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 While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
- Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Whose Manifest Destiny? The Federal
and the American Indians
During the era of Manifest Destiny, Indian people across the continent continued to be the object of stereotypes - savage men and women who had no legitimate rights to land - land they could not and would not tame for profit. Those stereotypes have been slow to diminish. As westernern novelist Larry McMurtry explains, "Thanks largely to the movies, the lies about the West are more potent than the truth" (New York Review of Books, "Broken Promises," 10/23/97, p. 16). We can really see how potent these stereotypes of Indians and the "Wild West" were in this short video, How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native Americans at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q
These stereotypes have also been perpetuated by our textbooks which tell us that Indians massacred good, strong, Protestant pioneers moving across land that was theirs for the taking. But similar to the stereotypes put forth by Hollywood, there are few facts to back this up. Indeed, during the 17 years of the largest westward movement - 1842-1859 - of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the Great Plains, less than 400 - or less than 0.1% - were killed by American Indians. (Loewen, Teaching What Really Happened, 2012: p. 69)
These stereotypes and inaccuracies - some historians call them outright lies - are key to our story about Manifest Destiny. Over the next two days, we will continue to address and deconstruct these stereotypes and lies.
Whose Manifest Destiny? The Federal
and the American Indian
- To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that
shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy.
- To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the
- To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.
- To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.
- To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860.
Goal #1: To study the attitudes and actions of European colonists that
shape the philosophical foundations of American Indian policy
In order to understand how American Indians were treated during the era of Manifest Destiny, we need to step back in time a bit - back into the colonial era. It was during the first 170 years of American history that the foundations for American Indian policies were laid.
During most of the colonial era, the British Crown dealt with the Indian tribes as foreign sovereign nations. How have we defined sovereignty in other discussions?
While the colonists recognized the political sovereignty of Indian nations, their relations with the Indians were guided by two attitudes that encouraged them to ignore the reality of Indian sovereignty.
- Intolerance. Most colonists were intolerant and fearful of
Indians whom they perceived to be a single, standard, homogeneous, and
heathen Indian nation - and as such, a threat to white progress,
and most importantly - Christianity.
- Such intolerance was not simply rooted in racism. Indeed, initially colonists were
fearful of the sin that accounted for their "degenerate conditions" than their racial differences.
- As the Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote, "probably the Devil" had
these "miserable savages" to America, "in hopes that the gospel of the
Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his
empire over them." (As quoted in Henretta, et.al., America's
- Belief in the superiority of Christianity and Western civilization over
non-Christian, non-Western peoples.
- During the medieval Crusades, Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) decreed that
Europeans had a divine mandate to protect the spiritual well-being of
people, including non-believing infidels. Thus, Christians
the "right of conquest" - the natural, God-given right of
to conquer and then assume sovereignty over non-Christian peoples
- This belief was modified by Pope Alexander IV (1492-1503) in response
Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas. The "doctrine
discovery" claimed that any Christian European discovery of territory
by non-believers gave Christians title to the land.
- Under Elizabeth (1558-1603), the British added a new twist to the both
the rights of conquest and discovery: indigenous peoples could be
conquered in order to "counter the odious religious and economic
that the Spanish were spreading in the "New World" - Catholicism
and the failure to fully utilize the profitable and primarily
nature of the land.
These attitudes help to shape four colonial policies to deal with the Indian Nations:
- Pre-emption/Dispossession. Using the Doctrine of Discovery, referred to as pre-emption in colonial times, the colonists claimed that they held title to all Indian land and that the Indians only had the right to occupy the land. Should Indians decide to sell their land, they could only sell it to the colonial conquerers.
- Removal. But dispossession did not rid the colonists of the
Indian "problem." American Indians, they argued, needed to be
from their land and relocated elsewhere. As this map indicates, the Delaware Nation (Lenape) were removed from their traditional homeland in Pennsylvania as early as 1682 and by 1750, were mostly settled in Ohio. Once the United States came into being, they were removed several more times.
- Assimilation. Wherever Indians lived, it was necessary for
them to assimilate into American society - to adopt the characteristics of white Americans by accepting Christianity, as
well as European culture and tradition.
- Elimination. But what if Indians did not want to willingly
give up their land or assimilate? According to the historical
of Christianity, the colonists had the right to wage a "just war"
those who would not accept God's law or those who used violence
against God's "elected" governors. One of the first
such "just wars" began on March 22, 1622, when the Algonquin Indians,
indigenous residents of what the English settlers called Jamestown,
the residents and killed 347 settlers in retribution for European
upon their lands.
Thereafter, the colonial governor set the policy for dealing
American Indians with this pronouncement: "It is infinitely
to have no heathen among us, who were but as thorns in our sides, than
to be at peace and league with them." (As quoted in Utley
Washburn, 1977:17.) The colonists had tried to convince the
to barter for land. But when the Indians refused, and finally
they violated all natural laws and thereafter, possessed no rights
the English must respect - not even the right to life.
the colonists set about eliminating the natives from the entire
area. By January 1623, the Virginia Council of State proudly reported
more Indians had been killed in the previous year since the beginning
By the middle of the 1700s, the British Crown gradually reinterpreted the nature of tribal sovereignty. As individual colonists continually encroached upon Indian lands, the British Crown assumed a protectorate position - arguing that the King must protect the tribes against colonial excesses and injustice. Thus, in 1755, the British government assumed direct responsibility for Indian affairs.
