|Slavery in the West. The trafficking in Native American
slave labor-especially young women and children-flourished throughout
California well after slavery was abolished. From 1848 to the 1870s, over
10,000 Indians were enslaved in northern California. 4,000 of these were
children. (1a) Newspaper accounts of the time noted that young boys sold for 60
dollars or so, while young women could sell for as much as 200 dollars. (2)
These Indian slaves had their names changed and could never return to their
families and their homes.
In 1849 the California Constitutional Convention was held at Monterey. Among the attendants were Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, John Bidwell and Elam Brown. These men were instrumental in introducing and effectuating a bill that denied any protection of real or personal property to California Indians. Indians could not vote or testify against any white person for crimes committed against them, or as the law stated "in no case shall a white man be convicted of any offense upon the testimony of an Indian." (1b)
The basis of this law has its roots in the Spanish and Mexican mission system and in the views of miners and ranchers that Indians were less than human. It also came about because of competition. One government report estimated in 1848 that more than half of the gold diggers in the California mines were Indians. Narratives of mining life in 1848 and 1849 frequently referred to groups of Indians who were "controlled" or "owned" or "employed" by whites ranch owners. Compensation, if any was given, was identical to the system of Indian peonage which had existed on the ranchos of Hispanic California-food and clothing in exchange for labor. This process is alluded to by one forty-niner who commented that "the Indians on the ranchos in California are considered as stock and are sold with it as cattle, and the purchaser has the right to work them on the rancho, or take them into the mines." (3) Newly arriving miners did not like seeing Indians working in the mines-even Indian slaves-and began killing them and driving survivors into the mountains. By the early 1850s few Indian miners were left in the gold fields.
In addition to slavery, the forced prostitution of indigenous women was widespread among miners. Few women accompanied the tens of thousands of men who traveled to California during the Gold Rush. Miners raped indigenous women whenever they could. Objecting to the act meant death for any indigenous people in the area. Often, young indigenous girls were stolen by white miners and taken far away from their homes. Unable to speak English and unable to find their way back home, these young girls were forced to make the best of the situation and stay with their kidnappers, sometimes for life.
(1). "Costo Chair Quarterly," Jack Norton. University of California, Riverside. Spring Quarter, 1998.
(2) "Gold, Greed and Genocide," Pratap Chatterjee. Inkworks Press, 1998.
(3) " Gold Diggers: Indian Miners in the California Gold Rush," James. J Rawls. California Historical Quarterly, vol. 55, 1976.
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