Memoirs of the Vallejos
(original typed manuscript)
Platon Mariano Guadelupe Vallejo
Dr. Platon Vallejo (1841-1925), author of the following article, was the son of General Mariano Vallejo, one of the most important figures in the early history of California. Although Platon never actually lived among the Suisun Indians, when he was growing up in the 1840s and 1850s in California he had a Suisun Indian for a companion and mentor, and from whom he learned their ways and the southern Patwin dialect that they spoke. Platon in fact was probably one of the last, if not the very last, person to speak the Suisun language. He wrote the narrative that follows in 1914 when he was 73 years old and remembering back to events more than half a century in the past. It was edited by James H. Wilkins, and published as a series of articles from January 27 to February 14, 1914 in the San Francisco Bulletin. However, what is extracted here comes from Platon's original typewritten manuscript in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley.
Inhabitating the north and east shores of the Bay of San Francisco, and far into the interior, was a great Indian tribe, known as the Suysunes, who gave their name to a bay and modern town, the only remaining memory of their existence. They formed a great population, easily forty-thousand souls. By far the greater number inhabitated Sonoma, Solano and Yolo, but their were also many across the Straits of Carquinez, in San Joaquin and Contra Costa. Some had visited the Missions and been baptized, without great profit to themselves, for they were purely primitive---just the same as when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain. I will have more to tell you of these Indians later on.
Chapter IV: The Story of the Pat-Wins - "the Red Children of the Open"
The Suysunes spoke of themselves as "Pat-Win", which does not indicate at all a Celtic origin. The words mean "open people"---people of the open---children of Nature, if you will. That gives the key to their lives and nature.
In the first place, they lived with the seasons. In the spring and summer they swarmed around the pleasant places of the bay and on the banks and watercourses, where the weather was pleasant and food abundant. There they dwelt without shelter, except here and there a brush lean-to. It msy seem strange, but in this respect I have often, as a doctor, advised my patients to become Indians. I think the two best medicines in the world are sunshine and fresh air.
They spent the summer hunting, fishing, gathering food supplies against the winter, but mostly in merriment and sport. They were skillful fishermen, catching all sorts of fish in nets and traps. They also had ingenious nets to snare wild ducks. All stories to the contrary, they were brave and crafty hunters, not only slew the elk, the deer and the antelope, but my father and others have told me that two hunters did not hesitate to attack the savage grizzly bear with bows and arrows. This was an enterprise of extreme danger. THe play was to divert the bear from one hunter to the other until he was disabled and killed. But sometimes bruin singled out one hunter and rushed him to his death, despite everything his companion might do to divert his attention. Skins of animals were dressed to as to be soft and pliant. Such meat as was not eaten fresh was smoked carefully for winter use. They also smoked and preserved great quantities of of salmon and other fish. But the always shunned anything that approached a waste of animal life. They killed only in just proportion of their needs, never in a spirit of wantoness or cruelty---never to make what we call a "bag". It was solely for that reason that game of every kind was so abundant. They had natural game laws, far better than ours.
In winter they returned to higher land, often to a grove that served as a wind break or partial shelter. Here they had winter quarters. In the first place, they excavated a sort of curcular pit or shelter, about five feet deep---goodness knows how, for they had only the most primitive tools. Some of these pits were large. I have seen them thirty feet in diameter, sufficient for a large family. Around the circumference large straight limbs of trees were firmly driven [into the ground] and drawn together at the to, so as to form a sort of cone. The sides were thatched with rushes and brush and the whole covered with a plaster of clay so as to make it water tight. Living in this cellar shielded the inhabitants from the sharp wind, while a fire, burning on a high platform of stones gave them heat, with very little smoke.
As a rule, the floor of this winter hut was covered with either woven mats or with the skins of animals. I have seen many of these habitations myself. It is true that they had no burglar or fire alarms, no telephones, no city heat and stream, no electric light, no water service, no fire escapes, in fact, no modern conveniences at all, but for people ignorant of modern civilization the winter quarters of the Suysunes did well enough. But they were only used in times of stress. Between storms, when the weather moderated, the people loved to sleep outdoors.
The earth cheerfully provided for their needs. Therefore the Suysunes never coaxed her by cultivation. There were many savory roots with which they were familiar and regularly gathered. Some of them I know are very palatable, and nutritious as well. There is a root they called chuchapali, of the celery type, of which they were very fond. This could be made a highly prized market vegetable. It grows wild in great profusion in Sonoma County. Every year I have my feast of chuchapali.
