SPANISH AND INDIAN PLACE NAMES
THEIR MEANING AND THEIR ROMANCE
Nellie van de Grift Sanchez
Yolo is the name of a county in the northern part of the Central Valley, and of a village near Woodland. Yolo, or Yoloy, was the name of a Patwin tribe, and the word is said by the Bureau of Ethnology to mean "a place abounding with rushes." In 1884 there were still forty-five of the tribe living in Yolo County.
This county, situated in the Central Valley, immediately northeast of San Francisco, was named, at the request of General Mariano Vallejo, in honor of an Indian chief of the Suisunes who had aided him in war against the other natives. The name of this chief in his own tongue is said to have been Sem Yeto, "the Fierce one of the Brave Hand," or Sum-yet-ho, "the Mighty Arm," and, judging by the description given of him by Dr. Vallejo, he must have been a living refutation of the common belief that the California Indians were invariably squat and ill-formed, for he was a splendid figure of a man, six feet, seven inches in height and large in proportion. He was converted to Christianity and received the name of the celebrated missionary, Francisco Solano, as well as a grant of land containing 17,752 acres, known as the Suisun Grant.
Suisun Bay is a body of navigable water connected with San Pablo Bay by the Carquinez Strait, and is the outlet of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. Suisun City is in Solano County, on a slough, about fifty miles northeast of San Francisco. Suisun was the name of an Indian village on that bay, and the word is said by some persons to mean a "big expanse." The name was probably first given to the land grant.
This region was the home of an important tribe of Indians who had an interesting and tragic history. Their religious capital, if such it could be called, was at Napa, near which place there was a certain stone from which they believed one of their gods had ascended into upper air, leaving the impress of his foot upon the stone. General Vallejo says that in 1817 a military expedition under command of Lieutenant Jose Sanchez crossed the straits of Carquinez on rafts, for the double purpose of exploring the country and reducing it to Christianity. "On crossing the river they were attacked by the Suisun tribe, headed by their chief Malaca, and the Spaniards suffered considerable loss; the Indians fought bravely, but were forced to retire to their rancheria, where, being hotly pursued, and believing their fate sealed, these unfortunate people, incited by their chief, set fire to their own rush-built huts, and perished in the flames with their families. The soldiers endeavored to stay their desperate
resolution, in order to save the women and children, but they preferred this doom to that which they believed to await them at the hands of their enemies." The Suisun tribe is now entirely extinct, a large number having been carried off by a frightful epidemic of smallpox. Dr. Vallejo states that this tribe, a people described by him as possessing many attractive qualities, was estimated by his father to number at least 40,000 persons in 1835. After the great epidemic, which was brought down by the Russians from the north, and which lasted during the three consecutive years of 1837-38-39, there were barely two hundred left. Thus the disappearance of the California Indians was occasioned, not by the white man's bullets or firewater, nor even by the deteriorating influence of a changed mode of living, nor by the loss of native sturdiness through an acquired dependence upon the church, but suddenly and fearfully by the introduction of the hideous diseases of civilization.
Tolenos, in Yolo County, is probably a misspelling of Yolenos, from the Indian Yolo.
CALIFORNIA PLACE NAMES OF
A. L. Kroeber
Bolbones, or more fully Arroyo de las Nueces y Bolbones, a grant in Contra Costa County, probably derives its name from a village whose inhabitants were called Volvon, Bolbon, and Bulbones by the
Spaniards. See Bancroft, Native Races, I, 453.
Carquinez straits, in San Francisco Bay, are named from a Southern Wintun 'tribe' or village, Carquin or Karkin.
Napa County and City are said by Maslin and others to be named from an Indian word meaning "fish." Bailey gives a derivation from an Indian "tribe," while Gannett says the word means "house" in
Indian. No Indian village called Napa has ever been located in the' region. As regards the meaning "fish," "harpoon-point" is perhaps to be substituted, since Barrett, Pomo, 293, says that no such word as Napa has been found in the Wintun, Wappo, or Miwok languages, which are the ones that would come in question, but that the word is used in several of the Pomo dialects, some of which were spoken not
far away, as the name of the detachable points of the native fish harpoon, although there is no distinct evidence that this is the origin of the name Napa.
Pomo, a post-oflfice in Potter Valley, Mendocino County, embodies the name Pomo or Poma—meaning "people" and much used as a suffix of village names—which in literature and popular usage has come
to designate a large group or linguistic family of Indians in Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma counties. It was, however, also the name of one particular village of the Northern Pomo, which stood at the present
Potter Valley flour mill, south of the post-office, and is probably the source of the name of the town. Barrett, Pomo, 140.
Sotoyome, a land grant in Sonoma County, is given by Bailey as from Spanish soto yo me, literally, "forest I me," which he makes by a peculiar idiom into "my own forest." What is perhaps the same name in another spelling, Sotoyama, he interprets as a compound of Spanish soto, forest, and "Indian" yama, lake—which would be equally remarkable. Barrett, Pomo, 218, says that the chief of the Southern Pomo village of Wotokkaton (on the Luce Ranch a short distance upstream from Healdsburg and across the Russian River from the town), was known as Santiago; also as Manteca, literally
"lard," evidently a Spanish nickname corresponding to English 'Fat'; and also as Soto; and that "it is from this latter name that Sotoyome is derived, the latter part of the name signifying 'the home of'."
Whether Soto is a third Spanish name of this conspicuous individual, or Indian, is not certain ; but it is clear that even if the word Sotoyome is good Pomo it is not an ancient name of a locality, for the California Indians, before contact with the whites, never based the permanent appelation of a village or locality on the name of a person. It seems therefore that Sotoyome is an Indian place-name formed by Indians from a personal name in Spanish times.
