Slaves on their own land

San Francisco Chronicle - - BOOKS - By Greg Sar­ris

There is not an Amer­i­can In­dian from Lake County, or from any other Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia lo­cale, who has not heard of An­drew Kelsey and Charles Stone, notorious In­dian slavers, mur­dered at the hands of Pomo In­di­ans in 1849. Ver­sions of the story vary — I was told the In­di­ans re­volted be­cause they were starv­ing and an al­ter­ca­tion broke out be­tween them and Stone af­ter they were caught tak­ing oats from his horse barn. What An­drés Resén­dez points out in his long-awaited and im­por­tant book, “The Other Slav­ery,” is that Kelsey and Stone “were en­abled to en­slave th­ese In­di­ans be­cause such ac­tiv­i­ties were com­mon through­out the re­gion and there was a thriv­ing mar­ket for In­dian slaves.”

The en­slave­ment of Amer­i­can In­di­ans? As Resén­dez notes, “Be­tween 1670 and 1720,

Carolini­ans ex­ported more In­di­ans out of Charleston, South Carolina, than they im­ported Africans into it.” Tens of thou­sands of Na­tive Amer­i­cans were taken from the colonies, of­ten sold in the Caribbean for la­bor on Span­ish plan­ta­tions. The first Euro­pean ex­plor­ers bought and sold In­dian slaves; among them was Colum­bus, whose “first busi­ness ven­ture in the New World con­sisted of send­ing four car­avels loaded to ca­pac­ity with 550 Na­tives back to Europe, to be auc­tioned off in the mar­kets of the Mediter­ranean.”

What dis­tin­guishes In­dian slav­ery from that of African is not just the num­ber (be­tween 2.5 mil­lion and 5 mil­lion In­dian ver­sus 13 mil­lion African), but that for most of its his­tory, In­dian slav­ery was il­le­gal, which un­doubt­edly ac­counts for much of our his­tor­i­cal my­opia re­gard­ing it. Resén­dez, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at UC Davis, counts more than 15,000 books on African slav­ery, com­pared with hardly two dozen manuscripts on In­dian slav­ery.

What Resén­dez il­lus­trates most poignantly is how In­dian slavers were able for four cen­turies to slip un­der the law, of­ten­times by amend­ing laws pro­hibit­ing slav­ery to suit their pur­poses. King Charles of Spain is­sued his New Laws in 1542, free­ing the In­di­ans of the Amer­i­cas. Yet in 1552, Prince Philip, Charles’ suc­ces­sor, amended the laws to meet the la­bor needs of the sil­ver in­dus­try, such that while In­di­ans work­ing in the mines were free, they would still be com­pelled to work as long as they were paid — here the beginnings of debt pe­on­age.

And while fron­tier cap­tains could no longer take In­dian slaves, they could take into cus­tody “rebels” and “crim­i­nals” who were tried and if con­victed, were forced to work five to 20 years and sold to the high­est bid­der — here an early case of con­vict leas­ing. A rebel might be any In­dian not ac­cept­ing the Catholic faith; a crim­i­nal any In­dian at­tempt­ing to pro­tect his or her fam­ily against fron­tiers­men.

Sur­round­ing the can­on­iza­tion of Ju­nipero Serra, there is much de­bate re­gard­ing the qual­ity of life for Amer­i­can In­di­ans in the mis­sions, specif­i­cally over the ques­tion of co­erced la­bor. While the mis­sion was Spain’s first fron­tier in­sti­tu­tion, it would not have sur­vived, much less pro­lif­er­ated, with­out the help of Span­ish sol­diers, de­ployed from pre­sid­ios and op­er­at­ing un­der the amended New Laws of 1542, who could ap­pre­hend and pun­ish In­dian “rebels” and “crim­i­nals.”

Af­ter the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and the sub­se­quent sec­u­lar­iza­tion of the mis­sions, Mex­i­can colonists es­tab­lished the ba­ro­nial ran­cho sys­tem, where, from the mid-1830s un­til the Mex­i­can Amer­i­can War, roughly 100 Mex­i­can fam­i­lies owned all of the land in present-day Cal­i­for­nia from San Diego to San Fran­cisco. In­dian la­bor was needed to sus­tain the huge ran­chos, and while Mex­ico for­bade In­dian slav­ery, the land barons co­erced In­di­ans, des­ti­tute and land­less af­ter re­lease from the mis­sions, by in­debt­ed­ness and cap­ture as rebels in mil­i­tary cam­paigns.

Gen. Mar­i­ano Vallejo, who re­port­edly used 700 In­dian work­ers to main­tain his 66,000acre ranch in Sonoma, helped draft Cal­i­for­nia’s first piece of leg­is­la­tion, the Act for the Govern­ment and Pro­tec­tion of In­di­ans in 1850, which le­gal­ized In­dian slav­ery, ironic given the fact that two years be­fore, Vallejo was de­feated by Amer­i­cans.

Un­der the law, In­di­ans had to be able to show proof of em­ploy­ment, ba­si­cally pos­sess a pass­port, oth­er­wise be jailed as a vagrant and be “hired out within twenty-four hours to the high­est bid­der.” In­dian mi­nors could be “ap­pren­ticed” to any white per­son who had per­mis­sion from the mi­nor’s par­ents or friends — which led to the wide­spread mur­der of In­dian par­ents and the sub­se­quent kid­nap­ping and sell­ing of chil­dren. The mi­nor’s cus­to­dian con­trolled the earn­ings of the mi­nors un­til the age of ma­jor­ity (15 for girls, 18 for boys). The law was not re­pealed un­til 1868, three years af­ter the end of the Civil War.

Cer­tainly slav­ery was not un­known in the New World be­fore Euro­pean con­tact. In­dian tribes through­out the New World raided neigh­bor­ing tribes, most of­ten en­e­mies, tak­ing cap­tives as slaves. But it wasn’t un­com­mon for the slave to be in­cor­po­rated into the so­cial fab­ric of the tribe, most no­tably through mar­riage, as in the well-known case of Kiowa writer N. Scott Mo­ma­day’s great-grand­mother, who had been a Mex­i­can cap­tive.

What changed af­ter con­tact was the full-scale com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of slav­ery, where cer­tain tribes not only took ad­van­tage of the slave trade to ac­quire am­mu­ni­tion from the Euro­pean set­tlers but then used those mu­ni­tions and ad­di­tional slaves to ex­pand their ter­ri­to­ries. The eth­nic makeup of a tribe some­times changed, as in the case of the Co­manche, where, as Resén­dez notes, by the 19th cen­tury “nearly half of all Co­manches were of Mex­i­can de­scent.”

No other book be­fore has so thor­oughly re­lated the broad his­tory of In­dian slav­ery in the Amer­i­cas, and not just its facts but the very rea­son it has been over­looked. Resén­dez notes that the Pomo chief Au­gus­tine claimed that Stone and Kelsey were killed be­cause they were go­ing to sell more Pomo in Sacra­mento to gold min­ers — fur­ther in­sight to that well­known story of my peo­ple’s his­tory. Yet, even as I pon­der the past in light of what I have learned from Resén­dez, I’m re­minded that the past might open my eyes to what could be just out­side my win­dow.

Getty Images

The abuse of Na­tive Amer­i­cans by Spa­niards: An en­grav­ing from “Amer­i­cae partes,” Frank­furt, 1590.

An­drés Resén­dez

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