By Informed Rant. This article was first published on Soundcloud.

Often times Americans only seemed to be interested in Native American issues during the months of October and November, culminating in the mythological event of Thanksgiving. Thus, as all eyes are tuned to this celebration, what better way to start to peel back the onion of racist violence that stretches back to before the United States was a country. Benjamin Madley spent a decade finding the names and recounting the history of an organized genocide against the Californian Indian, not uncommon across the United States.

Madley is the author of the book “American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.” During the interview we discussed Standing Rock, which is a reflection of how Native Americans have been mistreated historically. We talked about the killings and hunting of Native Americans and how this has not been reconciled. And we briefly discussed the power of racism as it spreads from words to actions.

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Joshua Scheer:

My guest right now is Benjamin Madley. The book is in “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe”. Thank you for joining me.

Benjamin Madley:

Thank you very much for having me on.

Joshua Scheer:

I brought this to make sure that we had this for Thanksgiving because we have obviously this holiday that is … The quote unquote pilgrims and the Indians and this fairy tale, and now we’re seeing in Standing Rock and the way Canadians treat their Natives and everything else. Certainly your book, this seems more like a fairy tale, and the way we treated, especially here in California, our Native population is not so peachy.

I wanted to make sure that people while being happy that it’s a holiday and there’s obviously larger implications of workers getting free turkeys, which is always my father’s favorite thing, is that we also remember that this is a situation that is very brutal. As you describe in the book, genocide.

I want to ask you two questions to start. One, how did you get interested genocide because I know the Native problem is not something that you started with. You would investigate other genocides? Also, a little bit of a backstory about your life and how this … You worked on this book for about, I think, a decade, right?

Benjamin Madley:

That’s right. Well, first off all this book does bring something of a noir turn to the land of the endless summer, the land of Disney, the land of the peroxide blonde, and it is the truth. I think that it’s very important for us to investigate the darker elements of our truth because Americans tend to address the symptoms rather than the cause. The cause of a lot of the problems we’re facing today is unresolved racism and a general unwillingness to address the darkest parts of our past.

I first became interested in American Indian history as a boy. I did a lot of my growing up near a little town called Happy Camp on the Klamath River, hard by the Oregon border in far northern California. My father was working as a psychologist with local Karuk Indian people. I had the opportunity as a boy to see the contests and conflicts between Natives and newcomers at first hand, the struggles over how to manage the forests, whether to clear cut them and feed all of that lumber into the mill and ship it to Japan or to let it stand. The debates over what to do with the local mine. Questions of driving while Indian. I saw a lot of violations of civil rights as a boy.

This got me thinking about these issues, and later we moved to Los Angeles, and I went to high school right here. One day I was sitting in my German class, and a group of anthropologists and archeologists arrived from UCLA. They told us that the place where we were taking our German class was on an ancient Tongva Gabrielino village site. At the same time, students were beginning to wonder about this Indian mascot that we were wearing on our letterman’s jackets, and I knew that the regalia of our mascot had nothing to do with Indigenous Californians. This was a warrior from the Great Plains decked out in neon orange and electric blue head feathers.

That was the beginning of my questioning about where did so many California Indian people go if this was all Indigenous land for thousands and thousands of years, what happened?

Joshua Scheer:

I want to ask about Yale because there’s a lot of … In the Black Lives Matter movement that we’ve seen recently, they’ll say their name. A large chunk of this book is saying all the people’s names that you could find who have died, part of this genocide. The years are I believe 1846 to 1873?

Benjamin Madley:

Correct.

Joshua Scheer:

Again, how does that tie into Woolsey Hall and Yale?

Benjamin Madley:

All right, so one day I was making my way from where we were living near East Rock through the Woolsey rotunda, this spectacular confection of white marble, in which all of the names of the Yale alumni men and women who fell in all of the wars since 1701 are inscribed, and I bumped into it, literally. I suddenly thought, “We need something like this for California Indian people.” Unfortunately, these are not all of the names. I could find very few of the names, but I did try to record every single incident.

It might seem like the pedantic project of an antiquarian, but when you think about what the rupture and loss of one person from your world, your personal world, leaving the earth means to you, you start to get a sense of that multiplied by thousands and thousands of people. You begin to think about the bows left unstrung, the traps untended, the corn and beans unplanted, the houses unmended, the children uncared for, this is a massive catastrophe for Indigenous people.

