“Genocide and Vendetta is a meticulously researched case study in frontier violence.”
“Carefully written by a professor of English, in collaboration with a retired cattle rancher and history buff, this work affords us an encapsulated view of the West's most regrettable legacies—racial genocide and unrestrained aggressivity.”
From Arizona and the West, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Autumn, 1982), pp. 284-286
Lynwood Carranco, the principal author of this book and an English professor at the College of the Redwoods, and Estle Beard, a knowledgeable retired Round Valley rancher, present two nineteenth century“wars”in a tumultuous Mendocino County valley: settler against Indian, and rancher versus rancher. Beautiful Round Valley, home of several Indian tribes, escaped white discovery until 1854. Its remoteness attracted Missouri hide hunters and dreamers of Southern-style plantations. The valley became a refuge for Californians holding the cardinal belief of the Southern Democratic Party—white supremacy.
Part one uses anthropological studies, local newspapers, and state and federal Indian records to detail the genocidal“Indian hunts”in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Part of the valley became a reservation in 1856 at the urging of Thomas J. Henley, a Southern Democratic Indian superintendent. Reservation resources, labor, and funds enabled Henley to build a valley estate, while the reservation constantly suffered from changing personnel, lack of money, and settler encroachment (which Henley led). An appendix carries the reservation's fortunes into this century and notes the similarity between the lot of the Indians and that of the freedmen after the Civil War.
This work reinforces conclusions of other recent Western studies that the Regular Army protected Indians from settlers, rather than indiscriminately massacring them. This point deserves fuller treatment. Although the army served in Round Valley between 1859 and 1866, and again from 1877 to 1878, the authors have used only the published Civil War records. Most army officers had greater integrity than most men in the Indian Service, and their reports would have added much. The authors also would have correctly identified Fort Weller, rather than Fort Bragg, as the first headquarters for the valley's detachments.
While part one is comprehensive, part two focuses only on three ranchers: Pierce and Frank Asbill, and George E. White. The Asbills, who found the valley in 1854, exemplify the most prosperous of the Missouri hide hunters and“squaw men.”Disregarding laws of nature and man, they slaughtered deer to provide buckskin to miners, and traded Indian women to vaqueros for Spanish horses. Violence to the land spawned turmoil in their families. Both died divorced and ill at ease in a settled world. The openhearted Asbills held a certain honor. They went broke aiding improvident in-laws and paying debts others made. In sharp contrast was George E. White. Though proud of Southern birth, he imbibed no Southern honor. He used a band of“outlaw buckeroos”to build a great cattle empire based on ill deeds ranging from perjury to murder. Four times married, he was as careless with wives as he was with the lives of those who he fancied opposed him. Unpublished memoirs and oral histories enhance sound research in newspapers and court records.
Mechanical problems, however, mar this book. A reader might expect livelier writing, with less use of the passive voice and long quotations, from an English professor. The University of Oklahoma Press, known for quality editing, should have tightened organization, cut extraneous material, and required more interpretation. It bound the sheet announcing part two a chapter early, and laid out each section differently. Six chapters in part one equal in length two chapters (60 and 92 pages, with no subdivisions) in part two. The work needs an introduction to bind it together. The placement of a large number of fine photographs within the text deserves praise.
Robert J. Chandler
The reviewer holds a Ph. D. from the University of California, Riverside, and has published several articles on California history.
From The Journal of American History, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 704-705
Genocide and Vendetta is a meticulously researched case study in frontier violence. Its time span is the first fifty years of California's American period; its place, Round Valley and environs in Mendocino County and, more generally, the mountainous back-country of northern California.
In Ishi (1961) Theodora Kroeber described the insensitive kill-off of the men, women, and children of the Yahi tribe. In The Other Californians (1971) and The Destruction of the California Indians (1974) Robert Heizer documents the offhand obliteration of the natives. As early as 1940 a textbook chapter on the liquidation of these first Californians became standard.
In the genocide half of their book Lynwood Carranco and Estle Beard recite the destruction of the Yuki Indians of this area. On the discovery of Round Valley, the federal Indian superintendent laid claim to it for an Indian reservation. Almost immediately he and other whites entered claims to much of the best land. The settlers killed Indians at will. They captured and sold boys and girls to Sacramento Valley ranchers. They drove Indians from valley land in order to graze horses and cattle and from oak groves where pigs could feed. They spread disease. They valued the Indians as a docile work force, but by 1865 the tribe had been nearly exterminated. This is a lurid and tragic chronicle.
