This article explores an educational unit, developed for the secondary classroom, that critically examines state-led military campaigns against California Indians. The unit, titled “Bloody Island Investigation,” scrutinizes the May 1850 massacre of Pomo Indians by U.S. Army soldiers at Clear Lake, California. Today known as the Bloody Island Massacre, this event exemplifies a pattern of indiscriminate civilian- and military-led violence against Indigenous peoples in the American conquest of California. Although this history is well known among scholars, the scholarship is absent from the California Department of Education’s content standards. The Bloody Island Investigation unit provides educators with models for including this history in middle- and high-school classrooms.
The unit consists of a range of primary source materials, including U.S. Army orders and internal reports, newspaper articles, survivor recollections, and disconcertingly varied death-count estimates. By applying to primary sources the rigorous evaluative skills central to historical work, students can decide for themselves what happened at Bloody Island: massacre of innocents, military encounter between armed combatants, or something in between.