I know alot of u will find it hard to believe but my name is keith pace and i am a direct decendent of frank and pierce asbil. and i really didnt know that much about them, but now i know a little more thanx to this site. its crazy to think im a decendant of some crazy indian killing bad ass's!! pretty cool! but i dont think i should ever go to covelo. sounds like the indians there are still a little pessed. lol.

charles from covelo said...

True. In that era, I would be a prisoner to the control of the system, which is exactly where I feel that I'm at right now. I have practically no choice today but to be a part of the environmental degradation that's still going on in this world - just to survive. This system started here when the Asbills, etc. first showed up here and manifested itself in the massive reduction of indigenous populations here.

The invading culture needed a revolution then just as it does now. And there were a few people then that did give voice to this, just as there are now.

I've mixed in a new issue here, but it's closely related in my opinion.