IN the fall of 1908 some attention was aroused in the press by a story to the effect that hunters had encountered in the state of California a tribe of Indians who were still in the stone age. The idea of a " wild" tribe in a thickly settled region like California was so novel that it served to awaken a very wide interest.
The occupation of California by the Americans is usually pictured as a peaceful transaction. We hear little of Indian wars in connection with this state. The California tribes pursued, as it happened, a more or less settled mode of life. Being non-migratory, they were peculiarly open to attack and reprisal for any resistance they could have offered to the American invasion. The influx of Americans moreover was on the whole so sudden and overwhelming that those Indian disturbances which did occur were soon forgotten. As a matter of fact, the white occupation here was accomplished by violence and bloodshed, and through armed conflict with the natives far and wide.
In the northeastern part of the Sacramento valley there lived a nation of Indians who were early driven into a vigorous hostility to the whites. They had already, from their friction with other tribes, developed some adeptness in raiding and thieving, and in a sort of guerilla warfare. The southern branch of the stock, calling themselves simply Yahi, or "people," and inhabiting a stretch of country immediately east of the Sacramento, kept the whites in a state of uncertainty for a considerably longer time. There is one relatively small region in particular which came to be specially identified with this small group of Indians. That is the country immediately about Mill Creek. In the course of their life in these canyons they developed an intense hatred and fear of the whites. They came to be hunted very much like wild animals. Accordingly they developed peculiar habits of visiting the valley in sudden forays, escaping instantly to the hills afterwards.
Between the years 1850 and 1865 this group was more or less under observation by the government. Rumors of battle, murder and sudden death came frequently from this region to the central authorities in San Francisco and Sacramento. On one or two occasions attempts were made by the War Department to apply the universal remedy for Indian troubles—removal to a reservation. The only book which deals exclusively with events in the Yahi region is a small but vivid volume written by R. A. Anderson, an actor in the events, and sometime sheriff of Butte County ("Fighting the Mill Creeks," Chico, Cal., 1909). This little book checks up with the records of the War Department. The "war" with this small tribe seems to be quite overlooked in the histories of California.
Of this "war", Anderson writes:
"During these years Indians were numerous. Those who infested the region where I lived were called Mill Creeks or Deer Creeks, the rough canyons of these two streams offering thousands of hiding places to these wild bands. During the winter of 1857 they caused much uneasiness among the settlers. Many raids were made into the valley, followed always by swift retreats into the hills. People were killed, dwellings burned, and stock driven off. These depredations occurred usually along the edge of the valley, but extended on some occasions as far as the Sacramento River. This state of things could not continue. The Indians, with the accustomed stealth of savages, always made their attacks unexpectedly. Since the settler could not guard against surprise, it was decided to retaliate by carrying the war into the Indians' own territory.
"Jack Spaulding, who claimed to have had experience in fighting the reds, organized a party of fifteen men for the purpose of following the marauders into the hills. Hi Good and myself were members of this party. We knew that to beat the savages we must outplay them at their own game . . . ."