- The British were worried about the French who continued to gain the loyalty of frontier tribes. So British representatives recruited tribes to fight on the British side during the French and Indian War.
- At the War's end, the British adopted the first formal policy directed at protecting the Indians - The Proclamation of 1763 which established a western boundary along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains across which white settlers could not cross. As such, it provided a boundary that distinguished "Indian Country" from non-Indian country.
By the end of the colonial era, then, intolerance and Christian superiority guided colonial attitudes. In turn, the King adopted a protectionist attitude toward the American Indians. As we shall see, these attitudes helped to shape the Indian policies of the newly-created United States government.
Goal #2: To examine relevant federal policies through the end of the
After the colonists won independence from England, the newly-created United States government immediately claimed ownership of all Indian lands west of the Appalachians - land that had been designated as Indian Country (shown in red on the map) by the King's Proclamation Line of 1763. Americans justified taking this land because the Indians who had fought with the French during the French and Indian War had lost the war, and subsequently, also lost their land.
Within seven years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the new American government created three distinct policies that determined how the Americans would deal with Indians in what had since 1763 been known as Indian Country: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790.
- 1787 - The Northwest Ordinance proclaimed that the federal government would observe "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their land and property shall never be taken without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed" except "in just and lawful wars authorized by
- "Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, the
Constitution declares that Congress has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
- What the Constitution says is that there are three entities that possess sovereign status in the eyes of the U.S. - foreign nations, states, and Indian nations. Under the Constitution, then, Indian nations had the same relationship with the U.S. as foreign nations. All relations between the U.S. and Indian Nations, then, must be conducted through treaties.
- Further, according the Robert Miller, the Constitution in the clause invokes the Doctrine of Discovery by again claiming that Indian tribes can only make treaties - sell or give their land - with the federal government, their legitimate conquerer.
- 1790 - Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. This
Act placed nearly all interaction between Indians and non-Indians under
federal - not state - control, as well as:
- established the boundaries of Indian country,
- protected Indian lands against non-Indian aggression,
- subjected trading with Indians to federal regulation, and
- stipulated that injuries against Indians by non-Indians was a federal
- The conduct of Indians among themselves while in Indian country was
entirely to the tribes. These Acts were renewed periodically until 1834.
In 1824, the Indian Intercourse Act was amended. In this act, Congress created
Territory in the west that included the land area in all of present-day
Kansas, most of Oklahoma, and parts of what later became Nebraska,
and Wyoming. The area was set aside for Indians who were to be removed
from their ancestral lands which, in turn, would be settled by
The area steadily decreased in size as the maps below of 1834, 1854, 1876, and 1889 indicate.
Thus, the legal and geographical nature of Indian Country changed dramatically in the Nineteenth Century. As the maps above indicate, Indian people saw their lands greatly diminished between 1763 and 1889:
- Indian Country was originally designated in 1793 under the King's Proclamation Line.
- The boundaries moved west of the Mississippi under the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834.
- By 1876, with the admission of Kansas and Nebraska to the Union, Indian Country had shrunk to what is now the state of Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle.
- By 1889 after the passage and initial implementation of General Allotment Act and the creation of Oklahoma Territory, Indian Country had shrunk to its final form.
From the very beginning of the US government, Indian policies have been contradictory - in writing, most aimed to act in good faith toward the Indians, but in practice, these policies endorsed actions most beneficial to the non-Indian population.
Indeed, because Indian nations were legally recognized as sovereign, the federal government immediately faced what soon became known to non-Indians as the "Indian problem" - while European Americans wanted to move westward and conquer all the land to the Pacific Ocean, it was clear that the hundreds of sovereign Indian nations were not going to willingly or voluntarily give up their land.
Consequently, the United States government took two steps:
- signing hundreds of treaties with Indian nations, treaties which in turn were bolstered by a series of US Supreme Court Decisions; and
- passing hundreds of laws designed to define relations between the federal government and Indian nations.
Treaties and Supreme Court Decisions
Treaties are legal, government-to-government agreements between two legitimate governments - in this case, the United States and an Indian nation. When an Indian nation signed a treaty, it agreed to give the federal government some or all of its land as well as some or all of its sovereign powers. In return, the federal government entered into a trust responsibility with the Indian Nation in which the federal government promised that in exchange for their land, it would:
represent the best interests of the tribe;
protect the safety and well-being of tribal members; and
fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments.
Treaties were not the only legal entities that defined the federal relationship with Indian Nations. As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court also assumed that role. In what is known as the Marshall Trilogy, the Supreme Court established the doctrinal basis for interpreting federal Indian law and defining tribal sovereignty.
Johnson v. McIntosh (1823). This case involved the validity
of two conflicting
land claims sold by an Indian nation to two white men in 1773 and 1775. The
Court held that while the Indians had the right to "occupy" the
tribes had no power to grant lands to anyone other than the federal
The federal government, in turn, held title to all Indian lands based
the "doctrine of discovery." Thus, the right of Indians to
was limited as European Americans had exclusive title to the land which
they had "discovered."
- Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). The Cherokee Nation sued
the State of Georgia for passing laws and enacting policies that
their sovereignty and were forbidden in the Constitution. The
ruled that Indian were neither US citizens, nor independent nations,
rather were "domestic dependent nations" whose relationship to the US
that of a ward to his guardian." Thus, Indian nations did not
all the attributes of sovereignty that the word "nation" usually
This ruling set a legal basis for the trust
- Worcester v. Georgia (1832). A missionary from
was working on Cherokee territory sued the State of Georgia which had
arrested him, claiming that the state had no authority over him within
the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. The Court ruled in
favor, holding that state laws did not extend to Indian country, and
clarifying that Indian Nations were under protection of the federal
Congress, therefore, had plenary, or overriding power over all Indian
Thus, beginning with Johnson v. McIntosh, the Supreme Court produced two competing theories of tribal sovereignty:
- the tribes have inherent powers of sovereignty that predate the "discovery" of America by Columbus; and
- the tribes have only those attributes of sovereignty that Congress gives them.
Over the years, the Court has relied on one or the other of these theories in deciding tribal sovereignty cases. Whichever theory the Court favored in a given case largely determined the powers the tribe had and what protections they received against federal and state government encroachment.
The Marshall Trilogy cases bolstered the federal land-taking powers of the 371 treaties that were ratified by the U.S. until 1868. Indians during the era of Manifest Destiny were relegated to a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by paternalistic trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government and its courts. By 1871, that paternalistic trust was clearly-articulated by Congress when it decided to end all government-to-government treaties with Indian nations. No longer would Indians have any negotiating power or say about their treatment at the hands of the US government. Thereafter, such determinations would be made as Congress passed various federal policies and laws. And in so doing, the federal government's trust responisibility began to erode.
Federal Indian Policies and Laws
The loss of Indian Country was just one of several legal ways that Indian sovereignty was diminished during the 19th Century. As Euro-Americans moved westward, they began to demand access to more territory - the vast majority of which was occupied by American Indians. Thus, from 1830 throughout the remainder of the Nineteenth Century, the federal government responded with five policies that aimed to open up Indian land to white settlement: removal, reservations, allotment boarding schools, and elimination. The federal implementation of each policy further eroded Indian sovereigny.
- Removal. By the early 1830s, about 80,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw,and Seminole Nations lived on land that many Americans felt could be more profitably farmed and settled by non-Indians. But all five nations had signed treaties with the federal government guaranteeing the right to live in their ancestral lands and maintain their sovereign systems of tribal government. Not surprisingly, these nations were unwilling to give up their land and to negotiate new treaties with the federal government that would give away any of their territory.
- President Andrew Jackson decided that a new federal policy would be necessary in order to remove the Indians from their lands. Thus, he supported the Removal Act of 1830 which gave the President the right to make land "exchanges" by forcibly removing the five tribes from their ancestral lands against their will. Consequently, over the next several decades, more than 40 tribes were removed to Indian Country - the area that now comprises the state of Oklahoma.
- President Jackson rationalized the removal program as a benevolent effort that gave the Indians one last chance to assimilate and give up their culture. In his address to Congress of December 1833, Jackson told American law makers the following:
"Surrounded by our settlements, these Indians have neither
the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits nor the desire of
which are essential to any favorable change in their condition.
in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating
causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must
yield to the force of circumstance and ere long disappear." ( President Andrew Jackson, Message to Congress,
- More than 40 tribes were removed to the area that came to be known as Indian Territory - the area that now comprises the state of Oklahoma. Between 1830 and 1840, somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Indians living in the East were forcibly resettled by the US Army. While the removal policy helped to alleviate the immediate "Indian problem," as more and more Americans continued to move westward they found many other Indian tribes living in freedom throughout the continent.
Because these Indians prevented non-Indians from settling in many desirable areas, and because many white settlers did not feel safe living amidst the Indian "danger," another new policy was created to deal with the Indians.
This time, Indians would be confined to a land reserved exclusively for their own use - areas that came to be called reservations.
- Reservations. The men who created the reservation system believed that if Indians could be confined to one particular geographical place reserved for them, they could become 'civilized" and assimilated into American life and transformed into good Christian farmers. They could be encouraged to stop being Indians and to become like white men. Thus, the reservations were to make sure the remaining tribes were converted to Christianity; taught English, sewing, and small-scale farming; and ultimately, to be Americanized.
Allotment. Many Americans believed that Indians would never become Americanized as long as they lived in large reservation communities in which they celebrated their cultural and spiritual traditions and owned land communally.
Further, American policy makers believed that the reservation did not give the Indian an incentive to improve his or her situation.
