Treaties Of Lead

End Of The Trail statue, Visalia. Photo: Bob Dawson/ Farewell, Promised Land Project, 1995.

"It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them. and a saving of many white lives ... there is only one kind of treaty that is effective - cold lead."

... Chico Courant, July 28, 1866

Northern newspapers like the Humboldt Times expressed the hope that volunteer militia "will succeed in totally breaking up or exterminating the skulking bands of savages."

Towns offered bounty hunters cash for every head or scalp that was obtained. Expedition expenses were often reimbursed by the state and federal governments. Rewards ranged from five dollars for every severed head in Shasta in 1855 to twenty-five cents for a scalp in Honey Lake in 1863. In both 1851 and 1852 the new American state of California paid out one million dollars respectively - revenue from the gold fields - to those who hunted Indians. In 1857 the state issued 400,000 in bonds to pay the expedition expenses of the militia.

Newspapers urged on the popular hysteria for "extermination" as it was popularly called at the time. In April 1849, the Alta California, a San Francisco paper, wrote that the miners realized that "it will be absolutely necessary to exterminate the savages before they can labor much longer in the mines with security." Two years later the newspaper declared that the native peoples "must fade before the Saxon race as the cloud in the west before the light and heat of a greater power."

In 1853 the Yreka Herald in Siskiyou County called on the government to provide aid to "enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed. Extermination is no longer a question of time - the time has arrived, the work has commenced and let the first man that says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor."

Some miners in the northwest drew up a code which they distributed to the tribes that stated that in all cases of "crimes committed by Indians ... delivery of the aggressors should be demanded of the nearest ranches, and after a reasonable time given punishment should be inflicted as follows: for murder by the destruction of the ranch to which the criminal belonged and its inhabitants if known. If not known, by that of those nearest the spot."

Such codes had a devastating effect. A. J. Bledsoe, a historian of the time, counted over 50 settlements destroyed in this region between 1855 and 1863. More recent historians like Sherburne Cook have examined Bledsoe's figures, compared them with archaeological evidence to arrive at an estimate that as many as 150 settlements may have been destroyed.

Both the state of California and the federal government wanted to encourage the settlement of the west, protection of new settlers and the extraction of minerals. While these policies, per se, did not promote the extermination of indigenous peoples, the impact of such policies encouraged their slow, but sure, decimation. As we will see in the next section, the cruel reality of the racist attitudes in the media and general population resulted in deliberate massacres.

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