The Arrival Of Whites

Andrew Freeman

The Native American residents of California experienced a brutal side of the gold rush—one marked by disease, oppression, and death. California's Indian population, already diminished by a century of Spanish intrusion, dropped from 150,000 at the time of the gold rush to 30, 000 by 1870 as hundreds of thousands of Anglo gold rushers methodically mined, hunted, and logged even the Indians' most remote hiding places. When Native Californians retaliated by raiding white camps for subsistence, Americans organized war parties and slaughtered entire Indian groups. Andrew Freeman, affiliated with the Nomlaki tribe, gave this account in 1936 -- passed down from older tribe members—of the arrival of whites.

WE HAD A MAN at Thomas Creek that had power given to him. He was young. He sang all the time. He drank water and ate once a month. He ate a little of everything, then took one swallow of water and smoked. He stayed in the sweat-house all the time.

Now our captain [chief] used to get out early every morning on top of the sweat-house and, calling everybody by name, would tell them what to do.

This fortuneteller from Thomas Creek would tell the people just how much game they would get and whether any mishaps would fall. He lived across from our present reservation at Paskenta. One day he said, "There are some people from across the ocean who are going to come to this country." He looked for them for three years. "They have come kind of boat with which they can cross, and they wil1 make it. They are on the way." Finally he said that they were on the land and that they were coming now. He said that they had fire at night and lots to eat. "They cook the same as we do; they smoke after meals, and they have a language of their own. They talk, laugh, and sing, just as we do. Besides, they have five fingers and toes, they are built like we are, only they are light." He said their blood was awfully light.

"They have a four-legged animal which some are riding and some are packing. They haven't any wives, any of them. They all are single. They are bringing some kind of sickness."

So everybody was notified. The night watch and day watch were kept. He said that they had something long which shoots little round things a long distance. They have something short that shoots just the same.

Finally the whites came in at Orland; many of them. When they came in they started shooting. There were thousands of Indians in the hills who went to fighting the whites. The Indians went after them but they couldn't do anything to them. Finally they got to Newville, and the man who was telling these fortunes said the whites were going to be there. The Indians were ready for them. The whites came by Oakes' place and down the flat at one o'clock in the morning. They killed the first Indian that showed himself. The captain told the others to stay in the house and get their bows and arrows ready.

The captain yelled to the whites that he was ready inside the house. He told his men, "When you get ready, run out and crowd into it. "The captain sent them to fight at close range. He said, "We are dead anyway." The whites couldn't load their muzzleloaders, so they used revolvers. The captain told his men to spear them. They fought from morning till afternoon. The Indians had come all the way from Colusa. They killed all those whites. The Indians were afraid of gray horses. They killed the horses. They examined everything. They divided everything up. One old man from south of the Tapscott place took away a lot of their money. His children used to take the money and play with it. Finally he took it up the canyon and hid it. The whites are looking for that money today but can't find it.

Another group of whites came to Mountain House [lopom]. They killed many of the Indians. White people hit women and children in the head. One Indian shouted from a rock when the white men started back. The whites came up there, and that Indian went into the rock cave, and they shot one white man from there. But the whites threw fire into the cave and killed all the Indians in there.

They had been hiding in the hills. Indians couldn't get to the salt. They got very weak—they say salt keeps a person fit. There was no rain for three years, and fighting going on every day. No clover, no acorn, juniper berries, or peppergrass. Nothing for three years. Very little rain.

Finally the Indians got smallpox, and the Indian doctor couldn't cure them. They died by the thousands. Gonorrhea came among the Indians. That killed a lot of them. My grandfather said that if he had fought he would have been killed too. But he went up to Yolla Bolly Mountain with about six hundred others and stayed three years. On the third winter there was a heavy snowstorm. The snow was over his head. He said women can stand more starvation than men. They singed the hair off a deerhide shoulder strap and ate it.

Men died every day from starvation. That was in Camp of Dark Canyon in the winter. Women would find a little bunch of grass and eat it and would bring a handful back for their husbands. The women would have to chew it for the men. The man was too weak to swallow it. She would take a mouthful of water and pour it into his mouth. That was the way they saved a lot of them.

After that the whites began to gather up the Indians. They made the Nome Lackee Reservation in Tehama County. They take a tame Indian along when they bring Indians together on a reservation. They worked the Indians on the reservation. Old Martin was given a saddle mule and clothes. He wouldn't wear anything but the shirt—the overalls hurt his legs. He was a kind of foreman. Every Saturday they killed four or five beef and divided it among the Indians. They ground wheat and made biscuits. The women shocked hay. They had to examine all the men and women for disease.

Garland on the present Oakes' place wouldn't let them take the Indians off of his land, and that's what saved them. When they took the Indians to Covelo [in Round Valley, on the Nome Cult Reserve] they drove them like stock. Indians had to carry their own food. Some of the old people began to give out when they got to the hills. They shot the old people who couldn't make the trip. They would shoot children who were getting tired. Finally they got the Indians to Covelo. They killed all who tried to get away and wouldn't return to Covelo.