Native American



According to radio-isotopic technology, Native Americans have occupied the Traces of the Past Project area for the past 10,000 years, Prior to the Spaniards arriving, the population of Native Americans in the area was about 34,140. (Kroeber) 

The Hokan Speakers were likely descended from the very first California immigrants. These included the Salinan Indians, who lived from about King City south to the Santa Margarita area. The Esselen Indians, lived in the Santa Lucia Mountains, along the Arroyo Seco River, and on the Big Sur coast, and the Chumash, whose lived from the Santa Margarita area south to Malibu Canyon. 

The Ohlone tribes, in the Monterey Bay area, were Penutian speaking. These tribes inhabited areas from San Francisco Bay south to the Monterey Bay. They consisted of the “Rumsen around Monterey and Carmel, the Ensen around Toro and Buena Vista, the Mutsums around San Juan Bautista and the Chalone around Gonzales and Soledad. The Penutian speakers are thought to have come to this area about 2,500 years ago, absorbing or displacing Hokan speakers.” (Anderson) 

These Native American tribes were nomadic within their prescribed territories. They were largely hunter-gatherers.

The most well-known land management practice they utilized consisted of the use of fire management. Controlled burns, then, as today, were used for brush suppression, selection of desirable plants, and grasslands management. Many plants need fire for seed germination. Other desirable plants will not compete where there is shade or too much crowding. Furthermore, if the Indians controlled where the desirable plants were, then, they controlled where herbivores would graze and this made hunting much easier. 

Tribes living near the coast were master boat builders and navigated rivers, lakes, and bays. Middens found in the area attest to their diets of shellfish, fresh fish, and seafood. 

Weapons and tools were of stone and bone.

Cooking was done with watertight woven baskets. Heated rocks and the food were placed in water in the baskets and heated until the food was cooked. 

Dwellings were made by covering a done-shaped frame with tule mats. 

Edit “On the central California coast Native Americans lived in large villages, with as many as 1,000 residents occupying coastal villages east of Point Conception and less dense populations to the north and in the interior regions. At different times the Santa Margarita Valley was occupied by both Salinans and Northern Chumash. In general, lands south and west of Santa Margarita, encompassing San Luis Obispo County, have been ascribed to the Obispeño Chumash. It is generally known that the Salinans utilized lands along the coast and in the rugged mountains of the interior and may have occupied the area extending south from Soledad to a point north of San Luis Obispo. A recent study of Salinan and Northern Chumash linguistic and social geography (Milliken and Johnson 2003) concluded that the many villages around Santa Margarita were Northern Chumash during the mission era (and presumably before), but that Salinan speakers occupied the area during the middle and late nineteenth century. Although relations between the Chumash and Salinans are described as hostile, some level of trade occurred between the groups because the Chumash supplied shell ornaments and other wood and steatite materials to the Salinans (Flint et al. 2000:12–14).

Both groups appear to have lived in permanent villages along the coast and major inland drainages. However, task-specific sites likely occurred in the mountains and along minor seasonal creeks and streams. Chumash villages typically consisted of several dome-shaped houses built from poles and grass thatching, and one or more sweathouses with some evidence of subterranean construction. Likewise, Salinans built domed pole houses and communal structures (Flint et al. 2000:12–14).

Salinan subsistence was based on hunting and gathering. The primary vegetal food was acorns; hunting focused on large and small game such as deer, bear, and rabbit. However, before the arrival of the Spanish, the Salinans likely used a rich array of maritime resources, as evidenced

Cultural Landscape Report for Santa Margarita Ranch 7

by C-shaped shell fishhooks, bone awls notched pebble net sinkers, and other materials recovered from coastal Salinan sites (Flint et al. 2000:12–14).

The Chumash economy also focused on marine resources, although inland terrestrial goods played a greater role in Northern Chumash territory than among other Chumash groups. Balsa and plank canoes provided the channel Chumash with transportation to outlying resources, although no evidence of plank canoe use by the Obispeño has been encountered. Harvesting and fishing techniques were used to recover shoreline and tide pool fish species. Ground stone implements and projectile points indicate hunting and collecting also were important subsistence activities (Flint et al. 2000:12–14).

Both the Salinan and Chumash manufactured baskets for collecting, preparing, and serving food as well as others that were worn as hats. Techniques used by the Salinans included coiling and twining. The Chumash used beads to decorate baskets. Steatite (soapstone) apparently was an important material, especially along the coast; fewer steatite objects have been found in areas away from the coast. Additionally, both groups made use of bone or wooden musical instruments (Flint et al. 2000:12–14).” (Applied)

In general, the Mission era was devastating to California’s coastal indigenous people. Below are examples of the work done for the Missions by Native Americans. Also, included are examples of resistance by mission (i.e., conscripted) workers. 

  • 1774: Acolytes were paid in food. Contemporary technology at the time was a water-powered grist mill. The wheat was hauled on backs, Metal tipped plowshares were used to break the soil. Forest land cleared with machetes.
  • 1781: San Juan Capistrano Mission—Indians planted 2,000 grape vines, handled all wine making; training vines, cuttings, harvest, made vats.
  • 1797: Settlers “hired” Indians to clear land. The wages were 6 cents a day or 3 reales.
  • 1798: Olives planted by Indians in San Diego for oil.
  • 1812: Padre Quintana of Santa Cruz mission was assassinated by native field hands.
  • 1820: San Gabriel Mission, at its peak, had 170 acres of vineyards. 50,000 vines. Indians picked tons of grapes a day.
  • 1821: Mexico gains independence from Spain.
  • 1822: Indians are conscripted from jails and from “the wild” to be indentured farm hands.
  • 1824: Uprising at Santa Barbara, La Purisima, and Santa Inez Missions were sparked by the public flogging of a native from La Purisima—hundreds of Chumash armed themselves with bows and arrows, took control of Santa Inez mission, burned soldier’s quarters. They held out for a month at La Purisima, before they surrendered to a military armed with cannons.
  • 1830: Two hundred ninety Indians broke free of missions and set up a farming community near Bakersfield. They were found healthy and flourishing 10 years later by a traveling fur trapper.
  • 1830:  Cunning assassinations began to take their toll on Mission staff.
  • 1834: Indians cultivated and maintained 10,000 acres of land for missions and constructed large scale irrigation systems.
  • 1850: California Statehood. 
  • 1835: Mexico secularizes the Spanish missions. At that time, most Native American populations were only a fraction of previous their peak populations as a result of attrition or death. 
  • 1860s: The migrant work force was composed of Native Americans, whites, Californios, and Mexicans.

Insert statistics about disease. 

Insert how devastating the prohibition on burning was to loss of game habitat. 

Insert Indian population statistics at the time of secularization. 

Books and References

Anderson, Burton. The Salinas Valley, A History of America’s Salad Bowl. A Monterey County Historical Society Publication. 2000.

Applied Earthworks, Inc. Cultural Landscape Report for Santa Margarita Ranch, San Luis Obispo County, California. Prepared for Rincon Consultants, Inc., San Luis Obispo, California. September 2008.

Kroeber, Alfred L. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 78. 1925.

References for the Above