Posted by: "HENCHMAN OF JUSTICE" | January 22, 2010

An Ancestral perspective of California

History is something we all need in order to understand our roots as a community. This is very important knowledge to have when making decisions as public officials that affect everyone. If that public official did not experience history in life, it is the responsibility to access options for understanding that history, especially when that history is of material interest. If people were simply to set aside their trivial and petty differences, this world would be a much more enjoyable life for us all. It is because of this simple understanding that as communities, we communicate. The times of political neglect must stop. The times of doing those little, yet huge, hurtful things within a community needs to stop. The times of “manipulating information” to fit certain agendas needs to stop. The time for people to re-connect and unite abroad is far past due. That time has always been now. So, let us unite!    

Below, I will attempt to offer as much information as possible to help educate, inform,  and communicate to the citizenry a bit of local history.    


Humboldt County, California
Seal of Humboldt County, California
Map of California highlighting Humboldt County
Location in the state of California
Map of the U.S. highlighting California
California’s location in the U.S.

ImageMap - Better use Netscape 2.0+

California Indian Treaties — they exist (sort of)

In 1861-52 — that is while the slaughters by American settlers, miners and the U.S. Army were just revving up on California natives — a treaty commission was sent from Washington to get the indigenes out of the way of expansion into the newly-conquered (from Mexico) territory. They signed 18 treaties with more than 500 Indian leaders of the many tribes whose territories patchworked the land. Those treaties set aside — reserved — 8.5 million acres of less desirable land, away from seacoasts, in scattered parcels, none containing more than 25,000 acres. Nothing was heard of those treaties until 1905 — the U.S. Senate never ratified them, and no land at all was set aside for the Indian people. Below, you’ll find dates and descriptions of the treaties that made the cessions — and reserved the maroon areas — shown on this map. I have insufficient info as to what treaty ceded what area to make this an imagemap. The grey area (mountains and desert) was not subjected to treaty cession negotiations. The colored areas were all ceded by various tribes whose territories they were. The scattered maroon areas represent the supposed-to-have-been-reserved (reservations) Indian lands, also negotiated in the 18 treaties.     

In 1905 there was beginning to be concern about the surviving landless desperately poor California Natives. The unsigned treaties turned up about then. They had been sent to a Senate archive — a storage dump — and lost therein for 50 years. But gee whilikers! the land, the 8.5 million acres they ceded all the rest in return for having undisturbed possession of — that land’s all taken . . . hey, too bad. Well, said the reformers and helpers, let’s give Lo, the Poor Injun, some land! We’ve got desert, rocky and waterless areas and such, they’re really not farmers anyway.     

And thus began the unique California “rancheria” Indian reservation system, where tiny patches of generally very poor, isolated land were federally purchased from time to time for landless Indians, from a variety of swindlers, and “given” to Lo, the Poor Injun. That’s the astonishing landscape of Native California you see on the main page to this section Ignoring cities, roads, settlements, farmlands of the state, it looks as if Indian reservations are all over the map, as indeed they are, in parcels ranging from 0 to a few hundred acres, which are supposed to support several hundred people. Mostly on isolated and agriculturally undesirable land.    








TREATY Material prepared by Russ Imrie, Costanoan-Ohlone Website


; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding…law of the landthe United States, shall be the supreme  the authority of, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under thereofVI, Clause 2, The Supremacy Clause states as follows: …2. This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made pursuant  tribesArticleArticle I, Section 8, Clause 3, the Commerce Clause “Powers delegated to congress” …To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian   







The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Feb. 2, 1848

Guaranteed United States citizenship to Mexican citizens in California and recognition of their land titles. Indigenous Californians were citizens in Mexican and Spanish Law. Their absolute title to the State of California was clear…and acknowledged by the united States. In this statement…







Senator John Fremont made this report to the President on Sept 16, 1850

“…statements I have given you, Mr. President …show that …Spanish law clearly and absolutely secured to Indians fixed rights of property in the lands that they occupy

theirs…to render this occupation legal and equitable…I have introduced this bill (to enact negotiations)…which recommends…the favorable consideration of the Senate…by its obvious necessity…because it is right in itself…because it is politic…and because it is conformable to the established custom of this Government.”is in conflict with…and that some particular provision will be necessary to divest them of these rights.” “Our occupation   







But the new citizens were needed for slaves, as assets of the squatters (oops, we mean pioneers) …

