Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Wolf Land - a history of wolves in Ireland

Wolves from Oppian of Apamea Cynegetica, 10th Century.

Wolves in Ireland were once an integral part of the Irish countryside and culture, but are now extinct. The last wild wolf in Ireland is said to have been killed in 1786, three hundred years after they were believed to have been wiped out in England and a century after their disappearance in Scotland.  

The grey wolf (Canis lupus) is a canine of the order Carnivora, an apex predator largely feeding on ungulates. The earliest radiocarbon date for Irish wolf remains come from excavated cave sites in Castlepook Cave, north of Doneraile, County Cork, and dates back to 34,000 BC. Wolf bones discovered in a number of other cave sites, particularly in the counties of Cork, Waterford and Clare indicate the presence of wolves throughout the Midlandian ice age which probably reached its peak between 20,000 BC and 18,000 BC. By about 14,000 BC Ireland became separated from Great Britain, which, itself, still formed part of mainland Europe, to become an island. Wolves were one of just a few species of land animal in Ireland that survived through the Nahanagan Stadial, a cold period that occurred between 10,800 BC and 9500 BC. Wolves were a major part of Ireland's postglacial fauna, as evidenced by their prominence in ancient Irish myths and legends, in a number of place names (both Irish and English), in archaeological sites, along with a considerable number of historical references. The ringforts, a common feature of the Irish landscape, were built partly as a defense against wolves and to protect livestock, over the period 1000 BC to AD 1000.

According to the Annals of Loch Cé, the poet Cúán úa Lothcháin (died 1024) was "slain by the men of Tethfa. God performed a ‘poet's miracle,' manifestly, on the party that killed him, for they died an evil death, and their bodies were not buried until wolves and birds preyed upon them." Among one of the earliest historic references to wolves attacking people in Ireland occurs in the Annals of Tigernach under the year 1137: The Blind one of ... that is, Giolla Muire, was killed by wolves. Under the year 1420 in the Annála Connacht is the statement "Wolves killed many people this year."  In 1571, as a result of its comprehensive destruction by "James Mac Maurice ... (and) ... the warlike troops of the Clann-Sweeny and Clann-Sheehy", Kilmallock "became the receptacle and abode of wolves" In 1573, the aftermath of the battle of Bel-an-Chip was described - "Noisy were the ravens and carrion-crows, and other ravenous birds of the air, and the wolves of the forest, over the bodies of the nobles slain in the battle on that day." In 1581 William Odhar O Carroll was put "unsparingly to the sword, and detested (the thought of) shewing him quarter or mercy. They slew him, and left his body under the talons of ravens and the claws of wolves."  In the aftermath of the Desmond rebellion, the body of a Dr. Saunders was found in Desmond in early 1583 who perished miserably, having fallen a victim to famine and the effects of exposure to the weather, and whose body was discovered partially devoured by wolves In the aftermath of the wreck of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Francisco de Cuellar turned to check upon a companion only to find him dead. There he lay on the ground with more than six hundred other dead bodies which the sea cast up, and the crows and wolves devoured them, without there being any one to bury them.

The port books of Bristol record between a yearly average of between 100 and 300 wolfskins exported from Ireland throughout the 1500s and a total of 961 skins in a single year. Pilib Ó Súilleabháin Béirre (c. 1590 – 1660), writing of Ireland and particularly Munster after the end of the Nine Years' War, described the aftermath: THUS the war was finished. Ireland was almost entirely laid waste and destroyed, and terrible want and famine oppressed all, so that many were forced to eat dogs and whelps: many not having even these, died. And not only men but even beasts were hungry. The wolves, coming out of the woods and mountains, attacked and tore to pieces, men weak from want. The dogs rooted from the graves rotten carcases partly decomposed. And so there was nought but abundance of misery ...Throughout most of the first half of the 17th century, Ireland had a substantial wolf population of not less than 400 and may be as high as 1000 wolves at any one time. One of the nicknames used for Ireland at this time was “wolf-land”.

