In 1851, the federal government appointed three commissioners to negotiate treaties with the California Indians. By the end of the year, 18 treaties had been negotiated with 139 tribes. These treaties set aside 7,488 acres of land strictly for Indian use. This amounted to a third of California.
On Jan. 16 and Feb. 11, 1852, the California Legislature discussed the treaties and concluded that the agreements "committed an error in assigning large portions of the richest mineral and agricultural lands to the Indians, who did not appreciate the land's value."
The Legislature instructed the U.S. senators from California to oppose ratification of the treaties and called for the federal government to remove Indians from the state as they had done in other states.
In February 1852, President Millard Fillmore submitted the 18 California treaties to the U.S. Senate for ratification. The California senators were recognized, and the Senate went into secret session to discuss the treaties. The Senate failed to ratify the treaties during the session, and by order the treaties were placed in secret files, where they remained until 1905.
Hubert Howe Bancroft, a noted historian, described the impact of the gold rush on Indians. "The California valley cannot grace her annals with a single Indian war bordering on respectability. It can boast, however, a hundred or two as brutal butchering on the part of our honest miners and brave pioneers, as in any area of equal extent in our republic ..."
In April 1849, the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, wrote that the miners realized "it will be absolutely necessary to exterminate the savages before they can labor much longer in the mines with security." Then in 1851, the newspaper declared that the native peoples "must fade before the Saxon race as the cloud in the west before the light and heat of a greater power."
The early 1850s were the black pages of California history. White merchants and miners were impatient for the state to further their interests, so citizen militias were created to rid the state of Indians who resisted demands for their lands, their labor, and anything else.
During 1851 and 1852, the California Legislature authorized payment of $1.1 million for the "suppression of Indian hostilities." The revenues came from the gold fields. In 1857, the Legislature issued bonds in the amount of $410,000 for the same purpose.
In 1853, the Yreka Herald called on the government to provide assistance to "enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed. Extermination is no longer a question of time Â– the time has arrived, the work has commenced and let the first man that says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor."
Towns offered bounty hunters cash for every head or scalp that was obtained, be it man, woman, or child.
These laws and attitudes eventually would lead to the massacres of local Tolowa, which has been discussed in recent 150th anniversary articles.