1800 to 1900
What Was Life Like?
The natives…caused more trouble in the region of San Francisco than in any other part of California, the troublesome gentiles being chiefly those inhabiting what is now known as Alameda and Contra Costa counties, acting in conjunction with deserters from San Francisco mission, but threatening more seriously Mission San Jose. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, Vol. 1, pp. 708-709
By Beverly Lane
From the sacred mountain to the fertile strait, Bay Miwok people and their ancestors lived for thousands of years in a land of great abundance. Their tribal homeland was the San Francisco Bay area in present-day central and eastern Contra Costa County, surrounding Mount Diablo.
California Indians had developed a dynamic and complex culture with unique language and belief systems. They had an intimate relationship to the land and a cycle of life which changed very gradually from generation to generation. Tribes owned the rights to hunt, fish, gather and pray within clearly defined territories which were often watersheds. They valued the old ways and harmony with nature.
Into this stable setting came the Spanish, bringing new ideas, powerful weapons, unique animals, unusual trade goods and a European world view -- all of which accelerated change. One major difference was the Spanish attitude toward land ownership; they believed in individual land ownership with set boundaries quite apart from watersheds. And they expected to control California when their settlement was complete. California Indians owned land communally with “specific hunting, collecting, and fishing areas located in diverse ecological zones,” according to Lowell Bean. When travelers passed through tribal territory, permission to pass was expected.
Men in dance headdresses by Louis Choris, 1816
When the Spanish first entered California in 1769, initial Indian contacts included trade, formal meetings and mutual efforts to understand one another’s language. Missions were begun immediately and missionaries came to be seen by many Indians as powerful intermediaries to the spirit world. But the new grazing animals destroyed traditional Indian food-producing plants and European diseases decimated the population. Soon the traditional village system dissolved. Once the natives entered the missions and were instructed and baptized, the Spanish missionaries expected them to stay and change their old ways; Indians could leave only with permission.
From the start, the Indians resisted the Europeans. Tribes throughout California were outraged by Spanish settlements on their traditional lands. They resisted as individuals and groups and they resisted actively and passively. Indians outside of the missions retaliated when soldiers attacked native women. And after joining the missions, they continued native religious practices, fought against the new work patterns and frequently escaped.
Attacks on missions, soldiers and missionaries took place throughout Alta California. For example, the first San Diego mission was destroyed and three Europeans were killed in 1775. In 1785 a Gabrielino medicine woman, Toypurnia, challenged the Spanish missionaries and led several tribes to revolt. At Santa Cruz father Andres Quintana was murdered in his bed in 1812. Large uprisings in Chumash country (Santa Barbara area) occurred in 1801 and 1824.
The Bay Miwok Experience
The Bay Miwok tribal reaction was a prime example of this resistance. These tribes included the Chupcan, Julpun, Ompin, Saclan, Tatcan and Volvon. As East Bay Indians went to the missions in San Francisco and San Jose, disease and the foreign lifestyle changes took a devastating toll. Indian complaints about work, punishment and lack of food at San Francisco are well documented. The first movement of Bay Miwok (including Saclan and Tatcan) to Mission San Francisco occurred in 1794, probably following a drought which affected seed and acorn resources.
From January to March 1795, hundreds of these Bay Miwok fled the mission. Because they refused to return and attacked Christian Indians (and later Spanish troops) who came to retrieve them, a decade of armed battles in present-day Contra Costa County ensued. Initial altercations at the Saclan villages took place in 1795, with seven Christian Indians being killed by the Saclans. Bay Miwok resistance leaders from various tribes were often identified as Chupcan (Concord), Saclan (Lafayette) or Volvon (upper Marsh Creek).
Sergeant Pedro Amador told superiors that it was necessary “to set the pagans straight” because the Saclans “have the idea that we fear them.” Spanish troops came in force to the area in 1797, 1800, 1803, 1804 and 1805; this required a tremendous effort by the Spanish who did not have that many men under arms.
As can be seen on the 1824 map, created by Father Narciso Duran of Mission San Jose, the mission’s grazing area extended into the Bay Miwok homeland. The map also marks the first written account of "M. del Diablo," an abbreviation of Monte del Diablo or "thicket of the devil." This referred to the thicket in north Concord where Chupcan Indians had escaped from a Spanish expedition in 1805. (Later the name was given to a Mexican Rancho and, still later, Americans transferred the name to the mountain we call now Mount Diablo.)
Father Duran from Mission San Jose wrote often about the challenges of mission life and the fierceness of the Indians. In 1819 he wrote that if wild Indians had horses they could become “a second band of Apaches.” In another he said that rebellions in 1827 were “only the beginning of such troubles.”
