The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the inclusion of the former Mexican territory as the 31st state to the Union in 1850 compounded pressures experienced by Native Californians catastrophically. Thousands died from epidemic diseases in the years between initial contact and 1848; social structures were damaged, cultural knowledge was impacted, and subsistence strategies destroyed leaving Native people in California unable to withstand the violence and further dispossession inflicted by Americans.
Violence against Indians was used in an effort to dehumanize the natives in the eyes of settlers, in addition to serving as a pedagogic tool: killing Indians with impunity not only taught settlers that it was acceptable, it also illustrated to other Indians what was in store for them if they didn’t clear out (Madley 2016). Americans were coming to California looking for land, and with the discovery of gold the floodgates opened and people from all over the world rushed in. For our purposes, we will focus only one one massacre that occurred in California: the Bloody Island Massacre of 1849.
North of Sonoma Valley, two settlers, Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey, began grazing herds of cattle on some of General Vallejo’s land near Clear Lake. Through Mexican law, any indigenous people who occupied the land on which settlers (or those who purchased or were granted the land–it is unclear if Kelsey or Stone actually purchased the land from Vallejo) grazed their herds became property of the landowner. In 1847, by setting 15,000 cattle to roam on the General’s land, Kelsey and Stone became owners of several Lake Pomo and Wappo people. To enforce obedience a large fence was built surrounding part of the rancho and those who were caught trying to escape were tortured and beaten (Madley 2016). Years of violent treatment, rape of women and girls, inadequate rations, and murder at the hands of Stone and Kelsey prompted a small group of Pomo men to kill the two men in the winter of 1849. This led at first to a vigilante response and inspired groups of men to travel to the rancho to exact revenge for their fallen brethren, but culminated in a United States military response in 1850. Although there are no confirmed number of deaths during these campaigns, Madley believes that in that massacre alone anywhere between 60-800 Pomo were killed. After this slaughter, the US First Dragoons led by Captain Lyons continued north towards Mendocino, where they encountered other tribes considered guilty, though whether of the killing of Stone and Kelsey or simply of being Indian is debatable.
Now that we know all of this information about the colonial pressures that are a part of forming California and the Bay Area as it is now, let’s watch a 2016 video that tries to explain the Gold Rush. While short, they manage to brush off the importance or knowledge of just how populated California was prior to colonization. Obviously other videos exist out there that go more in depth and acknowledge the natives, videos like this are usually designed to grab the attention of those short on time, but still want important information.
Thought Monkey. “The California Gold Rush in 3 Minutes.” Youtube video, 3:15. January 16, 2016. “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Wr1tMs5F0”