native landscape, precontact

This map was included in one of the articles I read about the Coast Miwok. The title of the map is, literally, Zone of Franciscan Mission Disruption, so it’s maybe not 100% precontact, but I liked that it included tribe names instead of language groups. In many of the California Indian maps, the languages provide the context for separating one group from another; and, because they’re maps, it looks like there’s a clear delineation between groups when in reality it must have been a little more fluid, at least historically. One of the things that I like about this map is that it doesn’t include language groups, it lets you see the various tribelets as semi-autonomous groups. What’s interesting is that this is one of the only pieces I’ve found that refers to anything smaller than a language–for example, in most of the books or articles or websites I’ve found, the people who lived in the areas on the map would have been called Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo, Wintun, etc. But Oleyomi and Licatiut would have been the villages/tribelets in the Cotati area and knowing what they may have called themselves gives them back a little more of their humanity. More, at any rate, than just describing them by their language.


Image from Millikin, 2009

Treaties and Land Grants

California has several unratified treaties that were made in an attempt by the Interior Department to quell native uprisings by offering an olive branch to California Indians. The Indian Agents in California were sent out to make agreements with tribal leaders under the philosophy that to “feed the Indians for a year would be cheaper than to fight them for a week” (Hoopes, 1970). With little knowledge of the “character” of the California Indians, three men were appointed to travel through California, develop treaties or compacts to maintain peace between Indians and settlers, with the intended effect of creating a system that would make California Indians “wards of the federal government” (Hoopes, 1970). The three split the state into sections; Redick McKee’s geographic area was Northern California. He found, very quickly, that Congress was hesitant to provide the necessary funds to make and maintain these agreements and mortgaged his homestead while waiting for funds from Congress. McKee saw his mission as humanitarian, believing his actions to be in the best interests of both Indians, by securing them food and land, as well as whites, by protecting them from violence.

There don’t appear to be treaties for our specific area. Instead, we have Mexican land grants. The first land grant made for the area of Cotati and Rohnert Park was in 1844: General Vallejo granted considerable acreage to one of his soldiers, Juan Castaneda. Castaneda did not honor the conditions of the grant and the land was sold to Thomas Larkin, whose business was dealing in goods between settlers and the East Coast, including the sale of hides from California to New England shoemakers.


Native Origin Stories

For this assignment I was lucky enough to find a book written by the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Greg Sarris. Originally written for the tribal newsletter, the book includes several Coast Miwok creation stories. All of the stories take place on Sonoma Mountain which sits directly east of Cotati; in some stories, such as “Pretty Woman and the Necklace” and “Pretty Woman Latches Her Necklace,” people from the mountain visit villages in Cotati.

The stories are told by Answer Woman, who cannot remember questions, to her sister, Question Woman, who cannot remember answers. Question Woman asks her sister about fog and rain and jealousy and greed and Answer Woman tells her the stories of the mountain, when Coyote, Frog Woman, Crow, Toad, etc were not yet in their animal form. Before there were people on the mountain, the animals and features (such as water, fog, wind, etc) learned from mistakes they made. For example, in the story “Water Bug Walks Away With Copeland Creek,” Water Bug steals the water from the creek and hides it in a cave because Creek won’t tell him the secret to why everyone loves him. As the people on the mountain suffer the loss of the water Creek provides, everyone learns how important it is and Water Bug eventually literally spills the last drop of water with Creek’s song and water returns to the mountain. What these stories emphasize is the interconnection of all life on the mountain: if one thing is out of balance, or if one person demands too much, everyone suffers. To successfully engage in a foraging economy a deep understanding of the available resources and the cultural knowledge of how to use them is essential; these stories are part of an oral tradition that would pass warnings and knowledge across generations.

It is important to remember that these stories can’t be treated as artifacts from an ethnographic present. Sarris wrote them in English; he uses contemporary names for places such as Copeland Creek (which, coincidentally, runs right through Sonoma State) and Santa Rosa. These are re-tellings, but so are all stories in oral tradition. If storytelling is an important aspect of the adaptive strategy for foragers the stories change as the needs of the storytellers change.

In the last story in the book Coyote created people. He was selfish, thinking only of himself, and made copies of all of his friends so that they could spend more time with him and keep him company. Unfortunately, he left the door to his house open so when these copies left his house their prototypes turned into animals and the copies went down the mountain to live in the Cotati plains. Coyote’s copy stayed on the mountain and created a village there.

