JOIN THE LIVE ZOOM SERVICE by clicking this link: HUUF Sunday Service, Meeting ID: 975 6943 4846
Rev. John Buehrens, former Unitarian Universalist president, will talk about the history of the Wiyot massacre and the reporting of the tragedy by Bret Harte, who was encouraged by Starr King to make the whole story public to the United States. Rev. Buehrens will recognize the history of our area and the Wiyots, who were treated so badly.
AMERICAN GENOCIDE AND CONFLAGRATION: The Wiyot Massacre and the Civil War – Rev. Dr. John A Buehrens
Order of Service
AMERICAN GENOCIDE AND CONFLAGRATION: The Wiyot Massacre and the Civil War – Rev. John Buehrens – 31 January 2021
Gathering Music:” The Swallows” Connor Chee …... Annette Gurnee Hull (used with permission).
Welcome & Service Orientation …………………………………………………..….. Scarlett Trippsmith
Chalice Lighting & Aspiration …………………………………..… Jo Ann Huffman & Stephen Sottong
Announcements Slide…………………………………………………….…………. Scarlett Trippsmith
Story for All Ages……………………………………………………………….…..…………. Sandy Lynn
Joys and Sorrows/Moment of Silence…………………………………….…………. Stephen Sottong
Hymn: 131: Love Will Guide Us Music by Sally Rogers Arranged by DeReau K. Farrar Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Director of Worship & Music Allison Halerz, Pianist-in-Residence Audio mix & video editing: Mike Halerz
American Genocide &Conflagration ……………………………………….… Rev. John Buehrens
Offertory words……………………………………………….………………….…… Jo Ann Huffman
Offertory:”Mountains” Connor Chee.…………… Annette Gurnee Hull (used with permission)
Extinguish the Chalice……………………………………………………………… Stephen Sottong
Closing Song: “Go now in Peace”…………………………. Jo Ann Huffman & Stephen Sottong
with Music by Annette Gurnee Hull
Virtual Coffee Hour and time for questions and answers
READ SERMON BELOW
AMERICAN GENOCIDE AND CONFLAGRATION: The Wiyot Massacre and the Civil War
Rev. Dr. John A Buehrens
Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
It’s a privilege to be with you this morning. I don’t need to tell you that in recent years we have endured a resurgence of racism and violence in American politics. Yet we have also experienced something relatively rare: some white American leadership actually listening to and become active allies to black, indigenous, and other peoples of color. It is no accident that an early Executive Order from President Biden rescinded permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Or that the new Secretary of the Interior will a Native American woman, Congresswoman Deb Haaland
Yet white supremacists, on the 6th of this month, encouraged by the then President, as even many of his own party admit, stormed the U.S. Capitol. Some were literally hoping to bring about a Second Civil War, just as white supremacists in South Carolina did in 1860, after the election of Abraham Lincoln, by firing on Fort Sumter.
In that election, Lincoln carried gold-rich California and won its four electors with only 32% of the vote – beating Stephen Douglas by only 734 ballots – with the help of Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King, newly arrived in San Francisco, and a divided opposition. Most California voters were not anti-slavery. On September 13, 1859, California Supreme Court Chief Justice David Terry shot and killed in a duel U.S. Senator David Broderick, a member of his own party, for not being pro-slavery enough.
Just months later, in February of 1860, in Humboldt County, white settlers, without provocation, attacked the encampment of Wiyot people on Tuluwat, known to the settlers as Indian Island. Most of the adult men were away, gathering supplies for the annual World Renewal Ceremony. Those massacred were mostly women, children, and elders. Perhaps as many as 250 of them. This was simply the largest of several coordinated attacks on the peaceful Wiyot people. In three attacks, another one hundred or more Wiyots were killed. The island encampment was torched. Yet a few women escaped to bear witness to the atrocity.
In nearby Arcata (then called Uniontown), a promising young writer named Bret Harte, only 23, was in charge of the local newspaper while his boss was away. He not reported the massacre, but also editorialized against it, writing that a “more shocking and revolting spectacle was never exhibited to the eyes of a Christian and civilized people. Old women, wrinkled and decrepit, lay weltering in blood, their brains dashed out and dabbled with their long gray hair. Infants scarce a span long, with their faces cloven with hatchets and their bodies ghastly with wounds.”
Harte was not alone in refusing to be a silent bystander. Other local citizens wrote to the San Francisco newspapers condemning the massacres. Yet within weeks, after multiple threats on his life, Harte was forced to flee to the Bay Area himself. His widowed mother had married the man who had become mayor of Oakland. He soon found work with a San Francisco paper. And then came to the attention of 35 year old Thomas Starr King, who arrived from the East that April. Both became part of the circle of pro-Union activists hosted by Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of a Missouri Senator who had opposed the expansion of slavery, and of Col. John C. Fremont, the explorer-politician who preceded Lincoln by running for President on that platform in 1856.
They met at Black Rock, the Fremont home overlooking Alcatraz, on a height above Ft. Mason. The Fremonts took a pew in Starr King’s church. Harte also joined. In fact, he married the alto soloist in the choir. Starr King often ended his pro-Union speeches with a poem written by Bret Harte. They succeeded in keeping California in the Union. Starr King also did four other things.
