CALIFORNIA IN 1899
A Famous Divorce Trial in San Francisco
Native American and Women’s Rights???
A Wealthy Miner and His Indian Wife
Though this story took place over a hundred years ago, it remains as relevant as an article out of today’s newspaper. Prospector John Rankin Hite discovered a real gold mine close to Yosemite National Park. At first, he worked the mine single-handed, accumulating a hoard of investment capital. He eventually financed the expansion of the mine, amazingly without borrowing money or diluting his full ownership.
John met and married Lucy, the daughter of a chief of the Miwok Indian tribe. Their story is a familiar one, of two people sharing their lives until becoming overwhelmed by the clash of their different cultures. As their relationship became complicated by their wealth and by John’s relatives, events climaxed in their incredible divorce trial in 1899.
The trial opened in the little town of Mariposa and had all of the circus atmosphere of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. Local press coverage was plentiful, inspiring headlines in the San Francisco newspapers. The reporters dusted off their most colorful language for flagrant display. A sophisticated observer would have longed for coverage by H. L. Mencken.
A true fighter for equality during a time when women were not able to vote, Lucy Hite stood her ground in court against her rich white husband. During a time when Indians were publicly discriminated against, Lucy testified in her broken English while getting lambasted by lawyers and the public. Despite the fact that women were legally only barely able to own property, Lucy pushed for division of property and attained a shocking partial victory.
Three generations ahead of her time, Lucy fought hard for Native American rights, women’s rights, community property rights, and even the right of a woman to have separate property.