A few more notes about the Chumash and Nicoleño people…still following the mission trail.

I follow so many different Southern California trails that I am prone to hop, skip and jump from one story to the next. I decided it was time for me to wrap up a few loose ends.

Let’s head back up to Santa Barbara.

The 1786 “Queen” of the 21 Spanish missions is beautiful and full of interesting nooks and crannies. I can really only share just a few of the architectural details I found interesting, but you’ll certainly want to note the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and  Channel Islands.

If you hover over the photos you’ll find identification.

Real skull and crossbones were used to mark the entrance to Spanish cemeteries, so at the mission the stone carvings also mark the cemetery entrance. Gives a little pirate feel, doesn’t it?

The Lavanderia, or clothes washing basin, was built by the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara Mission in 1808 and was fed by water from a complex aqueduct system. The animal spout was also carved by a Chumash artisan. Not all missions had such designated spots for laundry, but the Chumash were known for their dedication to cleanliness.

This 120 year-old Australian Moreton Bay Fig is a beautiful cemetery centerpiece. I don’t know if it bears figs, but it is special.

Then just up the road from the Mission is this beautiful building.

We visited the Museum of Natural History so I could see the small exhibit dedicated to the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, and as interesting as that exhibit is, there was very little to learn about the Nicoleño people.

However, there is an entire room dedicated to the Chumash. The Chumash people thrived in California prehistory, with some settlements dating back at last 10,000 years. The Chumash came into contact with the European settlers in 1542 when Juan Cabrillo’s sailing vessels arrived on the coast of California. Cabrillo died on San Miguel Island, but his men brought back a diary containing names and population counts for many of the Chumash villages.

For those keeping score, some historians say that although Cabrillo died on San Miguel Island he was probably buried on Santa Catalina Island. I suppose record keeping wasn’t all that accurate in 1543.

During the Spanish mission years the Chumash were instrumental in building and working the coastal missions.

Although at one time the Chumash were a thriving culture numbering over 20,000 living along the California coastline, they succumbed to Spanish and American colonization. It’s a sad irony that the Chumash are now without their own land, as most Chumash bands, except for the Santa Ynez Samala Band, have not made the list of federally recognized tribes.

And to wrap up all I know for now about the Nicoleño people…all my lines of inquiry lead me back again to my own San Gabriel Mission.

There are nearly 6,000 Native Americans buried at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. And it is probable that some of those buried are Nicoleño people.

Imagine my surprise when I read that as the Nicoleño people lost their home on the Channel Islands after repeated attack from otter hunting Aleuts from Russian Alaska, many of the surviving Nicoleño chose to live at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel.

It’s fascinating for me to learn that one more of the stories I’ve been so interested in following leads the line of inquiry back to my city.

As I studied about Juana Maria it never occurred to me that her people might have a tie, slim though it is, to the San Gabriel Mission. It’s facts like this that keep me coming back. Of course, now I have more to investigate. Who knows where this will lead?

Plaque of Juana Maria

38 thoughts on “A few more notes about the Chumash and Nicoleño people…still following the mission trail.

  1. Fascinating stuff, Debra. This is the California that I will probably never see up close and personal. It would take more time to see than I could afford on a normal vacation. These posts, therefore, are a very real treat for me. You shared so many interesting facts here and the photos were wonderful and added so much to the post. The Spaniards’ use of real skulls and bones to indicate a graveyard is an unexpected surprise. Why did they have to be so literal? I do wish things had ended better for the Chumash but, then again, things rarely did for Native Americans, did they?
    Thank you, Debra, for today’s California History lesson. It was a good one, Teach! :)

    • I really enjoy sharing my history adventures, John, and can’t tell you how appreciative I am that you express interest. I have found that I have very few friends sharing my interest in the Spanish colonial period in California. I use my blog to talk about it so that I don’t bore them to tears! My own knowledge is filling in with bits and pieces. The skull and crossbones was so prominent at the Santa Barbara Mission, so I couldn’t help but notice and then look into the story behind the placement. But now I want to see if I can find them at any of the other missions. I think that each of us in our respective states knows how much we don’t know, so anything we learn for the first time feels significant! The deeper aspects of the story of Native American peoples is very interesting to me, and I am sure I will never have a very full understanding, but we have a couple of museums in Los Angeles that are devoted to real education, not just well-placed artifacts. I hope to visit them more frequently and fill in larger gaps. I do think it is a great idea to study history from a very local perspective. It’s more manageable! :-)

  2. Your posts are always so full of interesting facts and wonderful photos that one actually feels a little lost when one reaches the end… please don’t stop I love the posts you do… and I don’t care how you spring round they are all good and if I need to go back I do… these are wonderful posts…

    • You are so kind, Rob. I feel such constraint when taking all the information I’m gathering and then distilling it down so as not to overwhelm with too much detail. Sometimes I’m not sure how it ends up translating! :-) I am very grateful for feed back that encourages me not to worry too much about the circuitous route I seem to be taking! I do appreciate it!

