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Indian Survival on the California Frontier

Indian Survival on the California Frontier

Albert L. Hurtado
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Indian Survival on the California Frontier
    Book Description:

    During the middle decades of the nineteenth century, when vast numbers of whites poured into California, the native Indian population was decimated through disease, starvation, homicide, and a declining birth rate. In this prize-winning book, Albert L. Hurtado focuses on the Indians who survived this harrowing time. Hurtado considers the ways in which native life and culture persisted, how the survivors integrated their lives with white society, and how the now-dominant whites related to the Indians living and working with them."Anyone interested in California Indians should read this book."-William Bright,Los Angeles Times Book Review"Hurtado takes a fresh look at the role Native Americans played in shaping frontier California. The Indians emerge from this study not merely as victims of white rapaciousness but as an active historical influence, serving as both a resistance force to white incursion and as prime shapers of the agricultural work force."-Booklist"A wide-ranging and imaginative discussion of significant issues that are at the very center of scholarship on western settlement during the nineteenth century."-Roger Nichols, University of ArizonaWinner of the 1989 Ray Allen Billington Prize awarded by the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American frontier history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15788-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xviii-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The grisly statistics of population reduction have overwhelmed most students of California Indian history. When Hispanic settlement began in 1769, about 300,000 native people lived within the current boundaries of the state. At the end of Spanish sovereignty in 1821, perhaps 200,000 remained, and that number dropped to about 150,000 by the time gold was discovered in 1848. During the 1850s, after California became a state, the native population fell by 80 percent to about 30,000. That abrupt, tragic decrease was a consequence of the gold rush: disease, starvation, homicide, and a declining birthrate for native people took a heavy...

  8. 1 Culture and Family on the Borderland Frontier
    (pp. 14-31)

    In the 1850s good California farmland was hard to come by. Much of it had been taken up in the 1840s, when the Mexican government had granted huge parcels to settlers; squatters took most of the rest during the gold rush. James Kilgore was fortunate to have an unencumbered claim to agricultural land on the eastern side of the Sacramento Valley, yet he relinquished it to a young married man because he wanted “to see this country settled up with families.” Apparently Kilgore had an extraordinary attachment to the domestic institution that Victorians held most dear, but he might have...

  9. 2 California’s International Frontier, 1819–1846
    (pp. 32-54)

    The large willow trees that stood in the valley of the San Joaquin provided lookouts for Yokuts Indians who watched for intruders. In the autumn of 1819 they saw a party of Spanish soldiers and their mission Indian allies enter the valley near the now dry Tulare Lake. They were expecting the Spanish, since two Wowol Yokuts had returned from a September fiesta at the Mission San Miguel with a rumor that a force would come to the valley to capture all the runaway neophytes and all the gentiles, as well. Moreover, the Wowols believed that the Spanish intended to...

  10. 3 “Saved so Much as Possible for Labour:” New Helvetia’s Indian Work Force
    (pp. 55-71)

    Indian labor, long established on the Hispanic frontier, was a fact of life in Mexican California. Sutter used Indian labor much as Mexicans did, but he modified Hispanic practices to suit his needs. With his model before them, Anglo-Americans who settled the interior quickly adapted Indian labor. They had to. Before the Mexican War there were only a few hundred whites in the Sacramento Valley and more than twenty thousand Indians who were not only potential laborers but a threat to white life and property, as well. Sutter understood this when he advised his overseer, Pierson B. Reading, to give...

  11. 4 Indians in the Service of Manifest Destiny
    (pp. 72-85)

    The growth of New Helvetia and the Anglo farms that surrounded it increased Indian reliance on white employers while reducing the resources available for hunting and gathering. Nevertheless, large parts of the interior — much of the San Joaquin Valley, the Sierra Nevada range, and the far northern reaches of the state — remained in Indian control. Indians there were autonomous and could flee from Sutter’s system. Within the orbit of Sutter’s Fort, white influence on Indian life was pervasive but not absolute. When the new system seemed onerous, Indians rebelled and retired to places where Sutter’s army did not...

