Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/215

This page has been validated.
201
THE SO-CALLED CALIFORNIA "DIGGERS."

THE SO-CALLED CALIFORNIA "DIGGERS."
By MABEL L. MILLER.

TWO years ago I began to collect notes bearing on the settlements, manners, and customs of Indian tribes once inhabiting the country along the banks of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, from the American River, north to Chico Creek and eastward into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These tribes have been considered the lowest type of California Indians; but by force of changed environment the few remaining are giving up their wild ways and adopting civilization, even Christianity. They have always been misunderstood and often misjudged: the very name "Digger," by which these Indians are known, is a misnomer and a term of reproach, which they have always resented. It is of uncertain origin. Old settlers say that they did not hear the name until some time after the year 1841, when it was first used by an abandoned type of white men in allusion to the Indian custom of digging camass root for food. Immigrants became familiar with the name, and the appellation soon spread. Without doubt the name originated in the Rocky Mountains; there might have been a band or village of the Shoshones, or of some kindred tribe, that bore a name so closely resembling the word "digger" as to be easily corrupted into it.

White people scarcely ever pronounce Indian names correctly. The miners and immigrants of early days spoke of the Nem-Sā-Win Indians as the Nimshews; the Sulam-Sā-Wins as the Sulamshews; and the Kem-Sā-Wins as the Kimshews. There are mining camps designated after each of these clans or villages, but named in the miner's dialect. The inappropriate name of "Digger," therefore, is not a tribal name. No tribal name has ever been found, although the Ethnological Bureau at Washington has sent men here to study the language and character of these Indians; these men gave them the name of Midu, which they understood to mean man, but this is not a tribal name.

There is no tribal name, because there is no tribe. One of the first things that strikes the observer is the fact of the entire separation of these Indians into local units or villages, each bearing its own name and having its own chief. On this point we have the evidence of General John Bid well, of Chico, who came to California in the year 1841; he has figured largely in the history of the northern part of the State, and has had large experience among these Indians. I have also met other old settlers, companions of such men as Kit Carson, Joe Walker, Pegleg Smith, and Isaac Graham, all men with whom Indian life and experience and the names of Indian tribes were subjects of constant