Then follows a chapter based on traditive testimony and written in the vernacular. It features such characters as buckskin-clad long-rifle men from Missouri, who incidentally killed a prodigious number of grizzly and black bears but for the market concentrated on deerskins, and members of the Asbill clan, who were in on the discovery of Round Valley and who later, as ranchers, entertained highwayman Black Bart and the sheriff and made other contributions to folklore.
The principal land claimant in Round Valley since 1855, George E. White, made a mockery of the law throughout this montane north. To enforce his claims he had his own lawyers, enforcers, murderers, false swearers, and so on. Rivals were forced out and the wheels of justice were blocked or reversed. His is a long and lurid story, well documented.
What shocks most is that the destruction of a tribe and the mockery of criminal justice took place no more than 150 miles from San Francisco at a time when it was the metropolis of the West and the cultural capital of half the continent, with poets, novelists, churches, colleges, the theater, a cosmopolitan style, and an ostensibly sophisticated society.
University of California, Los Angeles
From Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 110-111
Lynwood Carranco, a professor of English at the College of the Redwoods, and Estle Beard, a retired cattle rancher in Covelo, have teamed up to investigate the history of a valley located between the mountains called the Yolla Bollies and the coastal redwood forests of northern California. They have drawn upon a variety of primary and secondary sources to tell their story, which is divided into two parts. The first takes us from the aboriginal past to 1865 and primarily deals with Indian-white relations. The second covers the period from 1865 to 1905 and is concerned with Anglo-American settlement and development.
Long the homeland of several distinct Indian peoples such as the Yuki, the region was penetrated in the early 1850s by Anglos who perpetrated horrible atrocities and established several Indian reservations. Although sympathetic to the Indians, the authors use old frontier cliches when they assert that the “struggle between a strong, more civilized people and a weak, backward race for possession of the land was an age-old one. . . . The Indian was forced to make way for the march of empire” (p. 156). Once the Indians are taken care of, Carranco and Beard proceed to part two and discuss the activities of the Asbill brothers, the first Anglos to discover Round Valley, and George White, a particularly vile land baron. These are fascinating characters, indeed.
A major criticism of the book concerns the methodology employed by the authors. They have done their homework and are enthusiastic about their subjects, but they approach the writing of history in a rather dated way—pure descriptive narrative in strict chronological order. As a result, we read about a series of massacres, homicides, and hangings but receive no analysis of genocide, vendetta, and war. These are merely words in a catchy title. Furthermore, the text and the table of contents disagree on whether part two begins on page 101 or page 157. Still, to those interested in Indian-white relations, local history, and violence in the West, the book is well worth reading. The print is large and clear, the chapter notes and bibliography are extensive, and the illustrations are numerous and relevant to topics.
George Harwood Phillips
University of Colorado
From The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 347-349
It was Theodora Kroeber who reminded historians of the horrible brutalization once inflicted on California's Indians in her book Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (1961). Much earlier Hubert Howe Bancroft, describing white depredations upon the Indians, wrote that California ”cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering upon respectability. It can boast, however, a hundred or two of as brutal butcherings, on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as any area of equal extent in our republic.“
This book reiterates how any hint of resistance via native attacks upon the property or livestock of settlers was swiftly met by armed might. Retaliation led to the wiping out of entire Indian villages. Such conflict characterized California's so-called Indian wars, really a series of genocidal encounters.
The first part of this book portrays the history of the Yolla Bolla country and of the Round Valley wars up to the year 1865. This remote region was populated by the Yuki, one of the many small linguistic groups that lived in the California inland valleys. Murderous raids, repeated depredations, and wholesale kidnappings of Indian women and children nearly destroyed these natives. The process only took about twenty-five years. The fraud and malfeasance of the state's Indian superintendent and of his subagents also speeded extermination. The Wailakis, Huchnoms, Lassiks, and other Indian groups (not really tribes) were also adversely affected by white incursions. Fear ridden, these aborigines carried on a hopeless struggle for existence.