The first instance of legislation against Irish wolves dates back to 1584 when John Perrot, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, ordered Robert Legge to come up with a scheme to encourage the destruction of problem wolves. Further records of legislation occur in 1610 and 1611. In 1614, an Englishman named Henric Tuttesham was offered £3 for every wolf he killed. The wolf population at the time was high enough for Tuttesham to be authorised to keep four men and 24 hounds in every county for seven years, a total of 128 men and 768 hounds. The bulk of anti-wolf legislation occurred during the decade following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. A number of writers from this time period suggest that as a result of ongoing military campaigns in Ireland, particularly the Cromwellian wars 1641-1652 and the devastation of much of the country and, with increasing numbers of farmed animals, wolf numbers were increasing and seen as a threat to business.

The level of rewards and bounties established by Oliver Cromwell's regime attracted a few professional wolf hunters to Ireland, mostly from England. Politically, the prospect of numbers of armed Irish roaming around the country hunting wolves was not acceptable, given the ongoing conflict between the Irish and the new English settlers, so it was seen as much safer for the English authorities to encourage men from their own country to deal with the wolf problem. The problems caused by wolves were considered serious enough by Cromwell's government to impose a ban on the exportation of Irish Wolfhounds. 

In 1652 the Commissioners of the Revenue of Cromwell's Irish Government set substantial bounties on wolves, £6 for a female, £5 for a male, £2 for a subadult and 10 shillings for a cub. In the same year, measures were taken for the destruction of wolves in the Barony of Castleknock, county Dublin. A grand total of £243 5s 4d was paid for wolf kills in Galway, Mayo, Sligo and part of Leitrim formerly within the precinct of Galway in 1655 or 1665, depending on the author. Between the period July 1649 and November 1656 the total amount of bounty paid out for wolf kills in Ireland as a whole was £3,847.  Galway, Mayo, Sligo and part of Leitrim had proportionately more wolves than the rest of the country, given that large tracts of this area were relatively untouched by humans.[1] A Captain Edward Piers was leased land over a five-year period in Dunboyne, County Meath on the condition that he kill fourteen wolves and 60 foxes. In the 1690s Rory Carragh was hired to kill the last two wolves in one part of Ulster and was equipped with a boy and two wolf dogs. The last reliable observation of a wolf in Ireland comes from County Carlow when a wolf was hunted down and killed near Mount Leinster for killing sheep in 1786.

Friday, July 13, 2018

History Behind Friday the 13th

Long considered a harbinger of bad luck, Friday the 13th has inspired a late 19th-century secret society, an early 20th-century novel, a horror film franchise and not one but two unwieldy terms—paraskavedekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia—that describe fear of this supposedly unlucky day.


Just like walking under a ladder, crossing paths with a black cat or breaking a mirror, many people hold fast to the belief that Friday the 13th brings bad luck. Though it’s uncertain exactly when this particular tradition began, negative superstitions have swirled around the number 13 for centuries.

While Western cultures have historically associated the number 12 with completeness (there are 12 days of Christmas, 12 months and zodiac signs, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus and 12 tribes of Israel, just to name a few examples), its successor 13 has a long history as a sign of bad luck.

The ancient Code of Hammurabi, for example, reportedly omitted a 13th law from its list of legal rules. Though this was probably a clerical error, superstitious people sometimes point to this as proof of 13’s longstanding negative associations.

Fear of the number 13 has even earned a psychological term: triskaidekaphobia.


According to biblical tradition, 13 guests attended the Last Supper, held on Maundy Thursday, including Jesus and his 12 apostles (one of whom, Judas, betrayed him). The next day, of course, was Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.

The seating arrangement at the Last Supper is believed to have given rise to a longstanding Christian superstition that having 13 guests at a table was a bad omen—specifically, that it was courting death.

