The New York Times: Book Review ‘An American Genocide,’ by Benjamin Madley

By Alan Taylor
May 27, 2016

The state of sunshine and pleasure is drenched in the blood of Indians, the victims of mass killings. These peaked between 1846, when Americans conquered California from Mexico, and 1873, when they snuffed out the last group resistance by natives in the state. The slaughter of California’s Indians was rapid and thorough even by the grim standards prevailing elsewhere in North America. Before 1846, California’s native peoples suffered great losses from diseases and dispossession. But Spanish colonizers and their Mexican successors wanted to preserve Indians as mission inmates or as cheap and dependent farm labor. The American newcomers, however, came by the thousands and treated natives as menaces best destroyed, the sooner the better.

Lacking firearms, subdivided into many distinct groups, and greatly outnumbered by 1852, the California natives were more vulnerable to attack than Indians elsewhere. As Benjamin Madley writes in “An American Genocide,” by 1873, roaming bands of Indian-killers played a major role in reducing native numbers by more than 80 percent. Often the massacres erupted as indiscriminate retribution after some starving Indians killed and ate a few cattle. Vigilante gangs also profited by seizing native women and children for sale as slaves, principally in San Francisco. A Sinkyone survivor, Sally Bell, recalled the morning when “some white men came. They killed my grandfather and my mother and my father. . . . Then they killed my baby sister and cut her heart out and threw it in the brush where I ran and hid.”

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Posted September 16, 2016, 3:10 PM PST