In a way I hope it’s a memorial wall that is in pages on a book, but that maybe we will begin to talk about it in a more public fashion through public memorials, maybe public days of commemoration and remembrance, the kinds of things that we do to remember other mass murders here in California, like the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.

Joshua Scheer:

Yeah, I want to ask you this because obviously we talked about in the beginning of the interview this idea of genocide, and this is something you studied for awhile. There’s been a long standing debate about what has happened to the Native’s genocide, but the debate, people will say, “No, it’s an ethnic cleansing.” As for me, I’m not as a history professor, so for me, it doesn’t really matter the words you use. It was a really brutal slaughtering of people that led to, as you talked about, this fracturing of a community and everything else as you mentioned in the book.

How do you talk about that because I know that people … The genocide, to talk about genocide, what is a genocide? With the critics who will say, “Oh, no. This isn’t a genocide. It’s an ethnic cleansing.” Do we care about those distinctions?

Benjamin Madley:

Right.

Joshua Scheer:

Well, both things are terrible, so why do we have a debate?

Benjamin Madley:

They’re two very different terms. Genocide is a [geritical 00:06:30] term. It’s enshrined in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. One of those rare moments in the history of the United Nations when something was passed, not only unanimously, but without a single abstention. This is an international law. It’s recognized by most nations of the world, and it also has a growing body of case law that supports it. Even right now, there’s trials ongoing on the extraordinary chambers of the courts of Cambodia. In Penang Penh, there’s a genocide trial happening right now sponsored by the United Nations.

Ethnic cleansing by contrast is really a euphemism for the forced removal of a people from a particular location, so genocide is quite different. It’s a law, an international legal treaty, and a specified crime. When I talk about genocide in this book, I’m using that 1948 United Nations genocide convention, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say what happened in California between 1846 and 1873 was indeed a case of genocide.

One of the things that you need to determine to find something to be a case of genocide, to successfully convict a defendant of the crime is intent to destroy a group in whole or in part. One of the things that shocked me as I got into this research, thinking about how much debate there had been about whether or not this was genocide, was that the statements of genocidal intent by major leaders were really hidden in plain sight. They were not socked away in some bottom drawer, left locked for 150 years. They were published in the proceedings of the Senate, the state assembly, and in the newspapers.

For example, the very first elected civilian governor of California, a man named Peter Burnet, declared publicly, and I quote, “A war of extermination shall continue to be waged until the Indian race becomes extinct.” A few years later, another man who was then in the United States Senate and later became governor of the state of California, proclaimed that the extinction of Indian people was demanded by the white race. We have very powerful people publicly expounding on the necessity or threatening to physically obliterate Indigenous people.

If we think that those guys were rogues, both the state senators and the state assembly men put the power of the purse behind those kinds of statements. Our state legislators are democratically elected officials voted to spend up to $1.51 million in the 1850s. A truly titanic sum of money to fund state militia operations that killed over 1,300 Indians at the absolute minimum. At the same time, the federal government also supported this process. The federal government gave the state of California over a million dollars to pay for these Indian hunting militia operations. In turn, United States Army soldiers actually killed more California Indian people than the state militiamen, and of course, the United States Congress had control over that institution and its budget as well.

Joshua Scheer:

I want to let our listeners know the book is “An American Genocide”, and my guest is Benjamin Madley. He’s a history professor at UCLA, and this is a book that took a decade really to research and to explore. I wanted to ask you because nationally, we’re talking about California in your book, is the era between 1846 and 1873, but nationally, my background research for this, in 1500 there were 12 million Native people and in 1900 there was 237.

We can call it whatever we want, but there was a massive … If you ask people who are immigration experts, we can talk about this with the Native population in California with your book because I know it’s in there as well, is the deportation efforts, right? They would take these people that they didn’t want, the other, and they would move them out. Clearly … I want to maybe ask you that as a history professor looking forward because we always say, “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” We have this now with Muslim registries and what’s going on reservations.

You write about the brutal effect of reservations, so we can talk about that a little bit with Standing Rock. In Auschwitz, you talk about during Hitler’s times, it was 1,300 calories, but after they started putting people in reservations, the calories, they were giving almost 360 of them. You referred to it as an institutionalized starvation. Talk about that now. This is so important now because as you talked about earlier in the interview, we are now in this place where we’re not learning from our history, and we’re continuing this pattern, right?

