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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 57: OUTRAGED RANCHERS

When Ben and Sam Kelsey learned that Indians had killed their brother, Andrew, brother Ben called for help from the troops. Unwilling to wait for the Army, he organized a group of armed settlers called the Napa Raiders. The small army of Raiders rode forth in search of Indians. Their avowed intention was to make every Native they could find pay for the double murders.

As they passed through Napa Valley (Later to be a part of Lake County), they murdered every Indian they could find. Their usual method was to ride up on a rancher and demand the names of ‘his’ Indians. Any ‘strange’ Indian that was not a regular part of the rancher’s labor force was tortured, brutalized or shot. Some were burned alive in their lodges.

Thinking ahead, Ben took the time to instruct each of the ranchers they came across, and who had Indian laborers, to ‘separate the strange Indians from your own Indian slaves’. That formality over, they systematically shot, brutalized, or burned to death these unfortunates.

A second party, headed by Samuel Kelsey and assisted by a Mormon, Captain Joseph Smith and forty armed men, left Yountville burning their way south. This party of killers, called, the ‘Sonoma Raiders’, paused in their bloody labors just long enough to tell the persons they met, ‘We will hunt and kill every Indian, male or female, we find in the country’.

In March, an outraged rancher finally filed a complaint against the marauders. Next day Sam Kelsey and six other men (later called, the Sonoma Seven) were arrested on the charge of having been a part of the raids on the Figueroa ranch and that of Henry Fowler’s ranch. They were jailed at Benicia and the case went to trial; the first California Supreme Court case ever heard in California.

While their case was argued the Sonoma Seven were incarcerated on board the USS Savannah. The charges included ‘Killing Indians and cattle and treating an American lady badly and insulting her’.

The court records, what I could find of them, ran true to form and said what I expected about the killers. The reference, however, to ‘treating an American Lady badly and insulting her’, left this researcher in the air. What did the Sonoma Seven do to her? Was it only the Court’s heightened sensitivity for any insult to a Victorian woman that caused that charge to be included… or something much worse? One might wish to know more.

When Smith was brought before Judge Steven Cooper, he confessed his killings to the judge. What he told the Judge clearly demonstrated his murderous intent.

“I would give the Indians one hour. If they were still near me, I would scalp every damn one of them.”

Guilty as sin, it was time for the Trial.

Cooper and six other men were jailed to wait for trial. The case was about to be tried by the brand new, untried, novice California Supreme Court. The next day the Marauders’ attorney stood before the Court to ask for a Writ. The Writ was a request that the seven men should be brought from Benicia, where they were being held, to San Francisco for the Court to hear the case. It was granted. Four days later the seven men were to San Francisco. Now came the trial… and an unexpected result.

Next Episode: The Law takes a holiday.

Lake 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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