After Mexico lost California, private titles to land were still honored. That didn’t change. Neither did ownership in the several Spanish and Mexican settlements. However, it was difficult for the Natives or the Americans in California to gain legal title to their lands and reservations. Defining who owned the land, that had been promised to the Native Americans and to the white settlers by the Spanish and Mexicans, created a firestorm of cases in the courts. That bag of complicated puzzles included aborigine hunting rights, the right of the Natives to occupy certain lands, the right of a settler to own land, and the right to be paid for land. This difficulty existed even where the occupants wished to sell and were already recognized as the owner.
Each legal matter had to be defined by law. But who had jurisdiction? The confusion created massive numbers of cases and legal opinions not always consistent or in agreement with one another. It was a mess.
The cold hard fact was that nobody had a nickel’s worth of desire to recognize Native American rights. White land speculators, especially, looked for all possible loopholes and excuses they could find in the law to take these lands and these rights.
Weary of the endless bloodshed and Indian revolts, in 1850, President Millard Fillmore tried to end the uncertainty. He picked three commissioners to go to California. They were given one rule: ‘Learn what will satisfy the Natives and make treaties with them.’
Colonel Redick McKee went to Lake County to parley with the several Pomo Tribes. He met with the Chief of the How-Ku-Ma (Southeastern Pomo) and with the Elem of Rattlesnake Island. The promises and conditions of the agreement he reached with the Native Americans was clear as a morning sunrise. ‘The Clear Lake basin shall be set aside for your people. They shall have sole occupancy and use forever.’
Once the Pomo understood that promise from the Great White Father in Washington they were satisfied. They had enough of the killing. In return, the Pomo agreed to: ‘…Recognize the United States as the sole sovereign of all the land occupied by the Pomo people. Place themselves under the protection of the United States and agree to keep the peace.’
To sweeten the pot, the Native Americans were promised help to improve their lives and compete in the White world. They would have school teachers, planting and livestock information, blacksmiths, farm animals, and implements. Both sides were satisfied. The message that each of the tribal heads gave their people to accept the treaty was much the same; ‘We must face the truth of the white man’s presence. They are as the sands of the ocean. More come each day and they grow stronger while we grow weaker. The white man promises to give our people the land we must have to hunt and fish. We must fight the whites no more and we shall live in peace together.’
For a people that had lived as they wished on this land for more centuries than you and I can comprehend, they were a practical people. The Indians knew they had to accept a new way of life. They agreed.
The treaty was signed. Under the circumstances and by any measure of the times, the agreement was fair. It should have solved a growing problem with justice. But there was a fly in the ointment.
When it was given to the California State Legislature, hurriedly, committees were established to ‘look into the matter.’ You and I know what that implied. They needed time to scuttle the treaties.
What the Committees came up with, after looking the treaties over, were cries of anguish and wails of horror. They foresaw the end of mankind and the coming of the Apocalypse. The State Legislature concluded in near holy language, ‘The enterprising (white) population will be deprived of all their improvements, discoveries, and hard-earned acquisitions. The reservations will have a deleterious effect upon the general prosperity of the whole state. Taxable property swept from the state will be immense. It will lead to a corresponding increase of taxation upon other portions of the State.’
Next, they brought up their big guns. They urged their Senators in Washington to keep Congress from ratifying the Treaties. Following that, they made use of that old stratagems, ‘The best defense is a strong offense.’ They attacked the messengers.
Figuratively, in their fiery speeches on the floor of the State Legislature, they tarred and feathered the Indian Agents. They demanded Congress must conduct ‘A rigid inquiry into the conduct of the several Indian Agents in California.’ Their skewed reasoning was that, ‘High-handed and unprecedented frauds have been perpetrated by the agents against the general government and the citizens of California.’
The U.S. Senate rejected the treaties. To keep some appearance of serious congressional action by a fair and thoughtful legislature, they did the only thing they could; they buried the treaties unsigned.
Done in secret, the treaties were made Classified Documents. They were carefully bundled up and placed in the back of some dusty drawer somewhere in Washington and there they languished, forgotten, for the next fifty years.
Next Week: Truth Will Out.
Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax &