He Unleashed a California Massacre. Should This School Be Named for Him?

Serranus Hastings was the founder of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He orchestrated the massacre of Native Americans at Round Valley, Calif., more than 150 years ago (Alexandra Hootnick/The New York Times).
ROUND VALLEY RESERVATION (Calif.) They claimed they were following cattle and horse thieves through fertile valleys north of San Francisco. A cattle rancher revealed a grimmer picture of Yuki Indians being indiscriminately killed in 1860 when he was being questioned.

A 10-year-old girl was killed because she was stubborn.

Children are put out of their misery.

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The Gold Rush-era massacres were documented in California state archives letters and depositions. Today, they are at the center of a dispute at a prominent law school in the country. Its graduates include generations of California politicians as well as lawyers such Vice President Kamala Harris.

The University of California, Hastings College of the Law, has been studying the role of its founder, Serranus Hastings for the past four years. This investigation is part of one of the most infamous, but least talked about, chapters in California's history. Hastings was one of California's wealthiest men and the first chief justice of the state. He masterminded one series of massacres.

The journey into the past revealed a different version of the early state years than what was taught in schools. It is also reflected in the imaginations of pioneers who trekked into the hills to make it big.

North of Napas vineyards, along with numerous other places, including deserts to redwood-groves, 5,617 Native Americans were killed by U.S. troops and officially sanctioned militias from the 1840s through the 1870s. These campaigns were often started by white settlers such as Hastings who wanted the land for their own purposes.

During the same time, vigilantes killed thousands more Indians. The difference between the organized campaigns and the unorganized ones is the fact that both the state of California as well as the federal government reimbursed the murderers for their travel expenses and ammunition costs.

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According to Benjamin Madley, UCLA history professor, it is not exaggerated to state that California state legislators created a state-sponsored killing system.

Madleys calculations show that the Hastings Behest expeditions resulted in at least 283 deaths, which is more than any of the 24 known California state militia campaigns.

Hastings gave $100,000 in gold coins in 1878 to establish the school named after him, California's first law school. According to the school's enactment, it was to be known forever and named Hastings College of the Law.

Both the law school's critics and Hastings are now in agreement that Hastings is responsible for the massacres. However, they differ on how to deal with it, including whether or not the school's name should be retained.

Native leaders from California feel that a wide-ranging reckoning about the treatment of American Indians should be undertaken at a time when institutions all over the country are reviewing their past. They argue that the long-held notion that Indians died because of Western settlement of disease and displacement needs to be reexamined.

The Hastings debate comes as renewed attention is paid to the Spanish missions period, when thousands of Indians were forced into abandoning their local customs and were left with the legacy of Native enslavement. According to historians, 20,000 Native Americans were slaved in the first decade after California was made a state in 1850.

Two years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called the treatment of Native Americans genocide by the state, issued an apology and established a Truth and Healing Council to produce a report on the relationship between the state and Native American groups.

We must speak truth, stated Abby Abinanti who was chief judge at the Yurok Tribal Court. She was also the first Native woman to be admitted to the California Bar in 1974. How can we come to a compromise as a nation? How can we do this right?

The investigation into the Hastings murders began in 2017, when John Briscoe, a Bay Area lawyer published an opinion piece in The San Francisco Chronicle titled The Moral Case for Naming Hastings College of the Law.

The law school announced last year a series of actions that it called restorative justice. It offered space in San Francisco's main lobby for a memorial; provided pro bono legal assistance to Round Valley members; maintained a program focusing on Indigenous law; and assisted in the establishment a charitable foundation. This initiative is currently in limbo due to disagreement among tribe members about how it should be carried out.

David Faigman is chancellor and dean at Hastings Law. He has spearheaded a campaign to preserve the school's name.

Faigman asked what would be accomplished by removing the Hastings family name. The results of schools' investigations into the Hastings legacy were published in September 2020.

According to the investigation committee, changing the college's name could lead to decreased applications or loss of alumni and philanthropic support.

