March 28, 2015

Bloody Island Massacre

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The Bloody Island Massacre (also called the Clear Lake Massacre) occurred on an island called in the Pomo language, Bo-no-po-ti or Badon-napo-ti (Island Village), at the north end of Clear Lake, Lake County, California, on May 15, 1850. It was a place where the Pomo had traditionally gathered for the spring fish spawn. After this event, it became known as Bloody Island.

 

Abuse of Kelsey and Stone

A number of Pomo Indians living in the Big Valley area had been enslaved and severely abused by two white settlers named Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone.

Kelsey and Stone purchased cattle running free in Big Valley from Salvador Vallejo in 1847. They captured and forced local Pomo to work as vaqueros (cowboys). They also forced them to build them a permanent shelter with promises for rations that were not kept.

The people were eventually confined to a village surrounded by a stockade and were not allowed weapons or fishing implements. Families soon began to starve on the four cups of wheat a day allowed for a whole family. When one young man asked for more wheat for his sick mother, Stone reportedly killed him.

In the fall of 1849, Kelsey forced 50 Pomo men to work as laborers on a gold-seeking expedition to the Placer gold fields. Kelsey became ill with malaria on the trip, and sold the meager rations he brought for the Pomo men to other miners. The Pomo starved, and only one or two men returned alive.

Stone and Kelsey also regularly forced Pomo parents to bring their young daughters to them to be sexually abused. If they refused they were whipped mercilessly, and a number of them died from that abuse.

After three years of abuse, Kelsey and Stone get what they deserve

The starving Pomo became so desperate that two of them named Suk and Xasis took Stone’s horse to kill a cow but the weather was bad and the horse ran off. Knowing they would be punished, Chief Augustine’s wife poured water onto the two men’s gunpowder, rendering it useless.

Pomo warriors then attacked the house at dawn, immediately killing Kelsey with an arrow. Stone jumped out a window and tried to hide in a stand of willow trees, but Chief Augustine found him and killed him with a rock.

The Pomo men took food back to their families and everyone left to join other relatives around the Lake. Some went to Badon-napoti where the spring fish spawn was underway.

The Retribution

On May 15, 1850, a 1st Dragoons Regiment of the United States Cavalry under Lieutenants Nathaniel Lyon and  J. W. Davison tried to locate Augustine’s band to punish them. When they came upon a group of Pomo on Badon-napoti (later called Bloody Island), they killed as many as they could, including old men, women and children.

The National Park Service has estimated the army killed 60 of 400 Pomo; other accounts say 100 were killed.

Most of the younger men were off in the mountains hunting. Some of the dead were relatives of Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake and Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California. The army killed 75 more Indians along the Russian River.

One of the Pomo survivors of the massacre was a 6-year-old girl named Ni’ka, or Lucy Moore. She hid underwater and breathed through a tule reed. Her descendants later formed the Lucy Moore Foundation to work for better relations between the Pomo and other residents of California.

Eventually, the Pomo were forced to live on small rancherias  set aside by the federal government. For most of the 20th century, the Pomo, reduced in number, survived on such tiny reservations in poverty. Few textbooks on California history mention the Bloody Island incident or abuse of the native Californians.

Bloody Island is no longer an island today but instead is a small hill on reclaimed land.

Two separate historical markers record the site of this massacre. The first, placed on Reclamation Road 0.3 miles off Highway 20 by the Native Sons of the Golden West in May 1942 , simply notes the location as the scene of a “battle” between US soldiers under Captain Lyons and Indians under Chief Augustine.

California Historical Landmark No. 427, describing the location as the scene of a “massacre,” mostly of women and children, was placed on Highway 20 at the Reclamation Road intersection in May 2005 by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Lucy Moore Foundation.

Native American Battles & Indian Wars
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