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California and The Indian Problem



In what circumstances does a peaceful, native peoples become a 'problem' to the new, invading inhabitants of a land? These California Indians were people who owned no jewels to steal, built not a single castle to over take, held not one famous painting or exotic treasure. The California native peoples lived simple lives, close to nature, and in total, sustainable, logical harmony with their natural surroundings for thousands of years. These are accomplishments on a high intellectual and environmental order from today's environmental viewpoint, but showed a marked lack of utilitarian accomplishment from an earlier industrial viewpoint. It is this matter of point of view that we will examine.

For a native population to go from 300,000 when the Mission System began in 1769, to 100,000 in 1848 at the beginning of the Gold Rush, to about thirty thousand by 1860 at the end of the first Mission-style Reservation System, there must have been a public policy of extermination that today seems barbarous and cruel beyond imagination. Reduced from 300,000 to 30,000 in less than 100 years is a tragedy on a mass scale. This means that for every 10 people in their population, only one was left alive. Why were they nearly exterminated? For one thing only: LAND.

How did this happen? Who was at fault? Whose interests did it serve? We
can learn more about the prevailing attitudes of those times from writers
who spoke out against the unjust treatment of the First Californians. The
selected passages are excerpted from "The Present Condition of the Mission
Indians in Southern California", by Helen Hunt Jackson, 1883 and "Sketches
of Adventure in California and Washoe", by J. Ross Browne,1864.



Helen Hunt Jackson on the Condition of California Mission Indians in Southern California

From "Sketches of Adventure in California and Washoe", by J. Ross Browne