Opponents to negotiated treaties in the U.S. Senate “….saw a policy…deeply affecting the present and future prosperity of the State.” “…they (treaty commissioners) have undertaken to assign to the Indian Tribes, a considerable portion of the richest of our mineral lands.” “…gentlemen have undertaken to assign a considerable portion of the latter to the Indian tribes, wholly incapable, by habit or taste, of appreciating its value.” (We must ask ourselves why indigenous Californians fought and struggled)

)…limits of the State…”sic(beyind, the labor, without which it will be long before California can feed herself.” “To take any…country…west of the Sierra Nevada…for the home of the wild and generally hostile Indians…we claim an undoubted right…to remove all Indian tribes much needed”…they will…supply, to a great extent, what is so     







Eighteen treaties were negotiated to secure legal title to public domain land and guaranteeing reserved lands and protection from white violence for indigenous Californians in 1851-1852. Here is a list of them, corresponding to the 18 sifferently-colored map areas. There is unfortunately insuficient info to connect each treaty to an area, making it an imagemap; that may be done later. Russ didn’t provide a citation for the book from which he obtained his map originally.

A. Treaty of Camp Belt, May 13, 1851B. Treaty of Camp Keyes, May 13, 1851C. Treaty of Camp Persifer F. Smith, June 10, 1851D. Treaty of Dent’s and Ventine’s Crossing, May 28, 1851E. Treaty of Camp Union, July 18, 1851F. Treaty of Camp Bidwell, August 1, 1951G. Treaty of Reading’s Ranch, August 16, 1851H. Treaty of Camp Colus, September 18, 1851I. Treaty of Camp Cosumnes, September 18, 1851J. Treaty of Temecula, January 5, 1852K. Treaty of Santa Isabel, January 1, 1852L. Treaty of Camp Fremont, March 19, 1851 (covered southern Costanoan territories)M. Treaty of Camp Barbour, April 29, 1851N. Treaty of Lipayuma, August 20, 18510. Treaty at the Russian River (Camp Fernando Felix), August 22, 1951P. Treaty of Lower Klamath, October 6, 1851Q. Treaty of Upper Klamath, November 4, 1851

These treaties were never openly and publically debated (thus not appearing in the Congressional Record) and instead were hidden and remained so until discovered in the early 1900’s, then denied. Meanwhile, indigenous Californians enjoyed the “protection” of the 1850 ACT which made slaves of them and turned life in the so-called land of the free into a horror, a travesty of the Constitution…the population of these people, about 200,000 -300,000 in 1848, was reduced to 15,238 by 1890.





Plants in the Lives of Northern California Native Americans
by Wes Dempsey

Some 12,000 years ago, the first human migrants to California found a rich and diverse flora of about 5000 different species of vascular (“higher”) plants. Some 1500 of these exist only in California and are termed endemic species. But many of the others were already familiar to the immigrants and they knew how to use them (or closely related species) for food, medicine, and crafts. The abundance of plant and animal foods in this environment led to the buildup by 1800 of an aboriginal population of over a half million, one of densest in the US. It also led to the development of a peaceful people who did not have to travel far nor compete fiercely to meet their needs. Although these people intensively managed their environment, to enhance the production of useful plants, they did so mainly using fire, obsidian knives, or pointed digging sticks. The result was a self-sustaining life style that did not alter or degrade the landscape.    

This article will discuss some of the most important plants of the Sacramento Valley and how they were managed by the native Americans.    

Figure 1. Valley Oak leaves and acorn.

Oaks and Acorns

The most important food source for most natives was the acorn of Valley Oak (figure 1), Quercus lobata. Over 50% of their caloric intake was satisfied by acorns, particularly during the fall and winter. Because of a high fat content (figure 2) acorns were a welcome addition to an otherwise low fat diet. Since these oaks only produce a good crop once in three years, large acorn storage granaries were built close to the homes which could hold a two-year supply. These were huge woven baskets made from grape vines and willow branches attached to a stump or posts and well thatched to keep the rain and pests out. The supports were coated with pine pitch to deter ants and weevils and layers of well-dried acorns were separated by leaves of Bay Laurel and Mugwort which have insect-repellent properties.    

Figure 2. Chemical composition of plant foods (%);
CHO means carbohydrate.
From Blackburn and Anderson (1993).
Food Water Protein Fat CHO
Valley Oak (acorn flour) 8.7 4.8 18.6 65.9
Black Oak (acorn flour) 11.3 3.8 19.8 64.8
Foothill (Gray) Pine (seed) 3.6 25.0 49.4 17.5
Wheat Flour 12.0 13.3 2.0 71.0

The September harvest of the acorns was a major event and was accompanied by rituals involving giving thanks to the trees as valuable ‘givers of life’. First, the area under the trees belonging to the family group was burned to get rid of trash that would impede the harvest and to remove old, insect infested acorns. Young men climbed the trees or knocked the green acorns with long poles from the ground. Women, with conical burden baskets held by a band across the forehead, expertly tossed the nuts over their shoulder into the basket. Since over 100 pounds could be collected in an hour, a few days were sufficient to gather a year’s supply. These were immediately dried, because the moist nut forms a rich substrate for Penicillium and Aspergillis fungi. During the knocking of the acorns and the burning beneath, many branches were removed and the trees ended up being shaped much like a modern day orchard.    