A number of prominent Hastings graduates, including retired judges, disagree with this decision and call for the school's renaming. They claim that the gold Hastings donated for the founding of the school is corrupted, much like the fortune of Sackler families, which was derived from opioids that eventually killed many Americans.

Faigman stated in an interview that the Legislature and governor will decide if Hastings should keep its name. Critics say Hastings should demand change. Erin Mellon spoke for Newsom and said that the governor wanted Californians to think critically about the legacy of California's forefathers.

Round Valley, the site of the massacres is only four hours drive from Silicon Valley. The halo of prosperity in the Bay Area has not reached Round Valley's tumbledown homes, trailer parks and ranches. Covelo is a valley unincorporated town where the main source of income is from backyard marijuana plots.

James Russ is the president of the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council. He oversees the Round Valley Reservation.

Russ stated that we have a window for opportunity and don't want to miss it.

Further complicating matters is the question of who should receive reparations for the controversy surrounding the name.

After decades of intermarrying among white settlers and members, the Yuki people were exterminated. They were then absorbed into the Round Valley Indian Tribes. This was formed after the U.S. government forced seven tribes to relocate.

Mona Oandasan was one of the leaders of the Yuki tribespeople of Round Valley. She said that the law school was not negotiating with the right people. She said that the Yuki were the victims of the Hastings massacres and not other tribes on the reservation.

Oandasan stated that we are the direct descendants and should be speaking to them.

Native leaders hope that the Hastings controversy will be a catalyst for raising awareness about a horrible legacy that only a few Californians are aware of. Greg Sarris is the chair of Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in Northern California. He donated proceeds from his tribes casino for Smithsonian efforts to produce curricula on Native history.

This period in California was particularly treacherous. It saw a lot of gunshot wounds, slit throats, and crushed skulls. Kevin Starr, a California historian, described it as a time of murderous and treachery.

However, even then, the massacres committed by Hastings militias against Indians shocked contemporaneous and prompted an investigation at the Legislature.

Brendan Lindsay, the author of Murder State: Californias Native American Genocide 1846-1873 (2012), stated that ranchers hunted Indians the same way they would track down a fox who ventured into a chickenhouse.

Lindsay's chronology indicates that H.L. committed one set of murders. Hall was hired in 1858 to care for the horses and cattle at Hastings' horse ranches. Hall, along with three others, raided Yuki villages and killed nine to eleven tribespeople after six of the almost 400 horses on the ranch were reported as being killed. He rode into Yuki villages, killing children and women, and even the girl he claimed he killed because he was stubborn.

A second group, the Eel River Rangers, was responsible for the killing spree.

Hastings, who was buried in Napa Valley's cemetery, has died in 1893. He had large landholdings. The small monument of a granite obelisk, which stands out among the evergreens at the St. Helena Public Cemetery, marks Hastings' grave.

Many law school students were surprised to learn that the Round Valley massacres history was not taught in California schools. Faigman, a history major and dean, stated that he had not heard of Hastings' role until Briscoes article was published. Col. Claes Lwenhaupt, the greatgreat-great-grandson and heirloom Hastings, is the current member of the law school board of directors. He said that he first heard about Hastings' role 10 years ago after he had read some of the scholarship.

Lewenhaupt, who was born in the Bay Area, described it as "awful." He spent his entire career defending and prosecuting U.S. Army soldiers. He said that he was in agreement with Faigman about the Hastings name being kept. He said that he does not believe the institution will be benefited by the renaming.

Deb Hutt from Round Valley is a Yuki tribeswoman who is also the sister to Oandasan. She said that she often wonders why Hastings' descendants have not apologized. Hutt sat at a picnic table next to a tribal gas station and said that she often tried to imagine how Round Valley would look if Hastings and other white settlers hadn't taken over.

The Yuki, who were protected by the mountains, were relatively unaffected by Spanish and Mexican invaders. The tribe was only defeated by the unmerciful invaders after the Gold Rush's sudden and massive migration.

Hutt stated that we were their hunt when it came to the Hastings massacres. We lost more than just lives.

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