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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 16: THE CALIFORNIOS

After thousands of years of general peace and stability for the Native Americans of California and Lake County, there was a sudden, violent change; the Europeans came. A third of a million Indians were reduced, in little more than a single lifetime, to twenty thousand.  Fourteen out of fifteen Native Americans in Northern California vanished from the face of the earth.

Battles killed many of the Indians. Small-pox and syphilis wiped out entire villages. Not to be outdone in the killing of the Aborigines, Lake County, Sonoma County, and other nearby parts of California were filled with battles between the Indians and their new masters. Adding to the Native’s troubles, the tribes often took sides with the white men, fighting other tribes. Outright massacres accounted for thousands more.

It began quietly enough. In 1535 Hernandez Cortez landed briefly in California. For a while, there was excitement in Spain over the find, but it soon petered out. What was there in the new world except for Indians and raw land? Spain paid little attention to California. They had their hands full as they loaded their Galleons with the treasure and gold of the Philippines and the Asiatic mainland. For the next three hundred years, the southern Pacific Ocean was called a ‘Spanish Lake.’

Juan Cabrillo touched down in 1542 for food and water. Even the Russians tried to establish a foothold in this new country at Fort Ross at Sonoma. The thrifty Russians bought the site from the Kashaya Indians for ‘Three blankets, three pairs of breeches, two axes, three hoes, and some beads.’ Except for the weather, Californians might speak Russian today, but the moist ocean air gave the Russian traders’ wheat a crop disease. With not enough wheat to eat, when the men from Hudson Bay came by, they were easily convinced they should go home and leave the wilderness to the enterprise and spirit of the Americans.

As the English in Canada pushed south into Alta California, the Spanish owners lay asleep on their possessions. Like children who hug a discarded and unpopular toy, then, only after other children showed interest, then did the Spanish suddenly wake. They sent soldiers and began to colonize.

Religion was a tool. The Spanish brought God (along with the priests, war, slavery, and pestilence) to the benighted ‘savages.’ Twenty-one Missions were built along the coast, cementing their ownership. The Missions collected the Indians, converted them to the Spanish God, and used them as cheap labor; a first step to speed the colonizing.

The plan was slow. By 1793 there were still only three chartered towns; Santa Cruz, San Jose, and Los Angeles. California had only thirty-two original Spanish people and four hundred and thirty-two half-breeds born of pure Spanish blood. All the rest were mixed blood; Mulattos, Castas, Mestizos, Zambos, Africans, and the Native Americans.A grand total of a thousand souls in the land of the Californios was hardly more than a scratch on a rock for land that one day would become be a state larger and more important than most countries.

Captive Indians had it hard. In his ‘History of California’, Historian Theodore Hittall wrote about the forced labor treatment of Indians in California under Spanish rule in 1897: ‘Besides being priest, teacher, provider, and doctor; the missionary was also the taskmaster and despot over the liberty and even life of his (Indian) subjects. He was the judge of what constituted an offense, and he was always attended by soldiers’ dependent on his will and charged to carry out the sentences. The most usual punishment were whippings, imprisonment, or the stocks. Sometimes it was death.’

They did not submit peacefully. When fighting was necessary, they fought ferociously to defend their homes or their hunting grounds. There were no fences or boundary maps and when an outside Native passed their lines, tribute or a toll was required. Each tribe was jealous of its territory and defended its boundaries with force when necessary. 

Tribal families lived near places later called Lakeport, Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne, and Clear Lake Oaks. The Patwin were southeast of the Lake. They lived beyond the tribal boundaries of the South East Pomo, who were on the lakeshore areas. The Miwok and the Wappo lived in the vicinity of what would later be known as Lower Lake, Middletown and Kelseyville. The Southern Pomo were near Santa Rosa, just north of bands of the Coast Miwok. More Pomo occupied the northwest part of the Lake and all the way to Willits, Fort Bragg, Ukiah, and Mendocino. Some were also at Point Arena and in Hopland. Once they filled the land.

Next Week: Mexico Takes Charge. 

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

e-mail: genepaleno@gmail.com

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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