Western History Association 59th Annual Conference

Individual Submission Summary

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Native American Slavery on the Northern California Coast

Thu, October 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Westgate Hotel, Floor: 2nd Floor, Conference Room 14


In 1850, in its first Legislative session, California passed the Act for the Government and Protection of the Indian. The law suddenly worked hand in hand with the on-going genocide to clear the land for settlers—from the East Coast, the South, and Mexico. I propose to present the history of kidnapping, enslavement and murder of the Native people on the northern coast of California during the settlement period (1850-1865). Turning to digital and local archives, I have located a series of particular women, amongst them Lucy Romero, who were amongst the thousands of Native men, women and children who were kidnapped, sold and forced into labor for road construction, farming, and domestic labor. Local archives reveal the stories of how Native people were terrorized, starved out and hunted in their traditional homelands to create a labor force for white settlers. Lucy Romero ‘s complex and disputed tribal origin exposes the difficulties of the researching and the telling of this history. Women and girls were also kidnapped, trafficked and forced into unwanted and often violent sexual relationships. The archives expose how resistance to forced labor or sexual advances meant death for many. Parents were murdered for protecting their children, spouses and community members were murdered for protecting young women. I will describe how I have turned to various forms of public history to tell the untold history to community audiences of how many trafficked individuals were forced to travel hundreds of miles from their communities and never made contact with their people again. These discomforting histories are in part redeemed in tribal communities by the act of telling, of revising received local histories which often differ from the narratives embedded in academic discourses. This paper reveals archival and representational challenges of transmitting as well as undertaking local Native history.

Lynette Mullen is an independent writer, researcher and historian focusing on the Native American experience during the settlement period on the Northern Coast of California. She has presented and shared her extensive research with affected tribes in written publications, and with the tribal and Northern California community and national audiences through a popular weekly journal, in-person presentations and radio interviews, an online TedX talk and history blog. Mullen has taught at Humboldt State University.