Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review: An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 (The Lamar Series in Western History)

Buy this book for your Library
An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 (The Lamar Series in Western History)by Benjamin Madley is a book that should be in every library in the US.  This book covers an essential history that has heretofore been neglected save for a few works such as Murder State.

  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Hardcover: 712 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 24, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181364
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches

The book covers the history of the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the state of California from 1846-1873.  During this time, the book traces the beginnings of the genocide from scattered massacres to full scale state and federally sponsored militia and military massacre campaigns.  The sheer brutality and callousness against the indigenous people of California is stunning and hard to read.
CA Indian Population 1845-1880 Genocide in Numbers
This book shows how the pattern of forcing Indians from their home hunting grounds and by the removal of game due to large numbers of immigrants--beginning during the Gold Rush.  The indians then could not feed themselves, so they stole cattle from White ranchers.  The White ranchers would then raise a posse, or a militia force to go "teach the indians a lesson."  The lesson would entail murdering every man, woman and child of the first indigenous village happened upon.  No matter if they were 'guilty' or not.

Vigilantes were supported by the local government and the state. 
 The combination of vigilante massacres with state sponsored militia killing campaigns and the military murder expeditions was lethal and decimated the Californian Indian population.  The Indians had nowhere to hide except high in the mountains, where there was little food.  This forced them to steal from White people, which led to more murder expeditions against them.  It was a cycle that was lethal and effective in 'eradicating' the indigenous people of California.

If you were lucky enough to survive a massacre, you would not have any food, clothing or shelter to help you live.  Many survivors died from exposure or starvation.  As I was reading this, I thought of Ishi--his story is heartbreaking.  You can read about it here: http://history.library.ucsf.edu/ishi.html.

The brutality of the immigrants is mind-boggling. 
The killing was relentless.  The Indians sometimes fought back and killed whites, which raised even more ire and retribution.  The murder unmerciful and was encouraged by California Newspapers.  These papers called for total annihilation of all Californian Indians.  

Slow death at the  reservation.
You may be thinking, "Why didn't the Indians just go to a reservation.  When Indians fled to reservations starved the Indians.  They didn't provide the promised supplies.  Many starved to death. 


This brought about the horrible choice of leaving the reservation and facing:

Enforced slavery.  There were vagrancy laws that stated an Indian had to prove they were not in debt to someone.  This entailed the possession of a certificate that stated they were not in debt.  If the Indian could not prove this, then they were arrested and put up for auction.  They were sold to someone for a period of time, usually years.  During this time they were charged for food and clothes and were never paid enough money to pay off this debt.  Therefore, they could never get their certificate of no debt.  They would be stuck in perpetual slavery.



Or

Being tracked down and murdered by a posse of citizens or a state sponsored militia.  After a theft, they would hunt down and kill any Indian they encountered.  They used this as a chance for "pedagogical violence."  Violence that would teach anyone who heard about it that they should not steal from White people or they would face utter annihilation or slavery.  They often collected scalps and brought them back as souvenirs.  Some local country stores had Indian scalps nailed to their walls well into the 20th century.


The state paid well for militiamen to track down and murder Indians in CA.  They they sought reimbursement from the the federal government.  The federal government paid for the genocide of California Indians and it paid well.  This pay, in itself, was a reason to form a militia and make some money.
State sponsored Genocide in CA.

Sometimes the children and women were kept alive, but sold into the california slave system.  Women were sold into sexual slavery and other forms of bondage.  Children were often sold to estates where they remained the rest of their lives as chattel.



Some Indians turned to gold mining when their territories were impinged upon. Once there was an influx of White immigrants into CA though, there wasn't enough for everyone and the White miners simply murdered the Indian miners and claim jumped their claims.

There is a timeline at the end of the book that tracks the murder of indigenous people in CA according to state historical record that includes body counts.  This is the most well-researched and comprehensive information on this subject to date.

US genocide has yet to be covered in any manner similar to the Holocaust in Europe.  The time is coming though.  The cat is out of the bag.

Other important books on this subject:

Churchill, W., & Mazal Holocaust Collection. (1997). A little matter of genocide: Holocaust and denial in the Americas, 1492 to the present. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Lindsay, B. C. (2015). Murder state: California's native american genocide 1846-1873. Place of publication not identified: Univ Of Nebraska Press.

Stannard, D. E. (1992). American holocaust: Columbus and the conquest of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press.

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