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Murder State

California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873

Brendan C. Lindsay

Publication Year: 2012

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Euro-American citizenry of California carried out mass genocide against the Native population of their state, using the processes and mechanisms of democracy to secure land and resources for themselves and their private interests. The murder, rape, and enslavement of thousands of Native people were legitimized by notions of democracy—in this case mob rule—through a discreetly organized and brutally effective series of petitions, referenda, town hall meetings, and votes at every level of California government.

Murder State is a comprehensive examination of these events and their early legacy. Preconceptions about Native Americans as shaped by the popular press and by immigrants’ experiences on the overland trail to California were used to further justify the elimination of Native people in the newcomers’ quest for land. The allegedly “violent nature” of Native people was often merely their reaction to the atrocities committed against them as they were driven from their ancestral lands and alienated from their traditional resources.

In this narrative history employing numerous primary sources and the latest interdisciplinary scholarship on genocide, Brendan C. Lindsay examines the darker side of California history, one that is rarely studied in detail, and the motives of both Native Americans and Euro-Americans at the time. Murder State calls attention to the misuse of democracy to justify and commit genocide.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

List of Tables

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xi

This book was inspired in part by my experiences in academia over the past seven years, including time as a university lecturer and graduate student. As I studied and taught about the history of California and the United States...

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pp. xiii-xv

The life of this book began as my doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Riverside. All told, it has been more than seven years in the making. In this time I have accumulated many debts of gratitude. I would like to thank my mentors, colleagues...

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Introduction: Defining Genocide

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pp. 1-31

Judge Serranus C. Hastings was an important man in 1859, when he wrote his indignant cry for aid to the governor of California, John B. Weller. As the former first chief justice of the California State Supreme Court and the third...

Part 1: Imagining Genocide

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pp. 33-123

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pp. 35-41

The people of the United States were not empty vessels to be filled with fear and hatred of Indians encountered as they headed west in the middle of the nineteenth century on the overland trails or after reaching California. These emigrants...

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1. The Core Values of Genocide

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pp. 43-69

D. G. W. Leavitt’s comments were part of a published notice in the Arkansas Gazette, one of the numerous newspapers carrying similar calls for the formation of westward-bound emigrant companies in the nineteenth century...

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2. Emigrant Guides

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pp. 70-108

As thousands of emigrants headed west in the 1840s and 1850s, they did so with recent examples to guide them. Many emigrants used printed trail guides, government reports, travel narratives in books and newspapers, or what they learned...

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3. The Overland Trail Experience

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pp. 109-123

The way that most of the tens of thousands of emigrants experienced the overland trail to California in the 1840s and 1850s was much different than what they might have expected based on the stories circulated back in the United...

Part 2: Perpetrating Genocide

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pp. 125-222

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pp. 127-133

Euro-American emigrants arrived in California by the thousands each year during the second half of the nineteenth century. Those with the means could take an ocean voyage, avoiding the perceived peril of Indians but facing instead...

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4. The Economics of Genocide in Southern California

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pp. 135-178

Despite their location away from the main gold fields of the Sierra Nevada and its foothills, Native peoples in southern California faced challenges to their very existence.1 While Indigenous populations in the northern half...

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5. Democratic Death Squads of Northern California

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pp. 179-222

As Euro-Americans flooded into, and then out of, the gold fields of California in the 1850s, they harnessed democracy to achieve a new dream of wealth and security based on landownership. Using new state laws and their rights...

Part 3: Supporting Genocide

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pp. 225-229

Although Tocqueville was observing Indian affairs in the decade preceding the U.S. conquest of California, his observations held true for how the state of California would approach dealings with its Indigenous population...

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6. The Murder State

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pp. 231-270

As these words by California’s first U.S. governor demonstrate, California’s Indigenous population was abandoned to the whims of white citizens by the state government from the beginning. Burnett’s conviction that the...

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7. Federal Bystanders to and Agents of Genocide

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pp. 271-312

California was seized by U.S. forces on July 7, 1846, as part of the conduct of the war with Mexico. Federal military governors went on to supervise the government of California until December 20, 1849, when the military governor...

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8. Advertising Genocide

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pp. 313-334

With the advent of the second, titanic wave of the Gold Rush, California became inundated not only with forty-niners but also with newspapers. Beginning in 1849, California offered newspaper publishers an instant audience...

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Conclusion: At a Crossroads in the Genocide

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pp. 335-348

When the Daily Alta California, one of the rare California newspapers sometimes sympathetic to the Native American perspective, reported on the coming peace talks between the Modocs and a peace commission led...

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Epilogue: Forgetting and Remembering Genocide

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pp. 349-359

According to one progressive reformer in 1911, more than half of California’s Native population were living on lands to which they technically had no legal claim and were in danger of having their bare subsistence level of life...


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pp. 361-406


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pp. 407-425


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pp. 427-436

E-ISBN-13: 9780803240216
E-ISBN-10: 080324021X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803224803

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 2 tables
Publication Year: 2012