    • You are so right, Andra. I’m only prepared to share from my local interests, but each of us lives centered in the middle of rich, rich historical context. I hope to encourage everyone to follow-up on their own local stories. I know that as a writer you soak up the local stories and they are later expressed in character and place. It’s so interesting to me, however, that many of my friends, living right here in Southern California, tell me they have never been to a Mission. That always surprises me! I do hope you’re finally feeing a little better. You must have been hit hard! :-(

    • You would love the little niches and cubbies in the missions, Kate. I really could use more information about the architectural detail. I am sure I miss so much in symbolism and meaning, but that is also why I go back as often as possible. I slowly begin to learn a bit more. As you know, I’m so fascinated with the way water was routed and utilized in early California, so to have a lavanderia would have included an aqueduct. And then I jump back into my interest in those systems. LOL! Thank you so much for encouragement in stating your interest, Kate. You, more than many, understand how these odd little interests take on lives of their own! :-)

    • I think I’m recollecting correctly, Nancy, but didn’t you share a photo of a Banyon Tree some time ago? I think that may be the first time I’d ever seen one, so I might want to look at our local arboretums to see if we have any healthy examples for me to visit! I recall thinking the tree was quite spectacular. The canopy on this fig tree wasn’t all that beautiful, I didn’t think, but I loved the interesting trunk! As you can imagine, there were signs all over the place telling people not to climb the tree! LOL! But a child would be so tempted to try. :-)

  3. I think stories of how people came to be where they are are so fascinating! It’s amazing how things are linked together. Your pictures are just gorgeous Debra. I wish I was there!

    • I am really trying to keep the “history” relevant to everyone. I am so aware that my enthusiasm could drown readers with too much detail particular to our area. Each of us lives in centers that if we snooped around a bit would be equally interesting. I’m glad I can share and hopefully keep you interested, Kristy. My hope is that others will begin to see their own localities in historical richness–in particular learning a little bit more about the Native American history in each of our states. There is such a wealth of story there…most of it, I’ll never be able to learn. That’s also why I stick close to home! Smaller bites to study! Thank you so much for expressing interest. You’ve encouraged me! :-)

    • Thank you very much, CCU, for indicating you’re finding the inks in my Southern California history stories of interest. Each time I post I am a bit concerned that my particular interest may not hold very much appeal to others. Even many of my friends who live in the vicinity and I’d love to engage in conversation…just are NOT history-minded! Isn’t blogging great for allowing us to explore our own passions and include others as they have time to follow along! I appreciate your comment very much! Debra

    • I don’t think any of the missions compare to Santa Barbara, although I think San Juan Capistrano is really pretty. I do like the smaller ones, and have visited Ventura. It’s by far not the lowliest, but modest, yes. I love Ventura, so maybe that also makes me think of it with appreciation. Here I am not at all far from Mission San Fernando and I’ve probably only visited it once. There isn’t too much there, but more than that, I probably haven’t really felt inclined to go to San Fernando! Ventura, yes! :-)

  4. Once again, I’m very glad you posted soemthing about Santa Barbara. So then, I can just direct to your blog people who are interested about interesting stories and details of this place. i can never be like you. When I’m ready I’ll link you again.
    Actually I first got fascinated by Native Island living during their Heritage month last year. What I so love about them are about their symbolisms… Feather, their clothings, colors, patterns …etc. Chumash Indians are the one I recognize most ebing it close to home. I was thrilled when I saw their exhibit in SB Mission. I was part of the tour. :D and was happy to hear their backgrounds.
    What I noticed from most of the missions, another of the many commonality, is at least one big tree. :D Santa Barbara definitely has the most standout treeS.
    My favorite from SB is the entrance. Hehe. And of course, the story of Juana Maria, and the fact that she is recognizable to kids because of the book.

    • You’re always very generous when you link back to me, Rommel. I appreciate your kind words. I am so glad to hear you’ve taken an interest in the Native populations. There is more to know than I’ll ever be able to study, but I do try to take advantage of what I can learn through museums and public educational programs. And I, too, just can’t get enough of the story of Juana Maria. I’m so caught up in the story of what she experienced and would really like to know more about her people. It’s always good to share with you, Rommel. I always look forward to seeing where you have been, and to learn of your many interests!