Another thing you will see in all the histories of early California is that the "bestial Indians" used to browse on the pastures like antelope and elk. In this there is an element of truth. In many places a kind of clover grows in a red blossum on a long stem. This has a sweetish, very pleasant taste, and the Indians used to eat it in quantities wherever found. I myself have acquired a taste for this clover when I was a boy, and, what is more, I have retained it ever since. I find that it is not alone agreeable to the palate, but a fine tonic for the stomach as well. In my judgement, it has distinct medicinal values. And so, like the Indians, I have my clover feast every year.
They used the acorn to make bread, this was ground to a powder, soaked in cold water until all the tannin---the bitterness---was removed, and then baked in the ground. Sometimes it was sweetened with wild honey and flavored with blackberries or other fruits. I have often eaten acron bread. It was agreeable to the taste and nutritious. Oak trees were then far more plentiful than now. Acorns fell from them til they often covered the ground inches deep beneath. So the harvesting was an easy matter. The simple cooking of meat or fish was done over coals or by heating water to the boiling point in their wonderful woven watertight jars [baskets], by placing in them red hot stones.
So it can be seen that the Suysun---the Pat-Win---lived in a climate that did not present the imperative command for shelter and clothes, which was inpsired so much of civilization. At the same time he had an almost automatic supply of high-class food in quantities to support hhis inclination. The bays and rivers gave him endless fish and shell fish, the plains and forest gave him meat and the earth gave him fruit vegetables and bread. There were no soup kitchens, no unemployed. It is strange that the Suysun was satisfied, choosing to lead a life of happiness and merriment, instead of breaking his back with work?
And yet the most blistering part of the indictment against the California Indian is the charge that he was an idle, worthless wretch, with an unconquerable aversion to work. That was true enough. It was had to make the Indian understand why he should labor all day in the hot sun, with the plough, the rake or the harrow, foolishly scratching the earth to obtain that which she willngly gave for the asking. That was the hard problem the Padres had to face in the oldern missions. The Suysuns only touched civilization for ten years, then disappeared forever in a vast tragedy, of which I tell later (see chapter X). So their capacity to assimilate work was never fairly tried, but I have a strong belief that they would have proved lacking.
Does anyone love work for itself? On a pleasant summer day, do we prefer to saw a cord of wood or go on a picnic among the trees? Woud you rather keep shop until 10 o'clock at night or go to a moving picture show? The plain truth is, we of civilized life, work because we must, and shun it when we can. The California Indian, removed from the necessity of work, only followed a native human inclination.
There were no tailors of modists among the Suysun Indians. their costumes, even in the present day, would be called scant. The men merely wore a breech clout of fur. the women wore a a sort of petticoat reaching from the waist to the knees, either of fox skin or closely platted grass. This latter was often ornamented by interweaving the many-colored feathers of birds, in rare harmony, so that they work resembled the finest embroidered velvet. Sometimes they wore a cape or collar of fur, but not always. So the female dress was somewhat limited, but still extremely chaste, for the handsome young Indian girls were modest, were utterly unconscious of anything improper or wanting in their attire. Nowadays is a lady but slits her skirt a bit, so as to show a flash of stocking, everyone is apt to say: "My! How suggestive!" And, indeed, it may be suggestive, fo all depends on the way the thing is done. I think the lady in Paris who not so long ago received her guest in the nude had the glimpses of a great idea---that there is nothing inherently more vulgar or immodest in th eundraped living form than in one cut from marble.
Physically, instead of the weak, squat figures described in the histories, my father and his friends always contended that the Suysunes were the finest developed people they ever saw---men and women cast in a noble mold, of which [Chief] Solano, with his six feet seven inches, was a type. I used to sit on his mighty shoulders when a boy and the earth below seemed so remote. I have seen my father say that he had seen several hundred ofthe active class together at a time, any one of whom might have served as a model for a sculpter. Talk about your eugneics! Here was a people who bred true, had no deformed or unhealthy offspring, no word for disease, and a blood entirely without contamination, and that was the cause of their undoing long before the discovery of gold.
My father looked on the Suysunes as the most interesting savages in the world, and held them in high regard. He found them trustful and trustworthy, honest, truthful and, all accounts to the contrary notwithstanding, singularly faithful in their marital relations. Through the help of [Chief] Solano he maintained a type of militia force among these Indians, who gave a sense of security to the settlers in the north.
