California Standoff: Miners, Indians, and Farmers at War 1850-1865

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Author Michele Shover Butte County mining camps and foothill farms were an active front in the California Indian wars. Using centuries-old tribal tactics, Butte Creeks, the Mountain Maidu tribelets’ warriors, resisted settlers’ seizures of their territories. Making a strategic shift, in 1857, they acquired bases in the neighboring Yahi’s Deer Creek Canyon. They merged with renegades and Yahi fighters, called Mill Creeks, whose raids had terrified Maidu and Tehama County farmers through the mid-1850s. Meanwhile, quarrels between miners and farmers and with John Bidwell continued as Civil War loyalties undermined unity against the Indian raiders, now out of Deer Creek. In 1863, Bidwell urged the Interior Department to expunge Butte County of all the Maidu—except his own workers, mostly Mechoopda Maidu. After centuries of self-governance, this independent tribelet had to labor for him on their own historic territory. A few Mechoopdas, remembering the dignity of autonomy and self-sufficiency, joined in Mountain Maidu raids on Bidwell’s ranch. Bloody Butte County conflicts culminated in 1865 with that county’s final round of Indians’ and settlers’ mutual retaliatory killings.


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