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Bloody Island massacre

Coordinates: 39°08′56″N 122°53′17″W / 39.149°N 122.888°W / 39.149; -122.888
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Bloody Island Massacre
LocationClear Lake, Lake County, California
Coordinates39°08′56″N 122°53′17″W / 39.149°N 122.888°W / 39.149; -122.888
DateMay 15, 1850 (1850-05-15)
TargetPomo under Chief Augustine
Deaths60–800 Pomo Native American old men, women and children.[1]
PerpetratorsElements of 1st Dragoons Regiment of the U.S. Army, under the command of Lieutenants Nathaniel Lyon and John Wynn Davidson
MotiveRevenge for the deaths of slave owners Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone, who were killed in a slave rebellion
Reference no.427

The Bloody Island Massacre was a mass killing of indigenous Californians by the U.S. Military that occurred on what was then an island in Clear Lake, California, on May 15, 1850. It is part of the wider California genocide.

A number of the Pomo, an indigenous people of California, had been enslaved by two settlers, Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone, and confined to one village, where they were starved and abused until they rebelled and murdered their captors. In response, the U.S. Cavalry killed at least 60 of the local Pomo. In July 1850, a report by Major Edwin Allen Sherman contended that “There were not less than four hundred warriors killed and drowned at Clear Lake and as many more of squaws and children who plunged into the lake and drowned, through fear, committing suicide. So in all, about eight hundred Native Americans found a watery grave in Clear Lake.” [2]



The Bloody Island Massacre (also called the Clear Lake Massacre) occurred on what was then an island called in the Pomo language, Bo-no-po-ti or Badon-napo-ti (Island Village), at the north end of Clear Lake, Lake County, California, on May 15, 1850.[3][4] It was a place where the Pomo had traditionally gathered for the spring fish spawn. After this event, it became known as Bloody Island. The lake has since receded so that Bloody Island is now a hilltop north of the body of water.[5]

A number of Wappo and Pomo, primarily living in the Big Valley area, had been enslaved, interned, and severely abused by settlers Andrew Kelsey (namesake of Kelsey Creek and Kelseyville, California) and Charles Stone.[6] Kelsey and Stone purchased cattle running free and grazing rights in Big Valley from Salvador Vallejo in 1847. They captured and impressed local Indians to work as vaqueros. They also forced them to build them a permanent shelter with promises for rations that were not kept. Because they made a residence there, their treatment of the Pomo was more brutal than had been Vallejo's, though the massacred Pomos at Anderson Island might have argued that point. The people were eventually confined to a village surrounded by a stockade and were not allowed weapons or fishing implements. Families starved on the meager rations they provided only four cups of wheat a day for a family. When one young man asked for more wheat for his sick mother, Stone reportedly killed him.[7] In the fall of 1849, Kelsey forced 50 Pomo men to work as laborers on a second gold-seeking expedition to the Placer gold fields. Kelsey became ill with malaria and sold the rations to other miners. The Pomo starved, and only one or two men returned alive.[8]

Stone and Kelsey regularly forced the Pomo parents to bring their daughters to them to be sexually abused. If they refused they were whipped mercilessly. A number of them died from that abuse. Both men indentured and abused the Pomo women. The starving Pomo became so desperate that

'Suk' and 'Xasis' took Stone's horse to kill a cow but the weather was bad and the horse ran off. Knowing they would be punished, (Chief) Augustine's wife poured water onto the two men's gunpowder, rendering it useless; Pomo warriors attacked the house at dawn, immediately killing Kelsey with an arrow. Stone jumped out a window and tried to hide in a stand of willow trees, but Augustine found him and killed him with a rock. The Pomo men took food back to their families and everyone left to join other relatives around the Lake. Some went to Badon-napoti where the spring fish spawn was underway.[8]



On May 15, 1850, a contingent from the 1st Dragoons Regiment of the United States Cavalry under Nathaniel Lyon, then still a lieutenant, and Lieutenant J. W. Davidson[4] tried to locate Augustine's band to punish them. When they instead came upon a group of Pomo on Badon-napoti (later called Bloody Island), they killed[4] old men, women and children.

The soldiers under Davidson's command arrived "with orders to proceed against the Clear Lake Indians, and exterminate if possible the tribe."[9] The National Park Service has estimated the army killed 60 of 400 Pomo; other accounts say 200 were killed. Most of the younger men were off in the mountains to the north, hunting.[7] Some of the dead were relatives of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake[3] and the Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California. The army killed 75 more of the Pomo along the Russian River.[7]

One of the Pomo survivors of the massacre was a 6-year-old girl named Ni'ka, or Lucy Moore. She hid underwater and breathed through a tule reed. Her descendants formed the Lucy Moore Foundation to work for better relations between the Pomo and other residents of California.[7]



Later, the Pomo were forced to live in small rancherias set aside by the federal government. For most of the 20th century, the Pomo, reduced in number, survived on such tiny reservations in poverty. Few textbooks on California history mentioned the Bloody Island incident or abuse of the native Californians.[citation needed]

Two separate historical markers record the site. The one placed by the Native Sons of the Golden West on 20 May 1942 on Reclamation Road 0.3 miles off Highway 20, describes the location as the scene of a battle between U.S. soldiers under "Captain" Lyons and Indians under Chief Augustine.[10] California Historical Landmark No. 427, describing the location as the scene of a massacre mostly of women and children, was placed on Highway 20 at the Reclamation Road intersection on 15 May 2005 by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Lucy Moore Foundation,[4] a non-profit organization founded to educate the California public about the massacre.[11] A 2015 article in Genocide Studies and Prevention analyzed how this plaque reflects on the massacre and its remembrance by both Native and colonial people.[5]

See also



  1. ^ Montoliu, Raphael (August 26, 2007). "Lucy Moore Foundation seeks to create healing, understanding". Lake County News. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011.
  2. ^ Page 132, An American Genocide, Benjamin Madley, Yale University Press, 2016
  3. ^ a b Clear Lake's First People. Archived 2009-04-24 at the Wayback Machine (pdf file) Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  4. ^ a b c d Key, Karen. Bloody Island (Bo-no-po-ti). The Historical Marker Database. 31 June 2007 (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  5. ^ a b Garsha, Jeremiah J. (2015). "'Reclamation Road': A Microhistory of Massacre Memory in Clear Lake, California". Genocide Studies and Prevention. 9 (2): 61–75. doi:10.5038/1911-9933.9.2.1292.
  6. ^ https://www.academia.edu/5539505/The_Kelsey_Brothers_A_California_Disaster Dr. John Parker's 2012 review of the various accounts of the incident.
  7. ^ a b c d Elizabeth Larson, "Bloody Island atrocity remembered at Saturday ceremony", Lake County News, 13 May 2007 (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  8. ^ a b They also captured all the Pomo from the Scotts Valley village and forced both camps to march to Sonoma and build the still existent Vallejo hacienda. Gradually those people made their way home.Richerson, Pete and Scott Richerson. "Bloody Island" Archived 2007-04-06 at the Wayback Machine, in Putah and Cache: A Thinking Mammal's Guide to the Watershed, ed. Amy J. Boyer, Jan Goggans, Daniel Leroy, David Robertson, and Rob Thayer, University of California, Davis, 2001 (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  9. ^ "Marking a California Massacre — With a Native Ceremony of Forgiveness". KQED. May 15, 2020. Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  10. ^ Historical Marker Database. Bloody Island. Retrieved 1 Mar 2010.
  11. ^ Montoliu, Raphael (August 26, 2007). "Lucy Moore Foundation seeks to create healing, understanding". Lake County News. Retrieved March 1, 2010.