If the reader hasn’t had enough blood and western justice, what follows here should satisfy. Although what happened at Bloody Island was hardly justice… at least, not for the Indians. It was plenty bloody.
Three miles from Upper Lake, east on Highway 20, on the side of the road there is a brass plaque. The plaque is bolted, head high, to a man-sized boulder. The words inscribed on the brass are a mute testament to the sacrifice of innocents. The short message commemorates an ancient tragedy; the slaughter of Pomo Native Americans on a small island not far from the highway. The Native Americans named the place of death, BO-NO-PO-I; Bloody Island. The killing of Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone by their enslaved Pomo Indians, and the later actions of the U.S. Army, stands today, along with other massacres, as a holocaust. The murder of the hundreds of innocent Pomo men by the US Cavalry in 1850 is only eclipsed by the added wanton cruelty and killing of innocent women and children.
A small half-acre island on the north shore of Clear Lake was one of the favorite fishing places for the Pomo. A peaceful tribe, the Eastern Pomo lived by fishing and hunting in the hills above the Lake. They made excellent reed baskets, snares, and nets just as they had for thousands of years. To avoid overuse of the fishing and hunting grounds, as time passed and their numbers grew larger, their small tribal groups spread, on an average, seven miles apart around the edge of Clear Lake.
On the northern edge of Clear Lake, there were two small Eastern Pomo tribal groups; the Kulanapo and Habenapo. These were the same Native Americans, who were to become forced laborers for the Kelsey brothers and Arnold Stone when those White men came to Lake County in 1846.
The history of the Bloody Island Massacre is a tale of violence that began when Gold was discovered in California. The American Army was stationed in Sonoma during the period Mexicans still owned much of the land. The United States had begun the exploration of the lesser-known parts of California. It was a hard time for the army. Gold fever had depleted the ranks until troop strength was down by half.
While the Army explored California, and as teaming hordes of fifty thousand desperate determined men swarmed into the Gold Fields, two of the men that came to California were the brothers, Andrew, and Benjamin Kelsey. Their partner was Charles Stone and they came to the Clear Lake Basin to find gold. Unlike the usual gold seekers, the Kelsey brothers had different ideas of how to capture their share of the wealth.
Salvadore Vallejo, brother to Mexican Ex-General Mariano Vallejo, had a claim to sixteen leagues of land around the west side of Clear Lake, where Upper Lake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville now stand. In the fall of 1847, Stone and the brothers bought what was left of the Vallejo stock at Clear Lake. Vallejo gave them the right to use his land as pasture.
Ben Kelsey was a determined man. When he and the others arrived at Clear Lake with only their provisions, their weapons and one horse apiece, they made camp on the site where the Kelsey Ranchero would one day stand. Ben Kelsey made a vow and his promised is recorded.
“No man and nothing’s going to stand in our way. We got stock and we’re sure as hell going to get gold.”
Next Episode: Chief Augustine Speaks.
Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)
Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485