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A 3-Page History of Tribes and Settlers in Big Valley, from first contact in 1830 through 1900

The tribes of Lake County, CA, have lived round Clear Lake for over 14,000 years.

Each tribe is an independent nation, often named for its village, with its own language, We are concerned here mostly with the Big Valley Tribes (the Halanapo, Habenapo and Lil'eek) who lived between Kelsey Creek and Adobe Creek.

In 1770 the Spanish established a garrison and mission at Sonoma, Alta California. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 slavery was abolished, but elements of the Encomienda (indenture) system persisted on the frontier.

First contact with Europeans was in the 1830's.

In 1839 Salvador Vallejo came to Big Valley near Kelseyville with 80 soldiers, ranchers and vaqueros, bringing horses and cows, and building a corral. The Big Valley Tribes were willing to work for trade goods, and learned to ride horses.

Men from other tribes were also recruited to build adobe houses in Sonoma. However, when Vallejo returned with soldiers in 1843 to recruit workers, the Koi on Komdot island refused to stop their ceremonial dancing. Vallejo burned down the roundhouse with them all inside. After that, nobody would work for him, so he moved most of his herd back to Sonoma.

In 1847 Vallejo sold his remaining stock to a group of newcomers including : Charles Stone and the Kelsey brothers Ben, Sam and Andy.

Andy Kelsey and Charles Stone moved to Clear lake in 1847. The Big Valley Tribes believed the cows had been left for them, but Kelsey prevailed, and ordered the tribes to build him and Stone an adobe house, and to herd their cows.

The conditions of the Big Valley Tribes deteriorated rapidly. Andy took a chief's wife as concubine and house keeper. They tricked the Big Valley Tribes into surrendering their hunting weapons.

Charles Stone and Andy Kelsey starved their workers. They soon became effective slaves, as their hunting and fishing grounds were cut off, and they were issued meager rations and only an occasional cow.
When one boy begged for more wheat for his grandmother they shot him. They killed a boy who failed to keep the raccoons from the melons. For amusement they shot at workers in their fields, and made others dance by shooting at their feet. Mothers were whipped and strung from a tree if they didn't bring forth young girls to entertain their guests. "Indian Killer" Ben Kelsey had a man flogged for looking askance at his wife. He then shot him. Luckier transgressors were merely starved and tortured.

After the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 Alta California was ceded to the United States as a Territory, resulting in considerable confusion as to which laws prevailed.

In 1848 the Big Valley Tribes rebelled, but a rescue party led by Ben Kelsey quelled it.

In early 1849 Ben Kelsey took 30 Big Valley men to the American River goldfields. Kelsey returned with gold, the men received a few trade goods. A larger expedition of 100 ended in failure. Kelsey sold his supplies, and, catching Malaria, deserted the men. Only three made it back.

With many of their men lost, the Kelseys plotted to march all the "non-productive" members of the Big Valley Tribes to Sacramento, and forced them to make their own ropes to bind them for the journey.

In late 1849 the Big Valley Tribes, fearing for their lives, held a tribal court and then executed Andy Kelsey and Charles Stone. "They deserved what they got", said an old-timer.

Revenge was swift. Ben and Sam Kelsey, with several volunteers and a detachment of dragoons rode to Kelsey Creek and buried the two men. All the Big Valley Tribes had fled, so Ben and Sam, with a posse of about 30 men, rampaged down Napa valley, killing every Pomo they met. At ranches they separated the local Indians and killed any from Clear Lake. They were eventually stopped by ranchers, and seven of them, including Sam, were arrested. The "Sonoma Seven" were granted low bail by a friendly judge, and fled to Oregon, where they continued to kill Indians, to the dismay of the Oregonians.

Technically the direct involvement of the Kelseys was at an end. But their "murder" triggered an age of reprisals.

In May 1850 the first official reprisal came in the form of the cavalry. With orders to exterminate the offending tribe, they did just that, arriving with boats and cannon, massacring un-involved Pomo, mostly women and children, at Bonopoti, now known as Bloody Island. They called it a "battle".

California became a state in September, 1850, and honored many of the Mexican Land grants, but rejected Vallejo's claim

More settlers such as Gaddy started arriving and establishing small ranches.

But surveyors were striding north from Napa, "platting" farms and towns for homesteaders, who then poured in. In 1857 two men, Benham and German established the first store in Kelseyville, then known as "Kelsey's Place".

The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs belatedly made an attempt to rescue their Indian Tribes. They sent Reddick McKee to establish a treaty with Clear Lake Tribes, which was negotiated in 1851 - subject, of course, to ratification by the "Great Father". This treaty gave the entire Northern half of Lake County - with the dividing line at Mount Konocti -- to the Clear Lake Tribes: West to the Mayacamas, North to Pillsbury, and East to Walker Ridge -- McKee regarded only 10,000 acres as "arable", unaware of the huge farmland the hills represented. The treaty lists the names of all the Clear Lake Tribes and their chiefs.

But Sacramento prevailed, and the treaty was not ratified. The homesteaders got that northern half, and the Pomo, decimated by the army and militia, starvation, and disease shrunk into ever-smaller Rancheros

That wasn't enough for Sacramento, though. The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians allowed settlers to effectively seize Indian children, and hold them as indentured servants until they were 40 years old for men and 37 years old for women. An Indian "found loitering and strolling about" could be arrested on the word of any settler, and immediately put to work by the highest bidder. Between 1850 and 1861, the State of California paid out over a million dollars in militia expenses and bounty for Indian deaths, proven by severed heads, hands, scalps and vials of blood. Newspapers unashamedly reported on the best ways to kill "Injuns and such varmints".

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but the "indenture" contracts were still enforced.

These later atrocities are not, of course the direct actions of the Kelseys, but they were set in motion by their "murder", which is better described as an "execution", due to the crimes they committed.

by Alan Fletcher, with the editorial assistance of the Citizens for Healing Writers Group


Our main sources are : The Mauldin Files, Gibbs, McKee, Powers, Palmer, Barrett, Gifford, Heizer (Handbook, Collected files), McLendon (Handbook, Word List), Elliot, Parker (Archeology, California Disaster) and Engel (Act of Survival).

Table of Sources
This summary does not have references : see History of Tribes and Settlers in Big Valley