This article critically examines historian Gary Clayton Anderson’s attempt to deny that the treatment inflicted upon California’s Indigenous people during the Gold Rush Era was genocide. Not only a matter of academic interest, this examination is also important to ongoing discussions following both California Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2019 apology to California’s Indigenous peoples for genocide and the creation of the Indigenous-led California Truth and Healing Council. Pointing out out serious flaws in Anderson’s argument that the population of California Indians in 1851 was much lower than historical demographer Sherburne Cook’s widely accepted estimates, the article explains how Anderson consistently diminishes the extent of violence against Native California communities. The essay further considers problems with Anderson’s criteria for genocide and his use of the category of “ethnic cleansing” as an alternative to genocide. It concludes with the proposal to take a structuralist approach to the issue, rather than an intentionalist one.
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ARTICLES| April 28 2022
Denial of Genocide in the California Gold Rush Era: The Case of Gary Clayton Anderson
Jeffrey Ostler is professor of history emeritus at the University of Oregon. His recent publications include Surviving Genocide: Native Nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas (Yale University Press, 2019) and, with coauthor Karl Jacoby, contributed “After 1776: Native Nations, Settler Colonialism, and the Meaning of America” to a special issue on patriotic history in Journal of Genocide Research (2021).
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American Indian Culture and Research Journal (2021) 45 (2): 81–102.
Jeffrey Ostler; Denial of Genocide in the California Gold Rush Era: The Case of Gary Clayton Anderson. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 1 April 2021; 45 (2): 81–102. doi: https://doi.org/10.17953/aicrj.45.2.ostler
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