History of Contact

Ione Band of Miwok Indians

Geographic Area

Since times immemorial, the Miwok people lived peacefully throughout large portions of Northern and Central California. The Miwok originally consisted of three main groups: the Coast Miwok, the Lake Miwok, and the Sierra Miowk. These three Miwok groups resided in over 100 villages located along the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, which included the area north of San Francisco Bay eastward into the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.[1]

Pre-contact Life

These Indians spoke Hokan languages, which are related to other California Indian languages from coastal Northern California into areas of Mexico and the Great Basin. Tribal food supplies included king salmon, other freshwater seafood, acorns, and wild game. An estimated 22,000 Miwok lived in this area during the 18th century.[2]

When did contact happen/what happened

Spanish explorers first invaded California during the Mission Period (1769-1836). Supported by the Spanish and Mexican governments and enforced by militias, Franciscan missionaries established twenty one missions in Alta California beginning from south to north. In 1769, they founded a mission at San Diego, and by 1823 the last mission became established in Sonoma. The California Mission Period lasted sixty five years (1769-1834) and deeply impacted California Native populations. Under the Mission System, Franciscan missionaries baptized California Native people, also known as neophytes or new converts.[3]

In theory, the Mission System worked to convert Native people to Christianity; Franciscan missionaries taught Spanish to Native neophytes; each mission sought to become self-sufficient entities by raising cattle, pigs, and sheep. Missions also produced their own grain, clothing, iron work, and supplies for Spanish troops. Eventually, Native neophytes became agrarian farmers or craftsmen as citizens of pueblos or Spanish towns.[4]

In reality, Native people became virtual slaves with no freedom where they lived the rest of their lives within the confines of the mission. The mission system eliminated Native mobility, freedom, and traditional lifeways. Franciscan missionaries used shackles to subdue Natives who were not cooperative. Missionaries used whipping as punishment, suppressed traditional Native religion and culture, and Spanish troops raped many Native women.[5]

Under the guise of religious conversion and acculturation of Native peoples in California, the missionization process actually depleted the delta and valley areas of not only Native populations but natural resources as well.[6] As a result, Franciscan missionaries and their militias moved further into the foothills seeking more Native converts and laborers for their mission economy. Franciscan missionary Father Fermin Lasuen established Mission San Jose in 1797, located in closest in proximity to the Native population living in present-day Amador County.[7] During the Mission Period, thousands of Miwoks became enslaved during this period, first by the Spanish and later by the Mexican government. Many of these Indians included the Plains Miwok, Northern Sierra Miwok, and the Valley Nisenan. When the missions became secularized (1834-1836), tribal homelands became increasingly obscured because Native people sought refuge from brutal mission life on the large tracts of land that the Mexican government awarded its citizens during the rancho period of California history.[8]

Early California settlers, such as John Sutter and Mariano Vallejo, utilized Native laborers into the vast agricultural ranchos located in Northern California. Employment opportunities became largely restricted to those living on the ranchos, which continued beyond the rancho period when agriculture became a large-scale economic system.[9]

During the American period, the U.S. government continued the economic and cultural devastation of Native traditional lifeways. In 1849-1850, the Gold Rush further impacted the Foothill Nisenan and the Northern Sierra Miowk Native population. This impact resulted in tribal territorial displacement during the late 1840s and early 1850s.[10] Not only did the Gold Rush bring tens of thousands of Anglo miners and other settlers into traditional Miwok homelands, but smallpox and other diseases arrived as well. As a result, the turmoil of the Gold Rush resulted in the decimation of large numbers of the Miwok population around Amador County. In order to survive, many survivors relocated to other areas of the foothills in order to avoid total annihilation.[11]

From 1848-1858, Anglo miners invaded and exploited every area of the gold-bearing drainages. Anglo miners entering California via the Carson Trail deeply impacted Native groups living along the South Fork of the American River and the North Fork of the Cosumnes River. These miners concentrated their camps along the foothill drainages and moved uphill toward the higher elevations. As a result, most of the towns evolving from early miners’ camps occupied areas near Native traditional villages. Conflicts with Anglo settlers resulted in devastating consequences for the Northern Sierra Miwok living along the Cosumnes River, especially the Wapumne Nisenan on the South Fork of the American River.[12]

How this Tribe became known as Ione Band of Miowk Indians

Even prior to the chaos and devastation of the Gold Rush, Native people attempted to avoid Anglo contact by relocating into the present-day Amador County area in search of a safe, stable environment with adequate natural resources. One Mexican land grant, the Arroyo Seco Rancho, offered an area of relative safe habitation for some Native people. The Mexican government granted a large area of land consisting of 11 square leagues, which encompassed portions of present-day Sacramento, Amador, and San Joaquin counties. The Native occupants of the original Arroyo Seco Rancho remained on the land through succeeding Mexican/Anglo ownership changes. Ancestors of the present-day Ione Band of Miwok Indians occupied an area within the Arroyo Seco Rancho land grant, and by right of quiet title, became fee owners of forty acres, which they have occupied continuously since at least 1840. Some members of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians reside on this property today, and they are descendants of the earliest Native occupants of this land.[13]

