Turning Stones ~ George McKale

George McKale George McKale is a practicing archaeologist and Sonoma’s City Historian. He has excavated throughout California ranging from Native American sites thousands of years old to Gold Rush era locations. His passion and specialty in archaeology is the study of human remains.


A head and a hand

Posted on October 17, 2013 by George McKale

Spanish colonial efforts in the Americas necessitated doctrine addressing the relationship between the Spanish and indigenous populations. The welfare of the conquered Natives was addressed by the Laws of Burgos in 1512.  Important to indigenous peoples, the laws attempted to regulate and dictate the interactions between Spanish arrivals and Native peoples.

These laws evolved many times, but generally forbade the maltreatment of Natives and encouraged their conversion to Catholicism.  The laws allowed for the colonial practice whereby Native peoples were placed together to work under colonial masters.  The laws further established a regulated system which included a work schedule, and provided pay, provisions, and living quarters.

The Laws of the Indies were issued by the Spanish Crown for lands in the Americas and Philippines.  King Phillip II developed the initial version to guide the establishment of presidios, missions, and pueblos.  The laws included 148 ordinances to assist colonists in the development of locating, constructing, and populating settlements. The Laws of the Indies evolved many times through its 500 year history, but the 1680 compilation was the standard by which the specifics of the law were organized.

The Mexican-American War ended in 1848, and with the terms of surrender under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Mexican territory of Alta California was ceded to the United States. The transition from the Law of the Indies to the Constitutional Law of the United States did not take place overnight.  While Sonoma was no longer under the authority of Mexican rule, the Law of the Indies still regulated social, political and economic life surrounding Sonoma and the rest of California.  The laws of Mexico were simply headed by an American military.

The typical path to statehood included a territorial status, but President Taylor advocated for immediate statehood for California.  In 1849, at a constitutional convention in Monterey, he called for a state free of slavery.  This complicated California’s rush to statehood, as other legislatures back in Washington did not jump on the free state bandwagon.  Discussion regarding a possible war between the north and the south had already begun. Ultimately, California became the 31st state, free of slavery, on September 9, 1850.

With statehood fast approaching, Peter Burnett, a civilian, ran for the first governors position and easily won, beating out the likes of John Sutter.  His term as governor began on December 20, 1849, before California became a state.  Many of Burnett’s proposals for California immediately came under fire, for example, he encouraged the exclusion of African Americans from the state. Burnett resigned from office in 1851.  John McDougall became our second governor lasting one year.  Our third, lasting a full four years from 1852 to 1856 was John Bigler. Along with Burnett, Sonoma County’s first Sheriff, Israel Brockman, also began his service to California in 1849.

Brockman married Sarah Jane Carriger in Sonoma in 1848.  Sarah traveled on the overland trail arriving to Sonoma in 1846 with her brothers Nicholas, Solomon, and Caleb. Brockman witnessed the change of the guard as California moved away from military law.  Brockman’s headquarters, the first county jail, was located on General Vallejo’s land in Sonoma from 1850 to 1853.  Lucky for Brockman, during this three year period, two of the most notorious California outlaws, Joaquin Murrieta and Three Fingered Jack, were roaming the Sierra foothills.

Three Fingered Jack played a minor role in the Bear Flag Revolt, killing two Americans that had been tied to a tree.  He was well known throughout the Sonoma area and was reportedly a visitor to our own Blue Wing Inn.  By the end of Brockman’s tenure as sheriff, Governor Bigler formed a special task force led by Captain Harry Love, who claimed to have killed both Murrieta and Three Fingered Jack.  Because of their notorious reputations as cold-blooded killers, Murrieta was decapitated and Three Fingered Jack’s hand removed.  Both head and hand were placed in jars with alcohol, christening the new state capitol in Sacramento in 1854.