1863 Indian Massacre Site Uncovered in California

Now, the Paiutes and DWP are fighting to leave the area untouched
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2013 9:29 AM CDT
1863 Indian Massacre Site Uncovered in California
This July 16, 1997 file photo shows Owens Lake, Calif., about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Archaeologists say they've stumbled upon a grim page in American history: the site of the 1863 Owens Lake massacre. The Los Angeles Times provides a history lesson: The Paiute Indians occupied land some 200 miles north of LA that proved desirable to an influx of ranchers in the mid 1800s. The Owens Valley Indian War broke out in 1861, but a seminal moment occurred on March 19, 1863: Settlers and soldiers battled with the Paiutes, who tried to flee their attackers by swimming into the lake, but were thwarted by a strong wind; nearly three dozen of them drowned or were shot. The tale of that day remains, but the exact location was lost.

That's in part because officials diverted the Owens River in 1913 in order to feed LA's water needs, reports Grist; by the middle of the next decade, Owens Lake was no more. But heavy winds and rains in 2009 may have helped return bullets, buttons, and Native American artifacts to the surface; Los Angeles Department of Water and Power archaeologists found them during a survey last year. But the discovery is spurring a small controversy: The dry lake bed fuels toxic dust storms, and DWP has been charged with mitigating that with shallow flooding—at what is now thought to be the massacre site. The Paiutes want the area left untouched; DWP agrees, and is in discussions on how to make that happen. "We take this personally," says a tribal historic preservation officer. "My grandmother told me about this massacre and she knew the people it happened to. This ground, and the artifacts in it, is who we are." (More massacre stories.)

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