Ghost Dances, Bears and the Legacies of Genocide in California

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Book Review

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Journal of Genocide Research





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On 15 May 1850, dragoon, infantry and artillery detachments of the US Army arrived at an island located in Clear Lake, California. US Army Brevet Major General Persifor F. Smith hadordered seventy-five soldiers to Clear Lake to, in the words of US Army captain John B. Frisbie, ‘exterminate if possible’ Pomos because they and some Clear Lake Wappo people had killed two American ranchers the previous year (p. 127). When the soldiers landed on what is now called Bloody Island, the Pomo leader Ge-Wi-Lih attempted to negotiate (p. 129). Smith had ordered Brevet Captain Nathaniel Lyon, the soldiers’ commander, not to bargain and so the soldiers opened fire on the assembled Native people (p. 128). Pomos fled the island by jumping into Clear Lake and swimming towards the shore. However, when the Pomos arrived on the banks of Clear Lake, soldiers, stationed there by Lyon, cut them down. According to historian Benjamin Madley, the Bloody Island Massacre was perhaps one of the largest massacres in United States history; Madley estimates that the United States Army killed between sixty and 800 Pomos, which could exceed the number of Pequots that Puritans and their Native allies butchered at Mystic in 1637 or Lakotas that the US Army murdered at Wounded Knee in 1890 (p. 132). I have driven by the historical markers that commemorate the Bloody Island Massacre many times. In 1942, the Native Sons of California erected a monument that commemorated the ‘battle’ between United States soldiers and ‘Indians’ at Bloody Island. After someone vandalized this monument in 2002, the state of California erected a new one in a turnout off of Highway 20, near the Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians, which described the event as a ‘massacre’. 1 Genocide and violence, so meticulously researched and argued by Benjamin Madley, wounded California’s landscape.



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