Dorothy Sloan -- Books

Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 6

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Item 6. Bledsoe’s Indian Wars of the Northwest— “Best record of the California Indian troubles to 1865” (Howes).

6. BLEDSOE, Anthony J[ennings] (b. 1858). Indian Wars of the Northwest: A California Sketch. San Francisco: Bacon & Company, 1885. [5]-505 pp. (complete), errata slip tipped in at p. [9]. 8vo, original purple pebbled cloth, decorated in black and gilt-lettered, cream and tan floral-patterned endpapers. Spine light, binding worn and with a few light stains, upper hinge weak, lower hinge with 5-cm split at gutter (but strong), occasional mild foxing to text. Good to very good copy.
First edition. Cowan II, p. 57. Graff 328. Holliday 97. Howell 50, California 306: “Recounts the events of the Redding Expedition and the Klamath War, the war with the Win-Toons, and the Two Years’ War.” Howes B529: “Best record of the California Indian troubles to 1865.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 6. Norris 352: “Of great rarity.” Rocq 1718. Streeter Sale 2990. Zamorano 80 #6 (J. Gregg Layne): “A valuable and scarce book dealing with the settlement of the northwest coast counties of California, and treating in detail the many Indian uprisings of Trinity, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties.... In this book a full account is given of the discovery of Humboldt Bay by Dr. Josiah Gregg of Commerce of the Prairies fame. Dr. Gregg’s party were the first Americans to see Humboldt Bay. Gregg lost his life by starvation on his way back to his headquarters, and was buried near Clear Lake. The Introduction is a long chapter on the pioneers of Humboldt County.” Includes much on conflicts between miners and Native Americans. ($300-600)

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Attorney, journalist, and politician A. J. Bledsoe wrote the pioneer history of California’s Pacific Northwest and one of the most important works on Indian-white relations. His volume, while focusing on the horrible conflicts with the Native Americans of his region, is in many respects a local history of Humboldt County with extensive information on the early American pioneers and their settlements. It was written with the typical triumphant tone of the nineteenth century. As he noted, “The discoverers and early settlers of Humboldt, especially, were men of character, men of ambition, men of almost indomitable will and of never-flagging perseverance.” Basing much of his research on local newspapers, Bledsoe contributed mightily to the heritage of this remote, often overlooked region. The ten-year history of Indian wars in that sublime land stands as one of grimmest and most dreadful chapters in California history.
As a pioneer, Bledsoe was ably equipped to write this extensive narrative. He learned printing at the age of thirteen, served as city editor of the San Jose Mercury and later as editor of The Humboldt Times in Eureka. Leaving journalism he took up the more lucrative legal profession, setting up practice in Smith River, Del Norte County. In 1881 Bledsoe had the distinction of writing the first history of Del Norte County, which prepared him for the longer and more complex Indian Wars. He knew the people and territory well. In his introduction, the young attorney confessed that his new profession provided him with much “superfluous time” to undertake the task of documenting the violent past of his county. Heavily involved in local affairs and with strong opinions, he led an effort to expel the Chinese from the area the same year that Bacon and Company printed his Indian Wars. Bledsoe later became a state assemblyman from Humboldt County, winning reelection several times.
After a long introduction concerning the Society of Humboldt County Pioneers and its more prominent members, the one-time printer’s devil opened the formal text of his volume with five chapters devoted to what he called “Annals of Discovery.” Bledsoe covered the opening of the territory, discovery of Humboldt Bay by the Josiah Gregg party, activities of the various vessels that sailed the waters along its jagged coastline, discovery of gold-bearing gravel by P. B. Reading, and the workings of the gold mines on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. Later in the book, Bledsoe diverged briefly from his chronicle of warfare and reported on the development of agriculture, industrial progress, lumbering, mining, and the great storm of the winter of 1856-1857.
Thereafter, Bledsoe turned to the central subject of his book, the regrettable but inevitable conflict between the newly arriving miners and farmers and the local Indian tribes. Although by today’s standards his view of the Native Americans was decidedly racist, he did condemn the reprehensible actions of unscrupulous settlers who provoked the Indians into retaliatory actions while trying to defend their lands. His book then becomes a tragic litany of ever spiraling Indian-white depredations and reprisals. Murder, theft, and massacre dominated the 1850s and 1860s in that beautiful, forested land. Writing with his well-honed reportorial skills, he chronicled the so-called “Klamath War” of 1855; the acts of violence committed in the Eel River Valley, Hoopa Valley, and Mad River country; war with the Wintuns (called by him the Win-toons or “Mountain Diggers”); sale of arms and ammunition to the Indians; public meetings held to stamp out the Indian threats; formation of volunteer companies; and feeble actions of the U.S. military to bring peace.
The most horrifying moment in this senseless time of blood-letting was the infamous massacre of innocent Indian women and children at Indian Island in February 1860, which Bledsoe termed as “a deed so conscienceless in its inception, so cruel and heartless in its execution.” It ranks as one of the blackest episodes in the entire history of Indian-white relations and horrified the vast majority of whites including a young journalist named Bret Harte. So terrible an event, however, did not stop the fighting and his narrative continued on with a seemingly endless trail of barbaric acts committed by both sides. The bloodshed ended with the final suppression of Indian resistance by the volunteer Battalion of Mountaineers under Lieutenant Colonel S. G. Whipple during “The Two Years War” of 1864-1865. As Bledsoe put it: “Their strength was exhausted and their spirit broken.” While predictably sympathetic to the white settlers, Bledsoe voiced strong criticism of the all-too-frequent massacres of defenseless Indians, their shabby treatment by white thugs, and the federal government’s Indian policy, which he labeled as “always ineffective, and always putrid with fraud.”
This now rare and significant book was reprinted in 1956 by Joseph A. Sullivan’s Biobooks in an edition of 700 copies. This edition includes a short biography of the author reprinted from The Northern Crown of Ukiah (I:1, April 1904).

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Owen Cochran Coy, The Humboldt Bay Region, 1850-1875 (Los Angeles: The California State Historical Association, 1929); Andrew Genzoli, Foreword to History of Del Norte County, California (Eureka?, 1971).




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