Sunday, November 19, 2017
"California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865
"Incomplete accounts," writes historian and retired Political Science professor Michele Shover, "are a common problem in local history. For example, Butte County's violent clashes between settlers and Indians were treated as random 'one-off' events--intermittent atrocities sprinkled among accounts of Victorian-era 'happy talk.'" John Bidwell himself "suggested the effects of such events were peripheral distractions, not core experiences."
Over the last two decades Shover has worked with original sources in an attempt to tell a more nuanced story, analyzing "underlying causes, political issues, conflicts of interest, cultural assumptions. …" The result is a magisterial work of scholarship that is also immensely readable. "California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865" ($24.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) challenges assumptions and develops new historical understanding.
Meticulously detailed, with fifty pages of endnotes, the book's dozen chapters provide a riveting picture of the competing interests swirling around the community Bidwell founded. As Shover notes, "Politics was personal in nineteenth-century Chico, influencing social life and where residents spent their money." There are contemporary resonances everywhere.
Shover disputes what she calls Theodora Kroeber's "misanalysis of Maidu culture" and historical "distortions" all of which have implications for Kroeber's "Ishi In Two Worlds."
Shover also concludes that the Mountain Maidu raided the Mechoopdas working on Bidwell's ranch in the mid-1850s because they likely considered this "collusion."
Shover's research shows that many more Indians than the standard account of 32 died as they were resettled to Round Valley in 1863. "Primary documents disclose that close to 200 … died on the climb up the Coastal range mountain to the reservation." The record, she says, was "manipulated to shield the Army from its failure to deliver the Indians."
For the first time, Shover explains that these Indian deaths were not caused by the Army, but by "the most mortally dangerous type of malaria" that infected the group "while camped near Big Chico Creek in the summer of 1863."
The story Shover tells is one of violence since there were "no effective institutions in place that protected … against abuses." Her study, giving all sides their due, breaks new ground. It is indispensable.