Though Friday’s negative associations are weaker, some have suggested they also have roots in Christian tradition: Just as Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Friday was also said to be the day Eve gave Adam the fateful apple from the Tree of Knowledge, as well as the day Cain killed his brother, Abel.


In the late-19th century, a New Yorker named Captain William Fowler (1827-1897) sought to remove the enduring stigma surrounding the number 13—and particularly the unwritten rule about not having 13 guests at a dinner table—by founding an exclusive society called the Thirteen Club.

The group dined regularly on the 13th day of the month in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a popular watering hole Fowler owned from 1863 to 1883. Before sitting down for a 13-course dinner, members would pass beneath a ladder and a banner reading “Morituri te Salutamus,” Latin for “Those of us who are about to die salute you.”

Four former U.S. presidents (Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt) would join the Thirteen Club’s ranks at one time or another.


An important milestone in the history of the Friday the 13th legend in particular (not just the number 13) occurred in 1907, with the publication of the novel Friday, the Thirteenth written by Thomas William Lawson.

The book told the story of a New York City stockbroker who plays on superstitions about the date to create chaos on Wall Street, and make a killing on the market.

The horror movie Friday the 13th, released in 1980, introduced the world to a hockey mask-wearing killer named Jason, and is perhaps the best-known example of the famous superstition in pop culture history. The movie spawned multiple sequels, as well as comic books, novellas, video games, related merchandise and countless terrifying Halloween costumes.


On Friday, October 13, 1307, officers of King Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar, a powerful religious and military order formed in the 12th century for the defense of the Holy Land.

Imprisoned on charges of various illegal behaviors (but really because the king wanted access to their financial resources), many Templars were later executed. Some cite the link with the Templars as the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition, but like many legends involving the Templars and their history, the truth remains murky.

In more recent times, a number of traumatic events have occurred on Friday the 13th, including:

1.) the German bombing of Buckingham Palace (September 1940)
2.) the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York (March 1964)
3.) a cyclone that killed more than 300,000 people in Bangladesh (November 1970)
4.) the disappearance of a Chilean Air Force plane in the Andes (October 1972)
5.) the death of rapper Tupac Shakur (September 1996)
6.) the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, which killed 30 people (January 2012)

“The Origins of Unlucky Friday the 13th,” Live Science.
“Friday the 13th: why is it unlucky and other facts about the worst day in the calendar,” The Telegraph.
“13 Freaky Things That Happened on Friday the 13th,” Live Science.
“Here’s Why Friday the 13th is Considered Unlucky,” Time.
“Friggatriskaidekaphobes Need Not Apply,” New-York Historical Society.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Where The Bleep Did That Curse Word Come From?

We all have our favorite curse words to use when we're feeling angry, frustrated, upset, excited, surprised. Curse words provide a lot when it comes to expressing emotion. But, where did those filthy (yet cathartic) expressions come from?  Well, we took a deep look into some of the most common swears around. Warning: vulgar language ahead...

The word sh*& has been around since the early 1500s, and it is used mainly to describe an "obnoxious person." The word stems from the Middle Dutch schiten and the Middle English shiten (meaning "to defecate").  In the early 1920s, people began to use this curse word when describing something they don't care about (not giving a sh*&). Then, in the 60s, it was used to refer to someone who was drunk or sh*&faced. And, these days people use it to describe countries and locations they find unappealing (sh*&hole, anyone?)

This curse word (meaning "something bad" or "a mean person") dates all the way back to the 1300s, originating from the Middle English word, arshole. Back then, it was mainly used to describe someone's rear. Fast forward to the 1930s, when the word became more commonly used in reference to a "contemptible person." Today, we tend to keep up with this usage, showcasing our extreme distaste for someone by calling them . . . this term. (And, don't forget the hole part of the word when you are going for this meaning, because otherwise you're just calling that person a donkey.)

