White Man’s Cattle, Red Man’s Game: Issues in the Mendocino War

Published on February 25, 2013 by Carol

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The following article originally appeared in the the November 24, 1952 issue of the Paul Bunyon News of Fort Bragg. It has not been edited to take into account modern sensitivities to California’s Native American population.

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As the white man’s civilization rolled westward, the American Indian was pushed further toward the setting sun until the Pacific Ocean ended further retreat. When the white men came into the state of California, either in covered wagon across the plains, or around the Horn, the California Indian was herded onto reservations. One of these was the Mendocino reservation on which the Nome Cult farm was located.

At this time, about 1858, there were 10,000 Indians in the country, of which only 3,200 consented to live as the white man directed. The remainder tried to continue life as it was before their conquerors came. The settlers erected fences and brought in cattle which caused the wild life to diminish, thus working a hardship on the Indian.

Mostly as a means of subsistence, the Indian began killing the settlers’ cattle. In many instances they killed for revenge against the usurpers. Each time the settlers came upon a dead cow, they blamed the Indians for the deed and would promptly raid an Indian rancheria, killing men, women and children, indiscriminately.

A private army of 40 men was organized under the command of Captain W.W. Jarboe of Ukiah, to punish the Indians. At this time there was a unit of the U.S. Army –the 6th Infantry–composed of 23 men and commanded by Lt. Edward Dillon, a 25 year old soldier. The unit was stationed in Round Valley. The settlers complained that the regular army protected the Indians and not the settlers. A bitter animosity existed between Dillon and the settlers.

Open warfare broke out between the settlers and the Indians. The redmen raided the white’s cattle and the whites killed any and Indians they suspected of killing cattle.

A special California house and senate committee was finally sent to Mendocino in 1860 to investigate what they called the “Mendocino War.” The committee under the chairmanship of J.B. Lamar, met in February 1860 at Storm’s Ranch in Round Valley to hear the settlers tell their story and to take depositions.

William Frazier, a 38 year old farmer of Long Valley, told the committee he and others raided an Indian village after hearing of cattle killing and that the redmen had some fresh killed beef at their rancheria.

“All the Indians fled when we came, but one,” he said. “We shot his head off.”

“Last December (1859) we organized a company of 40 men. I was elected Lieutenant. Two days later I led an expedition across Eel River between Long and Round Valleys and saw a fire of an Indian rancheria. We waited until sun up before attacking and killed 20 of them, including bucks, squaws and children and took two women and one child prisoner.

“A week later,” he continued, “we found two wounded bucks and one old squaw, all of whom we killed,” and on the way home saw more Indians, Charles S. Bournes, Round Valley rancher, continued the tale. He said: “The regular troops here were just a nuisance and never accomplished any good; they protected the Indians and not the settlers.”

William T. Scott of Scott Valley, told the committee he had never had any trouble with the Indians. He said that Jarboe’s orders were to kill all Indians seen. “I went with Jarboe once and came across two bucks collecting acorns in Eden Valley. We killed one, but the other got away.” In the statement Scott made, March 2, 1860 he said he had always treated the Indians kindly and never had any cattle killed by them.”

An employee of the Nome Cult farm, Lawrence Battaile, 36, testified that S.P. Storms and other settlers one day came out to the farm on the reservation on suspicion that some of the reservation Indians had been killing cattle.

The settlers, said Battaile, picked out 20 redmen, accused them of killing and started shooting them. Eight redmen were shot and five hung the rest managed to escape. Storms, 29, a rancher of Round Valley said over 500 Indians had been killed in the county in the three and a half years preceding.

When he was asked if many squaws were killed by the settlers, H.L. Hall, 25, refused to answer the committee’s question. “I think one squaw died from a bullet and all the squaws in one particular incident were killed before they would not travel. The infants were put out of their misery and one 10 year old girl was killed for being stubborn,” he said.

“I consider it dangerous for any white man to travel along the roads in this area,” William Patterson, 31, of Ukiah Valley, said. “I know of 10 or 15 white men who have been killed by Indians.”

The special joint committee on the Mendocino War heard over 45 witnesses and made their report.

Jasper O’Farrell, W.B. Dickinson and W.B. Maxson of the committee made the majority report of the hearing. They said the white men were to blame for the Indian troubles and that in four months of 1860, more Indians of Mendocino county had been killed than in a century of Spanish and Mexican rule.

In the minority report, J.B. Lamar said the Indians were a cowardly lot and proposed a system of peonage. The Indians, under this proposal would be assigned as servants to the local ranchers and laws would be passed to prevent any third party from interfering between “master and servant.”

It is not known what good came of this committee’s investigation or what solution finally developed, if any. The committee’s report and depositions of the local settlers are believed to be the only record of the little known Mendocino Indian War.

Source: Legendsofamerica

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