Published on February 25, 2013 by Carol
Extracted from Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians
By Kimberly Johnston-Dodds, California Research Bureau, California State Library, September 2002
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In 1860, the California Legislature created a Joint Special Committee on the Mendocino Indian War to investigate incidents of Indian stealing and killing of settlers’ stock, and alleged atrocities committed by whites against the Indians.
The Joint Special Committee traveled throughout Mendocino County and adjacent locations taking depositions and testimony of prominent settlers in the region. This testimony is part of the official public record, along with the committee’s majority and minority reports about the events.
O’Farrell, Dickinson, Maxon and Phelps were authors of the Majority Report. The following are excerpts of the majority’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
In Mendocino County…the Indians have committed extensive depredations on the stock of the settlers…The result has been that the citizens, for the purpose of protection to their property, have pursued the tribes supposed to be guilty to their mountain retreats, and in most cases have punished them severely. Repeated stealing and killing of stock, and an occasional murder of a white man, has caused a repetition of the attacks upon the offenders with the same results. The conflict still exists; Indians continue to kill cattle as a means of subsistence, and the settlers in retaliation punish with death. Many of the most respectable citizens of Mendocino County have testified before your committee that they kill Indians, found in what they consider the hostile districts, whenever they lose cattle or horses; nor do they attempt to conceal or deny this fact. Those citizens do not admit, nor does it appear by the evidence, that it is or has been their practice or intention to kill women or children, although some have fallen in the indiscriminate attacks of the Indian rancherias. The testimony shows that in the recent authorized expedition against the Indians in said county, the women and children were taken to the reservations, and also establishes the fact that in the private expeditions this rule was not observed, but that in one instance, an expedition was marked by the most horrid atrocity; but in justice to the citizens of Mendocino County, your committee say that the mass of the settlers look upon such act with the utmost abhorrence…
Accounts are daily coming in from the counties on the Coast Range, of sickening atrocities and wholesale slaughters of great numbers of defenseless Indians in that region of country. Within the last four months, more Indians have been killed by our people than during the century of Spanish and Mexican domination. For an evil of this magnitude, some one is responsible. Either our government, or our citizens, or both, are to blame…
The pre-existing laws and policy of Mexico, as to the status of the Indian, need not have interfered with the views to be taken by our government. Mexico protected the Indian, in her own way, much more effectually than we have done. The very land upon which the aborigines of this State have dwelt, as far back as traditions reach, has been allowed by our government to be occupied by settlers, who thus have the authority of law for a forced occupation of the Indian country. A natural, humane, and proper policy would have protected the Indian in his undeniable rights to the hunting grounds of his forefathers, and would have prevented our border men from entering into a conflict which has cost both lives and property…
Your committee do [sic] not think that the wrongs committed upon the Indians of California are chargeable alone to the Federal Government. The evidence appended to this report, disclose facts, from the contemplation of which the mind of peaceful citizens recoil with horror, and prompts the inquiry, if such outrages upon the defenseless are permitted by the proper authorities to go unpunished?
No provocation has been shown, if any could be, to justify such acts. We must admit that the wrong has been the portion of the Indian – the blame with his white brother.
The question resolves itself to this: Shall the Indians be exterminated, or shall they be protected? If the latter, that protection must come from the Federal Government, in the form of adequate appropriations of money and land; and secondly, from this State, by strictly enforcing penal statutes for any infringement upon the rights of Indians. In relation to the recent difficulty between the whites and Indians in Mendocino County, your committee desire to say that no war, or a necessity for a war, has existed, or at the present time does exist. We are unwilling to attempt to dignify, by the term “war” as slaughter of beings, who at least possess human form, and who make no resistance, and make no attacks, either on the person or residence of the citizen.
The authors of the Majority Report recommended that the California Legislature pass “a law for the better protection of the Indians of California.”