amerindian assimilation in california

Gerold Firl (
7 Aug 1996 20:29:15 GMT

Tony West had asked for data on early indian assimilation; I don't have
any information on that, but as I mentioned early in this thread there
is some more recent data from california.

Here are some excerpts from _the bowman case_, by richard patton, 1973.
Patton is actually a judge, and I guess he's also an amateur historian,
who found some old legal records regarding the trial and execution of a
nathanial bowman, found guilty of the murder of levi sigler in 1852 in
colusi county, california. The paper reveals a few incidental details
about the relations between whites and indians during the california

"Some white men lived with indian women and were called "squaw men". An
old account discloses that Moon [William Moon; an early american
immigrant to california (1841) and a prominant figure in the bear flag
revolt] was living with a squaw as early as 1850. The squaw was not
named in that report. During this pioneer era, there were very few
white women in california. White women were so scarce that many indians
had never seen a white woman, leading to an early joke with the indians
that white people had no women - only men!"

"According to the 1852 census the total population of colusi county was
620 persons. This includes 400 white males, 63 white females, 8 negroes
and mulattoes, 66 "domesticated" indians and 21 foreign residents."

This data is prety sketchy, but it does give an impression that there
was some "horizontal integration" going on. A few more hints are
provided in the description of the crime:

After some heavy drinking, the party at the Moon adobe prepared to
retire: "Moon invited bowman to sleep in his bed, and moon got into bed
with moon and his squaw (moon sleeping in the middle). McCord lay down
in bed near the west side of the room. As bercier blew out the candle,
sigler and his squaw lay quietly under their blankets on the dirt floor
near the fireplace...After 15 or 20 minutes, "Nat" bowman got up and
went to where sigler and his squaw lay under their blankets. Bowman
"importuned" the squaw to let him get under the blankets with her. He
made the mistake of assuming that sigler was too drunk to know what was
going on. Sigler clearly resented bowmans attempt to get into his bed,
saying that they were "old friends" and that he "was surprised" that
bowman "would try to do such a thing"." (end quote)

Now, to me this indicates a fairly high level of white/indian
common-law mariages, with a pretty normal kind of relationship between
the parties. This looks very much like a typical pioneer marriage, with
the exception of the fact that the indian women were not allowed to
give testimony in court against a white man. during the trial, bowman
"testified in his own behalf that he got up from moon's bed and went to
siglers bed and took hold of the squaws hand and asked her to let him
get under the blankets with her; that she refused." What I'm seeing
here is that this woman was not anybodies chattel, but a free
individual who could decide her own fate.

Immediately after the incident above, bowman beat sigler to death with
a chair leg. It was a rough time.

Mary Beth had also claimed that any children produced by a white/indian
liason would not be accepted by white society, but would instead be
considered indian. I haven't seen any discussion of the status of such
children in pioneer society, but here is an interesting passage from
_tortilla flat_, john steinbeck (1935):

"Monterey sits on the slope of a hill, with a blue bay below it and
with a forest of tall dark pines at its back. The lower parts of the
town are inhabited by americans, italians, catchers and canners of
fish. But on the hill where the forest and the town intermingle, where
the streets are innocent of asphalt and the corners free of
streetlights, the old inhabitants of monterey are embattled as the
ancient britons are embattled in wales. These are the paisanos....
what is a paisano? He is a mixture of spanish, indian, mexican, and
assorted caucasian bloods. His ancestors have lived in california for a
hundred or two years. He speaks english with a paisano accent and
spanish with a paisano accent. When questioned concerning his race, he
indignantly claims pure spanish blood and rolls up his sleeve to show
that the soft inside of his arm is nearly white. His color, like that
of a well-browned meerschaum pipe, he ascribes to sunburn. He is a
paisano, and he lives in the uphill district above the town of monterey
called tortilla flat, although it isn't a flat at all."

You might call them "outlivers", these paisanos, and while I have
absolutely no idea how much of their cultural or genetic makeup is
derived from the california indians, they certainly constitute a
plausible destination for the descendants of the squaw men and their
indian "princesses".

Finally, here is a brief snippet from _tribes of california_, by
stephen powers (~1870): "Shasta Frank, a wintun, born and bred to
savagry, was a perfect gentlemen in the neatness and elegance of his
dress, in his manners, and in his speech... He gave me a brief account
of his language, which delighted me by its accuracy, clearness, and
philosophic insight. I was told of another wintun who had become a
book-keeper, and was drawing a good salary as such." (p. 407)

Of course, the california indians suffered huge population losses as a
result of the european invasion, but I offer these anecdotes as
indication that some indians chose assimilation rather than
extirmination or reservation. Amid the chaos and turmoil of the
goldrush, with its consequent widespread destruction and upheaval, I am
surprised at just how normal most of the day-to-day interactions
between indians and whites actually were. They generally appear to have
related as individuals, rather than as representatives of a race or a
culture. On that frontier, diffusion appears to have occured in both

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf