Citizen lives: California Indian country, 1855--1940

Khal Ross Schneider
Dept. of History, University of California, Berkeley
July, 2006


"Citizen Lives: California Indian Country, 1855-1940," is a history of off-reservation Indian communities in northern California's Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. At the center of the story are the social arrangements Indians entered into to protect and recover land. In the absence of treaties and treaty-protected reservations, the markers of "Indian Country" as defined elsewhere in the West, California tribes recovered land and remade communities within the rural counties where they lived and worked. By 1930, the study area was home to one of the largest Indian populations by percentage of any area in the state, even after a long history of white settlement, and would eventually be home, despite an extended period of federal neglect, over twenty government-recognized tribes.

The dissertation follows communities in these three counties out of the violence and dispossession of the1850s and 1860s, through the 1880s when some used their wages earned as farm workers to buy land and hold it in trust, leveraging a local legal system that protected white landowners in order to preserve tribal land. Privately owned land and connections to multiple "Indian places" sustained Indian communities in a period of federal neglect, but when the federal government bought its own land for landless Indians, it confined recognition and funding to the government-owned tracts exclusively. To be a member of a recognized tribe meant emphasizing membership in one rancheria community on land owned and held in trust by the federal government, while denying one's membership in multiple Indian communities off the reservation. Tribal recognition in the 1930s came with the denial of the inter-tribal history of land buying and community building that had assured Indian survival beyond the 1860s. Drawn from evidence in county land records and the records of the Office of Indian Affairs, "Citizen Lives" describes an Indian Country that is the product of choices made by Indians and their white neighbors, an Indian Country neither defined exclusively from the "top-down" by federal policy, nor strictly explained by an unbroken occupation of tribal homeland.