Sunday, January 24, 2010

Old News

Ever wonder what happened to California Indians once the Missions were closed? Remember, San Francisco's Mission Indians suffered through the dual tragedies of Missionization AND the Gold Rush. More northern tribes were decimated by the door-to-door murder of Indians for land that might contain gold.

The following is a "found poem," which means that I took the content directly from a found source, in this case, California newspapers from the Gold Rush era. The power of a found poem lies in the brutal truth inherent in the original form, which often is overlooked due to its mundane nature.

Old News

It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
--William Carlos Williams "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

Sacramento Union, November 14, 1851

A disturbance
took place at Los Angeles
on the evening of the 25th.

Indians got into a quarrel
over a bottle of liquor
and attacking the guard,
drove them off
the ground.

Sepulveda, the Marshal,
finding that he could not
contend with the Indians
and that they appeared determined
to burn the house
came to town
for assistance
and returned with
seven Americans.

How many of the Indians
were killed is perhaps not
positively known but
eight bodies were piled up
before Ivarra’s house.

The verdict
of the Coroner’s jury
was “that the deceased
came to their deaths
while resisting a sheriff’s possee
and that the killing
was justifiable.”

Among the killed
was the Indian Coyote.
He is represented
to have fought
with great desperation.

Sacramento Daily Democratic State Journal, Sept. 1, 1855

A white man bargained
with an Indian

to give the latter a horse
for a squaw.

The Indian,
not being able to suit

him from the stock of squaws
under his control,

went over and stole
a squaw from the Applegate Tribe.

Big Tom,
the white man,

was so well pleased
with the stolen squaw

that he would not give her up
to her people

when required, notwithstanding
he was urged thereto

by his partner
and the other whites.

The consequence was
the massacre of all the whites

by the Indians
and to mark

their particular animosity
against Big Tom

they cut him up
into a thousand pieces

at the same time

from mutilating
the others.

San Francisco Bulletin, January 7, 1858

Our readers will remember an advertisement
that appeared in our paper last spring,
stating that Bill Farr would fight a grizzly
bear, single-handed, on the 4th of July

at Tehama. His life seemed to be of no
consequence to him. We have frequently
heard him remark that he would as soon
be killed as not, and upon one occasion

we actually knew of his standing up
very coolly with a person as reckless
as himself, each taking a shot at the other’s
hat, a distance of fifty steps, as it remained

on his head. The result was that Bill’s
hat was shot through, and a small bunch
of hair cut away, while the skin on the other
man’s cranium was laid bare for three

or four inches by Bill’s half-ounce ball.
Bill was a terror to the Indians, having killed
a great many in his time; some of whom,
as he said himself, he shot to see them


San Francisco Bulletin, January 6, 1859

On Thursday or Friday last
two volunteers, Messrs. Hyslop and Olvany,
were looking for horses
about four miles from the camp
near Mad river
when they saw six Indians
and about the same number of squaws.
As they were without rifles
and mounted
they adopted Light Dragoon tactics
and charged upon the Indians
wounding some –
one mortally –
and took the squaws

The same day,
three men from the camp at Angel’s
came upon a party
of ten Indians
and had a bout with them –
killed one Indian,
wounded several –
two so badly
that they may almost be called
“good Indians.”

San Francisco Bulletin, May 12, 1859

An old Indian and his squaw
were engaged in the harmless occupation
of gathering clover

on the land of a Mr. Grigsby
when a man
named Frank Harrington

set Grigsby’s dogs upon them
(which, by the way, are three
very ferocious ones,)

and before the dogs were taken off
of the Indians, they tore
and mangled the body

of the squaw
in such a manner that she died
shortly after. It is said

the dogs
tore her breasts off her.
The Digger man

escaped without any serious
injury, although bitten
severely. Of course

it was the dogs’ fault
although Harrington had lived with Grigsby
over a year and knew full well

the character of the dogs
for this is not the first
instance of their biting persons.

But he only set them on
for fun
and they were

only Diggers.
There is talk of having Harrington
arrested but no doubt

it is all talk.

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