As a sort of sole custodian of their speech and history, I am going to relate some of the Suisun myths and legends, but first I must tell a story of Solano which cannot fail to interest. (see chapter XI)
Chapter X: Disappearance of the Indian population of California
I now come to the disappearance of the California Indians, about which our grave historians are so grieviously at fault. Most writes, as I have said, lay all the blame on the mission fathers. The Indians, the claim, learned nothing learned nothing by their contact with the white man to help them in a fight for civilized existence. At the same time they had lost the sturdy savage habits that made life easy in the primitive state. Thus all the burden is lifted from the shoulders of the church. The ruined native, like a good philosopher, not wishing to raise an Indian problem in California, quietly effaced himself from the map. Helpless, impoverished and famine-struck from being dead broke, he became simply dead. Such is the story of the red man's disappearnace from the Pacific Coast, if you care to read the various works on early California that our public libraries contain. They tell a tale of automatic retirement, although some mention is made in a casual way of the occurence of a "fever" that helped to thin the ranks.
This explanation does not explain it all. Taking everything for granted, it might account for the vanishment of the neophytes, the mission Indians. But how about the great wild tribes, like the Suysunes, who were never affected by the presence of the padres, either for better or for worse? Even before the Gold Rush they, too, were gone.
The plain truth is so very simple that is passing strange how one should go amiss. The California Indians were annihilated in one of the most violent tragedies that ever overtook a great body of the human race---in a vast epidemic of small-pox, which their uncontaminated blood invited and their ignorance made fatal in almost every case.
The disease swept down the coast in 1837 from the Russian settlements in the north. Vaccination had already been introduced in California. When news of the epidemic came most of thge Spanish resdients were made immune. But it fell on the poor wild savages with the fury of a cloudburst. Their treatment at one made certain a fatal result. When the torture and fever drove them mad they buried their bodies in a stream, cold as ice water, and at once the infirmity struck home. It was not an infrequent case that out of a large rancheria or village not a single survivor remained.
My father and the older men often told me of the horrors of those times. A solemn haze hung like a pall overthe country. The aire was polluted with the stench of decaying human bodies. Parties made up of immunes were hastily sent out, either ot burn or bury the dead. In ther latter case long trenches were dug, none too deep, great numbers of bodies hastily thrown in and the earth with equal haste replaced. Ther plough of the husbandman or the operation of grading have suddenly broke in on great collections of human bone of recent origin. Mush learned speculation has resulted. I wish to account for all such relics. They are only the remains of hapless victims of small-pox who perished in the great epidemic almost eighty years ago.
For three consecutive years, 1837-38-39, the dread disease sewpt the Pacific Coast. Those who escapaed during one year by non-intercourse were caught the next. The scourge seems to have finally spent its force through very lack of victims. Here and there, various mountain tribes survived, and those domiciled around the white settlements, where strong precautions were enforced. But the great communities of Indians, the flower of the aboriginal race, were swept away in a common, hideous fate. My father and Solano in 1835, estimated the number of Suysunes at not less than 40,000. After the pestilence there were a scant 200 left. Solano, who been vaccinated, survived, a king without a kingdom, mourning for his departed nation. My father told me that in 1840 he rode up through the San JOaquin Valley, almost to the Tulares through the region he had known as thickly populated by the native race. In all that long journey they saw only three or four aborigines, who seemed dazed with the immensity of their misfortune and cried out in anguish to be taken anyplace where they might look upon the human face. But everywhere they found rancherias, whitened with skeletons, picked by the beaks of vultures and the teeth of animals of prey.
A wretched remnant was left. After secularization a few men had acquired the liquor taste hung around bars, or cantinas, doing odd jobs in exchange for jobs. The women were equally debase, the victims of newly-introduced diseases of the sexes. A sodden drunkard of the white race is not an object to contemplate, and an Indian alcoholic wreck is equally repulsive.
That is what the gold seekers saw, these and a few skulking predatory tribes in the mountains. And at once they agreed with unanimity here was the lowest, most degraded form of humanity to be found in all the world. And when it came to the sudden disappearance of the neophytes and others, that was also explained to the general satisfaction. They had been killed off by the influence of the Catholic Church. And if such facts and inferences is much of the thing we call made up history.
This is the only true story of the Indian extinction. I have it first-hand from the father and mother, who could never speak of those events without emotion. It is the plain, unadorned truth from many Spanish people, from the Chief Solano, and from other Indians. Every other story, without the least qualification on my part, is absolutely false.
A strange incident occured in the great epidemic which was a bearing on this story. I have told how the dead were buried hastily in trenches, a hundred or more funerals taking place at one time. The covering of earth was very light. The country abounded in wild beasts and they often invaded these improvised cemeteries for a feast on human flesh. A large burial had taken place not far from Sonoma, and that night an animal---a wolf, coyote or bear---digging for his nocturnal repast, came on the body of a victim not yet dead---he had been buried alive by accident.
