Eureka’s Day of Shame – 150 Years Ago – February 25, 1860

~from wikipedia~


On February 25, 1860, the Wiyot experienced a tragic massacre which devastated their numbers and has remained a pervasive part of their cultural heritage and identity. World Renewal ceremonies were being held at the village of Tutulwat, on “Indian Island” (also known as Gunther Island[3])about a mile and a half offshore from Eureka in Humboldt Bay. The leader of the Humboldt Bay Wiyots was Captain Jim. He organized and led the ceremony to start a new year.

A group of Eureka men came to the island in the early morning after the last ceremony was completed. They were armed with hatchets, clubs and knives.[4] They left their guns behind so the noise of the slaughter would be only screams rather than gunshots. This was not the only massacre that took place that night. Two other village sites were raided, on the Eel River and on the South Spit. Reports of the number of Wiyots killed that night vary from 80 to 200.

The 1860 massacre was well documented historically and was reported in San Francisco and New York by a young American writer who would later use the pen name Bret Harte. Harte was working as a printer’s helper and assistant editor at a local newspaper at the time, and his boss was temporarily absent, leaving Harte in charge of the paper. Harte published a detailed account condemning the event, writing, “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.”

On the contrary, the Humboldt Times newspaper editorialized, “For the past four years we have advocated two—and only two—alternatives for ridding our country of Indians: either remove them to some reservation or kill them. The loss of life and destruction of property by the Indians for ten years past has not failed to convince every sensitive man that the two races cannot live together, and the recent desperate and bloody demonstrations on Indian Island and elsewhere is proof that the time has arrived that either the pale face or the savage must yield the ground.”

The Times apparently represented the mainstream opinion in the area at the time. An investigation failed to identify a single perpetrator, although those who did the killing were rumored to be well known. Harte quit his job one month later and moved to San Francisco, where an anonymous letter published in a city paper is attributed to him, describing widespread community approval of the massacre.

The Wiyot people were decimated. They were corralled at Fort Humboldt for protection. Survivors were herded mostly to Round Valley, established as an Indian reservation within California. They kept escaping and returning to their homeland.


6 Responses to “Eureka’s Day of Shame – 150 Years Ago – February 25, 1860”

  1. didn’t the indians keep raiding town?

  2. […] Eureka's Day of Shame – 150 Years Ago – February 25, 1860 … […]

  3. Even if true Black Flag, that does justify killing women and children, is that the way Americans defends against military attacks?

  4. My thinking is women and children were killed on BOTH sides, they were raiding the town.
    All you communist types love to rally around your hatred of the White Man and deny Clovis Man….get a grip.

  5. Hi folks,

    I’ve read a lot of local history accounts (and every newspaper from the county’s inception to Sept of 1863, so far) and haven’t read a single account of a white woman or child being killed by the local natives, though there are many reported accounts of native “squaws” and even children dying during white attacks on native villages.

    Nor were there “invasions” where the indigenous people attacked any of the established towns along the bay (even though the whites were technically the invaders).

    When conflicts escalated (and the natives revolted against the raping of their women and the kidnapping of their children), they did begin to attack whites in the hills. Miners traveling or sometimes homesteaders. Many of these attacks can be tied back to attacks on the Indians, though, and are understandable if they are looked at in context.

  6. Gunther bought this island just after the massacre? Do I have that right? Seems fairly obvious it was a land grab. Am I missing something?

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