In his apology for California’s genocidal treatment of Native Americans, Gov. Gavin Newsom focused attention on the state’s nearly forgotten first elected governor, Peter Hardeman Burnett, and his declaration in 1851 that Indians would be exterminated.
As Gov. Newsom reported, Burnett infamously predicted to the 1851 Legislature: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected …”
As a writer of West Coast history, I became fascinated by Burnett and his little-known role in briefly allowing slavery while in Oregon and promoting exclusion laws against blacks in both Oregon and California.
I learned that throughout his political career, Burnett clung to a bizarre and deadly fantasy that the American West would be populated almost exclusively by whites. In Burnett’s vision, there would be no blacks, no Chinese and no Native Americans.
Burnett’s attitudes toward race no doubt were shaped in part by his