At the same time, a man, happening to ride by the place, heard someone cry out in great agony and distress. It was what we call weird or uncanny, and it is possible that the hair of the horseman lifted just a bit. However, he made the sign of the cross, like a good Christian, and, thus protected from the evil one, rode forward and found a wild animal making a meal of the right leg of th eliving Indian, whom it had dragged from the burial ground. The horseman drove away the wild beast, drew away the sick and injured man to a place of safety and watched him during the night. The next day the resurrected man was brought to the neighborhood of my father's hacienda, was carefully nursed, and almost incredible to relate, recovered his health. But as the bear had eaten a piece out of his right ham, he was more or less disabled. In fact, a man who is left for dead with small-pox, is buried alive, resurrected from the grave by a body-snatcher of a bear and partially devoured, who yet survives in any shape, can assert with much justice that he has "been uo against the real thing", as we say expressively in the English tongue.
The Indian's name was "Tomo". The reader will place the accent with stress on th efinal letter"o". He was lame for life, but still he was capable to mind a band of Merino sheep, children of the same sheep brought over from England by Don Timoteo Murphy. These were not pertinent to the hacienda, but the privagte property of my mother. Many people now living in Sonoma and Solano counties can remember old Tomo. By and by his duties were extended. He not only herded sheep, but herded me. As a samll buy, I was extremely fond of Tomo. From him I learned the great intelligency, a fine storyteller, and it was from him that my head was filled with legendary lore, with various stories of his race and with an assortment of odds and ends of Indian information.
Having thus introduced my Indian teacher, I will tell you a little of what he taught.
Chapter XI: Language of the Suysun Indians
The language of the Suysun Indians was very far from being the primitive speech of savages. Rather it was the tongue of a people with a lively, joyous, poetic imagination, with a deep love of nature and a true perception of the beautiful. Therefore, it was of a necessity expressive, with a fairly full vocabulary. Once in a while, to keep my hand in, I amuse myself by writing Suysun. I find that I can readily translate any ordinary book into this Indian dialect. Recently I translated the Lord's prayer with signal success.
Different shades of meaning are conveyed in this language by assembling together several words into one. I can illustrate by the Indian names of several landmarks around the bay.
The particle "pa" added to a word, indicates nearness, proximity. Thus Napa literally means "near mother", or "near home" or "motherland". The tradition ran that Napa Valley was the cradle of the Suysun race.
The fine mountain at the north end of the Golden Gate was called by the Indians Temel-pa, meaning "near the sea". It was long known to the Spaniards by that name.
My father had an impression or theory of how the name Temel-pa was corrupted into Tamalpais. At his country club at the foot of the mountain the succulent "tamale", very different from article now vended in the delicatessan shops, was of frequent occurrence. Out of this word and the Spanish word "pais", meaning "country", his guests coined a nickname, "Tamalpais", meaning the "land of the tamale", and this being close in sound to the Indian word, in time came to supercede it.
Similarly the article "ma" added to the word meant "valley", or, more generally, "land".
Thus petaluma is a combination of three Suysun words, Pe-talu-ma, and by translation signifies "Oh! fair vale", or, "Oh! fair land".
About Sonoma, I hesitate to disturb a poetical idea, but the truth never hurts. "Sano", in Suysun means "moon". I think, but am not sure, that my father was the first who translated "Sonoma" as the "valley of the moon". No name could be more true. When the moon rises over the hills of Contra Costa, big as a cartwheel, on a pleasant summer's night, the whole valley seems flooded by its golden light.
Still I had my doubts whether the translation was accurate or not. One day I was talking to my Indian mentor. "Tell me Tomo", I asked, "does Sonoma mean Valley of the Moon?". Old Tomo laughed, shook his head and said "No". Then he went on to disclose some of his Suysun lore.
In the far, distant past he said, a child was born of the race, destined for great things. It was the Indian custom to name the male offspring by some distinguished personal mark. In the case of this child, the prominent feature was the nose. "Sono" means "nose" in the Suysun speech, and "Sono" became his name. The boy grew to become a man of mighty strength and his nose grew apace until it reached the dimensions of a Cyrano de Bergerac type.
Now, a great nose always indicates character and force. This proved true in Sono's case. He united the scattered tibes in a common band, arranged for defence against predatory assault, was a kind of rude lawgiver, defined the tribal rules and is said to have been the author among the Suysuns whereby in cases of adultery the punishment was meted out to the male alone, a custom without parallel in our more highly polished nations.
Well, Sono became an autocrat. Supreme in his country---a king in fact. And having thus a kingdom, it was bound to have a name, and what more natural that it should be named from him? So a large territory was named after the Suysun fashion "Nose valley". or perhaps, as we should say in English, "Nosey's land".