1) During the war, he raised more money than anyone else for a Unitarian-led predecessor to the Red Cross, the U.S. Sanitary Commission – itself the largest humanitarian organization to that point in American history. 2) He became what one African American historian of our state has called “perhaps the only true white anti-racist then in California,” the leading white ally of the state’s black population, starting with a speech given on August 1, 1860, “Emancipation Day,” celebrating the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies in the 1830s. Nearly every month he wrote East to his boyfriend Randolph Ryer, a New Yorker of mixed race, joshing with him as an “octoroon,” “a black scamp,” while reporting candidly on his wife’s aversion to what she called Sand Francisco, or the birth of his only son, whom he named Frederick Randolph Starr.
The Frederick was for Frederick Henry Hedge, the German-educated Unitarian minister who had been a key figure in the Transcendentalists movement, and who had blessed Starr King’s mission of taking a reverence for human rights and for nature to the frontier West. I’m now co-editing the selected works of this first Western Transcendentalist — along with Tyler Green, a young scholar who has proved Starr King’s third, least recognized accomplishment — start the campaign to save Yosemite Valley from ranchers and encroachment.
Having written a book about the White Hills of New Hampshire before coming West, Starr King visited Yosemite in July, 1860. There had not been much more than a hundred non-indigenous people every to see that magnificent valley. He then persuaded pioneer landscape photographer Carleton Watkins, whom he had met at the Fremonts’, to go see for himself. Prints of Watkins’ photos he then sent East, to people like Emerson, and to the influential lawyer Frederick Billings. After Starr King, always frail with TB, suddenly died of exhaustion and diphtheria in March, 1864, Billings and others persuaded the U.S. Congress, in the midst of an ongoing Civil War, to transfer the Yosemite area to California, as a park in perpetuity.
Fourth, Starr King had attracted to his preaching two successive governors of California – Leland Stanford and Frederick Low, who put Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park, in charge of protecting Yosemite. Which he did as effectively as he had run the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
The one thing that none of these Unitarians could do during the Civil War was to prevent what historian Benjamin Madley of UCLA has aptly called, in a well-documented book of the same title, An American Genocide. By the year of Starr King’s death, Austin Wiley, the former editor of the Humboldt Times, then California Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was reporting his counterpart in Washington that the “destructive Indian war” in “Humboldt, Klamath, and Trinity” counties “promised to end only in the extermination of the Indians.” Order came down to stop the systematic murder of Indian men by U.S. soldiers. But to no avail. The colonial settler ideology that the indigenous people were to be displaced and killed was too deeply ingrained.
There were relative few white Americans who then thought in terms of universal human rights. The most influential may have been our spiritual forebears, the Unitarian Transcendentalists. Often we underestimate them. We meet them in high school or college literature classes. Emerson on “Self-Reliance.” Thoreau at Walden. What we don’t often get is that, as Emerson’s best biographer put it, Robert Richardson put it, he had a “Mind on Fire,” with a passion for the fuller flourishing of other minds and souls, even those quite different from his own. So he wrote a fiery protest against the Cherokee removal. He sparks of wisdom in Hindu and Sufi scriptures.
One of the first female Transcendentalists, Lydia Maria Child, wrote a novel that refused to be simply nostalgic about Native Americans in the East. She saw their dying dignity while living in Maine, and wrote a novel that countered The Last of the Mohicans, Hobomuk, in which the plot resolves in interracial intermarriage. In the 1820s!
But a transcendental ethic, transcending differences in gender, social class, race, ethnicity, and religion, has always been hard to establish and maintain. In my book, Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice, I try to offer clues, through history, toward what I might call a healthy, cleansing burn of the underbrush that keeps us from seeing the roots of our present crisis.
Mother Earth, on whom we all depend, is close to burning up, through widespread selfishness. Our fragile democracy, as we saw on January 6, nearly exploded, with white supremacists attacking the U.S. Capitol, trying to disrupt the certification of a just, widely monitored election.
And what can we do now? My best counsel comes from our Transcendentalist forebears:
1) Start every day with reflection, an attitude of gratitude, which was central to indigenous spirituality in relation to living well on this earth, as a good ancestor to generations yet to come. If you are white and wordy, as I am, keep a journal. The Transcendentalists all did.
2) Make and sustain friendship, transcending differences. Both directions. As Lydia Maria Child did, to those victimized by history. But also – and this is harder – toward those whom Starr King and Bret Harte addressed, those tempted to be supremacists, or to ignore cruelty.
3) Study history. One of the worst flaws of white America is that we do not even know what our forebears did or left undone. And what is therefore ours to do in a Third Reconstruction, a renewed Reconciliation with Earth along with the First Peoples on lands where we now dwell.
4) Don’t wallow in guilt. As Audre Lorde once wrote, “Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”
5) Organize, but in partnership with those most hurt and affected. Our Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is a good place to start. They already have partnerships with indigenous communities far and wide. Wherever climate change is flooding islands in Pacific, coastlands in Alaska, or driving people in Central America, Africa or the Middle Easter north as migrants. The also help and learn from indigenous and migrant groups here in the U.S., the supposed land of the free, the home of the brave.
6) Don’t even hope to fix it all. You yourself are not that powerful. That’s an assumption typical of white supremacist culture. Instead, say to yourself, “That depends on the Great Spirit which transcends us all. Help me, O Great Spirit, to see my own humble path. One thing for me to do. Not today. But in the week ahead. Until I meet with these, my people of conscience, once again.”
On that prayerful note, let us pause in silence for a minute or two.