Argonauts and Indians in the California Gold Rush: an analysis of the Sacramento-region press 1848-1860

This thesis offers an analysis of eight newspapers published in the greater Sacramento-region during the Gold Rush era of California, 1848-1860. Topics explored include the image of Indians and white settlers in the press, Indian massacres, and the reasons for white-on-Indian violence, proposed solutions to the “Indian troubles,” and an examination of John Rollin Ridge’s editorial opinions. A number of historians have addressed the notion that white settlers and gold seekers in California, with the support of the California government, perpetrated genocide upon the indigenous people of the region. Evidence in the Sacramento-region press confirms this assertion in a variety of ways. Additionally, historians have pointed to the reservation program in California as a failed policy. Here again the Sacramento-region newspaper editors offered substantial proof of this assertion. This thesis draws primarily from the editorial writings of eight major newspapers of the Sacramento-region. The cited newspapers include the Daily Alta California, the Marysville Daily Appeal, the Marysville Herald, the Daily National Democrat, the Placer Times, the Sacramento Daily Bee, the Sacramento Daily Union, and the Sacramento Transcript. Additionally, this thesis examines other primary documents including journals, eyewitness histories, and letters. Finally, secondary accounts have also informed the analysis; specifically, I have relied on the works of Albert Hurtado, Robert Heizer, James Parins, George Phillips, James J. Rawls, and James Sandos among others. The thesis concludes that the majority of editors in the Sacramento-region blamed white incursions upon Indian lands as the catalyst for violence in the gold fields. Editors worked to convince readers that the white-on-Indian violence in the diggings was the work of a small minority of white newcomers. Further, most editors supported the creation of a reservation system in the state, although they were critical of the administration of that reservation system once established. John Rollin Ridge stood alone in favor of the assimilation of California Indians into “civilized society.”