So, the federal government's new policy was designed to detribalize the Indian by destroying the idea of communal land ownership on the reservations. This policy became law under the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 - the federal government's first, large-scale, official attempt to allot all remaining Indian land. The important provisions of the Act were:
- Within reservation borders, Indians were not permitted to leave, except by permission. Those who left were arrested and severely punished. As a former BIA director proclaimed, Indians were like "children" who dislike school and preferred to "play truant at pleasure." "I used to have to be whipped myself to get me to school and keep me there, yet I always liked to study when once within the school-room walls. (Francis Walker, as quoted in Takaki, 233-34).
- Indian Agents enforced federal policies on the reservations. They, in turn, were assisted by clerks, doctors, field matrons, farmers, teachers, and blacksmiths - mostly white people who worked on the reservations.
- Additionally, they were helped by the reservation police and Courts of Indian Offenses which were staffed by Indians. Their role was to suppress tribal culture and traditional activities. Thus, the government embarked upon an avenue of divide and conquer.
- Although treaties were the primary method for creating reservations, Congress suspended formal treaty making in 1871. Thereafter, executive order, congressional acts, or any legal combination recognized by the federal government were used to establish federal reservations. By the end of the 19th Century, 56 of 162 federal reservations had been established by executive order. After 1919, only an act of Congress could establish reservations.
- While some Indians adjusted to life on the reservation, the vast majority did not become more like the white man. Indeed, most fought to maintain their Indian culture and traditions. While the reservation system continued to grow and resulted in the loss of even more territory (as seen at the right in the map of Indian Reservations in the 20th Century), it was clear that all Indians were not going to be confined to reservations and that the vast majority were not going to become Americanized.
- Thus, arose the necesssity for another new federal policy - allotment.
Boarding Schools. At the same time that the Dawes Act was being conceptualized, American policy makers were also experimenting with a new assimilation policy. Some reasoned that for Indians to really become assimilated, Indian children would have to be taken from their tribal environment and reeducated. Thus it was that in 1879, a former Indian fighter, Colonel Richard Pratt, created the first large Indian boarding school in the nation - the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania - dedicated to totally Americanizing Indian children.
- a head of family would receive a grant of 160 acres, a single person or orphan under 18 years of age would receive a grant of 80 acres, and persons under the age of 18 would receive 40 acres each;
- the allotments would be held in trust by the U.S. Government for 25 years;
- eligible Indians had four years to select their land but afterwards the selection would be made for them by the Secretary of the Interior;
- U.S. citizenship would be conferred upon allotees who abandoned their tribes and adopted "the habits of civilized life."
- All land not alloted reverted to the control of the U.S. government and could be sold. Consequently, land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1934. This map illustrates the devastating loss of Indian land between 1775 and 1894. The Dawes Act further diminished the 1894 Indian land another 60 percent.
- Within a few years, federal authorities forced Indian parents to either send their children to an off-reservation boarding school such as Carlisle, or to boarding schools established in remote areas of Indian reservations. The boarding school had become the primary tool of assimilationists. And what awaited the Indian children upon their arrival? We know from many first-hand accounts that the teachers spent the first few days forcing the children to discard their Indian ways and adopt American ways.
Elimination. The rationale for eliminating Indians grew out of a belief that Indian resistance was equivalent to a declaration of war against the US. Using such a rationale, in the late 1800s the US Army declared war upon several tribes, began eliminating resisters, and sought to absolutely subjugate any survivors. But war was hardly a last resort nor was it something used only at the end of the nineteenth century.
- Children were forbidden to speak their native language, often under threat of physical punishment.
- Their long hair was clipped to the skull, sometimes as part of a public ritual in which the child was forced to renounce his or her Indian origins.
- Their loose-fitting clothing and moccasins were taken away and burned. Boys were then given military uniforms and girls were forced to wear tight-fitting, Victorian-style dresses.
- They were told never to use their Indian names and were given an American name instead.
- They were forbidden to practice any cultural or religious rituals, usually under threat of punishment, and were instead told that they would be expected to become devoted Christians.
- Once the rules were clear, then children became involved in the daily routine which was defined by military drill and structure. Children attended school one half of each day, and the other half was spent in training for several skills - mechanics, printing, and agriculture.
- The results of the boarding schools policy were catastrophic for American Indians:
- Indians suffered enormous loss of their cultures and languages.
- Indian family life was greatly disrupted by forcing Indian children to attend boarding schools.
- Many Indian children were neither accepted into American society, nor were they able to comfortably resettle into traditional Indian society.
- A review of official miliary records, some of which are incomplete, shows that from 1776 to 1907, the US Army was involved in 1,470 official actions against Indians. These figures do not include actions against the Indians undertaken by either the US Navy - of which there were probably dozens - or the hundreds of hostile actions undertaken by private armies against American Indians.
- The vast majority of military Indian fighting under the auspices of the US government did occur between 1866 and 1891. According to official records for this 25-year period, the Army was involved in 1,065 combat engagements with Indians. In total, 948 soldiers were killed and another 1,058 wounded, as well as 4,371 Indians who were killed and another 1,279 who were wounded.
By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the American Indian population had been dramatically reduced, not only due to the policies adopted by the US government, but also due to disease and malnutrition - both of which had been byproducts of Indian contact with European Americans and American federal policy
- The American Indian population - estimated to have been between 6-10 million prior to European contact - was only about 250,000 at the turn of the century.
