(CORRECTION) ‘This is Our World’: A Petition Calls for the Renaming of Arcata Streets, Removal of Historic Plaque | Lost Coast Outpost

A petition with more than 1,000 signatures calls for the renaming of Arcata’s LK Wood Boulevard. Google Street View.

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Watching
Black Lives Matter protests sweep across the country, toppling
Confederate statues in some cities and spurring America to reconsider
its past, Sean Armstrong saw an opportunity to confront legacies of
historic racism in his own town.

“It’s
a right moment,” Armstrong said. “There have been right moments
previously but now is a good right moment.”

Armstrong,
an Arcata resident and the managing principal for Redwood Energy,
created an
online petition

calling for the renaming of multiple Arcata streets and the removal
of a plaque at Camp Curtis. With more than 1,000 signatures, the
petition asserts the people commemorated by the landmarks — Lewis
Keysor Wood, a farmer with the last name of Janes and the Civil War
battalion that was stationed at Camp Curtis — supported the
genocide of Native people.

On
its face, the petition poses a question: What will Arcata do with
street names, a plaque and an historic house that commemorate people
who promoted genocide? But below its surface, some see it as the
beginning of a long conversation about how a town, a community, a
county and a country can address long histories of racialized
violence.

That
Humboldt County’s history is steeped in such racist violence is no
secret. The 1860 massacre of as many as 250 women, children and elder
Wiyot people at Tuluwat
Island by a local militia

is the most widely known example, but that was part of a long series
of massacres and murders, as well as a system of human trafficking,
that were part of the attempted
genocide of Native people

between 1846 and 1873. There are other examples, too, like the 1885
expulsion

of hundreds of Chinese from Eureka.

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[ED. NOTE: This morning, Jerry Rohde sent the Outpost a statement concerning the following four paragraphs in this story, which he says mischaracterize his work. The statement follows those paragraphs. The Community Voices Coalition has been made aware of Rohde’s complaint, and we expect it to issue its own statement or correction shortly.]

Armstrong’s
petition consists of three assertions that, according local historian
Jerry Rohde and local history enthusiast Lynette
Mullen
,
seem to generally hold true, though the historical record is a bit
thin in places.

For
much of the petition, Armstrong cited
the 1979 book,
Genocide in Northwest California: When Our Worlds Cried
,
by Hupa scholar and former Humboldt State University professor Jack
Norton. Armstrong also used articles by Rohde and a series of letters
presumed to be written by Wood.

To
start, the petition states that Arcata passed a property tax in 1858
to fund a genocidal militia that camped on Janes Farm and Camp
Curtis.

Norton’s
book — which is out of print, though the Journal
reviewed a number of pages provided by Armstrong — notes the
property tax. But the book doesn’t appear to specify when the
militia formed or what it was called. Rohde, a
public-school-teacher-turned-historian, said multiple militias that
murdered Natives formed in the period, including the Humboldt
Volunteers

in 1860, the Arcata
Guard

in 1862, the Humboldt Guard in 1874 and the Trinity Rangers in
eastern Humboldt in 1858, though he couldn’t link the formation of
any of these directly to the 1858 property tax.

###

STATEMENT FROM JERRY ROHDE:

In “This is our world” you indicate that Jerry Rohde “said multiple militias … murdered natives … .” You then list four of these groups. Two of these, the Arcata Guard and the Humboldt Guard, I have never written about. A third group, the Trinity Rangers, I mention but do not accuse of murder. Of the four groups I link only the Humboldt Volunteers with murder.


The end of this paragraph states that I “couldn’t link the formation of any of these directly to the 1858 property tax.” This is incorrect and misleading. I didn’t (not couldn’t) link the groups, but I never tried to do so. I have never mentioned nor considered the 1858 property tax in my writings about the Indian-white conflict, but this sentence implies that I did.


Another paragraph also needs to be corrected:


Armstrong’s petition consists of three assertions that, according local historian Jerry Rohde and local history enthusiast Lynette Mullen, seem to generally hold true, though the historical record is a bit thin in places.


This statement implies that I have evaluated the petition, which I have not, and that I believe the assertions “generally hold true,” which I have never claimed. It is difficult for me to follow the article and determine what the three assertions are.


The article creates the false impression that I have reviewed the petition, evaluated its truthfulness, and agreed with the statements. I have done none of those things. When it then states that the “historical record is a bit thin in places,” it calls into question my competency as a historian. This is damaging to my reputation.

###

Armstrong
cited a
webpage

indicating the militia housed at Camp Curtis originally had camped on
Janes Farm but the page cites no sources, and Armstrong said he
needed to do more research on the Janes family — making it the
least verifiable assertion in the petition.

The
petition then argues that LK Wood Boulevard commemorates a man who
supported genocide.

In
2008, Rohde wrote “The
Sonoma Gang”

for the Journal,
which touched on Wood’s association with the Union Company, which
had several members known for murdering Native people. At one point,
Wood wrote in apparent frustration against those members of the
company and later, as Humboldt County clerk, Wood proposed renaming
the town of Union not to Arcata, but to Ki-we-lat-tah,
the name of a Native man he seemed to respect.