The F word
There are a lot of theories behind the origins of the swear word, f*&# (meaning "to have sex" or "to meddle"). It is believed that it originated from the Middle Dutch fokken, meaning "to thrust, copulate with." However, the truth behind the word still remains unknown because it was banned by the dictionary at the time it originated. What we do know is the word was first seen written in 1495–1505. In the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary it appeared as fukkit and was later seen written by the poet Sir David Lyndesay as we know it today. In the 1900s, it grew into a word used to describe a very bad mistake and to tell someone to leave you alone.

While the word b!#ch (or a "lewd woman" or "female dog") is a rather common term these days (and can be used in both positive and negative ways), back in the 1800s, it was considered more offensive than the word whore.  B!#ch actually dates back to before the year 1000 though. (It could be featured as one of our oldest words!) It originates from the Middle English word bicche. But, it wasn't written until the 1400s when it was first seen in a play to describe a woman.

This swear word (which is normally used to express disgust) can be offensive to those with religious backgrounds (since it's seen as saying the Lord's name in vain). Stemmed from late Middle English, this word came about in the 1400s and became more popular as time went on. The word d@mn itself originates from damnare, a Latin word meaning "to condemn."  Fun fact: During the Hundred Years War, the French were said to refer to the English soldiers as "les goddems" because of their excessive use of profanities.

According to Slate, the phrase m%therf*c%er (referring to someone who or something that is despicable) first came about in the "late 19th and early 20th centuries" and was originally documented during a "Texas Court of Appeals’ account." It was here that a witness referred to a defendant as a “G!d d@mned m#ther-f—ing, b@st@#%ly son-of-a-b—h.” Wow.  Then in World War II, the phrase became a more popular way to say someone or something is irritating or ruthless.  But, as the 1950s rolled around, the word "m%therf*c%er" took a turn for the good if you can believe it. It became used in a more favorable way to describe someone you're close with. For example, "I love him madly, he’s my m—erf—ng man," which was a line from the 1954 poetry book, The Life.

We've all heard (or used) the phrase, go to he!! at least once or twice in our lifetime. But, where does this curse word come from? Sure, we know it has something to do with heaven and the other place, but did you know it stems from the Gothic halja, which translates to the "underworld"?  The term came about sometime before 900 and could also possibly be related to Old Norse hel, which is found in Norse mythology (North Germanic people with ties to Norse paganism) and is the name of the ruler of the "evil dead." 

The word pi$$ might not be as offensive as some of the other curse words on this list, but it's still kind of foul. It can refer to anything from using the restroom to being exceedingly angry. And, the United Kingdom uses it to reference someone who has had one too many cocktails. The word came about somewhere between 1250–1300, originating from the Old French word pissier. In World War II, it was used to describe someone who was performing badly: pi$$-poor. Later, in 1947, the word was more commonly used to reference someone who was angry or irritated.

When formally used, the word b@st@rd simply means a child who is "born out of wedlock." However, when using it as a curse word, it refers to an "unpleasant or despicable person."  It's been said that the word originated somewhere between 1250–1300 and is possibly from Old French. In the late 16th century, the use of the word became prevalent when describing a "brat, or small child" and later became a more crude term in the 1800s. 

The word cr@p (meaning "to talk nonsense" or "excrement") is kind of like the less distasteful way to say s#*t. Nonetheless, the word is still considered a crude curse word.  The word comes from the Middle Dutch word, krappe ("to cut off, pluck off"). Then, in the 15th century, it became a word you'd use more frequently to describe someone or something that is considered "nonsense."

Ready for some great fake swear words  on Screen you Fracking Smeghead?

Orson Scott Card cautioned against using invented swears in fiction because the fake “oaths” risked making the story silly. Fair enough. But, frak it, sometimes cussing is the only way to let it out. On-screen rules occasionally prohibit or limit profanity. So, screenwriters get creative. Even Fantastic Mr. Fox had to release some heat (“This is going to be a total cluster-cuss,” “You scared the cuss out of us”).  Using cuss as a cuss is cute, but pretty vanilla. For real kapow, here are some of the most creative fake swears seen on screen.

