California Genocide

California Genocide
Part of the American Indian Wars, Indian removal, and the Native American genocide
"Protecting The Settlers" Illustration by JR Browne for his work "The Indians Of California" 1864.jpg
"Protecting The Settlers" Illustration by JR Browne for his work The Indians Of California, 1864
TargetIndigenous Californians
Attack type
Genocide, ethnic cleansing, human hunting, slavery, rape, Indian removal
Deaths9,492 to 16,094 (Madley)[1] (other estimates: 4,500[2] – 100,000[3]) indigenous Californians outright killed, thousands more died due to disease and other causes
Injured24,000[4] to 27,000[4] Native Americans were taken as forced laborers by white settlers; 4,000[4] to 7,000[4] of them children
PerpetratorsUnited States Army, California State Militia, white settlers

The California Genocide refers to actions in the mid to late 19th century by the United States federal, state, and local governments that resulted in the decimation of the indigenous population of California following the U.S. occupation of California in 1846. Actions included encouragement of volunteers and militias to kill unarmed men, women, and children.[citation needed]

Under Spanish rule their population was estimated to have dropped from 300,000 prior to 1769, to 250,000 in 1834. After Mexico gained independence from Spain and secularized the coastal missions in 1834, the indigenous population suffered a more drastic decrease to 150,000. Under US sovereignty, after 1848, the indigenous population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000 in 1870; it reached its lowest point of 16,000 in 1900. Between 1846 and 1873, European Americans are estimated to have killed outright some 9,492[1] to 16,094[1] California Native Americans, particularly during the Gold Rush.[5][6] 24,000[4] to 27,000[4] Native American were taken as forced labor in which most of them would die of disease, starvation, and abuse. The state of California used its institutions to favor white settlers' rights over indigenous rights and was responsible for dispossession of the natives.[7]

Since the late 20th century, numerous American scholars and activist organizations, both Native American and European American, have characterized the period immediately following the U.S. Conquest of California as one in which the state and federal governments waged genocide against the Native Americans in the territory. In the early 21st century, some scholars argue for the government to authorize tribunals so that a full accounting of responsibility for this genocide in western states can be conducted.


Indigenous populations

Estimated native California population (Cook 1978)
Groups Population by Year
All minimum sources below cite:[8]
1770 1910
Yurok 2,500
(up to 3,100[9])
Karok 1,500
(up to[10][11] 2,000 to 2,700)
Wiyot 1,000 100
Tolowa 1,000 150
Hupa 1,000 500
Chilula, Whilkut 1,000 (*)
Mattole 500
(up to 2,476[12])
Nongatl, Sinkyone, Lassik 2,000
(up to 7,957[12])
Wailaki 1,000
(up to 2,760[12])
kato 500
(up to 1,100[9]
Yuki 2,000
(up to 6,000 to 20,000)[13][14]
Huchnom 500 (*)
Coast Yuki 500 (*)
Wappo 1,000
(up to 1,650[15]
Pomo 8,000
(up to 10,000[16] to 18,000[16])
Lake Miwok 500 (*)
Coast Miwok 1,500 (*)
Shasta 2,000
(up to 5,600[17] to 10,000[18]
Chimariko, New River, Konomihu, Oakwanuchu 1,000 (*)
Achomawi, Atsugawi 3,000 1,100
Modoc in California 500 (*)
Yana 1,500 (*)
Wintun 12,000 1,000
Maidu 9,000
(up to 9,500[19])
Miwok (Plains and Sierra) 9,000 700
Yokuts 18,000
(up to 70,000[20])
Costanoan 7,000
(up 10,000[21] to 26,000 combined with Salinan)[22])
Esselen 500 (*)
Salinan 3,000 (*)
Chumash 10,000
(up to 13,650[23] to 20,400[23]
Washo in California 500 300
Northern Paiute in California 500 300
Eastern and Western Mono 4,000 1,500
Tübatulabal 1,000 150
Koso, Chemehuevi, Kawaiisu 1,500 500
Serrano, Vanyume, Kitanemuk, Alliklik 3,500 150
Gabrielino, Fernandeño, San Nicoleño 5,000 (*)
Luiseño 4,000
(up to 10,000[24]
Juaneño 1,000
(up 3,340)[25]
Cupeño 500
(up to 750[26])
Cahuilla 2,500
(up to 6,000[27] to 15,000[27])
Diegueño, Kamia 3,000
(up to 6,000[28] to 19,000[29])
Mohave (Total) 3,000 1,050
Halchidhoma (emigrated since 1800) 1,000
(up to 2,500[30])
Yuma (Total) 2,500 750
Total of Groups Marked * .......... 450
Less river Yumans in Arizona 3,000
(up to 4,000[31])
Non Californian Indians now in California .......... 350
Affiliation doubtful or not reported .......... 1,000
Total 133,000
(up to 230,407 to 301,233)


Prior to Spanish arrival, California was home to an indigenous population thought to have been as high as 300,000. The largest group were the Chumash people, with a population around 10,000.[8] The region was highly diverse, with numerous distinct languages spoken. While there was great diversity in the area, archeological findings show little evidence of intertribal conflicts.[6]

The various groups appear to have adapted to particular areas and territories. California habitats and climate supported an abundance of wildlife, including rabbits, deer, varieties of fish, fruit, roots, and acorns. This resulted in a high level of food independence. The natives largely followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving around their area through the seasons as different types of food were available.[32]

"Protecting the Settlers", an illustration by contemporary witness JR Browne, for his work The Indians Of California (1864)

California was one of the last regions in the Americas to be colonized. Spanish missionaries, led by Franciscan administrator Junípero Serra and military forces under the command of Gaspar de Portolá, did not reach this area until 1769. The mission was intended to spread the Christian faith among the region's indigenous peoples and establish places to develop area resources and products for the empire. The Spanish built San Diego de Alcalá, the first of 21 missions, at what developed as present-day San Diego in the southern part of the state along the Pacific. Military outposts were constructed alongside the missions to house the soldiers sent to protect the missionaries.[citation needed]