Newspaper archive search

The Daily Alta California, headquartered in San Francisco, ran from January 4, 1849 to June 2, 1891. I found four articles printed between March 2, 1850 and September 13, 1850 that related to the aftermath of the Kelsey and Stone killings in Lake County. All four of them were largely sympathetic to the local Indians–although Stone and Kelsey were killed by Indians at their ranch, the retaliation against any and all Indians, coupled with the acknowledgement of the cruel treatment both men had visited on indigenous folks, appears to have left at least some people uneasy with the Indian killings during this time.

“During the past week most outrageous acts of lawlessness and cruelty have been perpetrated in Napa by an armed body of Americans, who publicly organized themselves in the village of Sonoma, for the avowed purpose of exterminating the Indians in this valley and burning the ranches and lodges where this innocent and laboring people lived.” -Napa Valley, March 4, 1850. Signed J. W. B.

Kelsey and Stone were killed in December of 1849. The US 1st Dragoons attempted to retaliate immediately but were held back by both weather and official requests for more resources. The vigilante response, according to Madley 2016, was in effect between February and March of 1850.

March 11, 1850

March 16, 1850

March 19, 1850

September 13, 1850

This last article, from September, informs readers that the remaining Kelsey brothers left their Sonoma homes to head further north towards Humboldt Bay. En route they were met by Indians who stole all of their goods and provisions.

The Town Myth

Growing up in Sonoma County I heard about Native Americans who lived in the hills surrounding my town, but the stories were always vague and unrelatable. When we studied California history in fourth grade we toured a model Miwok village. I was fascinated by it, surprised that I had never considered acorns to be edible, but the Coast Miwok people remained an abstract idea that was largely intangible to me: what I saw around me began with the Spanish and progressed from there. On another school field trip I ate fruit off of a tree planted at General Vallejo’s house, I saw where his children slept. I toured the barracks where Mexican soldiers lived, just across the street from a commemoration of the Bear Flag Revolt. These were real, tangible, fathomable. As a kid, the feeling I had was that the Indians had just been erased and only existed in stories. Doing the research for this assignment the outcome was a little better, but it still depends on where you look.

According to the Cotati Historical Society as well as the Rohnert Park Historical Society, the Coast Miwok tribe of Kota’te lived in the southern Santa Rosa valley, peacefully, with an abundance of wild foods at their disposal. RPHS claims that Kota’te was the name of a Miwok chief and that the tribe referred to the rolling hills as “Lomas de Kotate.” Both sources address the first attempted settlement of Cotati by John Reed whose crops were burned, prompting him to settle elsewhere. With the Russian presence on the north coast of California, Mexican-run missions expanded to as far north as Sonoma and General Vallejo was charged with providing military support to keep the Russians from spreading further south. As far as the Kotate go, that’s it. They were placed in missions or died as a result of the introduction of pathogens they had no immunity to.

I spoke to a friend who is a class teacher in a local Waldorf school. In their curriculum the class spent third grade learning about how Native Americans lived in the area: what their relationship to the land was and how they used it. They studied mythology, land use, and ways of life. In fourth grade they studied California history and the transference of land including the subjugation, exploitation, and genocide of local Indians. She emphasized that the lack of common languages among tribes inhibited their ability to work together against the Spanish, and with weakened numbers they were incapable of defending against gold rush settlers and the violence they brought with them. She said that although they did spend a fair amount of time on contact she tried hard to make sure the picture was balanced even though there is so much more documentation from the colonizers point of view, and she refused to do the “Mission project” which is, or was, a standard assignment for fourth graders. Instead, she told stories about how antithetical European ideas of ownership were to Native Americans. As members of a foraging economy, their reliance on the land was total and they had built in to their belief systems ways of balancing use. The Spanish defied all of the laws and moral codes that Indians followed, but somehow the Spanish weren’t the ones who suffered–they did.

