Exterminate Them: Written Accounts of the Murder, Rape, and Slavery of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush, 1848-1868

By Joel R. Hyer; Clifford E. Trafzer | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

In the early winter of 1848, Johann August Sutter, a former Mexican governmental official, local caudillo (warlord), and Indian slave owner, hastily convened a meeting with the chief of the Colma Nissenan Indians. Appointed by the military governor as the new United States Indian subagent and now apparently a rehabilitated ex-Mexican Patriot, Sutter shouldered the task of establishing official relations with the local tribesmen that he had until recently terrorized and enslaved. His first order of business was to negotiate a "treaty" with Coloma tribesmen that would lease the entire watershed of the American River to Sutter personally. After all, gold had recently been discovered at a sawmill he had commissioned to be constructed nearby. During the negotiations, Sutter was warned by the chief that the yellow metal he so eagerly sought "belonged to a demon who devoured all who searched for it." In a moment of clarity, the military governor of Alta California denied Sutter's self-serving actions. Nevertheless, the chief's dire predictions proved to be devastatingly on target.

In popular literature and school textbooks the events that followed the discovery of gold have for too long been portrayed as a great adventure, luring American males to the far west in search of personal fortunes and validating the hysterically popular doctrine of Manifest Destiny. The predominate theme in these representations has been the personal sacrifices, hardships, and ultimate disappointment in the great enterprise. The fate of the California Indians was, like Indian futures everywhere, doomed and dismissed into the waste bin of history. After all, these writers reasoned, the Indians were a stone-age people who, in social Darwinistic dogma, must inevitably yield to the overpowering force of a technologically "superior people." This book is about the human cost of that adventure.

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