Research is Only the Beginning

This is generally how I start, when it comes to writing a historical article about California or Nevada — research. I love tying where I live to where I grew up.

For example, Bret Harte was a journalist who cut his ‘reporters teeth’ in the Comstock’s Virginia City, along with the likes of Mark Twain and Dan DeQuille. He would later spend part of his career in Union (now Arcata, some 90 miles south of Klamath, California.)

By all accounts, he was popular with folks living in Humboldt County at the time. But, following editorials about the 1860 massacre at Indian Island, between the Samoa and Eureka Channels within Humboldt Bay, Hart found himself run out-of-town because of death threats.

I found amid the pages of the Friday, March 16th, 1860 edition of the New York Times, though I don’t believe it’s written by Harte, is story on that massacre:

“The particulars of the horrid massacre of peaceable Indians, one bright Sunday morning, (Feb. 25,) I detailed in my last steamer letter. Since then, many who were in the vicinity have been in town, and the coherence and agreement of their several stories show that we have arrived at the truth in the matter.

It appears that the brutal murderers were not over-anxious to meet the male Indians; that a spy who had attended an annual dance on Indian Island (about a mile from Eureka, the County Seat of Humboldt) the evening previous, conveyed the intelligence that there was not a gun, bow or arrow on the island, that the savages were entirely defenseless. The whites then approached, about 6 o’clock in the morning, fired upon and killed three men, who were asleep in a cabin at some little distance from where the women lay, then, entering lodge after lodge, they dirked the sleeping, and with axes split open and crushed the skulls of the children and women.

The total killed on the island were fifty-five, of whom only five were men. On South Beach, about a mile away from Eureka, in another direction, an hour or two before, the same party of whites had killed 58, most of them women and children.  

No defense was made. Many of the women were making an honest living in the families of the whites. The half-breeds pleaded for their lives in good English.

On the following Wednesday 40 more were butchered on the South Fork of the Eel River.

The Humboldt Times, which justifies this short method of getting rid of disagreeable neighbors, says that many of those killed on Eel River were bucks and bad fellows. Still later, by a few days, 35 were slaughtered on Eagle Prairie — total of the butchered within one week, 188.

The victims had lived on terms of peace with the whites, and relied on them for security. They were not even charged with thieving.

Their great crime was that the whites suspected that some hostile mountain Indians had taken refuge among them when hard pressed. The names of the brave men who brained the children have not been published.

One writer for the Bulletin says, however, that there is a fellow in Eureka who boasts that with his own hatchet he slew 30 women and children in one day, and that another man who professes to have been captain of the outlaws says that he alone killed 60 infants.”

Further down the column — a surprise:

“The Crescent City Herald has seen some golden sands panned out from the ocean beach; nobody believes it. Fine copper has been discovered near the same place, and forwarded to San Francisco as a bait, but it does not tempt much.”

One never knows what is to be found tucked away in an old newspaper. Frankly, I can hardly wait to develop a larger article based on what these two newspaper stories have to offer.

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