Richard Griswold del Castillo, Book Review Editor
The Destruction of California Indians: A Collection of Documents from the Period 1847 to 1865 in Which Are Described some of the Things that Happened to Some of the Indians of California.
Edited By Robert F. Heizer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. 321 pages. $12.95.
Reviewed by Gerald Horn, Assistant Professor, Department of Black Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.
The provocative title of this riveting collection of military and governmental reports, newspaper articles and the like brings us face to face with one of the horrors that was involved in the making of this nation. Preexisting nations were expropriated and ousted from much of the land, often murdered, and generally subjected to a horrendous persecution. “Ethnic cleansing” received a dress rehearsal; precedents were established that have reverberated to this day.
This work focuses at the start on the 1840s and concentrates heavily on the following two decades. The Office of Indian Affairs, the Records War Department and the U.S. National Archives are the sources for the military and governmental reports. There are notations pointing to their location. As for the newspapers, the San Francisco Bulletin, the Marysville Appeal, the Sacramento Union, and papers in Marysville are the source for most of the gleanings from the press.
As is apparent, much of this book focuses on Northern California. Robert Heizer, the anthropologist from Berkeley who edited this collection, presumably did not intend for his work to comment on an age-old question of California history. To wit, if the north of this state has been more forward-looking, more liberal, than the south, then this open-mindedness was not reflected in the treatment of California Indians.
This is not to suggest that the Indians of Southern California were treated benignly in comparison to their compatriots of the north. As Albert L. Hurtado relates in his evocative Introduction to this text, the “Franciscan missionaries….unintentionally introduced diseases new to California Indians, who died at a stunningly rapid pace.” (p. v) This was a phenomenon not limited to one region. That Southern California was a hotbed of Confederate sentiment during the U.S. Civil War is also suggestive of a regressive approach to racial matters. Though the north and south of this state may have disagreed on various issues over the decades, it is bracing to note that there has been, roughly, a “bi-partisan” approach to California Indians.
It is not difficult to see parallels between and among the hateful treatment accorded California Indians and what befell African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and, most notably, the Mexican-derived population. For example, there is an entire chapter on “Indians as the Butt of Jokes” and there are many striking similarities between the humor here and what other racial and ethnic minorities have been forced to endure in the name of laughter.
Complicating a one-sided view of racial conflict, the editor also includes a chapter entitled, “Indian Mistreatment of Chinese.” Those concerned about black-brown issues and/or Asian and African-American conflict in San Diego County and elsewhere should examine this chapter.
In sum, this book provides useful background on a painful period. It can be read profitably by all.