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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Digger Indian Stereotype in California

  • Author(s): Lonnberg, Allan
  • et al.

In sum, the "Digger" stereotype, first applied to indigenous peoples in the Great Basin, soon came to refer to native Californians, particularly those in and around the mining areas. There, the stereotype became gradually elaborated to include a bundle of connotations, all of which were more or less derogatory. The "Digger" was, in fact, a local variant of the so-called "Ignoble Savage," the conception of which assisted the realization of Manifest Destiny, and exonerated the removal, chastisement, and extermination of native peoples from coast to coast. In California, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was particularly volatile in the charged and unstable atmosphere of the mines. Lured to California by the promise of quick fortune, thousands were denied fulfillment. The native inhabitants, already perceived as degraded and barely human, provided ready scapegoats for their failure. With the initiation of violence against them, Indians became victims of a vicious cycle of action and perception that resulted in their complete stigmatization and nearly complete physical extinction.

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