  12. 5 “Conciliate the Inhabitants:” Federal Indian Administration during the Mexican War
    (pp. 86-99)

    Between 1846 and 1849, American military governors were responsible for Indian affairs. They faced problems peculiar to California with broad authority but no clear instructions from Washington. The usual federal laws governing Indian-white relations hardly seemed to be a useful model, for they were established with the idea that Indians and whites lived in separate communities and that racial separation should be maintained. In California, Indians and whites were mutually dependent and deeply involved in one anothers’ daily lives. Cognizant of these novel conditions, the military governors developed an Indian policy adapted to the needs of California’s Mexican and American...

  13. 6 A Regional Perspective on Indians in the Gold Rush
    (pp. 100-124)

    Before the gold rush, Indian-white relations had been governed by conditions and customs that were essentially Hispanic in character. Indian labor underpinned California society much as it had on other Hispanic frontiers since the time of Cortés. A few large landholders controlled the pastoral economy and required Indian workers to tend their herds and fields. Indians, who were not always willing to accept the subservient role in which they had been cast, nonetheless adjusted to the new situation that was thrust on them, trading, raiding, or working as conditions warranted.

    The gold discovery alone would not necessarily have changed the...

  14. 7 “Extermination or Domestication:” The Dilemma of California Indian Policy
    (pp. 125-148)

    The gold rush created unparalleled difficulties not only for California’s Indians, but for white policy makers who tried to master the situation, for acquisition of the Mexican province put the federal government squarely on a collision course with California customs and local interests. Before 1848 the Indian situation had been intractable but relatively easy to understand in broad scope. Indians sought survival through raiding, labor, and trading, while whites wanted to suppress the former as they gained advantage from the latter. Neither whites nor Indians could consistently predominate because the whites’ advantage in technology and organization was offset by the...

  15. 8 Indian Labor and Population in the 1850s
    (pp. 149-168)

    When opponents of the 1851 treaties declared that Indians were already in “the best school of civilization,” they assumed that employment in the white economy had intrinsic value beyond the pecuniary benefits that it provided. Indians who worked for whites were surely on their way up the ladder of civilization, or at least on the bottom rung, far above native people who remained in a “savage” condition. That whites benefited from Indian labor was well understood and nobody questioned the right of an employer to profit from the work of his employees, regardless of their race. The civilizing effects of...

  16. 9 “Between Two Grizzlies’ Paws:” Indian Women in the 1850s
    (pp. 169-192)

    California’s rapidly changing demography helped to shape Indian women’s lives. In 1850 there were only about seven thousand non-Indian and perhaps forty thousand Indian women in the state. Two years later Indians accounted for about one third of the enumerated female population, and in 1860 the federal census showed that only one of every fifteen women was an Indian. Once the gold rush began, there were always more than three men for every woman; and in 1852 there were nearly seven times more men than women, without adjusting for race. Ratios were often much higher in mining counties.¹

    Unbalanced sex...

  17. 10 Uncertain Refuge: The Household and Indian Survival in 1860
    (pp. 193-210)

    In 1851 John Bidwell, Sutter’s old friend and one-time employee, explained his conception of California Indian affairs to U.S. Senator J. W. McCorkle. The prominent Butte County farmer said that California conditions were altogether different from those in eastern states. California’s settlers did not have to contend with Indians only on the frontier; they were “allamongus,aroundus,withus—hardly a farm house—a kitchen without them.” A farmer who needed laborers told Indians to “go into his fields” and fed and clothed them in return. Bidwell thought Indian workers looked up to a farmer with “a...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-218)

    To an extent extraordinary for Indians in the nineteenth-century United States, native Californians were subject to the vagaries of the market economy. Elsewhere the fur trade usually introduced Indians to the capitalist economy, but permanent white settlement generally left few places for Indian workers. In California, however, the advent of market agriculture did not push Indians aside, but drew them in as farm workers. In the 1840s Indians were practically the sole source of agricultural labor and whites used every possible means to obtain their services. Slavery, debt peonage, and wage labor all had a place in Mexican and Anglo...

  19. Sources
    (pp. 219-236)
  20. Index
    (pp. 237-246)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-248)