Creation Myths of Primitive America, by Jeremiah Curtin, , at sacred-texts.com
As a preface to the few myths of the Yanas which have survived, I beg to offer the following words touching this ill-fated people:
Previous to August, 1864, the Yanas numbered about three thousand, as I have been informed on the sound authority of reliable white men. Taking the names and population of villages given me by surviving Indians, I should say that this estimate is not too large.
During the second half of August, 1864, the Yanas were massacred, with the exception of a small remnant.
The Indians of California, and especially those of Sacramento Valley, were among the most harmless of human beings. Instead of being dangerous to settlers, they worked for them in return for fair wages. The Yanas were distinguished beyond others for readiness to earn money. White men occupied in tilling land knew their value, and employed them every season in haymaking and harvesting.
At the present day the Wintus, and the few Yanas that are left, go down the valley and labor during the season in hop-fields and vineyards.
Why were the Yanas killed?
The answer is as follows: Certain Indians lived, or rather lurked, around Mill Creek, in wild places somewhat east of Tehama and north of Chico. These Mill Creek Indians were fugitives; outlaws from various tribes, among others from the Yanas. To injure the latter, they went to the Yana country about the middle of August, 1864, and killed two white women, Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones. Four children also were left for dead by them, but the children recovered. After the murders the Mill Creeks returned home unnoticed, carrying various plundered articles with them.
Two parties of white men were formed at once to avenge the women and four children. Without trying in any way to learn who the guilty were, they fell upon the Yanas immediately, sparing neither sex nor age. They had resolved to exterminate the whole
nation. The following few details will show the character of their work:--
At Millville, twelve miles east of Redding, white men seized two Yana girls and a man. These they shot about fifty yards from the village hotel. At another place they came to the house of a white woman who had a Yana girl, seven or eight years of age. They seized this child, in spite of the woman, and shot her through the head. "We must kill them, big and little," said the leader; "nits will be lice."
A few miles north of Millville lived a Yana girl named Eliza, industrious and much liked by those who knew her. She was working for a farmer at the time. The party stopped before this house, and three of the men entered it. "Eliza, come out," said one of them, "we are going to kill you." She begged for her life. To the spokesman, who had worked for her employer some time before, she said: "Don't kill me; when you were here I cooked for you, I washed for you, I was kind to you; I never asked pay of you; don't kill me now."
Her prayers were vain. They took Eliza, with her aunt and uncle, a short distance from the house and shot the three. My informant counted eleven bullets in Eliza's breast.
After this murder the party took a drink and started; but the leader, in killing Eliza, said, "I don't think that little squaw is dead yet." So he turned back and smashed in her skull with his musket. The man who counted the bullet holes in her bosom, himself a white man, saw her after the skull was broken. He knew the girl well, and gave me these details.
Another party went to a farm on Little Cow Creek where they, found three Yana men threshing hayseed in a barn. The farmer was not at home. They killed the three Indians, and went to the house. The three wives of the men killed in the barn were there and began to scream. The farmer's wife hurried out with a quilt, threw it around the three women, and stood in front of them, holding the ends of the quilt. "If you kill them you will kill me," said she, facing the party. The woman was undaunted, and, as. it happened, was big with child. To kill, or attempt to kill, under those conditions, would be a deed too ghastly for even such
heroes; so they went away, swearing that they would kill the "squaws" later. These three Indian women were saved and taken beyond the reach of danger by two white men.
And so the "avengers" of Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones continued. At one place they killed an Indian woman and her infant, at another three women. In the town of Cottonwood they killed twenty Yanas of both sexes. The most terrible slaughter in any place was near the head of Oak Run, where three hundred Yanas had met at a religious dance. These were attacked in force, and not a soul escaped. The slaughter went on day after day till the entire land of the Yanas was cleared. The few who escaped were those who happened to be away from home, outside their country, and about twelve who were saved by Mr. Oliver and Mr. Disselhorst, both of Redding. The whole number of surviving Yanas of pure and mixed blood was not far from fifty.
Some time after the bloody work was done it was discovered that the Mill Creek outlaws had killed Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Jones, and that the Yanas were innocent. The Mill Creeks were left unpunished.
My inquiries as to how civilized men could commit such atrocities found the following answers:--
In 1864 there was a large floating and mining population in Northern California, which "had no use for Indians," and was ready to kill them on slight provocation. In distinction to these people was a small number of settlers who lived among the Yanas in friendship, and hired them too work on land. The killing was done by men who did not know the Yanas. Those settlers who did know the Yanas were overawed, and were unable to save them, except secretly, as in the case of the two men who rescued the three women on Little Cow Creek by conveying them beyond danger. Oliver and Disselhorst, who saved twelve, were at the edge of Redding, where support was possible. At first the rage of the killing parties was boundless; they swore that white women would not be murdered again in that country, and that not an Indian should be left alive in it. An intense feeling of indignation at the murder, coupled with an unspeakable contempt for Indians, was the motive in the breasts of most of the white men. Had
they looked on the Yanas with ordinary feelings of justice, they would have tried to find the guilty instead of slaughtering a whole nation. There was another element among the slayers of the Indians,--a vile one, an element which strives to attach itself to every movement, good or bad in all places--a plundering element. That year the Yanas had worked a good deal, and it was not uncommon for single persons of them to have from $40 to $60. One informant told me that a man showed a friend of his $400 which he had taken from murdered Indians. Money and everything of value that the Yanas had was snatched up by these robbers.
Nearly all the men who killed the Yanas have gone out of the country or are dead. A few are in Northern California yet, and the children of some of the dead ones are living there now. Though one's indignation at the deeds of 1864 be great, there is no use in mentioning names at this hour. All that is left is to do for the poor remnant of an interesting people that which we have done for Indians in other parts: give them land properly surveyed and the means to begin life on it.