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UCR Scholars Say Gold Rush Days Meant Tragedy for Native Americans

UCR Scholars Say Gold Rush Days Meant Tragedy for Native Americans

(April 6, 1999)

Note to Editors: Trafzer will sign his new book at the UCR Bookstore, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. April 15

The California Gold Rush may have been the proud beginning of the golden state, but there is a tragic reality to that era as well is now detailed in a new book edited by Clifford E. Trafzer, a professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside.

"Exterminate Them": Written Accounts of the Murder, Rape, and Enslavement of Native Americans during the California Gold Rush, 1848-1868 is a compilation of telling newspaper articles from the Gold Rush era. It is co-edited by Joel R. Hyer, a graduate research associate at the Costo Historical and Linguistics Center at UCR, the center that Trafzer directs. It was published by Michigan State University Press (ISBN number 0-87013-501-5, $22.95).

While the stereotype is true - bearded miners with pickaxes did search for gold nuggets along scenic rushing rivers in the Sierra Nevada - that simple image hides the fact that some of the same miners participated in a calculated genocide of Native American peoples. Trafzer and Hyer have collected original newspaper articles that describe in detail the murder, rape and enslavement of Native American men, women and children.

"It is a mercy to the Red Devils to exterminate them," wrote an editor of the Chico Courier. Other newspaper accounts of the era depict both the barbarity and the nobility in human nature. Some miners protested the treatment of Native Americans, without success. Native Americans fought back with every weapon available. But they could not stop the tide of white miners and settlers. The Gold Rush made Native Americans "strangers in a stolen land."

Last year, 1998, marked the 150th anniversary of the California Gold Rush period, perhaps the most famous example of mass immigration to a state known for its weather and rich mineral deposits. So it is a particularly good time to take a critical look back at the realities, rather than the myths.

Larry Myers, executive secretary of the California Native American Heritage Commission, described "Exterminate Them" as a "brilliant book based on original research from newspapers that document one of the most tragic episodes in American history." Jack Norton, a visiting scholar who currently holds the Costo Chair at the University of California, Riverside, said the typical Californian knows little or nothing about the violence committed during the gold rush period.

"Teachers who are required to cover this subject matter should be greatly enriched with accurate, evidentiary and documental records. What an opportunity to critically inquire and to learn about comparative political systems, social issues, economic and philosophical ramifications."

Trafzer received the 1996-97 Wordcraft Prose Writer of the Year Award for his last book, titled "Death Stalks the Yakama."

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