  5. This is always so fascinating for me, it does make me long for a holiday.. I think I’d have to print out your posts and line them up in order for a trip. It would be cool to walk through, reading what you know, you’re so much more interesting than most guide books ever could be. xx

    • I hope you do come to Southern California someday, Barbara, and we’ll have to figure out if you want the history or beach tours! It will be a tough call! Maybe we can design a little of both. I’ll be ready for you. :-)

  6. I had no idea real skulls and bones were used in Spanish cemetries. Not a very cheerful entrance! And I love Moreton Bay fig trees. There are lots in the suburb where I live. When I walk Alfie to school he loves to look at, touch and climb these impressive trees xx

    • I thought of you when I saw the Moreton Bay Fig, Charlie. I think Alfie would have really enjoyed climbing his particular one. I was almost tempted to try! I don’t know more about the skull and crossbones, but I do agree with you, they add an ominous tone to the otherwise very peaceful cemetery garden! :-)

  7. Another history lesson where I learned something new. Had not heard of the Chumash Indians. The photos are great, my favorite is the Santa Barbara portico. I love old structures and cobblestone streets. :)

  8. I so enjoy reading your posts about the missions and the woman from the island is a fascinating story. I have visited the San Gabriel Mission and the Santa Barbara mission several times, but without camera and the real interest I have now. So this post is a treat. And thanks for your encouragement with all my boring medical posts lately. I appreciate it very much.

  9. I just read your latest comment about ‘elderly.’ I am 72 going on 73, but I was just kidding about the elderly stuff. I don’t mind being old or being perceived as elderly. My mom approached old age and the constant misplacement of stuff and short-term memory loss with a great sense of humor. I hope I can do the same, that is my goal for my old age. That and walk dogs every day for as long as I can manage.

    • Oh I know that you didn’t see yourself that way! Hahaha! If we have a good sense of humor about ourselves and do what we can to stay engaged in life, age is arbitrary. But I do admit, I don’t like labels! :-)

  10. Fascinating, Debra.
    Skull and crossbones were used frequently in the cemeteries on the East Coast during the Colonial period. It is interesting to think of the symbols being used on both coasts around the same time by such different cultures.

    Your photos and the history is so interesting. I would want to be exploring all the time, especially since I love missions.

    Also interesting is that the DAR commemorated Juana Maria 70 some years after she was found.

    You continue to peak my interest in CA history. Thank you, Debra.

    • I didn’t know about the skull and crossbones on the east coast, Penny. I was at an art exhibit today and noted several 17th century Italian and Spanish religious paintings with skulls figured into the otherwise serene context. I had never really noticed this before. I think there is probably much more meaning in the symbols than I’ve previously noted. It would be another interesting topic for me to study–down the line! :-) I’m glad you’ve enjoyed some California history. I have been like a sponge lately, soaking up new information. There is more to learn, and a lot less time, but I have fun trying. LOL! Hope you have a good weekend, and that your dear sister is continuing to recover well!!

    • Thank you so much for showing interest in my small history lessons, Perpetua. It’s fun for me to study about some of these topics and then pare down the essentials for sharing. For one thing, I think I retain the information better for sharing, but also, from my end it makes the world seem a little more connected. I appreciate you sharing with me that it is interesting. :-)

  11. Great post Debra! Love the history you’ve managed to unearth so far. That an exhibition on the Nicoleño people has “very little about them.” makes me sadder than sad.

    I’ve been to a few of the Missions including the SB Mission, but after seeing your photos you’ve whetted my appetite to go back and *LOOK* at everything.

    • We can at least go to the San Gabriel Mission together, Rosie! LOL! That would be easy :-) I know what you mean about the Nicoleño people. That bothers me, too. There are so many things that could make us sad about the way these indigenous people were quite literally decimated. Some of our history is pretty disturbing! I think the more we know, however, the better we can contribute to keeping the histories alive! Hope you have a good weekend, my friend. (work, I’m sure…ahem!) :-)

  12. Dear Debra, I went to the library yesterday to pick up its copy of “Island of the Blue Dolphin.” I’ll read it soon–you know I’m sure that there’s a stack of books next on the stand next to my bed.

    Once again, you’ve captured my attention with your curiosity about the Nicoleno people and the larger group designated as the Chumash. Or are they the same? I’m not sure. I was able to read the museum posting about the Chumash. Thanks for posting it. So much to learn in this wide world. And the truth, as you found with the San Gabriel Mission is that all paths lead back to home. Or as Whitman said, “I am the world I wander through.”

    Thanks so much for all your efforts to leave comments on my blogs. Peace.

    • I’m so glad you’ll be reading “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and I know the story will touch you! I’ll tell you, Dee, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about the Native Californians, and I’m having quite a time keeping all the new information clear. There is a lot of overlap and some names appear to have been combined into larger tribal groupings. I’m so interested, I’m sure I’ll slowly gain a better understanding. I’m not sure what’s going on as to why I have had trouble leaving comments, Dee, but the settings at times seem to re-set. I’ll figure it out! :-) oxo

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