By: Marc Immanuel

Published on: 21 February 2018


15 May 1850
Territory under present-day occupation of US state of California
Massacre death toll: at least 100-200 (mostly women and children),
plus at least 75 people at a nearby massacre (Russian River Massacre), apx 17 May 1850
US soldier/militia death toll: 0


The Massacre at Bonopoti on 15 May 1850:

A detachment of US Army cavalry and a militia, led by Lieutenant Nathaniel Lyon and Lieutenant John W. Davidson, attacked and killed at least between 100 and 200 Pomo people — possibly more, according to various estimates — at an island encampment called Badon-napo-ti“, or “Bo-no-po-ti (Pomo naming, meaning “Old Island”), at the north end of a lake known to US settlers as “Clear Lake”, in territory under present-day local jurisdiction of Lake County. At least 75 more Pomo were massacred at a nearby location (along the “Russian River”) on one of the following days under the command of Lieutenants Lyon and Davidson.

The US Army authorities had been informed that some members of the Pomo people of the area had killed two Clear Lake settlers — Andrew Kelsey (who was associated with US Army Captain John C. Frémont during the initial US invasion of the territory which became known as ”California”) and Charles Stone. Kelsey and Stone had imposed a local  US colonialist  tyranny in the area and had been enslaving (including sexual slavery), severely abusing, and murdering Pomo people. [source8 (pgs 5-16)]

Most of the young men at Bonopoti  were out in the mountains to the north, hunting, when the US solders and militiamen arrived. The people present were mostly women, children, and elderly men.

The island Pomo leader Ge-Wi-Lih met the soldiers/militiamen with his hands up to indicate peace. But the soldiers/militiamen immediately began shooting. [source6, details: source7 (pg 53)]

The soldiers/militiamen then proceeded to indiscriminately massacre the island community.

The soldiers/militiamen shot and bayoneted the people to death. (sources 3, 4, 5) (A bayonet is a knife sticking out of a rifle, which may be used to stab a person to death.) They bayoneted infants and small children and threw their bodies into the water. [source4, details: source7 (pg 53)] They stepped on and crushed infants. (source3) They picked up infants and smashed their heads against tree trunks (a practice US soldiers/militiamen during the 19th century called “braining”). (source3)

There was very little resistance possible, and the US soldiers/militia suffered no injuries. It was a pure massacre, which turned the island into the ”Bloody Island”. Many of those people who tried to escape across the water were shot as they swam. Under Lieutenant Lyon’s command, US soldiers/militiamen hunted down escapees and killed them. (sources 3, 4, 5)

According to the testimony of a Pomo woman named Ba-Don-Bi-Da-Meh, one Pomo man who was caught by US soldiers/militiamen near a hill was tied to a tree and burned alive to death. [source7 (pg 53)]

Only a very small number of the Pomo people who had been at Bonopoti survived that tragic day.

One of the Pomo survivors of the massacre at Bonopoti was a 6-year-old girl named Ni’ka (who also became known by the Anglicized name, Lucy Moore). She survived the massacre by hiding underwater and breathing through a tule reed. One hundred and fifty years later, in the year 2000, Ni’ka’s (Lucy Moore’s) great-grandson Clayton Duncan founded the Lucy Moore Foundation (a non-profit organization founded to educate the public about the massacre at Bonopoti). (sources 3, 4)

Aftermath of the Clear Lake Massacres of 15 May 1850:

According to Clayton Duncan: The members of the militia, some of them prominent members of US colonialist society, subsequently took possession of the best Pomo lands around the lake and all over Lake County. The unofficial design of this particular military expedition was to “clear” the land of its Indigenous inhabitants. The policy of the State of California during the 1850s, supported by the US Federal Government, was to exterminate ALL of the Indigenous population. (sources 3, 6)

As with ALL of the other massacres listed in A List of Over 100 Genocidal Massacres by the United States against Indigenous Peoples of the Western Continent, there was never any accountability by the US Government or Military for this genocidal massacre.  Why? Because: EXTERMINATION WAS POLICY.

Lieutenants Lyon and Davidson were both promoted by the US Federal Army to the rank of Brigadier General during the US Civil War, with the approval of 16th US President (1861-1865) Abraham Lincoln. Lyon received the high position of Commander of the Department of the West. (source4) After he was killed soon afterwards, Lyon was honored by the US Congress, which passed a resolution of thanks for his military service.

The US Army’s act of physical genocide at Clear Lake on 15 May 1850 encouraged and led to a general outbreak of US settler attacks and mass killings against Indigenous people all over the northern portion of the territory under present-day jurisdiction of the US state of California. There were many other genocidal massacres that year in the region – including massacres against the Yurok people. During the 1850s-’60s California Holocaust, the Pomo and Yurok populations were reduced to approximately 25% or less of what they were before the holocaust.

Thereafter, the remnant of the Pomo were forced to live in small rancherias set aside by the US Federal Government. For most of the 20th century, the Pomo, greatly reduced in number, survived on such tiny reservations in poverty. (source4)



1. ”List of ‘Indian Massacres’
[a list of massacres both against and by Indigenous (Native) people within collective territory under present-day occupation of 48-state contiguous United States], Wikipedia
2. ”Bloody Island Massacre”,
Wikipedia, volunteer-written encyclopedia, article (historical)
3. ”Lucy Moore Foundation Seeks To Create Healing, Understanding”,
Lake County News, article (news, historical), by Raphael Montoliu, 25 August 2007
4. ”Bad Day on Bloody Island — or Just Another Massacre”,
Heretic, Rebel, A Thing to Flout (blog), article (historical), by Patrick Murfin, 15 May 2014
5. ”Naming America’s Own Genocide”,
The Nation (news source), article (historical), by Richard White, 17 August 2016
6. ”California’s War on ‘Indians’ [Indigenous (Native) Peoples]”,
Native American Netroots (blog), article (historical), by Ojibwa, 2 March 2015
7. ”Heizer’s 1973 Collected Documents on the Causes and Events of the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850”,
compiled by John Parker (PhD, scholar and researcher of Indigenous history)
8. ”The Kelsey Brothers: A California Disaster”
research report, by John Parker (PhD, scholar and researcher of Indigenous history)
(presented at the 2012 November meeting of the Lake County Historical Society)


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