Humboldt County Historical Society

Humboldt Historian

Spring 2010

Cover Spring 10.jpg

Volume 58, No. 1

8 - THE MURDER OF LUCY ROMERO - by Lynette Mullen

Death returns to claim a survivor of the Indian Island massacre.

14 - FINDING SILVA - SURVIVOR OF THE 1860 MASSACRES - by Suzanne Sevier McBride

The search for a missing ancestor uncovers the lost history of a massacre survivor.

19 - BRET HARTE - VOICE OF HUMANITY - by Suzanne Forsyth

It was “but simple humanity” to feel for the victims and abhor the killers, yet only one person dared to express this sentiment before the public.

22 - OUR COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE - THE PRESENCE OF THE PAST - by Jerry Rohde

“Holding kindness in our hearts, reconnecting the broken threads.”

24 - THOMAS R. HANNAH, COURTHOUSE ENGINEER

26 - THE DEVOY-GILLOGLY COLLECTION - by Deborah Meador

New to the HCHS Collections: memories of railroad fever, redwoods, and moonlit travels.

30 - THE BLAKES GO TO HOLLYWOOD - by Charlie Blake

Fiftieth wedding anniversary surprises for
Charlie and Nellie.

34 - MR. PAGE AND THE OLD LADY OF MAIN STREET - by James Pegolotti

The author’s four years at Ferndale High with Mr. Page were the last years of the “Old Lady.”


For at least one thousand years Indian Island in Humboldt Bay has been the center of the Wiyot world. Each February up until 1860 a seven to ten day World Renewal Ceremony was held here to restore balance to the world as the Wiyot new year began. During the weeklong ceremony, the men would leave the island overnight to replenish supplies, while the elders, women, and children remained on the island to rest.

It was during such a night on February 26, 1860, 150 years ago, that whites paddled canoes to the island and killed those who were resting undefended there, as well as at two other Wiyot villages.

There were very few survivors. This issue of the Humboldt Historian contains the stories of two of them, told here for the first time. The story of Lucy Romero, presented by Lynette Mullen, appears on page 8, and the story of Silva, told by Suzanne McBride, appears on page 14.

In connecting us to the past through two individual lives, these stories enable us to step toward an era in our history so dire that we struggle to take it in. We wonder how such a brutal effort at extermination could happen, and what we ourselves might have thought and feared, done or failed to do, had we been alive during that time. To provoke such questions is one of the important gifts that history offers us. As the historian Margaret MacMillan writes, “If the study of history does nothing more than teach us humility, skepticism and awareness of ourselves, then it has done something useful.”*

Another historian, our own Jerry Rohde, contemplates the painful history of Indian massacres and their aftereffects in “Our Collective Conscience,” on page 22. He is right to remind us that although the human capacity for cruelty is staggering, our capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and resilience is also powerful, and lights our way.

Because of our united efforts and deeds of support, there will again one day be a World Renewal Ceremony on Indian Island—a ceremony brought forth from the the past to heal the present, a ceremony to restore and renew our shared world.

*Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, 2009.
— From the Editor