That was the story of old Tomo. The sole question to be determined is whether the word Sonoma is derived from "Sano" meaning "moon", or "Sono" meaning "nose". Everyone is welcome to make his choice. For myself, I like best the moon version, because it fits in better with present facts. The nose has long since passed into dust, the moon is ever here.
Chapter XI continued: A Suysun Myth
The Suysun Indians had a way for accounting for everything in the physical world such as storms, drought, lightening, tides and so forth. These do not correspond closely with recent scientific research, but they give entire satisfaction to the native mind. They even had a theory, somewhat plausable, for earthquakes.
I was walking one day in the country with old Tomo. Near where we passed a gopher, or mole, was busily engaged just below the ground, heaping up a hill of earth. The hill was much agitated by the active movements of the little animal beneath. "See", said old Tomo, "that is how earthquakes come. it is Pui (devil) burrowing and heaving in the earth".
And we know little more that this today, with all our science and research.
The Indians, not alone the Suysunes, had a persistnt tradition that the entire Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys were once part of an immense, deep, freshwater sea, divided from the ocean by a narrow barrier of hills and mountains. A group of hills in Yolo County was always known as the "Islands of Yulupa". According to the Indians, they were once islets of the sweet water basin, near the sunset. Ancient water marks and other geological evidence seems to indicate that the old native tradition was founded on fact, handed down by folklore from one generation to another, through the centuries. This is the story of the mighty change of nature told to me by old Tomo, as the two of us sat on a rail fence, late in the afternoon in the Valley of Sonoma.
"In the ancient days", said old Tomo, "the gods were much more amicable than now. Often they made humans a visitation. So it happened that one day on a great plain, far to the eastward, the Sun God in his course saw a multitude of people assembled. As the day's task was nearly done, and he felt in the mood for adventure, the god swiftly assumed the human form and appeared among the wondering people. But who would not be glad to welcome any one as bright and brillant as the Sun. Chiefs and medicene men quickly gathered round him, but he had eyes for only one. That was the loveliest of mortals, a beautiful young princess in her early teens."
"No other lover is as ardent as the Sun. At once he made his suit to the maiden, called her his sweetheart, whispered in her ear many things that young girls want to hear. But his time was brief for courtship. Even now he must be mounting upward on his course. So, as he saw the maiden's heart was won, He lifted her gently with one arm and vaulted skyward."
"Up and up he sped on his journey, but the maiden was a heavy burden in his flight, though she smiled joyously at her strange lover. Strive as he might, he could not reach the beaten path, where everything was smooth and where his godlike form and strengh would be regained. So together they flew swiftly westward, crossing mountain range and valley, till they came to the margin of the great lake of sweet water beyond which was the open sea. And here again the Sun God made a mighty effort, but just as he reached the beaten path, just as he resumed celestial form, he stumbled, staggered and fell backward, plunging downward with his burden, like a vast meteor on the western world."
"The Sun God had lost his balance, but not his head. He aimed to alight on the peak of Mt. Diablo. But where his foot struck, the mountain was cleft in twain, so there are two peaks instead of one. The god, hurled headlong by the shock, fell into the deep, sweet water lake."
"When his mighty arm straightened it broke a gap through the mountain barrier to the straights of Yulupa. His fist sooped up a vast handful, reaching from Port Costa to Alviso, and the fragments were cast far into the ocean. You can still some of the rocks, ten leagues from land, which we call Farallone Islands. And the sweet waters of the lake rushed forward as a flood to join the salt sea."
"Soon the great lake was drained, till there remained only a far-reaching plain of silt, not pleasant to the eye, overwhich the ever thoughtful gods spread a many-colored carpet of the choicest flowers."
"And the maiden? Alas: what mortal could survive the shock? Looking from the northward you can see the placid outline of her face, with hair streaming down to the bay of San Francisco. just where the saddened Sun God laid her on the graceful mountain---Temel-pa---Near the Sea."
"All day long the Sun God looks down on her silent form. And when his task is over and he makes the evening plunge his warm heart and the cold ocean water weave a misty fabric, covering gently with a snow-white fabric her dear face by night."
Many of the older Suysun Indians lived on my father's land around Sonoma, and all their wants were carefully provided for as a duty he owed to friends. Old Tomo was the last to drop from life, in 1860, as near as I can remember. He became quite a musician, aspired to be a poet in the Suysun tongue, and even wrote verses in Spanish that were not half-bad. He was widely known as a philospher and a great repository of ancient lore, taking much pride in his distinction. Very peacefully at last, he went to sleep with his father.