The Ione Band of Miwok Indians includes descendants of the Natives indigenous to present-day Amador, El Dorado, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Sacramento, and Placer Counties, which includes the Northern Sierra Miowk, also known as the Locolomne and Moquelumne tribelets of the Plains Miwok, and the Wapumne, a tribelet of the Nisenan.[14] Traditional relationships between these groups resulted in easy inter-tribal movement into one another’s tribal traditional homelands during relocations. Intertribal marriages frequently occurred as a result of cultural and genealogical blending. This combined cultural group and collective ancestry became known as the Ione Band of Miwok Indians.

In 1846 formal government-to-government treaty negotiations between the United States and California Native government began. During 1850-1852, three treaty commissioners (Wozencraft, Barbour, and McKee) for the United States Government negotiated a series of eighteen treaties with California Native tribes.[15] Representing Native people living in Amador County in 1851, MI-ON-QUISH (for the Cu-lu); SAN-TEA-GO (for the Yas-si); POL-TUCK (for the Loc-lum-ne); and HIN-COY-E, MAT-TAS, HOL-LOH, and BOY-ER (for the Wo-pum-nes) signed Treaty J on September 18, 1851 at the Fork of the Consumnes River. Provisions of Treaty J not only ceded Amador County Native land to the U. S., but also set aside sections of tribal land for permanent settlement of the Miwok. Although ancestors of the current Ione Band negotiated and signed the treaty, the U. S. Senate failed to ratify the any of the 18 treaties.[16] The Senate kept the existence of these 18 treaties from public view until 1905.[17]

The U. S. Government considered Native lands ceded under Treaties J, E, and F as non-jurisdictional, which meant that the U. S. Government viewed these lands as belonging to no one. As a result, the tribal representatives who had signed these treaties had no authority (in the eyes of the U. S. Government) to cede tribal land.[18]

The non-ratification of these treaties directly impacted Native people living in the Amador area. As seen in other areas of California and the United States, Anglo settlers and miners sought Native land set aside under treaty rights. Non-Indians repeatedly ignored Native property rights, and they set up camps where Indian villages had previously existed, miners took over streams for their own purposes, and settlers barred access to traditional tribal hunting and gathering area, including sacred sites. By 1854, when officials established Amador County, dispossession of tribal land by non-Indians had been well established. As mining camps and towns appeared throughout Northern Sierra Miowk traditional homelands, Native people relocated into peripheral areas, which reduced the amount of habitable land that could support Native substance. In order to survive, many Amador County Native people worked in marginal agricultural and mining jobs. These Indians lived a destitute life without permanent homes. Around the early 1900s, religious and philanthropic groups began to help relieve the Amador Indians’ living conditions. Due to the efforts by these groups, the Indian Service became aware of these Indians.[19]

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Miwok continued to reside on traditional homelands, which includes present-day Fiddletown, Plymouth, and the Shenandoah Valley. Furthermore, in spite of living amid rich farming areas, many Amador County Native people lived in severe distress, starvation, and isolation, especially elders. They survived by hunting and gathering in addition to limited wage labor on local farms and ranches.[20]

Ione Band Membership History

In 1905 to 1906 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) assigned Special Agent C. E. Kelsey to investigate living conditions of homeless Indians in California. He also considered how best to improve their situation. Kelsey documented the aggression toward California Natives by miners and Anglo settlers; Native traditional land dispossession by non-Natives; Native population decrease due to disease; and natural resource reduction caused by Anglo contact. Congress appropriated funds for the purchase of land and establishment of water systems for those California tribes that he identified. Kelsey documented 175 people residing in Amador County.[21]

In 1915, BIA Special Agent John. J. Terrell arrived in California to determine which Native groups needed land and water. Using Kelsey’s 1905 census, Terrell traveled to meet with Native in several areas in California. Among other areas, Terrell visited Native groups living at the Fork of the Cosumnes area, which included portions of El Dorado and Amador Counties. He identified 101 homeless Indians living in the Ione. Captain Charlie Maximo had previously been elected their leader.[22] This group later became recognized as three distinct tribes, which included the Ione Band of Miwok, the Jackson Rancheria of Me-Wuk, and the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk.[23] Based on Terrell’s recommendations and letters (dated July 31, 1917; January 4, 1917; July 30, 1918; and August 16, 1923) attesting to the importance of the purchase of land for these homeless Indians, the federal government approved funds for the purchase of land for landless Natives living in Ione; however, between 1916 and 1930, federal authorities never finalized the purchase because clear title to the land could not be obtained.[24] In a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, Agent Terrell declares, “[this procurement as] probably the most important one of all he has negotiated,” and he believed this group to be in a “very needy condition.”[25] Subsequent BIA surveys also noted that homeless Natives continued to reside in Amador County.[26]