- Indian land ownership had dramatically declined. After allotment provisions of the Dawes Act, these lands were further reduced by almost two-thirds - from 138 million acres of land in 1890 to 48 million acres by 1934.
- Indians in all nations had been reduced to membership within a domestic dependent semi-sovereign nation under the paternalistic tutelage of the US government.
Many people have called the culmination of these federal policies an act of genocide.
Do any of these federal policies and acts constitute genocide? In 1944, the word genocide was created from the Greek word "genos" meaning race - plus "cide" from Latin "cidium" meaning to kill or an act of killing. In 1948, the U.N. adopted its definition - that genocide involves actions committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, or economic group. Such actions against a group include:
- killing its members;
- causing serious bodily or mental harm to members;
- deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the groups’ physical destruction in whole or in part;
- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
- forcibly transferring its children to another group.
Cultural genocide occurs when governments officially sanction the removal and/or repression of a particular group and subsequently eliminates and/or weakens parts of that group.
Goal #3: To learn about the opposition to Indian Removal.
Until very recently, historians generally believed there was little to no opposition to one of the federal government's Indian policies - removal. However, in the late 1990s an historian named Mary Hershberger published and article in the Journal of American History in which she wrote not only of opposition to the Indian Removal Act, but also about the key role women played in opposing the Act. This is what happened:
- After the Indian Removal Act was officially introduced to Congress in late 1829, Catherine Beecher began circulating a "Ladies Circular" petition to mobilize opposition to the Act and influence congressmen and senators. She is soon joined by her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose experience in opposition to removal lead to her involvment in the abolitionist movement and eventually to her authorship of one of the most important anti-slavery books every written, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- Martin Van Buren's niece was one of many well-known women who became politicized during the fight against Indian removal. In 1832 when Andrew Jackson runs again for President with Van Buren as his vice-president, she told her uncle and the president that she hoped they lost the election due to Jackson's stand on Indian removal.
- Many women were opposed, especially those from New England who did not want to see fellow Christians lose their land, Christian missionaries who had worked among the Indians and knew them to be civilized, and abolitionists who did not want to see American Indian land converted into slave country.
- Largely due to women publishing articles and circulating petitions like the one to the left opposing the Act in 1830, opposition to removal began to gather steam. Historians have estimated that the number of oppositional articles, essays, and pamphlets that were printed and reprinted is estimated to have reached over half a million readers.
Although the women were not able to stop the passage of the Indian Removal Act - which was passed in the House by a narrow vote of 102-97 and by the Senate with a vote of 28-19 - many women became politicized and empowered by their efforts. It will be many of these very same women who will come together 18 years later at The Seneca Falls Convention which began the American Women's Rights Movement.
Women were not the only Americans who opposed the Act. Many Christian missionaries, including the well-respected Jeremiah Evarts, also objected to passage of the Act. Future United States President Abraham Lincoln strongly opposed it, as did Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee who vocally spoke out against the Act. The Act was ultimately passed only after strong and bitter debate in Congress during which opponents argued that the rights of Indian nations and the honor of the US were more important than U.S. expansion.
That this debate spoke to a large audience is indicated by Martin Van Buren, who wrote regarding the struggle: "(this issue) will in all probability endure...as
long as the government itself, and will in time, (continue to) occupy the minds and feelings of our people."
The debate over Indian Removal should be familar by now as it brought into focus a number of conflicting views on how the U.S. was to grow. Which principles should Americans use to guide the development of this republic. Thus, both extraordinary and ordinary women and men raised the same questions that Sam Haynes tells us were debated 16 years later during the Mexican American War: "Is the U.S. going to be a good nation or is it going to become a great nation? Is it going to become a nation that will protect the sovereignty of neighboring nation states, or a nation that will aggressively pursue its own self interests?" ( James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse.)
Goal #4 - To understand California's "Indian Problem" and the conflicting white interpretation of how to handle this problem.
By 1848 - just before gold was discovered in California - somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Indians and less than 2,000 white people lived in California. Later that year when gold was discovered, the population mix began a dramatic alteration.
By the time California became a state in 1850, California Indians were a minority and a "problem" for the newly-migrated Californians. For the next decade, the "problem" of what to do with California's Indian population was tackled by the new state government and the people of California, as well as the federal government. But each of these stakeholders had various and conflicting interpretations of how to handle the "Indian problem."
- The State of California wanted to:
- protect white settlers and miners from Indian attack,
- protect white property from Indian loss or attack, and
- regulate Indians as a labor force
- California citizens wanted the Indians removed from Northern California as quickly as possible.
- The Federal government was bound by its trust responsibility to Indian Nations throughout the United States to maintain some degree of safety and well-being among the Indian People of California.
During its first ten years as a state, California neither recognized Indians as citizens with civil rights, nor did it treat Indians as sovereign people.
As soon as the state government was created, the new legislators - those men largely ruled by pro-slavery and pro-southern sentiments - passed a series of legislative acts that legally did the following
- Legalized Indian slavery by allowing whites to obtain control over Indian children especially through kidnapping, to contract for Indian services, to outlaw Indian vagrancy.