But
Armstrong, who once rented Wood’s house (which still stands in
Arcata) shared a series of letters from HSU’s library identified by
Mullen that are believed to be written by Wood. The letters clearly
supported killing Native people.

“I
hope every red skin may be killed,” Wood is believed to have
written in one.

A historic plaque marks the location of Camp Curtis, briefly home to the 1st Battalion California Volunteer Mountaineers, which committed acts of genocide. Wikimedia Commons

The
petition then claims Curtis Avenue and the plaque at Camp
Curtis

honor the 1st
Battalion California Volunteer Mountaineers
,
which committed acts of genocide. Multiple sources and accounts
verify this point.

The
last part of the petition states that Arcata’s Phillips House
Museum commemorates a man who enslaved two Native children. Armstrong
cited a
list from Norton’s book

of local people who held Native people as slaves, which included
William Phillips. Armstrong voiced particular frustration about this
house, the website
of which includes a
1993 local television news video

that only mentions “a legend” of Natives who “retaliated” by
firing a musket at the building.

Throughout
Humboldt County, there are numerous
other

places named after people who committed atrocities on Native people —
Henry Larabee, Seth
Kinman

and James Henry Brown, to name a few — that are not addressed by
the petition. Armstrong said he knows of these but, as a resident of
Arcata, wanted to focus on things within city limits first.

Armstrong
said it was his Native heritage, in part, that pushed him to create
the petition, saying he couldn’t accept that anyone of Native
descent might have to walk through a town with the names of people
who contributed to their attempted genocide posted on street signs or
commemorated on a plaque.

Despite
the petition’s more than 1,000 signatures, some question its
approach.

Kerri
Malloy, a Yurok and Karuk Native American studies lecturer at
Humboldt State University, didn’t oppose the petition. But he did
challenge it.

“I’ll
say the same thing as when the McKinley statue was taken down: Did it
really change attitudes and minds? I don’t think it did,” Malloy
said. “I mean, it’s gone. That’s fine. But what’s the
follow-up action to that? Where’s the community dialogue?”

Armstrong
agreed that the community should do more than change street names —
but said it is a start, adding that he also plans to donate some of
the land he owns to a local Native family and supports broader
reparations.

Arcata
Mayor Michael Winkler said he would rather the focus be on a
reconciliation program like those implemented in South Africa
post-apartheid or in Germany after World War II.

“I
feel that with rare exceptions such as removing Confederate flags and
statues of Confederate leaders and generals, that renamings are the
start of an unendable process,” Winkler wrote in an email. “At
most, I would support interpretive signs that, for instance, describe
local historical figures such as [George Zehndner,
a local rancher who commissioned the McKinley statue and participated
in the enslaving of Native people] and LK Wood, who they were, what
they did and the historical context in which they existed.”

Winkler
said he fears the renaming conversation is a slippery slope and “if
you take things to the ultimate extreme,” the “entire existence
of the United States could be considered illegitimate.” But
Armstrong and other activists might hope for that exact slope, or at
least one that leads to the recognition of past wrongs and a
return of Native land
.

Cutcha
Risling Baldy, a Journal
contributor who chairs HSU’s Native American studies department and
also taught a course this reporter took, said what Winkler considers
a slippery slope may just be progress.

She
pointed to the McKinley statue, noting its removal hasn’t
drastically affected the community, and even further back to when
Arcata changed its name from Union. To her, changing local names is
neither pointless nor overpowering — it’s about bringing Native
considerations to the table in a community and country that have
historically only presented a “Disneyland version” of history.

“I
always say to people if they’re like, ‘It’s just a statue. It’s
just a street name.’ I go, ‘No, it must mean something because
when we tell you to change it, you get real defensive,’” Risling
Baldy said. “So you know there’s something powerful about the
street names, about these statues, about these monuments, or you
would just be able to go, ‘It’s just a statue.’”

As
far as the plaques Winkler suggested, Risling Baldy said while
learning history is important, she feels plaques focusing on white
people who killed Natives would give the wrong spotlight.

“I
don’t know if what I want people to do is remember us as people who
were enslaved people, who were killed people, who were maimed and
murdered,” she said. Instead, she suggested, why not name the
streets after the original place names?

With
enough public pressure, the Arcata City Council could change the
names or remove the plaque. Or it could put forward a ballot measure
to let voters decide, as the council did with the McKinley statue.
Or, if public interest wanes, the petition could disappear into the
depths of the www.change.org servers — which seems possible, as the
petition has grown stagnant this month.

No
matter what comes of the petition, Risling Baldy, Armstrong and
others said they will continue to push these issues forward.


“This
is our world,” Risling Baldy said. “And we’re going to do
whatever thing we have to do to move in that direction. And it might
take a while. But we are signing up for that because this is our
world.”

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James Wilde
(he/him) is a freelance journalist living in Arcata. The Community
Voices Coalition is a project funded by Humboldt Area Foundation and
Wild Rivers Community Foundation to support local journalism. This
story was produced by the
North Coast Journal newsroom with
full editorial independence and control.

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