As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

"Indiscriminate Massacre of Indians: Women and Children Butchered."

The Northern Californian, Volume 2, Issue 9 February 29, 1860

by Bret Harte

"Our Indian troubles have reached a crisis. Today we record acts of Indian aggression and white retaliation. It is a humiliating fact that the parties who may be supposed to represent white civilization have committed the greater barbarity. But before we review the causes that have led to this crowning act of reckless desperation, let us remind the public at a distance from this savage-ridden district, that the secrecy of this indiscriminate massacre is an evidence of its disavowal and detestation of the community. The perpetrators are yet unknown.

The people of this county have been long-suffering and patient. They have had homes plundered, property destroyed, and the lives of friends sacrificed. The protection of a Federal force has been found inadequate and when volunteer forces have been raised and the captured savages placed on reservations, by some defective screw in the Federal machinery, they have escaped. They have returned to their old homes. Old outrages have been renewed. The friendly Indians about the Bay have been charged with conveying arms and ammunition to the mountain tribes and receiving slaughtered beef as a reward. A class of hard-working men who derive their subsistence by cattle raising have been the greatest sufferers, and if in the blind fury of retaliation they spare neither age or sex, though they cannot be excused a part of the blame should fall upon that government which places the responsibility of self-defense on the injured party. If your government says, virtually, 'Protect yourselves,' it cannot consistently find fault with the manner.

Justice demands that we should show thus much in explanation. We do not extenuate. If the deed was committed by responsible parties, we will give place to any argument that may be offered in justification. But we can conceive of no palliation for woman and child slaughter. We can conceive of no wrong that a babe's blood can atone for. Perhaps we do not rightly understand the doctrine of 'extermination.' How a human being, with the faculty of memory, who could recall his own mother's gray hairs, who could remember how he had been taught to respect age and decrepitude, who had ever looked upon a helpless infant with a father's eye - could with cruel, unpitying hand carry out the 'extermination' that his brain had conceived - who could smite the mother and a child so wantonly and cruelly - few men can understand. What amount of suffering it takes to make a man a babe-killer, is a question for future moralists. What will justify it, should be a question of present law.

It is the 'beginning of the end.' It will not be strange if these separate tribes are gathered into a burning focus on every trail. It will not be safe for the white man to travel alone. Every tree may hide some wretched and revengeful father. A spirit has been raised that nothing but blood will appease. An 'irrepressible conflict' is really here. Knowing this, was it policy to commence the work of extermination with the most peaceful? And what assistance can be expected from a Legislature already perplexed with doubts and suspicion, in the face of the bloody record we today publish?

A report was brought from Eureka on Sunday morning, that during the night nearly all the Indians camping on Indian Island, including women and children, were killed by parties unknown. A few loaded canoes bringing the dead bodies to Union on their way to Mad river, where some of the victims belonged, confirmed the report. But when the facts were generally known, it appeared that out of some sixty or seventy killed on the Island, at least fifty or sixty were women and children. Neither age or sex had been spared. Little children and old women were mercilessly stabbed and their skulls crushed with axes. When the bodies were landed at Union, a more shocking and revolting spectacle never was exhibited to the eyes of a Christian and civilized people. Old women, wrinkled and decrepit, lay weltering in blood, their brains dashed out and dabbled with their long gray hair. Infants scarce a span long, with their faces cloven with hatchets and their bodies ghastly with wounds. We gathered from the survivors that four or five white men attacked the ranches at about 4 o'clock in the morning, which statement is corroborated by people at Eureka who heard pistol shots at about that time, although no knowledge of the attack was public. With the Indians who lived on the Island, some thirty from the mouth of Mad river were staying, having attended a dance on the evening previous. They were all killed with the exception of some few who hid themselves during the massacre. No resistance was made, it is said, to the butchers who did the work, but as they ran or huddled together for protection like sheep, they were struck down with hatchets. Very little shooting was done, most of the bodies having wounds about the head. The bucks were mostly absent, which accounts for the predominance of female victims.

On Monday we received a statement from our Senior, at Eureka en route for San Francisco. He says: 'About 9 o'clock, I visited the Island, and there a horrible scene was presented. The bodies of 36 women and children, recently killed, lay in and near the several ranches - they were of all ages, from the child of but two or three years to the old skeleton squaw. From appearances, the most of them must have been killed with axes or hatchets - at the heads and bodies of many were gashed as with such an instrument. It was a sickening and pitiful sight. Some 5 or 6 were still alive and one old woman was able to talk, although dreadfully wounded. Dr. Lee, who visited them and dressed the wounds of those live, says that some will recover if properly cared for.' It is not generally known that more than three bucks were killed - though it is supposed there must have been 15 or 20. It is thought that the bodies of the men were taken away by Indians early this morning as four canoes were seen to leave the Island.

On the beach south of the entrance it is reported that from thirty to fifty were killed. It is also reported, that at Bucksport, all were killed that were there. I passed in sight of them about 11 o'clock and saw the ranches on fire. It is also said that the same has been done at the several ranches on Eel river.

No one seems to know who was engaged in this slaughter, but is supposed to have been men who have suffered from depredations so long on Eel river and vicinity. It is said that some jerked beef, about 100 lb., was found in one of the Indian ranches on Indian Island and on south beach. Indian Island is scarcely one mile from Eureka, the county seat of Humboldt county. With the exception of the conjectures that the Indians on the Island offer aid and assistance to the mountain Indians, they are peaceful and industrious, and seem to have perfect faith in the good will of the whites. Many of them are familiar to our citizens. 'Bill' of Mad river, a well known and rather intelligent fellow, has proven a faithful ally to the white men on several occasions and - has had his wife, mother, sister, two brothers and two little children, cruelly butchered by men of that race whom he had learned to respect and esteem.

Some of the victims lived a few hours after having been brought up to Union. A number of citizens visited the scene where the canoes were unloaded; and it is but justice to the community and simple humanity to say, that the general expression was one of deep sympathy with the miserable sufferers, and honest, deep and utter abhorrence of the act of wanton brutality, and its perpetrators."