The Pomo at Point Cabrillo

Our club, the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society, has connections with the folks who volunteer at nearby Point Cabrillo lighthouse. Club member Joe Green works at the Gift Shop; Roger Thornburn, our website guru and his wife, Nancy, help with the maintenance and the gardens respectively. Joe told me that the historical displays had been updated and were first class. As I had not visited the lighthouse since I was quite sick I persuaded my wife Sarah to take a hike to see if what Joe had told me was right.

Point Cabrillo lighthouse must be one of the most photographed “things” along the Mendocino Coast – witness these shots:

Point Cabrillo at Sunset

Point Cabrillo at Sunset

Shot from the headlands at Mendocino with Point Cabrillo in the distance

Shot from the headlands at Mendocino with Point Cabrillo in the distance

Point Cabrillo

Point Cabrillo

Just had Joe had told me the exhibits inside the lighthouse were beautifully presented. There was a small but informative display about the Pomo as well as nice section and model of the Frolic. Check out our website here if you don’t know how the wreck of the frolic was the event that opened up the Mendocino Coast to logging.

One snippet on one of the displays really got me going …… “The region encompassing today’s Point Cabrillo reserve was favoured by the Mi-toam’ Kai Pomo (Wooded Valley People) ………… within the 300 acre Preserve there are 18 prehistoric sites.” I was totally freaked out that just one sentence was devoted to what must be a major historical site. I decided on the way home that greatly enhancing our website section on the Pomo is going way up there on my to-do list.


Pomo, The Native Americans around Comptche

A recent e-mail from a visitor to our website has caused me to redouble my efforts to find out as much as I can about the Pomo who ACTUALLY lived along the Mendocino Coast. As a result I am re-reading/scouring all the “Sources” we have in the website for “stuff” that I have missed. My diligence has been rewarded ….. read on.

All roads lead to Comptche according to Katy Tahja’s beautifully written history of Comptche. And, where is Comptche? Let Katy tell you:

“All roads lead to Comptche It seems that way driving through Mendocino County. Along the coast on Highway 1, you see Albion-Little River Road with a sign for Comptche along the north bank of the Albion River. Then at Little River you see another sign for Comptche and Little River Airport Road headed east towards Comptche.

Just before Mendocino on the south bank of Big River the Comptche-Ukiah Road branches off from the inland ukiak Valley. Orr Springs Road winds 32 miles west to Comptche and dusty Low Gap Road will also take you there. Travel on Highway 128, and from Flynn Creek Road Comptche is nine miles north.

Intrigued you wonder what kind of town deserves so many signs and roads. If you should travel one of these forested county roads you might pass a school and the church, reach Comptche Corners with store and post office, then look around and say, “This is it?”

Comptche Corners may be where the roads intersect but Comptche is spread out through the valleys and ridges for miles around. Tucked away down dirt driveways and over creek bridges are folks who have called Comptche home for generations.”

Sketch Map by Katy Tahja of Comptche

Sketch Map by Katy Tahja of Comptche

How did Comotche get its name? Katy explains:

“According to Charlotte Hook, daughter of one of the first settlers Comptche was the name of a Pomo chief who visited the area and it meant, “in the valley among the hills”.

As Katy explains in a section of her book entitled “Native Pathways” the Pomo did not live in Comptche but had trails from the interior valley through Comptche to the ocean’s edge. Let Katy explain:

“In summer travels to the coast for foods to add variety to their diets, they [the Pomo] took two trails through Comptche. One from the Ukiah valley followed ridges west to Sky Ranch and Hayslett Hill, then down to Surprise Valley. The other route came north out of Hopland through Orr Springs area, and on west to the Hook Ranch. Both trails joined at the west end of the Comptche valley and followed along the current country road known as Comptche-Ukiah Road winding to the sea.”

Katy describes what and where the Pomo ate:

“Boulders in the Albion River show grinding holes where the Pomo used stone pestles to grind acorns gathered in the Comptche valley into a fine meal for mush. Fish, mussels, clams and crabs were from the coast by Pomo and dried in the warn Comptche sunshine as was the kelp and seaweed used for food and medicine. Abalone dried until it looked like a horse hoof, then slivers were cut off and sucked for nourishment by the natives.

Pomo hunted bear, elk, deer and rabbit and fished for trout and salmon. Pomos dug tubers and roots and edible seeds and wild oats were gathered.”

Katy on the famous Pomo baskets:

“Twelve different plants provided materials for the Pomo coiled and twined baskets. Willow brush shelters provided natives with summer homes in the valley and they were reported to have three sweat houses on the Hook Ranch valued for its curative powers by the Pomo.”

