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Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures
Arresting Development
Guadalcanal Marine
The Prince of Darkness
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Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860–1865
Dark Green Religion
First Son
Vigilantes and Lynch Mobs
Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way

Murder StateMurder State

California's Native American Genocide, 1846-1873

Brendan C. Lindsay

Western Social Science Association Presidents Award

Narrated by Jim Wentland

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Nebraska Press

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Euro-American citizenry of California carried out mass genocide against the Native population of their state, using the processes and mechanisms of democracy to secure land and resources for themselves and their private interests. The murder, rape, and enslavement of thousands of Native people were legitimized by notions of democracy—in this case mob rule—through a discreetly organized and brutally effective series of petitions, referenda, town hall meetings, and votes at every level of California government.

Murder State is a comprehensive examination of these events and their early legacy. Preconceptions about Native Americans as shaped by the popular press and by immigrants’ experiences on the Overland Trail to California were used to further justify the elimination of Native people in the newcomers’ quest for land. The allegedly “violent nature” of Native people was often merely their reaction to the atrocities committed against them as they were driven from their ancestral lands and alienated from their traditional resources.

In this narrative history employing numerous primary sources and the latest interdisciplinary scholarship on genocide, Brendan C. Lindsay examines the darker side of California history, one rarely studied in detail, and the motives of both Native Americans and Euro-Americans at the time. Murder State calls attention to the misuse of democracy to justify and commit genocide.

Brendan C. Lindsay is an assistant professor of history at California State University, Sacramento.


Murder State is one of the most important works ever published on the history of American Indians in California in the mid-nineteenth century.”

Indian Country

“A significant historical account detailing white pioneers perpetrating genocide against California Indians.... Employs compelling evidence.”

Journal of American Studies

“Lindsay’s methodology and conclusions ... highlight important questions for scholars to ask of frontier societies, their legal systems, and their citizens.”

Western Historical Quarterly

“Perhaps the most provocative aspect of his book is Lindsay’s connection of American democracy to the killing of Indians”

American Historical Review

Murder State is solid in its synthesis of an array of scholarship, clear in its arguments, and much needed in situating California’s indigenous presence in the state’s history.”


“Democracy and genocide are two activities that most would declare antagonistic. Yet Brendan Lindsay presents primary evidence that reveals the hatred and murderous acts committed by early Californians and government officials, as a grassroots movement, to settle the ‘Golden State’ by exterminating and dispossessing Native peoples of their ancestral homelands.”

—Jack Norton, Hupa historian and emeritus professor of Native American studies, Humboldt State University

“Historian Brendan Lindsay has documented the attempted extermination of California’s first people and provided a detailed, comprehensive historical treatment of California’s genocide. He offers a groundbreaking study that will change the historiography of California and genocide studies—a penetrating but readable book that will quickly become a classic.”

—Larry Myers (Pomo), executive secretary of the California Native American Heritage Commission

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University Press Audiobooks
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University Press Audiobooks