"Blurgh, you jagweed"
Liz Lemon first uttered “Blurgh!” in a 2007 episode of 30 Rock. It was so good, so compelling a swear that she used it three other times in the episode. It’s been immortalized ever since as a word expressing “revulsion, deflation, and disgust.” Tina Fey, who plays Ms. Lemon and who is the show’s creator, explained to GOOD Magazine that Blurgh was one of the invented swears the writers came up with while trying to circumvent the no-swear policy of network television. Jagweed, another zesty example of lewd-Lemon lexicon, is synonymous with “douchebag.” The fake cuss is a funny corruption of jerk off and jack off (you know, relating to the masturbatory undertaking).

“You fusking cloff-prunker”
In the early 1990s, the British comedy sketch show A Bit of Fry & Laurie was a platform for Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie to engage in hilarious bouts of wordplay. Aside from “The Language Conversation” (an episode focusing on the flexibility and arbitrariness of language), the most inventive displays of lexical wizardry were the meaningless but nevertheless obscene-sounding tell-offs: “You fusking cloff-prunker” and “Skank off, you cloffing cuck, you're all a load of shote-bag fuskers, so prunk that up your prime-ministering pim-hole."  When asked to explain what cloff-prunker means, Stephen Fry explains it’s a practice whereby “one person frangilates another’s slimp . . . and smuctat[es] them avially.” Very clear.

Frak is one of the most well-known fake swears in fiction. Its appearances off the mothership Battlestar Galactica, in entertainment as divergent as Gossip Girl and the Dilbert comic strip, demonstrate frak’s immense appeal.  A futuristic stand-in for the f-word, frak first appeared in the 1978 series Battlestar Galactica. Originally spelled “frack,” the word was revamped for the 2010 revival of the series so that it reflected its true “four-letter-word” nature. Though not an intention of the producers, the respelling now differentiates the fictional swear from the practice of fracking . . . frak fracking!

Farscape’s frell is another example of how writing teams imaginatively side-step the boundaries of what can be said on TV. According to a Farscape fan site, frell is used by Sebaceans, bipedal beings that look uncannily like humans (and can be played by them on the show, to the producers’ relief). Frell replaces the “coarse Anglo-Saxon monosyllable indicating sexual intercourse,” i.e., our old favorite: the f-word.

In 2002, Joss Whedon combined Western and sci-fi genres in Firefly, set in the year 2517. The language of the show is a mix of English and Chinese, reflecting Whedon’s visionary world in which the U.S. and China are the two most powerful cultures on the planet. Gorram is a substitute for God damn, and may be a “Chinglish” pronunciation of the swear according to Some fans question if gorram is actually a Chinese word, or somehow related to similar sounding words meaning “testicles,” “rotten,” and “f-d up” in various Chinese dialects. Others say there is no connection to Chinese.  However, Charles Dickens coined gormed in the 1800s, possibly as a mild form of “gosh darned” (and therefore of “God damned”) so this one may be older than BrownCoats know.    

“What the cabbage?”
The leap from adult sci-fi genres to a child’s fantasy adventure cartoon is not insignificant. Especially considering this slideshow is about invented cuss words. Adventure Time appeals to both kids and parents through the interactions of the protagonists, Finn and Jake, with magical characters in the Land of Ooo.  Along the way English words conjuring (for some) utter doom and dismay—like lump, cabbage, and math—are cheekily used in especially emotional dialogue: “I lumping hate them!,” “What the cabbage?,” and “I wanna go to sleep and you’re creeping me the math out!” While not coined from scratch, these cusses are certainly creative.

"Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerfherder! "
Hop aboard the Millennium Falcon to venture back into the universe of fake swears. Star Wars is rife with inventive curse words, from f-bomb alternatives (farkled and krong), insults (laser brain and the Huttese E chu ta), to general expletives like vape and varp.  In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia insults Han Solo as a nerfherder, someone who—as anyone from Alderaan would know—herds nerfs or “foul-smelling furry quadrupeds bred for meat across the galaxies.” Nerfherders had a bad reputation for being dirty and smelling like nerfs.

Coincidentally, while the human survivors on Battlestar Galactica were yelling “Frack you!” to the Ceylons, Mork (in Mork & Mindy) was exclaiming “Shazbot!” Robin Williams, the actor portraying Mork, might have invented the Orkan profanity in a moment of ad-libbed genius. Shazbot evokes the smelly “shiz” of a robot, and it was comfortably used in place of the four-letter word for the smelly droppings of a human.

"Smeggy, smegging smegger!”
“. . . smeg off . . . you annoyingly little smeggy, smegging smegger!” proclaims a character in the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf. Based on this insult, in which smeg so flexibly morphs into any part of speech, it seems smeg can be used in place of at least a couple choice curse words. Adding head is a nice option if going for a version of shizhead (we have to euphemize; we know you understand).  The Red Dwarf screenwriters claim no association, but this coined obscenity has a fairly disgusting real cousin in English (and in physical anatomy): smegma is the “thick, cheeselike secretion” that collects beneath and around male and female netherparts. That’s smegging gross.

“Where the smurf are we?”
To help you move on from that last smegging visual, we’ll turn to The Smurfs. The little blue mushroom-dwellers use the word smurf to mean just about anything: “Our village has been smurfed by a smurf that smurfs smurf.” “When you smurf that smurf, you smurf off a whole series of smurfed smurfections . . . .”  Only Smurfs truly understand what one Smurf-speaking Smurf is smurfing. Smurf comes close to a minced oath for God in Papa Smurf’s cries of “Great smurfs!” and “Name of a smurf!” In the 2011 movie, there was no smurf about it: Smurf became a smurf-word: “Where the smurf are we?”


Friday, February 2, 2018

Freedom for California’s Indians


On April 27, 1863, nearly five months after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, California abolished its system of forced apprenticeship for American Indians. Under the apprenticeship provisions of the state’s Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, several thousand California Indians, mostly children, had suffered kidnapping, sale and involuntary servitude for over a decade.

Newly elected California Republicans, eager to bring California in line with the national march toward emancipation, agitated for two years in the early 1860s to repeal Indian apprenticeship. And yet those Republicans’ limited vision of Indian freedom — one in which Indians would be free to reap the fruits of their labor, but not free from the duty to labor altogether — made for an incomplete Indian Emancipation Proclamation. Although California was distant from the battlefields of the Civil War, the state endured its own struggle over freedom that paralleled that of the North and the South.

The Republican campaign to abolish Indian servitude ran up against nearly a century of coerced Indian labor in California. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, thousands of California Indians worked on missions and ranches, bound to their employment through a combination of economic necessity, captivity, physical compulsion and debt.

With the United States’ conquest of California in 1847, the discovery of gold in 1848 and the formation of a state government in 1849, new American lawmakers expanded and formalized Indian servitude to meet growing demands for labor. The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians authorized whites to hold Indian children as wards until they reached adulthood. Indian adults convicted of vagrancy or other crimes could be forced to work for whites who paid their bail.

Skyrocketing demand for farmworkers and domestic servants, combined with violence between Indians and invading whites in the northwestern part of the state, left Democrats in war-torn counties clamoring for the expansion of the 1850 Indian act. A “general system of peonage or apprenticeship” was the only way to quell Indian wars, one Democrat argued. A stint of involuntary labor would civilize Indians, establish them in “permanent and comfortable homes,” and provide white settlers with “profitable and convenient servants.” In 1860, Democrats proposed new amendments to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that allowed whites to bind Indian children as apprentices until they reached their mid-20s. Indian adults accused of being vagrants without steady employment, or taken as captives of war, could be apprenticed for 10-year terms. The amendments passed with little debate.

