Indian Exploitation in Contra Costa

by The Honorable A. F. Bray
Superior Court Judge, Contra Costa County, California
Station KLX, Oakland, California Number 42
Broadcast on February 15, 1937

While on the subject of grand jury presentments there are two more interesting ones, likewise dug up by Mr. McHugh from the archives of Contra Costa County. These refer to the treatment given the Indians by the whites. The first is dated October 7th, 1851 and reads as follows.

"The Grand Jury for the county of Contra Costa at the October term of the Court of Sessions beg leave to recommend to the attention of the Court to see that the laws for the government and protection of Indians are duly observed.

John Marsh, foreman"

It will be noticed that John Marsh was foreman. He was one of the early California pioneers, the man who built the famous stone house, still standing on Marsh Creek on the slopes of Mt. Diablo, and the man who was probably the foremost Californian of his day and did more that any other man to ensure California becoming a territory of the United States, rather than of England, Spain or Russia, all of which countries were looking upon it with a greedy eye.

Apparently the aforesaid presentment did not get results for in the following term and on the 6th day of April, 1852 a new presentment was made reading as follows.

"Presentment filed 6th of April, 1852: The Grand Jury of Contra Costa County in the Court of Sessions of this county at the April term present that a great evil and nuisance has been inflicted on our community by the unlawful introduction of large numbers of Indians from other counties and countries, there being strong circumstantial evidence that they have been forced from their homes by Juan Jesus Berryessa, Suto [Soto?] Berryessa and Whon (?) [Juan?] Barry and others; and since then have been harshly treated and neglectfully by those who have brought them here.

Many of them are unclad and in a suffering condition for food and from that cause or a natural propensity for pilfering they are a great annoyance to the inhabitants. Horses are stolen and houses broken open in absence of owners, clothing, beding [bedding] and provisions stolen much to the injury and annoyance of the inhabitants. That this injury should be remedied by the magistrates who have the entire jurisdiction of the protection of these people, the statute law requiring of them a careful supervision of all Indians within their districts, that these persons that have brought them to this country be required to remand them to their homes at his or their own expense, and this jury holds that a neglect on the part of a magistrate to require such removal will be a dereliction of duty and highly censurable on their part."

Editor's Note: California law permitted the indenturing of Indians and the seizure of "orphaned" Indian children from their tribe for incorporation into Anglo and Mexican households as servants or worse. These laws permitted a form of human slavery that was illegal when applied to Black Americans in California. These laws were not repealed until after the Civil War.

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