- Denied Indians equal protection under the law by forbidding Indians to defend themselves in a court of law, describing the only type of life acceptable via Euro-American customs, allowing the courts to contract Indians out as servants.
- Pomoted vigilante justice by empowering and funding militias.
Examples of such Legislation:
- In 1850, California's first legislature passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians - which wrote the following into law.
- Indians could not testify against whites.
- Landowners could not permit Indians who were peaceably residing on their land to continue to do so.
- Whites would be able to obtain control over Indian children.
- If any Indian ws convicted of a crime, any white person could come before the court and contract for the Indian's service.
- It was illegal to sell or administer alcohol to Indians.
- Indians convicted of stealing a horse, mule, cow, or any other valuable could receive any number of lashes not to exceed 25, and fines not to exceed $200.
- Any Indian found strolling, loitering where alchohol was sold, begging, or leading a "profligate course of life" would be liable to arrest.
- California passed a law in 1854 "making it a crime to disinter, mutilate or remove the body of any deceased person" - but Indian bodies were understood to be exempt from the law. This begins a period of Indian grave robbing that does not end until federal legislation is passed in the late 20th Century that specifically makes this practice illegal.
- In 1860, California passed an amendment to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians [Approved April 18, 1860.] In essence, this amendment declared that Indians who were not already indentured/enslaved could be kidnapped.
What were the goals of such legislation?
- Promote Indian slavery. Californians interpreted the 1850 law in such a way that all Indians, including children, faced indentured servitude through a simple procedure of arrest and "hiring out" through any local justice-of-the-peace. Once they were indentured, the term limitation was almost always ignored, thus resulting in slavery.
- The result was a profitable slave trade in Indian men, women, and children throughout Northern California. Children were readily bought and sold, for household work; and women were purchased for both household work and sexual liaisons.
- Another practice occurred when officials picked up Indians as vagrants. These officials would then turn the Indians over to the ranchers and other people who needed laborers. After four months, the employer would return the Indians to the city, usually to a place where alcohol was served. Shortly after their return, the Indians would be picked up once again as vagrants, and returned to the labor force.
- In 1860, the Act was amended to allow for any Indian not already indentured to be kidnapped.
- Deny Indians equal protection under the law by forbidding Indians to defend themselves in a court of law, describing the only type of life acceptable via Euro-American customs, allowing the courts to contract Indians out as servants.
- Under the 1850 Act, article 6 states that "in no case shall a white man be convicted of any offence upon the testimony of an Indian." This clearly is denial of equal protection - the belief that Indians did not deserve equal protection under the law in the land they had occupied for generations, or justice in the case of murder or abuse.
- Enslaving Indians and denying them equal protection became illegal in 1866, when, to comply with the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, the State Legislature repealed the law.
- The 14th Amendment provides that no state should infringe on any citizen's "privileges or immunities" nor "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," nor deny to any person "the equal protection of the law."
- But all this did was remove the legal barriers. Persons who were already enslaved were not immediately released, nor was the law adequately enforced until the end of the century.
- It was not until 1872 that the California Constitution was amended to allow Indians to testify in courts of law.
- Pomote vigilante justice by empowering and funding militias. In 1850 with the first California constitution, Article VII gave the Governor the power "to call for the militia, to execute the laws of the State, to suppress insurrections, and repel invasions." In his annual address to the California Legislature on Jan. 7, 1851, Governor Burnett highlighted significant events of 1850, including "repeated calls ... upon the Executive for the aid of the militia to resist and punish the attacks of the Indians upon the frontier." During 1850, Governor Burnett called out the militia two times. Additionally ...
- In April 1850, the California Legislature enacted two laws: An Act concerning Volunteer or Independent Companies, and An Act concerning the organization of the Militia.
- The Volunteer Act provided that citizens of any one county could:
organize into a volunteer or independent company;
arm and equip themselves in the same manner as the army of the United States;
prepare muster rolls (attendance records) twice a year; and
render prompt assistance and full obedience when summoned or commanded under the law. This is a copy of discharge papers from one of the Trinity Rangers.
- The lengthy Militia Act established that all "free, white, able-bodied male citizens, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, residing in [the] State" were subject to state-mandated military duty.
- In 1851, the legislature set the rates of pay for the troops - $1,100,000 for the "suppression" of Indian hostilities.
- In 1857, the Legislature issued bonds for $410,000 for the same purpose.
- Both of the 1850 acts were repealed and replaced in 1855 and amended in 1856 and 1857 - but neither repealed the militia nor the money provided to militias. In 1866, the National Guard replaced militias in this capacity.
Studies conducted in the late 20th Century of the California archives found that while it was impossible to determine exactly the total number of units and men engaged in militia attacks against the California Indians during the period of 1850 to 1859, the official record verifies that the governors of California called out the militia on "Expeditions against the Indians" on a number of occasions, and at considerable expense - $843,573.48. (Comptroller of the State of California, Expenditures for Military Expeditions Against Indians, 1851-1859, Sacramento: The Comptroller, Secretary of State, California State Archives, Located at "Roster" Comptroller No. 574, Vault, Bin 393.)
