California Indians Surviving the Gold Rush

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For the indigenous people living in California as the Gold Rush commenced, survival was more than a matter of finding food and shelter or overcoming disease. With the influx of thousands of outsiders, all intent on carving up the earth to reveal its hidden metals, American Indians in California found their land, the lives, and their way of life actively persecuted…

Introduction


The easiest way to survive was, perhaps, the most humiliating. Some Indians allowed their oppressors to "civilize" them. By adopting white styles of dress, living in modern, rather than traditional homes, and most importantly, but kowtowing to the white man and embracing his religion, some native people were able to keep their own lives. In Deeper than Gold: Indian Life in the Sierra Foothills, Brian Bibby writes of a man called Billy Preacher, who, based on the stories and artifacts he left behind, had a strong belief in and connection to his own religion and culture. However, Billy Preacher, "accommodating to change" (Bibby 30), goes to work on a white man's ranch and eventually takes on his employer's culture. Bibby states that this ranch, "provided a safe haven and labor opportunities for individuals and families who had been disinherited from their former homes by the influx of miners and settlers to the region" (Bibby 30). Billy Preacher, at the end of his life, has converted to Christianity and in appearance appears almost completely European.
Servitude was more or less expected by the white man, who saw the Native as, at best, a useful servant, and, at worst, a pest to be exterminated. For this reason, many Indians found it simpler to cater to the invaders, whoever they were. ...
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