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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 53: VIGILANTE’S RIDE

Ben Kelsey called on the Army to ‘punish the miscreants for these foul murders.’ Not waiting for military action, Ben organized a group of armed settlers, who rode off on a killing rampage. According to the Arcata Journal, in an article written in 2008, they called the band. ‘Genocidal scum that built Arcata.’ In describing the number of Indians killed by Kelsey’s party, the article said, ‘A large number of Indians were murdered in the Napa Valley’.

As the killers rode, each time they came to a ranchero, where there were Indian slaves or laborers, the owner of the holding had to ask the men in the party to separate the rancher’s Indian slaves from strange Indians. Once identified according to this rough process, the strange Indians were brutalized, shot, and burned to death by Kelsey and his vigilantes.

Not to be outdone by his brother, Ben Kelsey, and to revenge Andrew Kelsey’s death, Samuel Kelsey headed the second party of forty to fifty armed men. His group had as their leaders, a second man; Joseph Smith. The second host of vigilantes started from Yountville and burned and killed their way south. To let no one mistake their intentions, they announced to all who would listen, ‘they would hunt and kill every Indian, male and female, found in the country.’

The blood-letting reached the point when it could no longer be tolerated. A Napa rancher filed a complaint against the predictors. Next day Sam Kelsey and six others were arrested and jailed in Benicia. The other men in the raiding party were named but not charged with any crime. Ben Kelsey and some of his men were also charged but they were released on bail.

The seven that were arrested were incarcerated on board a Navy ship, the USS Savannah, at anchor in the San Francisco Port. The trial by the California was the first case ever heard in the state and the jurist in charge had his problems. No set of rules of procedure for the court or the juries had yet been written. California was so new a state as a young person tossed into battle with no training or preparation.

The Army Arrives

6 May 1850, in reply to the mounting pressure for revenge, Lt. Davidson went looking for the ‘miscreants’ that had killed Kelsey and Stone. The Indians, learning the U.S. Army was in pursuit, left the lakeshore to take refuge in the hills and mountains above Clear Lake. Those who had no part in the crime, remained on the several small islands in Clear Lake to finish the gathering of the fish harvest. With the disappearance of the criminals, the military expedition returned to Sonoma without having engaged any ‘hostiles’.

Captain Nathaniel Lyons Brevet Captain Nathaniel Lyons of the 2nd Infantry, led a second military campaign against the Clear Lake Native Americans. An amphibious detachment left Benicia with two mountain howitzers and three Navy-style, ten-oared whaleboats. Captain Lyons’s men set headquarters at Anderson’s Ranch at Lower Lake.

We shall never know for certain and with specificity exactly how the Bloody Island slaughter was carried out. There were several eye-witnesses… but their stories do not jibe in many details. The better versions match in the main and Chief Augustine, Jim Benson (an Indian), and Captain Lyon’s versions taken together appear closer to the truth of what happened that day on Bloody Island.

From May 12th to the 14th of 1850, the military expedition looked for the Native ‘miscreants’. Three versions follow:

Next Episode: A Taste for Slaughter

ake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

e-mail: genepaleno@gmail.com

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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