As the nation hurtled toward a war over slavery, Californians watched as their own state became a battleground over the future of human bondage. Apprenticeship laws aimed at “civilizing” the state’s Indians encouraged a robust and horrific slave trade in the northwestern counties. Frontier whites eagerly paid from $50 to $100 for Indian children to apprentice. Groups of kidnappers, dubbed “baby hunters” in the California press, supplied this market by attacking isolated Indian villages and snatching up children in the chaos of battle. Some assailants murdered Indian parents who refused to give up their children.

Once deposited in white homes, captive apprentices often suffered abuse and neglect. The death of Rosa, a 10-year-old apprentice from either the Yuki or Pomo tribes, provides a grim case in point. Just two weeks before the repeal of Indian apprenticeship, the Mendocino County coroner found the dead girl “nearly naked, lying in a box out of doors” next to the home of her mistress, a Mrs. Bassett of Ukiah. Neighbors testified that the child was sick and restless and that Basset shut her out of the house in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Huge bruises on Rosa’s abdomen suggested that Bassett had mercilessly beaten the ill child before tossing her out into the blizzard. Mendocino officials never brought charges in the case.

The horrors of kidnapping and apprenticeship filled the state’s newspapers just as antislavery California Republicans swept into power in 1861-2. Republicans assailed the apprentice system and blamed Democrats for the “abominable system of Indian apprenticeship, which has been used as a means of introducing actual slavery into our free State.” George Hanson, an Illinois Republican whose close relationship with Abraham Lincoln earned him an appointment as Northern California’s superintendent of Indian affairs, vowed to eliminate the state’s “unholy traffic in human blood and souls.” He tracked down and prosecuted kidnappers in the northwestern counties (with mixed success) and petitioned the State Legislature to abolish the apprenticeship system.

In 1862, Republican legislators proposed two new measures to overturn the 1860 apprenticeship amendments. Democrats blocked these bills and insisted that apprenticeship “embodied one of the most important measures” for Indians’ “improvement and civilization.” Indian servitude lived on.

By the time the legislature met again in the spring of 1863, however, all signs pointed to the destruction of the apprenticeship system. Republicans won firm majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, and in January California became the first state to endorse Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Republicans again proposed to repeal the apprenticeship amendments, and this time they achieved their goal with no debate or dissent. Involuntary labor for American Indians died quietly.

Or did it? Republicans had eliminated all the 1860 amendments authorizing the forced apprenticeship of American Indians. But they had left intact sections of the original 1850 act that mandated the forcible binding out of Indian convicts and vagrants. Moreover, repeal only prevented future apprenticeships; Republican legislation did not liberate Indians already legally apprenticed. After repeal, as many as 6,000 Indian children remained servants in white homes.

The incomplete nature of Indian emancipation in California reflected Republicans’ own ambivalence toward Indian freedom. Most Republicans opposed the kidnapping and enslavement of Indians. They believed that Indians, like former African-American slaves, should be entitled to reap the economic rewards of their own work. On the other hand, they asserted that the key to “civilizing” Indians was to force them to participate in the California labor market. They could not be free to support themselves through traditional mobile hunting and gathering practices that removed their labor from white supervision and tied up valuable natural resources. Such a lifestyle was, in Republicans’ minds, little more than idle vagrancy. Just as their Republican colleagues on the East Coast argued that ex-slaves should be schooled to labor by being bound to plantation wage work through long-term contracts, California Republicans began to advocate compulsory labor as the only way to cure Indian vagrancy.

The Republican vision for Indian freedom quickly took shape after the Civil War. Republican appointees who oversaw California’s Indian reservations compelled all able-bodied Indians to work on the reservation farms. Those who refused, or who pursued native food-gathering practices, forfeited the meager federal rations allotted to reservation Indians. By 1867, one Republican agent declared that “the hoe and the broadaxe will sooner civilize and Christianize than the spelling book and the Bible.” He advocated forcing Indians to work until they had been “humanized by systematic labor.” These policies persisted long after the war. At Round Valley Reservation, one critic observed in 1874 that “compulsion is used to keep the Indians and to drive them to work.” Indian workers received no payment for “labor and no opportunity to accumulate individual property.”