Goal #5: To chronologically examine the massacre at Indian Island in Eureka, California on February 16, 1860
1500-2000 Wiyot people lived in their ancestral territory that included
the current tows of McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Arcata, Eureka, Kneeland,
Loleta, Fortuna, Ferndale, and Rohnerville. Indian Island was and
remains the center of the Wiyot People’s world. It is home to the
ancient village of Tuluwat and the traditional site of the World
Renewal Ceremony held annually to welcome the new year. The
ceremony lasted between 7-10 days and began with the men leaving the
island and returning the next day with the needed supplies. The
elders, women, and children remained behind. The ground beneath Tuluwat village is an enormous clamshell mound (or midden). This mound, measuring over six acres in size and estimated to be over 1,000 years old, is an irreplaceable physical history of the Wiyot way of life. Contained within it are remains of meals, tools, and ceremonies, as well as many burial sites.
1850. The town of Eureka
was founded by a group of miners who needed a more convenient route to
the overland trail from Sacramento the California gold fields.
Shortly thereafter, Humboldt Bay became the busiest port between San
Francisco and Portland. As Eureka’s population and economy grew,
its white residents became increasingly uneasy about local Indians whom
ranchers blamed for thefts and cattle loss. Merchants began to
see Indian villages that thrived along the Bay as a direct threat to
their growing trade.
1860. An army officer at Fort Humboldt observed, "Cold-blooded Indian killing being considered honorable, shooting Indians and murdering even squaws and children that have been domesticated for months and years, without a moment's warning and with as little compunction as they would rid themselves of a dog." An editorial in the Humboldt Times opined, "The whites cannot afford horses and cattle for their [Indian] sustenance, and will not. Ergo, unless Government provides for the Indians, the settlers must exterminate them."
In early February, the Humboldt Volunteer Militia was created, two years after Humboldt citizens sent the following letter to the governor:
"It has now been two months since the Indians in this vicinity started in open hostility to us, though so far they have confined their operations to the trail connecting this County to Weaverville. This being our direct channel of communication with the Sacramento Valley, and a trail over which the United States Mail must pass once a week, it is of the utmost importance that it should be kept open. The Indians on this trail first manifested their hostility to us by shooting a man who was traveling alone. We supposed that a few men would be sufficient to punish the Indians and make them ask for peace, and accordingly, a party was organized, provided for by private means and sent in search of the hostiles. After trailing the Indians for several days, they were attacked from ambush and one man was killed. In the meantime their camp which they had left unguarded was attacked, and ten mules were killed. This party consisted of only twelve men. Subsequently, another party of twenty-five men went out who were provisioned at a heavy private expense. In endeavoring to drive the Indians from the vicinity of the trails, they were fired upon in a deep canyon, and one man was killed, another wounded. The company has now disbanded, not feeling inclined to incur further danger and hardships at their own expense.
The trails are now closed, there being no travel over them except by night or in large parties. The question now is what is there to.be done? There are no troops here at the garrison and the people are not able to carry on a war at their own expense. The people of the county are of the opinion that if the militia could be called out, and arms furnished, the merchants would feel encouraged to furnish supplies, and wait for the State to pay. We can furnish the men if they can only be supplied."
On February 16, The Indian Island Massacre occured. A
group of white settlers armed with hatchets, clubs, and knives paddled
to Indian Island where Wiyot men, women, and children were sleeping
after a week of ceremonial dancing. Two other villages were
raided on the same night – one on the Eel River and another on the
South Spit. Somewhere between 80-100 people were killed on Indian
Island. A baby, Jerry James, was the only infant that survived
the massacre on the Island. Another 200-600 Wiyot were massacred
in the other raids.
Journalist Bret Harte published a front-page editorial in The Northern Californian in which he expresses horror over the massacre. Subsequently, he was run out of the county and moved to San Francisco.
After 1860. An estimated
200 Wiyot people still lived in the area. Federal troops
collected the surviving Wiyot people from other villages and confined
them to the Klamath River Reservation. After a disastrous flood
on the Klamath, the Wiyot were moved to the Smith River Reservation and
later to the Hoopa and Round Valley Reservations.
1870. A shipyard repair
facility was built on part of the Island and operated there until the
1980s. During that time, it dumped creosote, solvents, and other
chemicals that were used to maintain ships.
Late 19th Century.
Non-Indian settlers built dikes and channels on Indian Island that
changed tidal action along the shore and caused some erosion of the
Early 1900s. A church
group purchased 20 acres in the Eel River estuary for homeless Wiyot
people. This land later became known as the Table Bluff Rancheria
of Wiyot Indians.
1910. Under 100 full
blood Wiyot people were estimated to be living in Wiyot territory.
1913. Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber sent one of his staff members, Llewellyn Loud to Humboldt County to collect Indian human remains. Loud conducted most of his work at Indian Island. He recorded 24 skeletons existing in 22 graves that existed prior to the 1860 massacre.
1918. Loud published his report and thereafter, Indian Island became a popular site for local hobbyists and entrepreneurs to search for collectables and human remains.
1923. Eureka dentist, H. H. Stuart began extensive excavations of Indian graves at Indian Island. He eventually dug up 382 graves.