Federal Recognition and Trust Lands

Early in the 20th century, the BIA identified two parcels land, which the government considered purchasing for Natives in the Ione area. The federal government failed to purchase land because clear title could not be obtained. In 1941, thirty-one Native individuals appealed to the BIA, with the help of their Congressman, on behalf of the entire Ione Band for the purchase of the forty acre tract for use by the group. Unfortunately, the federal government failed to agree to their request.[27]

Due to continual interest in obtaining BIA funds for housing and getting title to the forty acres of land in Jackson Valley, in 1971, the Ione Band of Miwok Indians held an election and then contacted the California Legal Services to help the tribe obtain title to the land in Jackson Valley. In 1972, Amador County Superior Court granted quiet title to the forty acre parcel to twelve individuals and “other members of the Ione Band.”[28]

In an October 13, 1972 letter, BIA Commissioner Louis Bruce granted the Ione Band of Miwok Indians federal recognition, which would also allow the BIA to put the forty acre parcel into trust. Unfortunately, due to confusing wording in the Amador County Superior Court decision, the BIA could not put the land into trust. The Superior Court stated that ownership of the land could not be determined because of the use of the term “other” instead of “the other.” In their opinion, title could not be awarded to a non-specific number of people. Another court action would be necessary to obtain clear title to the land. Currently, twelve individuals named in the Superior Court decision hold title in fee.[29]

Several years later, the Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs raised question if tribal recognition based solely on the 1972 BIA commissioner’s letter sufficiently proved federal tribal recognition.[30] In a letter dated March 22, 1994, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Ada Deer reiterated Commissioner Bruce’s opinions in his 1972 letter concerning the federal government’s relationship to the Ione Band. Ms. Deer opines, “Federal Recognition was evidently extended to the Ione Band of Indians at the time that the Ione land purchase was contemplated.”[31]

[1] Theodoratus, Dorothea J. and Kathleen McBride. 2005. Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians: Prepared for Ione Band of Miowk Indians. “Introduction,” p. 1; Ione Band of Miowk Indians: Tribal Government Guide, p. 6.
[2] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Introduction,” p. 2; Ione Band of Miwok Indians: Tribal Guide, p. 6; Heiser, Robert F. and Albert B. Elsasser. 1980. The Natural World of the California Indians. Berkeley: University of California Press.
[3] Hurtado, Albert L. 1988. Indian Survival on the California Frontier. New Haven: Yale University Press; Margolin, Malcolm. 1989. Life in a California Mission: The Journals of Jean François De La Pérouse. Berkeley: Heyday Books.
[4] Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier; Margolin, Life in a California Mission; Stowell, Susan J. 2008. “The California Mission Period, 1769-1823.” Guest lecture. Yuba Community College, Woodland, CA.
[5] Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier; Margolin, Life in a California Mission; Stowell, “The California Mission Period.” Guest lecture.
[6] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 9.
[7] Malloy, Betsy. San Jose Mission: History of the San Jose Mission. 2010. Online. Internet. Available: http://gocalifornia.about.com/cs/missioncalifornia/a/josehist.htm.
[8] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miowk Indian. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 9.
[9] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 9; Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier.
[10] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 12.
[11] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 10-11; Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier; Ione Band of Miwok Indians: Tribal Guide, p. 6.
[12] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 12; Gibson, Arrell M. 1976. The West in the Life of a Nation. Lexington: D. C. Heath and Company.
[13] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 11-12; Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier.
[14] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Foreign Invasion,” p. 10-12; Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier.
[15] Forbes, Jack D. 1969. Native Americans of California and Nevada. Happy Camp: Naturegraph Publishers; Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier.
[16] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Treaty Making,” p. 14-17. Two other treaties, E and F, also included provisions for Amador Native tribes.
[17] Ione Band of Miwok Indians: Tribal Guide, p. 7.
[18] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Treaty Making,” p. 18.
[19] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Treaty Making,” p. 18.
[20] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Treaty Making,” p. 19.
[21] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 20.
[22] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 21; Tribal Guide, p. 7.
[23] Tribal Guide, p. 7.
[24] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 24; Letter to Secretary of the Interior, March 9, 1917; Seitz, letter to Meade, Title Officer, October 21, 1970.
[25]Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 24; BIA letter to the Secretary of the Interior, March 9, 1917, Land Allotments File.
[26] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 24; Tribal Guide, p. 7.
[27] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 25.
[28] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 26; Villa v. Moffatt, No. 8160, California Superior Court, Amador County, October 31, 1972.
[29] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 26.
[30] Tribal Guide, p. 7.
[31] Theodoratus, Ethnohistorical Overview of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. “Ione Band Membership History,” p. 26.


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