Talk about that a little bit, the institutionalized starvation and where we are now, say certainly in California because as you write, we are the second largest Indian population in the country and how that managed to happen. I know you and I have talked a number of times, and you’ve been interviewed on them, and I’ve obviously read a lot of those interviews, but the idea of how that was obviously, there’s a complex relationship between the Native population and how it survived. Let’s talk about all of these issues. I know it’s a lot, but let’s start with maybe …

Benjamin Madley:

Let’s start with demography.

Joshua Scheer:

Yeah, yeah.

Benjamin Madley:

That’s a very key place to begin to understand the magnitude of this rupture and the ways in which this pain continues to echo through not only Indigenous California but through all of California. Before contact, there were perhaps 300,000 Indigenous people, maybe more, living in California. By the time the United States invaded California and took it from Mexico in 1846, there were perhaps 150,000 people. Just during that Russo Iberian period of colonization between 1769 and 1846, we see a massive population decline. That population decline accelerates following the invasion by the United States.

Between 1846 and 1870, the indigenous population of California plummets from about 150,000 to just maybe 30 35,000. At the same time, there is an absolute title wave of immigration surging into California, primarily because of the gold rush. Before the gold rush begins, in say 1846, there are not more than 14,000 non-Indian people in the entire state of California, but by the time you get to 1860 that number has served over 368,000 people. In 1846 there are far more Indians then there are newcomers, but by 1860 there are far more new comers then there are Indians.

This is in fact the lark single largest mass migration of the 19 century in the entire United States. One of the things that they wanted quite clearly was land. There was an insatiable desire to obtain Indian land and all of the resources they contained. Not only the gold, but also the timber, the fish and the rivers, the grazing land, all of this vast cornucopia of natural resources upon which the most populous and prosperous state in the United States was built.

One of the things that they did besides out right killings, and the out right killings are quite extensive, over 370 separate massacres stands the state of California during this period. Hundreds of individual homicides in smaller killings, but they also practiced, as you suggested, forced deportations. These were forcible roundups of entire communities and then attempted to relocate them to very small federal reservations.

By the way, originally the United States signed a whole series of 18 treaties with Indigenous people that set aside over 7% of the entire land area of California for reservations, but in the United States Senate these treaties were not signed so they never became reality. Instead, we got a series of very small U.S. Army temporary reservations.

One of the problems with these reservations was that they were not considered permanent, so U.S. soldiers, officers, often felt they didn’t have the right to protect the California Indians on this land. In addition, Indian people in California did not become the explicit wards of the federal government, so confusion among and between state and federal authorities really rained on these reservations, and they were not safe places for Indian people.

During one winter in the 1850s, over 300 Indian people were worked to death on Round Valley reservation in Mendocino County. They were used basically as human pack animals in the snow, in the mud, and pack 50 pounds if able. In other instances, massacres actually took place Federal reservation property, and sometimes even with the connivance and cooperation of federal reservation officials. The process of bringing people there was often lethal. There were massacres that took place. The people driving folks to the reservations often shot women, children, and elders who could not keep up or Who were getting tired. Many of these forced removal’s were poorly planned, such that there was not enough water for people to drink, not enough clothing, not enough food, et cetera.

The conditions on these reservations were often just horrific, and that is something that I try to bring out in the book, not only for the recollections of indigenous people who survived, who talked about the starvation, the deaths, and the killings, but also from U.S. Army officers, eye witnesses and Office of Indian Affairs the employees who saw these things at first hand. There’s one colonel who later went on to become a Confederate General. He reported from round Valley that he was seeing ten people a day dying from syphilis and malnutrition. It is pretty staggering.

While all of this is happening, Congress does what? I don’t rip up funding to solve the problems, they cut funding, making the problems worse and diminishing those daily rations available to people.

Joshua Scheer:

It’s interesting, you know, it’s not interesting … The book has lots of these things. It’s not just first-hand accounts, you also have a lot of newspaper accounts because being reported at the time was all of these tragic … You have accounts … This is probably one of the more depressing books you’ll ever read. it’s important to read, but it is very depressing.