The dried acorns were backpacked home and put in the basket granaries. Each day several quarts of nuts were removed, the hulls pried off, and the embryos pounded in a mortar using a rock pestle to form a fine powder. Ten or more changes of cold and then hot water were poured through the acorn flour until the bitterness from the oak tannins (‘tannic acid’) was gone. Unleached acorn meal is so poisonous because of the tannins that several meals of it would result in cirrhosis of the liver and a painful death. What occurs is that the tannins combine with protein enzymes and cell membranes of the digestive tract inactivating them–essentially ‘tanning’ them, that is, turning them into shoe leather!    

The wet acorn dough was then placed in a cooking basket along with water to make a mushy porridge. Hot rocks the size of a fist were stirred in until the meal was cooked. It was eaten by dipping in with several fingers and sucking off the bland mush or by using a seashell. Alternatively, the mush might be placed on hot rocks to make a little pancake or wrapped in leaves (Soap Plant, Poison Oak, etc.) and placed in an underground, rock-lined ‘oven’ to produce a hard loaf.    

Since tannins attach to and change proteins, they can be used to destroy bacteria and fungi; indeed, their high concentration in bark helps protect the tree from disease. The Indians frequently used tannin eye washes and salves to combat infections. The European pioneers had another interesting use for tannin–they produced a long lasting black ink! They used green oak galls (tumors induced by chemicals secreted by gall wasp larvae) as ink wells; the chemical reaction between the iron from a pen poked into the juicy gall and the tannins resulted in an excellent ink. Incidentally, in late September the galls can be placed in a container and the tiny, harmless gall wasps can be seen emerging.    

Figure 3. Blue Oak leaves and acorns.

Since Valley Oaks require six feet or more of loamy soil, with moisture available below that, most of them were removed and replaced by orchards. Unfortunately, with them went a rich habitat for hundreds of species of insects, birds, and animals. The few acres that remain must be protected from grazing and allowed occasionally to burn in order to have the acorns germinate and produce young trees. Only then will that habitat be restored.    

Blue Oaks, Quercus douglasii, live in the foothills on shallow, well-drained soils (figure 3). They produce a good crop only once every four years and the quality of the acorns is not quite as good as the Valley Oak. They possess physiological and anatomical features that allow then to survive long periods of drought–conditions that would kill the Valley Oak. Where the two species meet, vigorous hybrids that are intermediate in appearance are occasionally produced.    

Figure 4. Black Oak leaf and acorn.

Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii, is found above the Blue in the Mixed Coniferous Forest plant community (figure 4). The presence of a root crown with lots of buds allows it to survive fire that removes its competitors–Douglas and White Firs. Since its acorns have a high fat content, it was prized by the Indians and acorns were traded over long distances.    

Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizenii, is common in the foothills and its acorns were heavily used as were those of the Canyon Live Oak, Quercus chrysolepis, which is found in the canyons leading from the valleys. Closely related to these true oaks is the Tanbark ‘Oak’, Lithocarpus densiflora, whose acorns were highly rated by many Indians perhaps because they had a high fat content and because they stored well due to their very high tannin content.    

Foothill (Gray) Pine

Pinus sabiniana (figure 5) lives alongside the Blue Oak and regularly produces many large cones weighing 2 to 4 pounds. On each cone scale, two seeds are located each one-half an inch long. The cones were knocked to the ground in the fall and heated to release the seeds. These were stored in baskets in the dwellings or in caches underground. The seeds were cracked open, as needed, and the delicious pine nuts eaten raw or roasted.    

Figure 5. Foothill (Gray) Pine. Bundle of 3 needles, and cone.

Figure 2 shows that the pine nuts were extremely nutritious–much like peanuts. They were given to guests as a welcoming treat or taken on journeys as light-weight, high energy food. Mashed pine nut was diluted with water and fed to newborns as their first food.    

