To understand what happened to the Coast Miwok who lived here, we needed to look at the history of European colonization in California. We focused on four major colonial forces: Spain, Russia, Mexico, and the United States. Although we have baptism records from the Mission in San Rafael which tell us when Coast Miwok from Cotati were entering the missions, we don’t really know what happened to the people who lived here.
We do have some knowledge of a Mexican land grant which was given to Juan Castaneda, one of Vallejo’s soldiers, in 1844. The land grant for Lomas de Kotate was most likely granted because Mexican authorities lacked the funds to pay its soldiers. As the land in California wasn’t owned by anyone in an empirical European sense, it was free for the giving. Vallejo himself was the recipient of a large land grant which was his payment for establishing and maintaining a military presence to dissuade encroachment by the Russians.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries land was granted and then taken from many tribes in this area. Recently, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria built a casino and resort in Rohnert Park, just a couple of miles from Sonoma State, on land that may have part of the original land grant. Although this casino was and continues to be a controversial topic, it has been effective in providing financial stability and opportunities for tribal members, and the community at large.
What happened in California is, in part, a story of pressures: it was a combination of pressures that led to the catastrophic loss of indigenous communities along the path of the Missions in California which radiated outward to more remote areas. As Spain withdrew funding from their California colony and Russians set up trading outposts on the northern coast, the pressures exacted on Native Californians continued to change. The frenzy for gold combined with the American use of state sanctioned violence against native people in the mid 1800’s led to some of the bloodiest massacres in US history. Between 1770 and 1880 the population of Coast Miwok dropped from an estimated 2,000 to roughly 60. How are we to understand what happened here?
Let’s look at the different people who interacted with the Coast Miwok.