CRUSHING OR SAVING
THE INDIANS?
CHAPTER 24

As California became ever more Americanized, assaults on its Indian population increased. Ranchers, miners, and the military regularly overran Native lands. Also, the same squatters who threatened rancheros now invaded Indian campsites. Claiming that they had “developed” such places, they sought legal ownership under American law. Furthermore, hordes of these Caucasians demanded that Indians change their way of life to suit them—or get out of their way altogether.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. War Department ordered infantry and cavalry units in California to patrol pressure points and to deal sternly with all Indians involved in violent confrontations with white settlers. But the decimation of the Indians had relatively little to do with military operations. Starvation, disease, and liquor conspired with bullet and knife against the Native Americans. Pulmonary and venereal infections, smallpox, and other Caucasian imports ersased even the marginal well-being that the Indians had known under Mexican rule.

Most American settlers cared little about the rights of the Indians. These newcomers, some of whom had been harassed by Indians while crossing the Great Plains, were scarcely in a conciliatory mood upon their arrival on the West Coast. Although California’s Natives proved to be hardly as fierce as the Plains tribes, some local groups did raid the property and livestock of white settlers. After the gold rush, when many whites turned their attention from mining, angry ranchers staged devastating raids on tribal villages.

In the pre-reservation era, those Indians who wandered into various towns fared perhaps worst of all. If they found work, their wages were miserable. More harmful were the disastrous effects of addiction to gambling or liquor.

-197-

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