Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Clive Foss

Second Advisor

James O'Toole

Third Advisor

Thomas Buckley


This study is an effort to determine whether the phenomenon of genocide, as defined in the UN Convention on Genocide of 1948, played a distinguishable role in the sharp decline of the California Indian population during the period 1769 to 1873. Through examination of such resources as memoirs, newspaper accounts of the time, anthropological and demographic studies, government documents, and works on genocide theory, it considers key issues of intent and action on the part of the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans who arrived in California during the period.

The evidence indicates that genocide of indigenous peoples occurred in California in the later years of the period under examination, and that its perpetrators were primarily miners and settlers who had recently arrived from the East. Although genocide was not a primary cause of the indigenous population collapse in California, it had a decisive impact on the survival of some of the state's Indian groups. Numerous contemporary accounts provide details of indiscriminate killing of Indians by American settlers. The Indians of California experienced massive depopulation when California was under Spanish and Mexican authority as well, but the decline cannot be attributed to genocide because of a lack of intent and an absence of widespread, sustained, one-sided attacks on the part of the Spanish and Mexicans.