Coast Pomo Girl

Coast Pomo Girl

And Pomo relations with the Comptche settlers? Katy again:

“Settlers got along well with the Pomo and allowed them to pass and camp unhindered through the valley. Newman Hook promised never to cut “indian acorn orchards” or destroy salmon fishing spots and Charles Ottoson protected their camp on the valley’s west end. Today arrowheads and stone tools are being found in Comptche soil.”

Native Indian Pomo Between Ten Mile River and Rockport

Pomo Wikiups

Pomo Wikiups

If you have been following this blog you will see that I have been trying to get a handle on the Pomo that lived along the Mendocino Coast. Sources have appeared for Fort Bragg and the Noyo and Mendocino. I was reminded by a blog reader that there is a very, very good section on the Pomo in the book, “Belonging to Places – The Evolution of Coastal Communities and Landscapes between Ten Mile River and Cottoneva Creek”, by Thad M. Van Beuren,” which I own. Ok, no comment.

Pages 15 through 26 of the book detail the arrival and demise of the Pomo along the Mendocino Coast. These pages are replete with numerous sources for the information and I have added those sources to my “get and read” list (which is already long!)

Of particular interest is a section of the table on page 113 entitled, “Nativity of Population in Westport Area”.

Pomo and Non Native American Population

Pomo and Non Native American Population

As you can see there were not many Pomo in relation to the non-Native Americans who came into the area.

Now to update the website page whilst I have all this in my head!

The Pomo of Big River, Mendocino

Somebody out there loves me! In response to my last blog on the local Pomo Native Americans and the paucity of information about them I received an e-mail pointing me to the website of the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. Stanford Inn? You jest? No ….. just read the extract below from the website about the Pomo who lived on and around Big River at Mendocino.

The Mitom Pomo – Early Settlements

Big River’s two histories, one natural and the other cultural, converged sometime in the last 10,000 years. Ten thousand years ago, the sea level was some 300 feet below where we know it today and Big River was 3 1/2 miles longer. There was no Mendocino headland. Big River cut through a marine escarpment emptying into the Pacific. The lower sea level allowed Asians to cross to North America. Among them were people of the Hokan language family who made their way south and settled in California. The Pomo, a distinct and isolated Hokan group, occupied what are now Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties.

When the Pomo arrived is not known, nor do we know what they found. They may have lived along a coast now buried underwater but nevertheless, by the time Europeans arrived they were well established in Mendocino County. The Me-tum’mah, or Mitom Pomo, lived in the area of Little Lake Valley near Willits and claimed the coast from south of the Noyo River at what is now Fort Bragg, to just north of the Navarro River, eighteen miles south.

Big River is the principle stream draining land from just west and south of Willits. The area was prolific. Near Willits were abundant oaks producing the Mitom’s dietary staple, acorns. To the west was Big River and the Pacific teeming with wildlife and importantly, kelp, a source of salt. To make tools, the Mitom traded with the another Pomo group, the Mato who made their coastal encampment north of the Noyo River. The Mato had direct access to obsidian, a volcanic glass, used to make points (arrow and spear heads) scrapers and other tools. Bits of obsidian can still be found throughout the Mendocino area.

The Mitom called their coastal camp “Bool-dam”or Buldam signifying “big holes” for the blowholes on the headlands at Mendocino and Russian Gulch.

Buldam was not a permanent home for the Mitom until they sought to escape the influx of Europeans settling Little Lake Valley. They permanently moved to Buldam in approximately 1850.

Households were setup near freshwater springs and occasionally artifact remnants can be found, including pieces of worked obsidian, broken pestles used for grinding and worked pieces of chert. The fate of the Mitom is not clearly known. Some were part of 200 Pomos who were rounded up by the U.S. Army in the early 1850’s and removed from the coast.

How about them onions!!!!!!

View from Stanford Inn (taken from the Stanford Inn website) that the Pomo would have had

View from Stanford Inn (taken from the Stanford Inn website) that the Pomo would have had of Mendocino Bay

Pomo – The Native Americans of the Mendocino Coast

When I was sequestered in hospital recently I took time to stand back and look at the website from the perspective of a visitor. Generally I was quite pleased. One page I was quite distressed about, was the one on the Native Americans of the Mendocino Coast – the Pomo.