A quote was, “Once they killed the fathers and the mothers, I couldn’t bear using my room rifle on children, so I used my Smith and Wesson,” whatever the gun was. You had the woman who ended up becoming a sex slave, her sister’s heart was cut out, and then her parents … Those are the kinds of stories that permeate this book. It’s not from first-hand accounts as you talked about, this is from newspapers, right? This is the thing that … Probably the most shocking thing is this is a complete killing of the other that’s justified by both federal government, state government, posses, mobs, and then the media itself.

Clearly, we have not reconciled this, but you grew up on a reservation for the first … How many years? Six years? Ten years? I don’t …

Benjamin Madley:

As a young boy.

Joshua Scheer:

As a young boy, you saw this maybe first-hand, but where is it right now? Where is this kind of relationship because this is something we don’t talk about. I was thinking about that with slavery. In your book, it’s littered with slavery of Indian people, of Native people, and yet we don’t often hear about that, certainly as a Californian. I was never aware. You’re not made aware going to school about Indian slavery. You’re not made aware of … We talk about this a little bit, this would be very interesting, about the … In your book, you write about where if you have … If you’ve killed the parents of a child, you get to keep the child and you can sell them as an indentured servant or a slave.

Benjamin Madley:

Right.

Joshua Scheer:

Same thing with women, and things like that. Talk about this. We don’t talk about this in California. One, where are we now with trying to come to some sort of … Obviously the people who did this are all long passed dead, but talk about that and then talk about the slavery issue.

Benjamin Madley:

Yeah.

Joshua Scheer:

I don’t think a lot of Californians know that. I don’t think a lot of people around the nation knew that slavery was so rampant in this era of the Indian extermination.

Benjamin Madley:

California comes into the Union as a free state. We all learn about that compromise of 1850 that brings California into as a free state, and yet, unfree labor systems proliferate here in California. African American chattel slaves are brought from the Old South by their masters. Thousands of Chilean debt peons were brought here to California through indentured contracts, and of course, another major part of this unfree labor system, the biggest part, is unfree Indian labor. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these abductions played a major role in the California Indian catastrophe.

There were genocidal effects of this system. The first was that the slave raiding itself often involved the killing of all adult males and elders, and then the enslavement of younger females and the younger males. That was the first effect. The second genocidal effect was the forcible prohibition of reproduction thought the separation of men and women during their peak reproductive years.

The final thing that was really devastating about this system of unfree labor was that because it was inexpensive to replace unfree Indian laborers, they were often treated as disposable and worked to death. From here in L.A. I’ll give you a quotation, one lawyer recalled in the 1850s that, “Los Angeles had its slave mart, and thousands of honest, useful people were absolutely destroyed in this way.”

Unless we think this is an exaggeration, census takers actually tell us that here in Los Angeles between 1850 and 1870, California Indian population plunged from 3,693 to just 219 people. This was a devastating system. [De jour 00:21:36] legal slavery of Indian people was not on the books. Our state legislature passed a whole series of laws that made this possible, and when they did receive cases that made it quite clear as you suggested that parents had been killed in order to kidnap children, law enforcement and the court system tended to turn a blind eye and let the perpetrators go because this was so widespread. There were many white families that had Indian servants. This was quite common, particularly in northern California.

You asked also about how this connects to what’s happening in Indian country today in 2016. I don’t think the process of invasion and colonization is over, so what is happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline right now is in someways quite predictable. There is a continuing land grab. There is a continuing attempt to extract the nation’s resources and to take Indian land in the process. Indian people are resisting is also not new. This kind of resistance has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, but if we don’t start to recognize the profound racism that runs as a continuous threat through the history of this country, we cannot begin to resolve these kinds of issues and heal. We will continue to see these kinds of colonial invasive practices continue.

Joshua Scheer:

The book is “An American Genocide”. The guest is a history professor, Benjiman Madley, who spent a decade researching United States and the California Indian catastrophe, the genocide of people between eras of 1846 and 1873, but it doesn’t end there just for the listeners who are listening. It doesn’t end with [inaudible 00:23:48] Modoc War. It doesn’t end there. We talked about reservations and everything, but let’s go back to Standing Rock and let’s go back to what’s going on.

