Wednesday Feb 08 2012
Interpreter helped lead out native people
By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
Storms' influence impacted thousands
The story of the first people of the Colfax region cannot be complete without delivering the account of one Simmon P. Storms. Storms’ father, a Cape Cod sea captain, had his wife and seven children settled in Maracaibo, Venezuela when Simmon was born on Sept. 27, 1830. Sometime later, Simmon’s mother and the bulk of the family returned to Massachusetts, leaving him in the care of godparents. When he was about 10, an older brother traveled to Venezuela and literally kidnapped him to return him to his family in the United States. His undoubtedly bilingual upbringing prepared him for what was to come. At age 18, Storms caught gold fever along with the rest of the world and joined a company that sailed around Cape Horn, at the southern point of South America, to California. He initially started his heavy metal hunt on the Yuba River, but went into the supply trade in Rough and Ready. The exceptional direction he took was to trade with the Indian population. This lead to an exceptional command of the native language. The caveat here is what was happening with the legislation in Sacramento at the time. On April 22, 1850, the California legislature passed an act "for the Government and Protection of Indians" which provided for limited federal interference in state land issues. This act effectively allowed for the sale of Indians into slavery. Although the act was repealed in 1863, its devastating effect on California Indians was irreversible. In 1851, the California Land Claims Act was enacted by the California Legislature to create a commission to consider the claims of parties who held lands under Spanish Rule. As might have been expected, California Indians were not informed of this potential remedy, and the United States and California failed to bring claims on their behalf. The Indian tribes' land claims were nullified and their lands became public domain. During 1851 and 1852, on behalf of the United States, Indian Commissioners were assigned to provide for a “just and equitable settlement with the Indians of California.” Between March 19, 1851, and January 7, 1852, the Commissioners negotiated with California Indian tribal governments, 18 treaties and one supplemental agreement. These came to be known as the “Barbour Treaties.” Under the Barbour Treaties, the United States recognized California Indian tribes as political entities with the sovereign power to enter into agreements in order to alienate their lands. Indeed, the tribes relinquished all rights and title to California land. In exchange, they were to receive other goods, subsistence, supplies, livestock and clothing. Guarantees of teachers, doctors, farmers, carpenters and other workers were included in the treaties as well. As a result of the above actions, the systematic removal of the Indians from their native homes began. Because of his skills, an innate ability to learn language and deal with people of all types, Storms became an interpreter for the government Indian agent, Oliver M. Wozencraft, and also engaged in the distribution of beef. It was in this capacity that he came to the confluence of Greenhorn Creek and the Bear River – now Rollins Lake and Chicago Park. He purchased land and erected a house of hewn logs. Storms Ranch became a sporting center including an arena for wrestling matches and bull and bear fighting. All of this was attended and gambled upon by both whites and Indians. It was at this arena, in October of 1854, that a historic meeting took place. General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the Pacific; Indian Superintendent Thomas J. Henley; U.S. Senator William M. Gwin; John B. Weller, a U.S. Senator who later became governor; California Secretary of State James W. Denver; Sam Brannan, prominent editor from Sacramento; and others made up a distinguished group that sat in the amphitheater. The Indians from the region, the number unknown, assembled on the boards around the ring. Henley, in a speech interpreted by Storms, explained his proposal to move the Indians from the gold country to Nome Lackee, a reservation that was to be established on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, about 20 miles from Tehama. Here, he promised, they would be safe from harassment. Beginning in January of 1855, Storms led several contingencies, ultimately hundreds of people, including the tribal headman, to the camp. In the end, mere handfuls of people were left in this, their homeland, only to suffer the degradation to come. Pat Jones (see Colfax Record, March 10, 2011) is to be credited with the Simmon Storms research. Her book “The Chicago Park Connection” is the main source for this article.