Regretfully, if you travel from Rockport to Gualala there is virtually no evidence that they ever existed. If you read our website, whilst you can get a glimpse of their life-style and genius in the art of making baskets, the page tells you nothing about the Pomo who lived right around Fort Bragg and Mendocino. That bothered me.

I figured that there must be something somewhere that I had missed. Whilst I cast my net widely it didn’t catch any fish. So I kind of gave up. And then quite by accident the other day I was looking for information on the history of fishing in Noyo harbor here in Fort Bragg. And what did I find right here in the website, “local” information on the Pomo. I felt a right twit.

If you go to the bottom of the website page on the town of Noyo (link here) the full text of a book called “The Noyo” can be accessed. Flip to Page 7 and you will find a longish chapter devoted to the “Indians of the Mendocino Coast”. All I have to do now is link the book onto the Pomo website page.

Here’s the book cover.

Cover of The Noyo book

Cover of The Noyo book

Belonging to Places: The Evolution of Coastal Communities and Landscapes between Ten Mile River and Cottoneva Creek by Thad M. Van Beuren

Belonging To Places Book Cover

Belonging To Places Book Cover

This book, recently published the Mendocino Historical Review is a REAL history book …… definitely the best I have read on the Redwood Coast. As it states in the preface, “it takes the long view”. You can learn about coast erosion, the Pomo, the people and the significant events that happened from Ten Mile up to Rockport. Superb.

This book goes way beyond what our website provides in the way of history. Our website concentrates on the background to the layout we are building. There is little information in the website on the people who built the towns from Rockport to Gualala.

I bought my copy in the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. An absolute bargain at $16.95 if you are a local history buff

Pomo, the Native Americans of the Mendocino Coast ….. Gone and Nobody Cares

It galls me to write this blog.

If you drive from Gualala to Rockport there is absolutely NOTHING to tell you that before the white man in 1850 this was the home of the Pomo. Fort Bragg was the, albeit short-lived , home of the Pomo reservation. There is nothing anywhere in the town to say just that. In the 12 years that I have lived in Fort Bragg I have never heard the Pomo mentioned in the plans for the old Union Lumber Company site. SHAME.

The Pomo were probably the best basket weavers ever, anywhere. There is but one small display in the town of Mendocino to attest to their genius.

Example of a Pomo Basket

According to Katy Tahja, a local author, she remembers 20 years ago state parks had vague plans to construct a Pomo village on park lands like Point Reyes National Seashore has at Kule Loko (a reconstructed Miwok Indian village). The site, Katy believes, was close to the Brewery Gulch Inn in Mendocino. A group of local Pomo’s were offering ideas.

Katy is very knowledgeable of the Pomo. In her colourful past she was, among other things, a professional storyteller. She lived and worked with Hupa, Yurok and Karuk Indian natives in Humboldt County. These natives are “cousins” (see map) to the Pomo. In costume, and with native baskets, Katy does “Indian Uses of Native Plants” talks. Katy shares her knowledge and stories with the permission of the Hupa native elder with whom she studied.

Map showing Native American Indians along the Northern California Coast

Katy did a storytelling event in a roughly constructed traditional Pomo bark house at the Brewery Gulch site. What was magical, she told me, was that she could not see the highway and the ocean spread in front of her as she told her story and she could easily imagine what it would have been like to live there before white men came.

Neither Katy nor I have any notion of what happened to the idea to construct a “permanent” Pomo village. If you do have some information we would appreciate you making contact. If you have any other ideas about how to get the history of the Pomo the recognition I think it deserves, again, please contact this voice in the wilderness.

Plants used by the Pomo

On a fairly recent visit to the Grace Museum I took in a marvelous exhibit of how the Pomo Indians, the native North Americans of Mendocino County, gathered their food. Regretfully there was no book on sale at the museum I could buy to further my knowledge.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and this one’s unprepossessing cover certainly belies its contents. The book is a reprint. “Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California” by V.K. Chestnut was first published by the United States Department of Agriculture Division of Botany in 1902. The book is an encyclopedia devoted to the knowledge the Pomo had of the plants they used and gathered for food. Until reprinted in 1974 it had long been out of print but much sought after by herbalists. Having read through it I can understand why. The book provided chapter and verse to back up what I learned from the museum exhibit.

At the time of my exhibit visit I was amazed at the diversity of the Pomo food and what a healthy diet it was. This book proves beyond doubt that the Pomo were totally intimate with nature and its healthy bounty. It made me feel quite ashamed of my scant knowledge of what lives around me.

Plants used by the Indians, 1974 reprint of a 1902 book

Plants used by the Indians, 1974 reprint of a 1902 book