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California and The Indian Wars
 
War in the Redwoods
 
 
That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.

Governor Peter H. Burnett, January 7, 1851
 
"The Indians would confide in us as friends, and we had to witness this unjust treatment of them without the power to help them. Then when they were pushed beyond endurance and would go on the war path we had to fight them, when our sympathies were with the Indians."
 
George Crook while at Fort Jones, California, 1853.

Indian fighter that he was, George Crook was able to strike directly at the center of the Indian problem. This was the case whether he was a brevet major general in Arizona or a brevet second lieutenant in Northern California.

Most settlers in northern California felt that the Native Americans were the aggressor, especially when they resisted attempts to undermine his right to traditional or truce-given territories. "Good faith forms no part of the Indian's nature," was a theme expressed by a volunteer colonel as indicative of the local opinion.

The majestic redwoods once extended all of the way to Oregon from 30 miles south of San Francisco. The area was well-defined in terms of trees, but somewhat vague as far as influence was concerned. For the period of pre-Civil War California, the area of disorder was that which centered on the redwoods, and then extended for many miles beyond.

The campaigns of 1855-59 resulted in 100 Indians being killed by soldiers and 200 more by the citizens. Between 1850 and 1860, California spent more than three million dollars on the problem.

During the Civil War, the posts of the redwood region were manned by California Volunteers. When these companies were called to the deserts, special companies of short-time militia termed "Mountaineers" were recruited to maintain the posts of their home regions.

The fights of the 1850's and Civil War did not end trouble in the redwoods. In 1867 there was another war that finally culminated in the worst one of all, the bloody Modoc War of 1873.

A reason that the pacification of the redwood tribes took so long lay in the natural obstacles of the terrain. High mountains, deep streams, thick undergrowth all explained why "It should be so difficult a matter to bring to justice a few score of savages," noted the district commander in 1864, "rendering the rapid and certain movements of troops a matter of difficulty and affording innumerable hiding places to the enemy."


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Updated 18 June 2011

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