As mission authority diminished after Mexican Independence in 1821, attacks on missions by large numbers of organized Indian warriors occurred throughout California. One of the most significant of these rebellions was led by Estanislao, a Yokuts Indian, who took hundreds of natives with him from Missions San Jose, Santa Clara and San Juan Bautista and organized a huge multi-tribal Yokuts force of 1000 fighters in the Central Valley from 1828-29. He taunted the Spanish for their lack of military prowess and withstood three Spanish expeditions.
Mexican Ranchos on Bay Miwok Lands
Beginning in the 1830s, about 800 Mexican ranchos were granted to former Californio soldiers, carved from the rich former California mission lands. Mission San Jose had nearly 2,000 baptized Indians when it was secularized in 1836. These Indians dispersed in several directions: as household servants to Pueblo San Jose, as laborers and cowboys to the new ranchos and into multi-tribal communities around Mt. Diablo and in the Central Valley.
Present-day Contra Costa County was a dangerous frontier during the 1830s and 1840s. The Indians had become expert horsemen and raided cattle, sheep and horses from the new ranchos. How many of these Indians were Bay Miwok is hard to estimate. When land grants were made on traditional Bay Miwok lands, several grantees received permission to live in San Jose because of Indian hostility. Felipe Briones was killed by Indians shortly after receiving a grant and Juana Sanchez de Pacheco’s first rancho buildings were burned down by Indians. Juana Pacheco (Walnut Creek), Mariano Castro and Bartolome Pacheco (San Ramon Valley), Jose Noriega (Los Meganos) and the three owners of the Los Vaqueros Rancho all lived away from their ranchos. Foreign immigrants purchased these less desirable frontier ranches: William Welch bought Las Juntas (Martinez) and John Marsh purchased Los Meganos from Jose Noreiga.
As precarious as it was in the early years, eventually seven entire Mexican ranchos were successfully claimed in Bay Miwok homelands. These ranchos had boundaries which were often different than the ones confirmed by American courts over 20 years later.
The Pachecos were familiar with this area and were among the first to receive land grants. Tatcan territory went to Bartolo Pacheco and Mariano Castro in 1833 (Rancho San Ramon – Danville, Alamo and part of Walnut Creek and San Ramon) and Chupcan to Salvio Pacheco in 1834 (Monte del Diablo Rancho – Concord, Pacheco, Pleasant Hill, part of Walnut Creek). The vast Rancho Arroyo de las Nueces y Bolbones of Juana Sanchez de Pacheco (Walnut Creek -- 1834) was probably in several Indian territories, including Tatcan, Saclan, Chupcan and Volvon.
Julpun territory was granted to Jose Noriega (Rancho Los Meganos – Mt. Diablo to Brentwood) in 1834 and Saclan land went to Candelario Valencia in 1834 (Rancho Acalanes -- Lafayette) and Joaquin Moraga and Juan Bernal in 1835 (Rancho Laguna de los Colorados – Moraga, Orinda). Ompin land went to Jose Mesa in 1839 (Los Medanos – Clayton to Antioch).
From 1827 to 1844 a series of malaria and smallpox epidemics in Central California contributed to the end of resistance in Bay Miwok territory. Remnants of the tribes went to work on local ranches or fled to the Central Valley. Gold was discovered (1848), California became a state (1850) and tens of thousands of new Californians accelerated change in the state.
Contact with the Spanish and Americans eventually decimated the Indian population, leaving the Bay Miwok resistance as only a memory.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe, History of California, Vol. I, Santa Barbara: Wallace Hebberd, 1963.
Bean, Lowell, Ed., Indians of California, San Francisco: California Historical Society, Fall 1992. Lowell Bean, “Indians of California: Diverse and Complex People”, p. 302ff.
Fredrickson, David A., et. al., Native American History Studies for the Los Vaqueros Project: A Synthesis, Rohnert Park, CA: Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University Academic Foundation, Inc., March, 1997.
Heizer Robert F., Ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 8, California, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. Edward D. Castillo, “The Impact of Euro-American Exploration and Settlement”, pp. 99-127.
Hoover, Mildred Brooke et. al., Historic Spots in California, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966.
Hurtado, Albert L., Indian Survival on the California Frontier, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1988.
Jackson, Robert H. and Edward Castillo, Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization,Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1996.
Milliken, Randall, A Time of Little Choice The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area 1769-1810, Meno Park: Ballena Books, 1995. (Pedro Amador quote, p. 156)
------------, Cultural Resource Evaluation of Keller Ranch, Clayton, California, Part II: “An Ethnographic Study of the Clayton Area, Contra Costa County, California.” San Francisco: Holman & Associates, May 1982.
Munro-Fraser, J.P., History of Contra Costa County California (San Francisco: W. A. Slocum & Co.), 1882, pp. 254 – 337.
Ortiz, Beverly R., Mount Diablo Sacred Birthplace of the World, An Indian History Convoluted, draft manuscript, 1992.
Ziesing, Grace H., From Rancho to Reservoir: History and Archaeology of the Los Vaqueros Watershed, California, Rohnert Park, CA: Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University Academic Foundation, Inc., 1997.