Book Review: ‘Slavery in the West’ – Guy Nixon

Book: “Slavery in the West

Author: Guy Nixon

Publisher: Red Panther Publishing Co., Spanish Flat, 2010

Price: $20; spiral bound; 8.5 x 11 inches, 112 pages, black and white, heavily illustrated.

Available from: Placerville News Co., other local stores and businesses, or e-mail [email protected]

This is a book about a thousand things, most of it relating to Native American slavery in the early West, the major subject in the book. I say that because it also wanders in a delightful way from one subject to another, providing fascinating information that I had not read before. I enjoyed reading his books because of that.

It’s whole title is “Slavery in the West with a special emphasis on the events leading to The Battle of Rock Creek, El Dorado County, California, 1848, between the forces of the Miwok versus the Maidu and Washoe, also the First and Second Indian Wars of El Dorado County.”

It is common knowledge that the Native Americans were the source of labor at the California Missions and not treated well. But did you know that they were also traded and sold as slaves by other tribes and later Europeans?

Did you know that these people did not really get their freedom in the United States until 1911 and two decades later in Mexico?

The book starts out with a discussion regarding slavery in America, long before Europeans arrived. When tribes attacked each other they often took captives which did the work for them or were used to trade for needed items (after the arrival of Europeans this became horses and guns).

When the Spanish and Portugese arrived centers were set up in various locations and slavery of the local natives became a “big business.”

During the settling of the West, California tribes were fighting each other and the arriving miners and farmers treated the natives simply as sub-human animals that worshiped pagan gods.

The subject of this slavery is fully discussed by author Nixon, who relates the subject, chapter by chapter, to the arrival of different groups of immigrants and their interaction with the natives.

One absolutely fascinating story in the book concerns what he calls the California Flood of 1543. The author’s father, Bill Nixon, worked for the United States Bureau of Reclamation and while researching weather patterns and the size of a 1,000 thousand year flood, he happened upon documents relating to the exploration of the west coast in 1542 to 1543 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Cabrillo died during this journey, which was completed by his pilot or navigator, Bartolome Ferrelo (also spelled Ferrer).

In the documents Ferrelo reported heavy snow on the beach in the Monterey  and then a warm rain storm of several weeks in length. Ferrelo, searching for a connection to the Atlantic Ocean through the Northwest Passage, entered a bay that led to a large inland sea. He noted and recorded the longitude and latitude of an island in this sea that Bill Nixon determined from the data was the Sutter Buttes in the Sacramento Valley. He also mentioned a volcano at the north end of the sea that appears to be Mount Shasta.

What makes this story even more fascinating is that there is a Maidu story that collaborates the flood and mentions a large raft sailing in the valley.

The book goes on to discuss the Native American tribes in the area, their battles against each other and with the settlers.

There are also a number of very interesting stories and legends the author has found along with a discussion of the language and location names used by the Native peoples of El Dorado County.

As in his previous book, “Skipper the Stock Killer,” the author provides an extensive bibliography so the reader can easily find more information on many of the subjects discussed.

All in all this book is an interesting collection of facts and legends that have not been put together before in one place. It is easy reading and full of illustrations collected by the author.

Author Nixon is a multi-generation descendent of people who have lived in California and El Dorado County (“If you count my Yana ancestry, we have been here several ice ages,” he comments).

He drives a bus during the school year and often spends time at his family’s sawmill in Spanish Flat or helping others with their sawmills.

Nixon has other books, “Finding Your Native American Ancestors,” “Heirloom Tales Past and Present, Including Skipper the Stock Killer of Spanish Flat,” and a new one, “The Battle over Hell Hole and Rubicon in El Dorado, and Placer Counties California 1907.”

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