Rosa: Kidnapped, Sold, and Killed

Native children often suffered horrific abuse as a result of a law that professed to send them to white families for self-improvement but instead created a form of legalized child slavery. The case of Rosa, in Mendocino County, is just one example of how the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians brutalized Native, and sometimes black children.

Rosa was between 10 and 12 years old and was believed to be from either the Yuki or Pomo tribe. In the winter of 1862, she was beaten and left to die in a snowstorm by a woman who had been granted legal custody of her under the law. The woman, identified in Mendocino County public records as “Mrs. Bassett,” had locked the child outside in freezing temperatures. Her partially clothed corpse was found in a box outside the woman’s home. Mendocino County authorities never brought charges, even though Bassett’s neighbors testified that she had left Rosa outdoors, causing the child’s death. Before her death, Rosa had been forced to work in the Bassett home as an indentured servant. According to an 1862 report in the Alta California newspaper, kidnappers could sell children for “$30 to $150 depending on their quality.” That same year, a child trafficker came to Ukiah with 16 children, ages six to 13. After he was arrested, the children became public wards. But instead of returning them to their families, county officials offered them to local white residents as “apprentices.” Bassett was among the more than 100 people who applied to become guardians of the children.

Report from Indian Affars Superintendent.
Superintendent of Indian Affairs, George M. Hanson, an ally of Lincoln and opponent of slavery, once found several white men making their way back from Humboldt County with native children in tow. The men said that the children were orphans, and they were providing them with homes and safety. When asked how they knew the children were orphans. The kidnappers replied that they had killed the parents themselves.

Letter from Major John Bidwill of Butte County on how widespread slavery of native people was: “[native people] all amoung us, around us, with us – hardly a farm house – a kitchen without them.”

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Kate Camden family portrait

Photo of Kate Camden, a native girl who at age 10 was forced into servitude for a white family living in Shasta County. Photo is one of few records that exist showing native children entrapped by California's apprentice and guardianship laws
Credit: Camden Family Portrait, circa 1857-1859 courtesy of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, WHIS 9066

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The mission of Gold Chains is to uncover the hidden history of slavery in California by lifting up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights, inspiring us with their ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity. We aim to expose the role of the courts, laws, and the tacit acceptance of white supremacy in sanctioning race-based violence and discrimination that continues into the present day. Through an unflinching examination of our collective past, we invite California to become truly aware and authentically enlightened.