The pliable roots were dug up with digging sticks and woven into conical carrying baskets. Pitch from the tree reduces the growth of bacteria and was mixed with fat or wax to form a healing salve. Incidentally, at any feed store, you can buy “Bag Balm” which is used to heal cuts on livestock and has pine pitch as its active ingredient! A dwarf mistletoe which grows on the tree was used as a contraceptive. And the hard-shelled seeds were strung as beads to form a handsome necklace.    

Ground and tree squirrels along with scrub jays and acorn woodpeckers compete vigorously for this rich supply of food, beginning in early August–long before the cones are even ripe. Without the jays, however, the pine woodland would disappear for they carry seeds up to 8 miles and bury them for winter food thus spreading the species.    

California Bay Laurel

Figure 6. California Bay Laurel. Leaves, flowers, and fruits.

Umbellularia californica (figure 6) is known along the coast as “Pepperwood” and across our northern border as “Oregon Myrtle”. The glossy, 4-inch leaves and the green, pungent fruits contain a peppery oil which was extensively used medicinally and also as an insect repellent. The leaves (oil) were rubbed over aching or arthritic limbs as a stimulating and warming liniment which also exuded a pleasant fragrance. We use a leaf in stews or spaghetti as a unique spice in the place of its cousin, Grecian Laurel. Add a leaf to a jar of nuts or flour and the volatile oil will inhibit some insects; in fact, the acorn granaries were often lined with Bay.    

Several bushels of the round, 1/2-inch seeds were stored and then parched in hot ashes a few at a time for an aftermeal treat. Surprisingly, they have an intriguing, if strong, flavor that made them popular.    

Indian Potatoes

Figure 7. Indian Potato (Bluedicks) flowers. leaves (part), and corm.

All the species of Brodiaea, Triteleia, and Dichelostemma form a bulblike “corm” that is high in starch with sugar and protein also. They can be eaten raw or baked and are quite tasty–but a lot sweeter than our white potatoes. Bluedicks (figure 7) is the earliest and most common in our grasslands. The Indian women would pry the corms out of the ground in favorite places year after year using digging sticks; the latter were made from a hard wood like Mountain Mahogany, about 4-feet long, and sharpened on one end.    

Each corm produces a number of small “cormlets” that are attached by a fragile stem to the corm base. These clones separate easily and in the disturbed soil produce plants much faster and more dependably than by seed. You can readily imagine that centuries of harvest would result in recognizable gardens; undoubtedly, they were weeded, burned over regularly, and tended carefully by the villagers for here was a self-perpetuating source of food ready at any time of year.    

Soap Plant

Known by the Spanish as Amole, Chlorogalum pomeridianum (figure 8) produces a large bulb up to 4-inches in diameter that is entirely underground and sheathed by many brown, fibrous scales. The fibers were bundled together by their tips, glued, and wrapped to form a whisk-broom-like brush that was used to sweep the acorn flour into a pile for easy transfer to the leaching site. The glue came from the sap of the heated bulb.    

Figure 8. Soap Plant with bulb and flowers.

Most important, however, was the high content of saponin–a non-alkaline, mild soap; half a bulb made an excellent bar of soap that was extensively used for bathing and washing hair. Occasionally, the villagers would mash many bulbs and dump them in a pool. The detergent would prevent fish from obtaining oxygen whereupon, becoming asphyxiated, they floated to the surface and easily gathered.    

The young bulbs are readily transplanted and the plant makes an interesting garden novelty. The mature bulbs send up a 6-foot tall inflorescence with many 1-inch, greenish-white flowers. The latter pop open with an audible snap (!) in the early evening. They remain open just long enough for large, black solitary bumblebees and hummingbird moths to pollinate them and then they shrivel up. Pomeridianum means “afternoon” and refers to the late time of blooming.    

Deer Grass

Muhlenbergia rigens (figure 9) is a large bunch grass that grows in moist places in the foothill woodland and riparian plant communities. The 6-foot high flowering stalks were gathered in mid-summer and used as the foundation material for the coiled baskets. To make these, several stalks were bundled and tightly wrapped with fine strands of lemonade bush branches (Rhus trilobata) or sedge rootstocks (Carex spp.), completely hiding the stalks. At short intervals, the wrapping strand is passed under the coil below it and then returned to the coil above, tightly joining the two and shaping the basket. Often it would take a year to make a large cooking basket and it was so tightly woven that it would hold water.    

Figure 9. Deer Grass leaves and flowers.

The coarse leaves were not used for baskets but were shredded and used to make knee-length grass skirts. Rhizomes and young shoots were often eaten. Since thousands of stalks were needed for just one basket, patches of deer grass were carefully managed and regarded as family possessions. In order to produce high quality materials for the next year, the patch was burned each fall.   


Jeffrey Lytle – Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor candidate


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