|Bounty Hunting or Ethnic Cleansing?
The act of paying for the death of another human being was practiced
extensively by the California Legislature and the Federal Government during and
after the Gold Rush. Towns and ranches throughout California also put out their
own death warrants on indigenous people from 1848 to the 1870s.
Bounty hunting in northern California was often carried out by militias composed of local merchants and ranchers. Citizens in towns such as Crescent City and Eureka would form companies, electing their own officers. These militias varied from 35 to 97 men. (1)
Members of the three northern counties in the California Legislature urged Governor Leland Stanford and General Wright to call out local volunteers to end Indian problems once and for all in early 1863. Both officials agreed to this, and a proclamation was issued on February 7, 1863, calling for six companies of troops to be raised for action against the Indians in the Humboldt District. Commissions were issued to G.W. Ousley of Arcata and Charles W. Long of Eureka to enroll volunteers.
On July 13 enough troops had been raised to take over the garrisons, and Colonel S. G. Whipple relieved Colonel Lippitt as commander of the District. The organization was known as the First Battalion of Mountaineers, California Volunteers. The volunteers were to receive the same pay as regular troops, which was $18 per month, plus $100 bounty and clothes and food. A special tax of 15 cents per $100 was also levied by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to provide extra pay and incentive to the Mountaineers. The California Legislature granted an additional $5,391 on April 10 to defray expenses of recruiting and traveling. These men could only be used in clearing the hostile Indians from the Humboldt Military District. As soon as that job was accomplished they were to be discharged and not ordered East or anywhere else in the State.
Four companies with 80 men apiece were created. They set up garrisons and reinforced forts in places such as Iaqua, between Kneeland's Prarie and Yager Creek; Fort Gaston in Hoopa Valley; the Trinity border; the northern boundary of Mendocino County; Hydesville; Camp Gilmore at Trinidad and Camp Grant on the Eel River. (2)
These companies did not conduct a military campaign against an armed adversary. They murdered thousands of men, women, and children to clear the way for miners and ranchers to set up camp and create new towns.
An editorial from a newspaper of the time gives a different take on the "Indian Wars" in California.
"We have frequently had occasion to remark that the accounts of Indian hostilities, not only in the North, but in the South, are almost invariably exaggerated. A small affair is soon magnified into a battle, and the origin is not infrequently attributed to Indian Outrages, when the account should read 'White man's oppression.'
The Indian war is defunct. The whole matter has been a cowardly farce, the threatening legions of Indians turning out to be but about 100, seeking refuge in a brush from the rowdies who, on the least occasion, delight in the sport of shooting them. As in all cases of this kind, the fault has been with the whites."
Sacramento Daily Union, May 31, 1856 (3)
(1) "Recollections of Klamath County," Mahlon Marshall.
(2) "Military Operations Against The Indians In The Humboldt Military District: 1861-1865," Gary E. Thomson. Jan. 15, 1963.
(3) "They Were Only Diggers: A Collection of Articles from California Newspapers, 1851-1866, on Indian and White Relations," Robert F. Heizer. Ballena Press, 1974.
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