Shante and I visited the Cotati Historical Society recently to see what they had in their collection regarding the “Kotate”. Apart from a mortar and pestle on loan from Sonoma State and a couple of books of local mythology, they didn’t have much. Inside City Hall, however, was an exhibit donated by Graton Rancheria which highlighted local foodways and cultural traditions including a timeline of contact. They note that although the myth is that Kotate was a Coast Miwok chief, there is no known chief of that name–nor did the Miwok actually recognize chiefs. The narrative that the Graton Rancheria promotes is one of resilience and continuity of cultural traditions with a direct line from pre-contact to today. Although genocide, exploitation, and dispossession are important aspects of the history of local Indians, they are not defined by those and they continue to work to preserve their cultural heritage as well as funding programs such as TANF–Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Coast Miwok artifacts

Pomo basketry is famous for its intricate designs and fine craftsmanship. People were often buried with their baskets or with baskets which had been made for them. Annie Burke, an exceptional Pomo basket maker, lamented what she saw as the end of the cultural knowledge and tradition of basket weaving at the turn of the 20th century and asked her daughter, Elsie Allen, to collect and exhibit her baskets instead of burying them with her. Annie Burke and Elsie Allen worked hard to keep Pomo basketry alive; Allen was forcibly removed from her home at 11 to live in a boarding school but as a young adult she reconnected with basketry and taught both Pomo and non-Pomo some of her mother’s cultural knowledge.

When I was poking around for Miwok artifacts I kept stumbling on Pomo baskets. Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo are so close, geographically, it would make sense that they both made similar baskets–or that they traded baskets for other goods. After finding reference after reference to Annie Burke and Elsie Allen I wondered if the reason why it’s so much easier to find examples of Pomo basketry is because it had a spokesperson and protector who was successful in keeping the cultural knowledge of basketry alive. Perhaps without an Elsie Allen, Coast Miwok baskets have largely been lost.

This is an example of a Coast Miwok basket from the Oakland Museum of California. It is similar to Pomo baskets, but maybe a little less refined.


Annie Burke teaching basket weaving, 1935

California languages

I wanted to follow up with a few thoughts from our discussion today.

According to the Johnson article that Shante and I read, the boundaries that would have included the Napa tribe in the Patwin language area were provided in the mid to late 1800’s by local Native Americans, one of whom identified as Napa and was reported to have spoken two Patwin dialects. The association of Napa and Patwin was questioned in the 1960’s and even in the early 1900’s it was noted that the informants who provided this information did it well after the Spanish had established some of the south bay missions. It is possible that people who identified as Napa may have spoken a Patwin dialect because Patwin speakers moved into the area, or it is possible that boundaries changed as communities were displaced. I think I kept getting caught up in the idea that there is one truth, that the Napa either absolutely did or absolutely didn’t speak Coast Miwok, but as Shante stated, the effect of dismissing a person’s identity in order to reassign a “better” or more fitting one based on (Western) interpretations of data is dehumanizing. Additionally, it’s important to remember that some of the vocabulary that Occaye used that was also used by Coast Miwok were actually from Spanish words (puis/puisero).

The quote that Caroline mentioned today, “turtles all the way down,” was made famous by Clifford Geertz. He wrote about a story that had been told to him about someone whose cultural origin myth also included the world riding on the back of a turtle. The question was: what was underneath the turtle that the world rested on? He was told that underneath the turtle was another turtle. Under that turtle? “It’s turtles all the way down.” I think that Geertz used that as a metaphor for anthropologists to keep digging deeper for meaning–what’s the story of the second turtle, the third turtle, etc. I thought at first that this article seemed so simple and short, but once I started trying to make sense of it there were so many levels to consider. I think it’s tempting to rely on measurable data sets, and it is important to have a methodology with which to organize the world–anthropologists love taxonomies–but I have to remind myself that I’ll never get to the last turtle and that the digging itself is a meaningful part of trying to decolonize the lens through which we view indigenous people.

Scavenger hunt!

I thought I felt pretty confident about my ability to search our library’s online database until I tried answering some of the questions in the scavenger hunt.  We had a hard time making contact with a librarian, and when we finally did the amount of time she was able to spend with us was limited. She answered many of our questions and suggested that we look to our county library for help, as well as the UC library which we have some access to.

We were unable to view archival material because we didn’t make a request in time, and I’m still not one hundred percent sure how that process works but we’ll be finding out!

In the stacks.

I found this book about Coast Miwok in our collection. There are a few books on Coast Miwok on the shelves, but I also requested (via interlibrary loan) a book written by A.L. Kroeber as well as a book of folktales written by the chairman of the Graton Rancheria.

Shante and I finally got to meet our librarian!

Here’s my (mostly) complete scavenger hunt: