Shemia, Yuki Warrior

Shemia, a Yuki warrior, died in February, 1885. He was probably in his forties or early fifties at the time of his demise. His death occurred as a result of a violent attack by another man whom he had known all his life. The killing was not based on some childhood grudge, but on what the killer perceived as an unforgivable injustice perpetrated by Shemia.

If you like 19th century killings, and I do mean multiple ones, you've come to the right place. If you like the grisly details revealed, ride along. However, this is also an attempt to examine how and why some parts of our local history remain shrouded if not forgotten. In addition, the actions described herein provide the all too familiar sad ends for a pair of Indian warriors as well as an undisputed Indian victory from more than 150 years ago.

Shemia was referred to as “Indian Charley” by whites. The only reason we have the name Shemia to go by derives from a single account of events that transpired primarily in Leggett Valley from the 1850s and 1860s as well as on the north coast on into the 1880s. That source is an account written by Jeremiah M. “Doc” Standley about the first arrest he made as a Mendocino County deputy sheriff in the fall of 1867.

The name Shemia could be a phoneticized spelling, representing the way Doc Standley heard the name pronounced by his killer, a man called Billy Malmaquist. Unlike many other Indian deaths, Shemia's end did not go unnoticed in the local press.

The Westport News-Argus (also reported in the Mendocino Beacon of February 21, 1885) gave a fairly detailed account: “During the week our town has been livened with the examination before Justice Bear of Billy Malmaquist upon the charge of murdering another of his race known as Indian Charley in the woods between Cottaneva and Usal, on Thursday, the 12th inst. Charley had been stopping at the rancheria above Devilbiss' place and Malmaquist had been living at Turner's about a mile further north. They were at Cottaneva together Thursday afternoon and were seen going north from there about four o'clock, and Charley was never seen alive after that. As he did not return to the rancheria that night and was known to have considerable money on his person, the other Indians became suspicious, and learning that he had been in Malmaquist's company they became alarmed, and made a fruitless search after him. Learning that Malmaquist had left that neighborhood, too, they came to Westport and reported their fears to Justice Bear, and asked for the arrest of Malmaquist. A warrant was placed in the hands of Constable Thos. Flynn, and he found Malmaquist at 2 o'clock Friday morning at Jennie Frank's 'dive' on Chadbourne creek. Immediately after his arrest Malmaquist admitted that he had killed Charley and that he hid the body in the woods, but did not describe the locality. Justice Bear went up on Saturday and with four Indians and a dog tracked the murderer to the place of the killing, which is on the county road about a quarter of a mile this side of Turner's gate. In the brush a few feet from the road the body was found. From the testimony of those who washed the body there were eleven wounds in the head and neck, showing that Malmaquist was bound to maintain his reputation as the 'boss' Indian murderer. An inquest was held at the Cottaneva mill and the jury returning a verdict charging Malmaquist with murder.

“Malmaquist was arraigned on Wednesday and after an exhaustive examination lasting through two days, Justice Bear held Malmaquist for murder and committed him to the county jail without bail.

“Malmaquist is a big and active Indian, nearly twice the size of his last victim, and is well-known on the coast as a red-handed murderer. One of the witnesses recounted six affrays in which he had got away with his victim, and if he can save his neck this time in the face of the evidence against him we shall indeed be surprised.”

One striking line in this account remains, “Malmaquist is a big and active Indian, nearly twice the size of his last victim...” Did that mean that Mamalcoosh was unusually large for a Yuki? Was Shemia exceptionally small for a Yuki warrior? Are there implications about ancestral marriages between the Yuki and neighboring groups that created size anomalies? Did Standley use the term Yuki when he might have been more accurate in describing them with the moniker of a neighboring tribal group? We'll leave that to anthropologists and further ethno-geographic study.

The misidentification of Indian names didn't stop at Shemia being called Indian Charley. His killer's name was not Billy Mamalcoosh. In actuality it sounded something akin to Mamalcoosh. Both were Yuki. Mamalcoosh's father was known as Ishoma. Both of these names only survive due to Doc Standley's account. Mamalcoosh had at least two sisters. Unfortunately their names had already been anglicized by the historical point in time Standley's account began (1850s).

The documentation of Deputy Standley's first arrest exists today because his ancestors preserved his hand written version of events in Leggett Valley, Usal, and the Ten Mile River area in the 1850s and 1860s. Such are the vagaries of historical research. Standley's manuscript, probably written in the1890s, places that initial arrest as happening in 1866. Multiple newspapers, the Mendocino Herald and the Sacramento Daily Union put the same events in 1867. Hard to argue with the printed contemporaneous facts, even with such a detailed primary source as Doc Standley.

(Next time: the backstory behind Shemia's murder.)

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