Two things that I think will help is obviously cameras on this and the work of people that we’ve seen. Josh Fox, Democracy Now, all of the people that are working towards that, and also reading books like yours. I think that we have to get these books into people’s hands because the more you read about the way this country operates … Again, you have to learn history, but we don’t learn this history in school. I’ll ask you that as someone who teaches history at college, which is different.

We don’t learn this history in our schools, especially in the state, but your book and other things, other factors, you’ve been more and more radical. Every little piece of information you learn about when we’re not learning in our schools, I’m wondering that as a history professor, are we doing our students wrong? Now I know there’s a big push for STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math, funding, but as Ralph Nader said the other day at a conference, with our founding fathers, we can get into the founding fathers, and then … Forced removal and everything else that they did against the Native populations. He pointed out that we didn’t know what they know about stage coach engineering. What we know about them is social sciences and the histories.

What are we missing here and how important is the work of those who are showing what’s happening at Standing Rock and the work you do in your book to shine a light on both the Native population and what’s been going on since before a lot of these state or states in this country was even formed?

Benjamin Madley:

A careful reading of the history of the United States, and for that matter, the history of the world reveals that there is no safe level of racism. I’m going to repeat that. There is no safe level of racism. Rhetorical statements about racial inferiority, racial slurs casually thrown out in a conversation or press conference, these have meaning, especially when such statements are made by military and political leaders who have the power to turn those kinds of statements into racist action, whether it is discrimination or genocide.

If we as Californians have a better hold of our history, we will be even more aware of the dangers that racism poses. Very quickly in this story, you can see how statements about wanting to create an all white California or get rid of all California Indian people, very, very quickly with surprising speed become state policies. State policies with all the power of the state behind them. Guns, money, supplies, [inaudible 00:26:49], and also an indoctrination process to convince regular ordinary citizens to become mass murders of women, children, elders, and other defenseless civilians.

One of the things that I gathered from reading this book was just how little I’d received in my California public school education about our state’s history. Right now the state standards provide a very minimum, almost no information, to our students about California Indian people, the people who have lived here for thousands and thousands of years. If you stretch out your arm right now … People at home, stretch out your arm, the whole length of your arm all the way out almost to the tip of your finger is Indigenous history in California.

The only part that is colonialism that involves Spaniards, Russians, Mexicans, and immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa is the little white tip part of your finger nail. That’s it. I think that it would be very appropriate for us to begin to include more knowledge about the Indigenous people of California and how they lived here in harmony and in balance with the environment for thousands and thousands of years when we newcomers, who have only been here for a comparatively very short time, have erratically transformed the natural world here much to our own detriment.

Joshua Scheer:

That’s how it would compare obviously to Standing Rock or what’s happening in Alaska with pipelines, and again, this is not new, what’s happening. This has been going on for eons as you write about in your book. Once you find natural resources on these reservations, it’s time to move that Native population.

Benjamin Madley:

That’s an incredible thing about this story and places like Happy Camp where I spent a lot of my childhood. The population during the period of the killing, the non-Native population, was much, much higher than it is now. Many of these areas where the killings were very intense in northern California are now radically depopulated compared to how many people lived there in the 1840s, 1850s and 60s during the Gold Rush and its immediate aftermath.

There is a sense, I think, that this is an extractive process. These folks who did this are not necessarily long term colonists. They’re there simply to extract the resources, get rid of the Indigenous people who are seen merely as obstacles to the rapid acquisition of wealth. We’re talking about a substantial number of people killed, 9,400 to 16,000, and probably many, many more California Indian people were killed during this period.

Joshua Scheer:

Again, that’s a decade of research, and I know you use conservative numbers. The book is not … It’s very fact-based. I don’t know if there’s a lot of … I don’t think there’s any opinion in there. This is original source material, and again, the book is “An American Genocide”, and my guest is Benjamin Madley.

What I want to ask now is just simply about the good German and I’m sure you get asked this all of the time because I just mentioned the work of a small group of activists that are helping the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the media, but certainly not the mainstream media, even though these stories are reported in the mainstream. In the last few days as we speak, the temperatures are 20 degrees and they’re spraying water.

CNN didn’t report that there was water spraying or they’re starting fires to warm people up. In some of the media sources, it ends up being like they’re defending their shooting of the water on the protesters because … I want to ask about the good German because here we are doing this work and we see all these activists and everything else. What was happening in this time in 1840s? Were there good Californians? Were there people, you know, Quakers … Like slavery with Quakers and things like that who are trying to stem the tie. I mean, we weren’t all terrible Californians.

