During the Gold Rush, Anglo forty-niners wiped out 80 percent of the American Indian population. From 1849 to 1861, the genocides reduced American Indian populations from approximately 150,000 to less than 30,000.
The mining camps used to advertise “Indian hunts” in local newspapers and store windows. Documentation abounds of bounties offered and paid for Indian scalps. Men were the most valuable, but women and children’s scalps could pay for a drunken night on the town.
Many miners created cottage industries of Indian slavery. Women and children were kidnapped from their villages and sold into domestic servitude or to mining camp brothels.
Georgiana Sanchez, a CSULB American Indian Studies professor, said there have been repeated attempts by the American Indian community to shed the 49er/Prospector Pete imagery.
“This [Prospector Pete statue] is a very offensive symbol to us. It causes deep pain because the 49ers wiped out our ancestors, cultures and languages with the genocides. We personally have long wished it would be torn down,” Sanchez, an elder of the Chumash Nation, said.