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

How are General George S. Patton, the San Gabriel Mission and an old grist mill connected? Come take a field trip with me and I’ll explain.

Mark Twain said, “One of the most admirable things about history is, that almost as a rule we get as much information out of what it does not say as we get out of what it does say.”  

As I continue to study early California history, I uncover more stories connected  to early mission life, and the more I discover, the more I realize I now have additional research questions.

I suppose this is why historians often choose a particular era or even one single historical event and then dedicate their work to becoming experts. I have no design on fashioning myself into an expert, but I’m definitely hooked and have multiple areas of early California history begging for my attention.

This week I was able to stay very local, within five miles of my home, and take my field trip to another historic landmark. El Molino Viejo, or The Old Mill, a former grist mill associated with the operation of the San Gabriel Mission.

The mission was founded on September 8, 1771, dedicated to farming and self-sufficiency. One of the remaining mission structures is less than ten miles from current mission property, the Old Mill, built by the Tongva-Gabrielino Mission Indian laborers around 1816, as designed by Franciscan Father Jose Maria de Zalvidea.

Between 1816-1823 the Old Mission gathered water from an adjacent canyon and the mill was responsible for grinding enough wheat and corn to feed the mission inhabitants.

Be sure to read the story on the plaque and see how General George Patton recovered the millstones.

A surprise to many who live locally, the water that left the grinding area then flowed to what is now the very popular Lacy Park. The padres used the water that accumulated into a bog  for wool-washing, and as a tannery and sawmill.

In 1846, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor or Alta California sold the property and it is there that new stories open into the settling of the Pasadena area. I am working on those bites of history and will look forward to sharing them with you as I do a bit more local touring.

I hope you’ll enjoy photos of the current mill site . The mill is the oldest commercial building in Southern California and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped and maintained by The San Marino Women’s Garden Club, “The Diggers,” with specific attention devoted to native plants. This late in the season there isn’t much in bright color, but I’ll be going again in the spring to note the changes. It is really quite lovely as it is with natural brush, many fruit trees, wild grasses and succulents.

The birds, bees, butterflies and small animals are very much at home!

Part of my personal study is to better understand complex stories and find a way to share them without overwhelming amounts of information. My exercise in studying the historical record is indeed at least scratching the surface of what is “said and unsaid.”

Indigenous “Californians” date back some 13,000-15,000 years. It’s impossible to study the life and activities of the mission without acknowledging that all mission success was realized at the expense of the native Gabrielino-Tongvan people. Their story is much more complex than I can develop in a single blogpost, but there are 6,000 Indians buried at Mission San Gabriel Arcangel.  There is a lot to learn.

And as I share, I don’t expect others to remember all the details, but I hope it excites you enough to think about what little historical field trips you might make to better know your own local history. Be careful, though. It’s addicting.

An archaeological dig practically in my backyard. Really!

I love history and I like to consider life with a nod to historical context, so I’m doing my version of a happy dance (mostly in my head) at the latest happenings in my town– the City of San Gabriel.  We have very prominently been in the news for the last six weeks, and it would seem that all of a sudden I have a crowd of people enjoying what I’ve been appreciating since I was a child! Hang in there with me…I have to supply the background to my excitement!

There is a great deal of history connected to the City of San Gabriel, the City with a Mission, and the surrounding neighborhood, the Mission District, which includes the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, Historical Museum and many other cultural sites. Heavily influenced by mission architecture, the charm and importance of the District is designated by the National Parks Service as an interpretive center for the De Anza National Historic Trail that runs from the Mexican border to San Francisco.

I have a deep appreciation for the San Gabriel Mission, one of the 21 Spanish Missions scattered along California’s El Camino Real, or “The Royal Highway.” The Mission San Gabriel Arcangel was the fourth established Mission, founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra.  The Spanish-Moorish style Mission is a large, particularly beautiful structure. Its bell tower and outside stairway is very different from the other Missions, and it is constructed from stone, brick and mortar instead of adobe. The Mission Cemetery is notable for the many pioneer families buried on the premises and it was from the San Gabriel Mission that 11 families left on September 4, 1781, to found El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles. Not medieval history, perhaps, but cool!

The high school I attended is also in the same district and I have felt a kinship with this great structure for most of my life, but I happen to know as a certainty that for many local residents the Mission has just “always been there” and it only gets fresh attention when we have an earthquake and it suffers a little damage–a California “shaker” brings out everyone’s concern.

Well, what do you know, but it is getting plenty of attention now! Ta-Da!  We have our very own high-profile archaeological dig taking place within walking distance of our home and adjacent the Mission. A 2.2-mile construction project to lower a little more than a mile of Union Pacific railroad track into a below street level trench has been temporarily put on hold.  Archaeologists were called in when remnants of early Mission life were uncovered.

Archaeologists have currently unearthed the remnants of a mill dating back to the 18th century as well as foundations and footholds of other buildings once associated with Mission property, including the remainder of an important and informative water route. Clay stones with animal paw prints, an 1816 gold piece depicting the likeness of Ferdinand of Italy, spiritual medallions, as well as animal bones are part of the 20,000 already retrieved, with the promise of more artifacts being sifted in the more than 300 containers of soil (daily!) providing clues into how people lived.

You can't see it well...but here's the site of all the flurry!

The dig is being monitored by representatives of the Gabrieleno Tongva Native American Tribe (a significant part of Mission history) to assure dignity and respectful handling of human remains–thus far, no human remains have been uncovered, but the dig is an ongoing and lively excavation.

Because the site is in a very high traffic area (they were lowering railroad track after all!) it is not at all convenient for the public to observe, even from a distance, however, educators have been given private tours of the site and school field trips have been carefully planned. A webcam (which works most of the time!) has been installed and I drive by every couple of days…my yoga class is across the street…and I’m excited just to know it’s there! I’m anticipating the final reports and the possibility of future museum exhibitions.

It’s not difficult to accept that our local economy is boosted by the combination of Disneyland, Pasadena Rose Bowl/Rose Parade revenues and the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, but I often wish Southern California historical sites were more of a tourist draw! This may be a good start to renewing interest in local history. I simply had to share my interest and enthusiasm. I frankly think it is VERY exciting!

I just can’t tell you how much this little journey has increased my historical knowledge and at the same time given a nice little boost to my sense of well-being! Should something incredible be unearthed, you’ll hear it from me!

Debra