1960. The City of Eureka acquired ownership of most of Indian Island.
1961. Eureka High School teacher and collector of local history, Cecile Clarke received uanimous approval from the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors "to excavate and preserve relics of Indian tribes native to this region" on Indian Island.
1963-69. Clarke and her team excavated sites on Indian Island. It carried out radiocarbon dates tests confirming the site's original occupation as 880A.D.
1992. In February, the first
candlelight vigil was held to remember those who lost their lives in
the Massacre and to help the community heal. About 75 people
participated that year and by 1996, over 300 participated. The
Wiyot hope that at some point, the vigil can be held on Indian
Island which remains inaccessible to the Wiyot.
2001. The Wiyot Tribe
purchased 1.5 acres of Indian Island and began cleaning the debris and
pollutants left on the village site.
May 18, 2006. The Eureka
City County unanimously approved a resolution to return 60 acres,
comprising the northeastern tip, of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe. Some of the remaining Wiyot people lived on the 88-acre Table Bluff Reservation and 550 members were enrolled in the Wiyot nation.
February 28, 2009. The Wiyot Tribe had its 17th candlelight vigil
February 2010. The Wiyot Tribe commemorated the 150 year anniversary of the Indian Island Massacre.
"Whose Manifest Destiny? The
Federal Government and the Native Americans"
- By the end of the 19th Century:
- The Indian population had dramatically decreased. Over 10 million
native peoples lived in the US at the time of its birth; by 1900, less
than 225,000 people remained and the majority of tribes had dwindled to
the brink of extinction.
- All surviving Indians had been forced onto reservations or lived on
lands where they were expected to shed their "Indianness" and become
Christianized, and Anglicized.
- The self-sufficiency and ecological balance that characterized the
tribes at the time of European settlement had been destroyed.
the early 1800s forward, the Native Americans were forced into a
of economic dependency upon the US government.
- The majority of Indian tribal landholdings had passed into white
Between 1887 and 1934, tribal lands dwindled from 138 million acres to
48 million, 20 million of which were arid or semi-arid.
- The divide and conquer strategy had successfully divided the remaining
Indians living on reservations. Those Indians who were willing to
obey the government agents were assured that they would fare much
on reservations (the "good Indians") than those who continued to uphold
traditional Indian values, cultures, and spirituality (the "bad
- Nineteenth Century federal policies were directly
for the above consequences. Such policies, taken as a whole,
that the loss of 95% of a specific population of people over a 100-year
period was not inadvertent, nor was it an inevitable or unintended
of progress. Rather, these policies were the result of
decisions made by federal policymakers to officially remove the
- The Doctrine of Discovery - the Pope's international law declaring that White, Christian Europeans had the right to discover and conquer the land of heathens and that such people thereafter only had the right of occupation - was incorporated into colonial law, U.S. law, and then institutionalized through the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. McIntosh. Today the Doctrine of Discovery still governs the rights of Indian people who cannot sell, or lease , or develop their land without permission of the Department of Interior .
- Treaties - the legal, government-to-government agreements between
the United States and an Indian Nation - formed the original
of American Indian policy. In signing a treaty, a trust
was created in which the Indian nation agreed to give the federal
some or all of its land as well as some of its sovereign powers and, in
return, that relationship bound the United States to represent the best
interests of the tribe, protect the safety and well-being of tribal
and fulfill its treaty obligations and commitments.
- As early as 1823, the US Supreme Court began to reinterpret the
of Indian sovereignty and thereafter, produced two competing theories:
tribes have inherent powrs of sovereignty that predate the "discovery"
of America; and tribes only have the attributes of sovereignty that
gives them. The Supreme Court cases known as the Marshall Trilogy
gave Indians a kind of limited sovereignty that was to be governed by
trust and subject to the interpretation of the US government.
- The signing of treaties, the rendering of Supreme Court
and the passing of policies and laws gradually eroded the sovereignty
American Indian nations by seeking to achieve at least two specific
- eliminating the Indian threat to peaceful westward expansion; and
- attempting to destroy Indian cultural, spiritual, economic, and
traditions by assimilating Indians into American life.
- When considering the definition of cultural
- when a government officially sanctions the removal and/or repression
of a particular group that subsequently eliminates and/or weakens part
of that group - the actions of the federal government can be
genocidal in both intent and consequence.
- However, the genocidal policies failed to destroy them as a people, nor did they destroy their cultural
- Those who survived the first 200 years of
contact are the ancestors of a large Indian population in the US
Currently, over 500 federally-recognized nations exist in the United States, with an
recognized population of about 2 million people.
- Indians are not relics of some idealized past, but rather, are
of contemporary American society. As such, Native Americans must
be seen as participants in an ongoing shared experience of all
who are looking for a common discourse about how to coexist. If
in this light, the Anglo guilt about genocide can become less of a
reproach, and more a shared knowledge of lost opportunity - we had the
chance to create a harmonious coexistence, but gave it up in favor of
"progress." Today, however, we have another opportunity to enter
into a common dialog with Indian peoples as equals and as members of
own sovereign nations.