The ambiguous postwar liberty of California Indians reveals that the Civil War was a transcontinental conflict that reached west to the Pacific. The freedoms won in wartime, and the unfulfilled promises of emancipation, encompassed not only black and white, free and slave, but also American Indian peoples who suffered from distinctly Western systems of unfree labor. The Civil War and Reconstruction are best understood as truly national struggles over the meaning and limits of freedom, north, south and west.

On the April 22, 1850, to “craft its own code of compulsory labor”, an "Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” was passed which legally curtailed rights of Indians. It provided that:

  • "White persons or proprietors could apply to the Justice of Peace for the removal of Indians from lands in the white person’s possession"
  • "Any person could go before a Justice of Peace to obtain Indian children for indenture. The Justice determined whether or not compulsory means were used to obtain the child. If the Justice was satisfied that no coercion occurred, the person obtain a certificate that authorized him to have the care, custody, control and earnings of an Indian until their age of majority (for males, eighteen years, for females, fifteen years)." In actual practice this section lead to a trade system of kidnapped Indian children, either stolen from their parents or taken from the results of militia attacks during the 1850s and 1860s. Frontier whites often eagerly paid $50–$100 for Indian children to apprentice and so groups of kidnappers would often raid isolated Indian villages, snatching up children in the chaos of battle.
  • “If a convicted Indian was punished by paying a fine, any white person, with the consent of the Justice, could give bond for the Indian’s fine and costs. In return, the Indian was “compelled to work until his fine was discharged or cancelled.” The person bailing was supposed to “treat the Indian humanely, and clothe and feed him properly.” The Court decided “the allowance given for such labor.”” Local authorities were often required to hire out the “convicts” within the next 24 hours to the highest bidder essentially creating a system of selling slaves out of jail.
  • Indians could not testify for or against whites. It was illegal to sell or administer alcohol to Indians and if Indians were convicted of stealing any valuable or livestock, they could receive any number of lashes (as long as it was less than 25) and a fine of up to $200.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Who was Isabel de Olvera?

A free woman of African descent living in Querétaro, Mexico, Isabel de Olvera joined a relief expedition to the recently colonized province of New Mexico in 1600.  She would travel as a servant to a Spanish woman.  Little is known about Olvera, except for an extraordinary deposition she filed with the Querétaro alcalde (mayor), don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla.  In front of three witnesses (a free black man, a mestiza woman, and a black slave woman), Isabel de Olvera dictated the following:

I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman, unmarried and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian named Magdalena . . . . I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit, which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery.  I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that it carry full legal authority.  I demand justice.

Whether Isabel de Olvera’s deposition worked as a protector of her freedoms remains unknown to history.  However, the document somehow made its way into the Spanish colonial archives, memorializing its progenitor and her understandings of personal freedom for generations of historians. Olvera understood that her cherished freedom could be restricted in two realms of bondage: slavery and marriage.  In Querétaro, her freedoms were a matter of public knowledge.  As the three witnesses verified, Isabel de Olvera was an unmarried mulatta woman of free status.  Her future neighbors in the unknown north, however, might challenge those freedoms and Olvera’s status.  Yet, despite her fear that she might “be annoyed by some individual” on the expedition to New Mexico, she agreed to make the journey.  Perhaps she hoped to find increased freedoms in New Mexico, and not to remain long in the position of servant.


Timeline of Africans and Black Spaniards within the Spanish colonies:

Total Pageviews

Phychological Thriller

WWII Historical Drama

Pictorial Ballad

About Me

My photo

Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Follow me on Twitter

Copyright © K.P.Kollenborn | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by