Native women identified as Callipene and Lena Brown at Yellowstone National Park in California in 1901. Photo:

Daniel Duane: Names at Yosemite celebrate slaughter and theft of tribal lands

As the author of three books about Yosemite National Park, Daniel Duane knows the federal facility in California well. The original inhabitants of one of the most popular parks in the nation were forced out by a state-sanctioned militia in the late 1800s, he points out:
Before Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century, there were an estimated 300,000 people in California. Violence and disease helped cut that number in half by the mid-1840s, when the United States military invaded. Then, in 1848, a gold nugget was found in a stream near Sacramento, setting off one of the largest mass migrations in American history.

Between 1846 and 1860, the non-Indian population of California leapt from some 14,000 to more than 300,000. Under Mexican law, native Californians had established rights, but after Anglo-American foreigners invaded sovereign Indian nations, those rights were stripped away. California became an American state in 1850. That same year, lawmakers legalized forcing American Indian children into white custody and barred Indians from voting, giving evidence against whites in criminal cases or serving as jurors. As a result, there are very few instances in which a white person was convicted of a violent crime against a California Indian between 1846 and 1873.

These are all classic steps in the march toward mass murder, with clear echoes in later genocides. In 1851, California’s governor, Peter Burnett, said that he expected “a war of extermination” to continue “between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct,” and Senator John Weller later said that “the interest of the white man demands their extinction.” Toward that end, California spent the equivalent of $45 million in today’s money on two dozen state militia expeditions that murdered at least 1,340 California Indians, according to Benjamin Madley, a historian at U.C.L.A. and the author of “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873,” whose work I am heavily indebted to. The Army and its auxiliaries killed a minimum of 1,680 more, and vigilantes murdered at least 6,460. Congress reimbursed California for most of that money, retrospectively endorsing genocidal campaigns.

In 1860 in Humboldt County in Northern California, for example, an estimated 150 Wiyot women, children and elderly men were murdered. According to a newspaper reporter who saw the aftermath, “Lying around were dead bodies of both sexes and all ages from the old man to the infant at the breast. Some had their heads split in twain by axes, others beaten into jelly with clubs, others pierced or cut to pieces with bowie knives.” By 1880, some 20,000 Native Californians remained. “It is not an exaggeration to say that California legislators established a state-sponsored killing machine,” Professor Madley said.

Read More on the Story:
Daniel Duane: Goodbye, Yosemite. Hello, What? (The New York Times September 2, 2017)