Northern California tribe has survived a harsh past
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
By The Madera Tribune
Few in Madera are likely to have heard of the 550-member tribe that has
partnered with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in compacts that
may bring a 2,500-slot-machine casino north of Madera.
An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Wiyot people lived in the redwood-forested
shores of northern California before 1850. But after 1860 the numbers
dropped to 200 and by 1910 less than 100 full-blooded Wiyot lived on
their traditional land along Humboldt Bay. On the tribe's Web site
www.wiyot.com, the decline is attributed "to disease, slavery, target
practice, 'protection,' ... being hearded from place to place and, of
The most infamous massacre took place on a wintry morning Feb. 25, 1860.
The incident took place at the village site of Tuluwat on the northern
part of an island in Humboldt Bay, about a mile and a half from Eureka.
There many Wiyots gathered annually for a traditional renewal ceremony
that lasted seven to 10 days. Most of the Wiyot men would leave the
island each night to return the next morning with fresh supplies.
A band of settlers from Eureka reportedly paddled to the island -now
known as Indian Island- armed with hatchets, knives and clubs, which
were used to avoid the far-from-stealthy sound of gunshots. Sleeping
Wiyot people - mostly women and children - were slain, and then two
other villages were also raided. Eighty to a hundred Wiyot were killed.
Only one Wiyot - an infant named Jerry James - survived the island
attacks that night.
Writer Bret Harte, who was employed by a local newspaper, covered the
aftermath of the event, and wrote, "a more shocking and revolting
spectacle never was exhibited to the eyes of a Christian and civilized
people. Old women wrinkled and decrepit lay weltering in blood, their
brains dashed out and dabbled with their long grey hair. Infants
scarcely a span along, with their faces cloven with hatchets and their
bodies ghastly with wounds."
After the massacre the Wiyots were forcibly removed by the Army to Fort
Humboldt for their protection and later that same year were taken to the
Klamath River Reservation. A flood forced a relocation to the Smith
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