Return to Gold Fever Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the California Gold Rush
Life of the Miner
San Francisco
Law and Order
Los Angeles
Gold Machines

Return to Gold Fever Part 1

African AmericanPreviousNext
California IndianPreviousNext

Law, Order, and Justice for Some - Discrimination

Click icon to hear

Click icon to hear
Discrimination en español

Click icon to hear in Cantonese

Indian Bounty BondThe lure of gold promptly made California the most culturally and racially diverse society the world had ever known - tensions were bound to arise. Benjamín Vicuña MacKenna, a Chilean noted: San Francisco is a hodgepodge of cities. You can hear all the languages on earth in its streets: Chinese, Norwegian, Russian, and Polynesian. You can see the garb of all the nationalities. There are Chinese with belted black pantaloons and blue blouses, with pigtails down to their knees; a Mexican with his sarape or blanket; the Chilean in his poncho; a Parisian in his smock; an Irishman with coat and crushed felt hat; and the Yankee in his red flannel shirt, heavy boots, and trousers belted at the waist. Cultural diversity remains a Gold Rush legacy.

Chinese CuePrejudice and discrimination against people of color intensified during the Gold Rush. White 49ers resented Chinese miners and treated them deplorably. The Chinese were ridiculed in political cartoons, and assessed Foreign Miners' Taxes. They were physically attacked, and sometimes had their long, braided hair, called queues, cut off.

Spanish-speaking people were not spared. The first Foreign Miners' Tax targeted them. The Society of Hounds shamelessly attacked Chileans in San Francisco.

The Hounds were...nothing but an organization of soulless wretches whose only object was pillage, robbery and banditry. One night they attacked Little Chile, a tent community at the foot of Telegraph Hill. They murdered a mother and assaulted her daughter. - Mariano Vallejo

Deep prejudice against African Americans remained as well, even though California was admitted to the Union as a free state. Archey Lee, a slave brought to California by his master in 1857, won his freedom in a landmark fugitive-slave case when nearly 4,000 free African Americans financed his defense.

In 1855, Reverend Peter Cole spoke out against such persecution: The Rights of the Negro, or War! We must, we will have it! Our Destiny is with us! The blood, the wrongs all cry for revenge.

No group of people faced more prejudice and discrimination than California's native people. In the onslaught of the Gold Rush and the American settlement, which followed, many Indian tribes were forced from their ancestral lands. The natural resources they depended upon for food and shelter were destroyed. Laws were enacted that prevented them from voting, owning property or weapons of any kind, serving on a jury, or testifying in a court of law. Eventually there were bounties placed on their heads, and legally-sanctioned massacres of defenseless villages. The editor of the San Francisco Bulletin spoke for most white Americans: It is a painful necessity of advancing civilization that the Indians should gradually disappear.

Ultimately, there was an organized campaign that was explicitly designed to hunt and kill Indians, with bounties placed on their heads. The expenses of these paramilitary efforts were covered by the federal government and by the sale of state bonds. By 1866, newspaper articles endorsed the action. The Chico Courant proclaimed: It has become a question of extermination now. It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them. Treaties are played out. There is only one kind of treaty that is effective - cold lead. California's Indians very nearly did disappear. By 1900, their population had been reduced from 300,000 to only 16,000.

Top: Indian Bounty Bond, Collection of Robert Limacher


HomeGuest BookSearchSite MapCreditsGet Involved
© 1998 Oakland Museum of California. All rights reserved.