Certainly, my family wasn’t here, but we weren’t all terrible Californians, right? There were probably … I mean, I just want to ask that as someone who’s researched this.

Benjamin Madley:

I want to say one thing about Standing Rock, and then answer the question.

Joshua Scheer:

Yeah, yeah.

Benjamin Madley:

I want to say about Standing Rock, first of all, the folks who are there are protectors. They are simply protecting what is already theirs, what belongs to them. They are protecting heritage that belongs to all of us. There’s nothing more important than water. We as humans are composed largely of water. This pipeline isn’t only a threat to people at Standing Rock, it’s a threat to millions because it threatens to pollute a major river. I don’t think it’s question of if this pipeline will eventually break, it’s a question of when. This is an issue bigger than just Indigenous people. All of us live on this Earth. All of us should care about it.

Joshua Scheer:

Before we get into the good Germans, yeah, I agree with you, and I wasn’t trying to minimize it.

Benjamin Madley:

Oh, I know.

Joshua Scheer:

I just wanted to make it clear. The work of the Indigenous people at Standing Rock and those who are helping them and those who are reporting this issue are not the mass. The mass may not even know what’s going on. As you point out, this affects us all. As you were saying, if we could learn to live within this symbiotic community, it would be great. Again, that’s why you have to have these kind of issues on the front burner. I’m glad that it’s being covered, but I was just wondering because this is taking time. The protectors have been trying to protect this for a long time.

Benjamin Madley:

Right.

Joshua Scheer:

It’s now coming to a head, which is very important, but I just … Now, we can talk about the German.

Benjamin Madley:

There were people who stood up, upstanders I guess we call them now, and wherever I found those folks, I made sure to record their actions. Why? First of all, these are the few people who not only did the common decent thing to do, but who sometimes put their own life in harm’s way to try to protect Indigenous people in California.

The most memorable story to me, the most memorable example like this that I was able to find, in the 1860s there was a period when vigilantes were going from farm to farm in the northern Sacramento River Valley killing every Indigenous farm and ranch worker on those white-owned ranches and farms. They came into one white woman’s house. She was pregnant, and she held a quilt up between herself and three Indian women who worked for her. She said to the posse as they came into her kitchen, “If you want to kill them, you’ll have to kill me and my unborn baby.” They went away, and she and her husband and some other upstanders helped to relocate these women to safety in the mountains.

Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough of these kinds of people doing the right thing, and an anti-Indian state legislature and anti-Indian Congress, they won the day. While there were U.S. Army officers who protected California Indian people, and there were even Senators in Washington D.C. who spoke on behalf of California Indian people, they were overwhelmed by a broad based anti-Indian consensus that supported this killing process for years on end.

Joshua Scheer:

I want to ask you this because I know that these figures are complex, but again, as a Californian, I didn’t know what Squaw Valley meant until today, until I researched it. That was somewhere the 1960 Olympics happened. It’s an obscene word for a Native woman, or John Sutter, where my brother was born in Sacramento, Sutter Memorial Hospital, I was just at the John C. Fremont Library. Certainly, that’s a big street in the Bay Area. As you talked about before about racism and ending this hateful thing, should we be renaming these streets, these places to avoid basically honoring these racists?

I ask you this because the missionaries too. Pope Francis just when he came to America, he just honored a California missionary who was part of the California genocide that you talk about in your book. Talk about that and how it ties to racism. Honoring these figures and certainly because we don’t know the back story. For some people they obviously know the back story, but if you don’t, were honoring these racists with their street names and everything else, these people who participated in this terrible genocide of a Native population. Talk about that, the complex issues of streets being named and hospitals and libraries for people that had slaves. Sutter had many Indian slaves and was instrumental in the genocide.

Benjamin Madley:

Right. I think we have to be very careful about naming and renaming because we don’t want to hide this history. We want people to know about it, but I’m not sure that it is appropriate to honor a man like John C. Fremont with so many mountains, lakes, a major city in the Bay Area, and streets all over the place given the kinds of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocidal crimes that he was responsible for. The book opens with a massacre that he committed with his lieutenant, Kit Carson, in which they killed hundreds and hundreds of Indigenous people who appeared to have simply been gathered on the shores of the Sacramento River to harvest salmon.

What seems certain to me is that we should have a discussion about this, but I don’t think that what we prioritize as the issues coming out of this book should be an agenda set by a white academic like myself. I think these are really issues for California Indian individuals, communities, tribal councils, elected chairmen and chairwomen to determine because these issues are much more important for California Indian people than for anything, anyone else because really they are the descendants for the most part of genocide survivors.

For them, these issues are painful and persistent in part because they’re so infrequently addressed and because most of this remains a hidden history, but also because these things are connected to pressing issues of intergenerational historical trauma, and that trauma’s connection to present day health concerns. Issues like the extraordinarily high rates of suicide among California Indian youth. It’s really, I think, up to California Indian people to set the agenda on how we address these kinds of issues.

Joshua Scheer:

Hopefully, one could say we should build a Woolsey Hall for all the names and all the incidents that you did manage to gather. It’s what? 300 pages of names and incidents of those people, and to have that as a memory too, maybe to replace the Sutter Library or at least put it in … If I’m in the Fremont … I’m in the city of Fremont, and there’s a museum that honor … Not honors, but exposes all the crimes that were committed by Fremont. It may be important too.

Benjamin Madley:

There are some memorials. There are a handful of memorials to some of these large massacres, but they’ve been quite contentious. California Indian people also have their own activities that they perform to memorialize these things. For example, the annual candlelight vigil. They’re on a little island off of Eureka, commemorates a major massacre that happened there. There are other candlelight vigils. There’s the reenactment every year of the Concow Maidu Trail of Tears, where people walk from Chico, California over the coast range to the Round Valley Reservation to commemorate that forced removal.

For the most part, you can drive through the state of California. You can hike through the state of California, and this history will not be visible to you. I wanted in this book to try to make visible something that the perpetrators and their advocates worked very, very hard to hide in the aftermath. It was very clear during the 1850s, 1860s, early 1870s that this was going on because it was in people’s letters. It was in their diaries, and as you said, it was often on the front page of the newspapers. It could be on the front page of an L.A. newspaper like a Los Angeles Star, or it could be on the front page of a teeny tiny newspaper like the Volcano Ledger in Gold Country, but it was there.

We then went through a process of suppressing and burying this history and replacing it with things like the Spanish Fantasy Heritage, Ramona, the Ramona Pageant, to sort of bury all of this. Our fourth graders end up building these missions out of sugar cubes. We’re somehow trying to sweeten genocide until it’s invisible or until you can’t taste it, but it’s not ultimately possible. It has to eventually come to light.

Joshua Scheer:

I guess … I want to let our listeners know the books is “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe”. My guest is Benjamin Madley. Maybe the last question here is why you wrote the book.

Benjamin Madley:

There are really three reasons that I wrote the book and that I spent ten years writing the book. The first reason was decency. It seems to me that even long after the deaths of the victims, we preserve the truth of what befell them, so that their memory could be honored and so the repetition of similar crimes can be deterred. Justice is also something that I thought a lot about, more and more, as I was writing the book when I realized the magnitude of the crimes. Justice demands that even long after the perpetrators have vanished, we document the crimes that they and their advocates have far too often successfully concealed, denied, or suppressed.

Finally, as a historian, I’m very interested in historical voracity, the truth. Historical voracity demands that we acknowledge this state sponsored catastrophe in all its varied aspects and causes in order to better understand one of the formative events in California Indian and California … For that matter, United States history.

Joshua Scheer:

I want to thank you for joining me, but I also want to thank you again … Whatever day it is because this will air on Thanksgiving, and I planned it that way because as … You talk about the sugar cubes, this fairy tale that we play in our head of the pilgrims and the Indians coming together, that they weren’t cheated, that there wasn’t disease, death, genocide across the country, forced removal, and Trail of Tears and everything else … This has to be focused on every day, but I do bring some of it to this one day in which we have this fairy tale.

I hope that every day that we have this, we have a view of this issue now that our eyes are open, and I appreciate that you wrote this book. For someone who didn’t know this history, certainly of his own state, I’m glad you wrote the book, so thank you for joining me and thank you for the book.

Benjamin Madley:

Thank you very much, Josh.