California Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Humboldt Volunteers

Official or Other Titles:
Humboldt Volunteers, 2d Brigade
Location: Hydesville, Humboldt County
Mustered in: February 1860
Mustered out: 1860
Commanding Officers
Seman Wright, Captain; commissioned February 1860
E. D. Holland, First Lieutenant; commissioned February 1860

Official History

In 1858, Governor Weller of California, received a letter from the citizens of Union, Humboldt County, with the following information:

"It has now been two months since the Indians in this vicinity started in open hostility to us, though so far they have confined their operations to the trail connecting this County to Weaverville. This being our direct channel of communication with the Sacramento Valley, and a trail over which the United States Mail must pass once a week, it is of the utmost importance that it should be kept open. The Indians on this trail first manifested their hostility to us by shooting a man who was traveling alone. We supposed that a few men would be sufficient to punish the Indians and make them ask for peace, and accordingly, a party was organized, provided for by private means and sent in search of the hostiles. After trailing the Indians for several days, they were attacked from ambush and one man was killed. In the meantime their camp which they had left unguarded was attacked, and ten mules were killed. This party consisted of only twelve men. Subsequently, another party of twenty-five men went out who were provisioned at a heavy private expense. In endeavoring to drive the Indians from the vicinity of the trails, they were fired upon in a deep canyon, and one man was killed, another wounded. The company has now disbanded, not feeling inclined to incur further danger and hardships at their own expense.

"The trails are now closed, there being no travel over them except by night or in large parties. The question now is what is- there done? There are no troops here at the garrison and the people are not able to carry on a war at their own expense. The people of the county are of the opinion that if the militia could be called out, and arms furnished, the merchants would feel encouraged to furnish supplies, and wait for the State to pay. We can furnish the men if they can only be supplied." [1]

Governor Weller's reply to this appeal was to issue a call for volunteer military companies to be formed in Humboldt County.

One of the companies formed was the Humboldt Volunteers, under the command of Captain Seman Wright. This company had several minor clashes with roving bands of Indians, and on February 26, 1860, they engaged in their first important conflict. The Humboldt Volunteers came upon a large body of Indians camped on Indian Island and the encounter that followed became a massacre.

In all, more than two hundred were reported killed and wounded including a large number of women and children. The slaying was accomplished by about forty horsemen, who rode into the vicinity of the island early Sunday morning. Riding into the south end of the bay, they took a. boat and crossed to the south shore of the island, there beginning their swath of extermination. After killing all the Indians they encountered, they proceeded up the bay, about six miles, where they completed the indiscriminate slaughter of all who were on the island. The grisly task completed, they left at daylight. Neither age or sex had been spared. Little children and old women were mercilessly stabbed and their skulls crushed with axes. When the bodies were landed at Union, a more shocking and revolting spectacle never was exhibited to the eyes of a civilized people. The causes of the slaying were said to lie in the fact that some Indians had stolen and killed beef stock belonging to ranchers and that they were being supplied with arms by members of the coast tribes. Whites, fearing an Indian attack in force, and believing that they would not be given adequate protection by the State in the matter of volunteer troops, decided to take matters into their own hands. It was pointed out that Captain Wright's company of volunteers had been acting without State authority, also in defiance of the laws, in the perpetration of their sanguinary deeds. [2]

News of this companies activities brought such a storm of criticism from all parts of the State, that the Humboldt Volunteers were.compelled to disband in the latter part of 1860.


[1] Letter from A. Wiley to Governor Weller, State Archives, State Capitol.

[2] A notice of this meeting taken from a newspaper is attached to the company's organization papers, Adjutant-General's Office.**Sacramento Union, March 2, 1860, page 2, column 2.


This history was written in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the office of the Adjutant General and the California State Library.
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Updated 8 February 2016