Pioneers who had been shot at while crossing the plains were scarcely in a conciliatory mood, however peaceable and submissive any native group proved to be. As hordes of settlers Americanized California, assaults on the Indians by traders, cattlemen, miners, merchants, and the military increased in number and gravity. Indian lands were overrun and tribal ways challenged. As elsewhere in the American West, invading Caucasians demanded that the Indian change his way of life to suit them. Starvation, disease, and liquor conspired with bullet and knife against the Indian. Pulmonary and venereal infections, smallpox, and other Caucasian imports decimated the helpless natives.
The final portion of this volume covers forty years, from 1865 to 1905. During this period the Asbill brothers were known as the economic“discoverers”of Round Valley. A cattle baron, George E. White, also figured prominently in the exploitation of both land and people. His buckeroos did not hesitate to use murder to get rid of competitors. The extended futile attempts to punish White's henchmen help to complete the picture of violence and brutality that characterized this unfortunate period of local history.
Carefully written by a professor of English, in collaboration with a retired cattle rancher and history buff, this work affords us an encapsulated view of the West's most regrettable legacies-racial genocide and unrestrained aggressivity. A next step for historians would be to examine the psychiatric roots of such human abuse.
From Ethnohistory, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Spring, 1984), pp. 148-149
Genocide and Vendetta deals with the history of a part of northern California, focusing on the Round Valley region of Mendocino County during the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. The book is divided into three sections. Section I deals with native peoples of the area. Following a chapter describing the traditional culture of the Yuki people, original inhabitants of Round Valley, this section documents a shocking campaign of intense genocide waged against the Yuki and neighboring groups between 1856 and 1865. The genocide campaign was conducted by white ranchers who wanted the Indians' land for stock raising purposes. The account then moves further north to the Humboldt Bay region and recounts another genocide campaign conducted against native groups there. Open hostilities between white and native groups ended about 1870.
Section II of the book, “The Asbill Brothers,” largely dismisses the Indians, but returns to the Round Valley area and mid-nineteenth century. Based on an unpublished manuscript written by the son of one of Round Valley's European discoverers and original settlers in the area, this section recounts the discovery of the valley by the Asbill exploring party in 1854, additional accounts of genocide, and various family adventures and misadventures before the deaths of the two Asbill brothers shortly after 1900.
Section III, “The George E. White Story,” returns yet another time to mid-nineteenth century Round Valley to follow the career of George White, an infamous“cattle king,”who accumulated and maintained by questionable means vast landholdings in three counties. This is a classic account of the nineteenth century West, including elements of murder, sensational trials, feuds and grudges, before White died peacefully in bed in 1902.
A brief “Aftermath” section summarizes events in Round Valley over the past seventy years, while an appendix presents information on the history of Round Valley Indian Reservation from its establishment in 1856 to approximately 1940. A liberal sprinkling of old photographs helps bring the book to life.
If this description of the contents makes the book sound redundant and burdensome, that is accurate. Retracing the same time period at least three times, the book lacks a single unifying framework. The problem seems to be that the authors are trying to write both native and white history at the same time, and they have not found a way to integrate their material. Repetition could also have been reduced by incorporating information from the appendix into Section I, where it logically belongs. The material that is presented is a jumble of facts and anecdotes, unnecessarily detail-ridden with names, dates, and places not essential to the point being made; lengthy digressions to review individual and family backgrounds have little to do with the subject of genocide and vendetta.
Simply put, Genocide and Vendetta is trying to accomplish too many goals for one book. There are suggestions of topics enough for several books on native or white history in northern California, but none of these is pursued, while the authors have not even attempted a summary discussion of their material as a means of integration or assessment. Moreover, the early Indian genocide campaigns of the area have already been related elsewhere (Bledsoe, Indian Wars of the Northwest, 1956; Heizer and Almquist, The Other Californians, 1971; Miller, Ukomno'm: The Yuki Indians of Northern California, 1979), while the later native ethnohistory, e.g., that of the Yuki people after 1865 or of the Hoopa people further north, has been ignored in this account despite the fact that abundant archival material exists on these topics. Description of the native people as“weak”and“backward”compared to the“strong, more civilized”Europeans (p. 156) is also subjective and ethnocentric.
One can only wonder at what audience the book is aimed. Repetitive, anecdotal, disorganized, it will not serve an academic audience. The sensational material it contains will probably appeal to a popular or a regional audience, but this group in turn may be discouraged by the excessive and/or irrelevant detail.
Virginia P. Miller