Suisun Bay, and Suisun City, in Solano County, bear the name of a prominent "tribe", that is, probably a village, of the Patwin or Southern Wintun Indians of this region. This village is often mentioned in Spanish sources, but has not been exactly located.
Suscol Creek, in Napa County, is the aboriginal Southern Wintun village of Suskol.
Tolenas, or Tolenos, in Solano County, is apparently named from a South Wintun Indian village. Taylor, quoted in Bancroft, Native Races, i, 452. Sanchez (1914), 268, 436, suggests a misspelling of Yolenos, perhaps Yolenos, as the Spaniards might have called the Yolo Indians.
Ulatus or Ulatis or Ualtis Creek, in Solano County, bears a name evidently connected with that of the South Wintun or Patwin Indian division called Olulato, Ululato, or Ullulata. Compare, Powers, 218, and Bancroft, Native Races, i, 452, 453.
Yolo County is named, as Maslin says, from Yo-loy, a tribal name. The "tribe" was of course a village, of the Patwin or Southern Wintun, which stood at Knight's Landing and was called Yoloi, or more probably Yodoi. Maslin 's and Gannett 's definition, "a place thick with rushes, " is at best approximate; if that is what the "Wintun meant, they would have said merely "rushes," or in California parlance "tules. " This seems a reasonable name, but available "Wintun vocabularies show only forms like hlaka and hlop for "tule," and nothing resembling yodoi. Barrett, Pomo, 294, quotes Miss Kathryn Simmons as mentioning a chief Yodo at Knight's Landing. Analogy with other cases would lead to the conclusion that this chief's name had been applied by the whites to his people and his village; but Dr. Barrett's Indian informants, and the author's, know of yodoi only as a place name, and one without meaning.
HISTORY OF SOLANO COUNTY
J. P. Munro Fraser, Historian.
DERIVATION OF SOLANO COUNTY NAME
The origin of the name of the county is thus described in a report to the Legislature of California, in the year 1850, by General M. G. Vallejo, on the derivation and definition of the various counties of the State. He thus alludes to SOLANO: "This is the second name of the celebrated missionary, Francis Solano, and was borne by the great chief of the tribes originally denominated Suisuns, and scattered over the western side of the river Jesus Maria, now Sacramento. The residence of this chief was the valley of the Suisun, which is bounded by the hill near Suscol. Before receiving the baptismal name of Solano, the chief was called Sem-Yeto, which signifies the brave, or fierce hand. In 1817 a military expedition (under command of Lieutenant Jose Sanchez, and by order of the commandant of San Francisco Jose Arguello), crossed the straits of Carquinez (on rafts made of rushes, as there were no regular ferries in those days), for the double purpose of exploring the country and reducing it to Christianity. On crossing the river they were attacked by the Suisun tribe, then headed by their chief, Malica, who caused them considerable loss. The Indians fought bravely and to the utmost extreme, but they were in turn attacked with such force and perseverance as to oblige them to retreat to their rancheria (somewhere in the present Suisun valley), where, being still hotly pursued and believing their fate sealed, these unfortunate people, incited by their chief, set fire to their rush-built houses and perished in the flames with their families. The soldiers endeavored to stay their desperate resolution, in order to save the women and children; but even those preferred this doom to that which awaited them from the hands of their enemies. Thus perished the chief, and thus was the hearth and the home of his people destroyed."
THE SETTLEMENT OF SOLANO COUNTY
In the old days, long ago, somewhere in the year 1817, as has been shown in another part of this work, Jose Sanchez, then a Lieutenant in the Spanish Army, was despatched with a small force to subjugate the Suisun tribe of Indians, an expedition which was attended with but little loss on one side, and sad havoc on the other. As time dragged out its weary course, but little was gained; the aboriginals were coerced into the service of their taskmasters, and without doubt endured many a torture of mind and body, when brought under the yoke of the Mexican Government. It is not for a moment to be imagined that, though the savages were driven into bondage, they suffered all the distress supposed to be a part and parcel of their thraldom; this is not the case; for General Vallejo, who had the lands of Suscol granted to him, held as lenient a sway over his aboriginal vassals as was possible under the circumstances; and, indeed, was the first to prove the soothing influences of even a partial civilization; yet, these people have now vanished, whither it is impossible to trace; the advent of a dominant race was more than they could cope with; hence, they are nowhere to be found; and it is only at distances, few and far between, that traces of their former locations are to be discovered. It is believed that those who inhabited the valleys with which we have especially to deal, were thinned by the hostilities in which they were engaged with the Spaniards, materially aided by a decimating scourge of small-pox that carried off numbers of the half-fed and ill-clothed savages. This epidemic broke out in the year 1839, and such was the devastation which ensued that almost an entire race was shipwrecked, leaving but few survivors of the catastrophe. They died so rapidly that the usual funeral rites were abandoned: huge pits were dug, and the pestilential corpses placed therein by twenties while they were covered up, when filled, with a rude mound of earth; many of them forsook the land of their birth, now become accursed on account of the presence of the odious intruder; their wives and daughters, by the maltreatment received at the hands of these half-civilized soldiers from the Spanish Main, had ceased to bear children, and thus they drifted out of ken, until now they are a thing of the past, their presence in Solano County being at, best but a memory which only lingers in the mind of the early pioneer.
JOURNAL OF THE SENATE
STATE OF CALIFORNIA
J. Winchester, State Printer
Report of Mr. Vallejo, on the Derivation and Definition of the Names of the several Counties of California.
TO THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
April 16, 1850
SOLANO.--This is the second name of the celebrated missionary, Francis Solano, and was borne by the great chief of the tribes originally denominated "Suisunes," and scattered over the western side of the river Jesus Maria, now Sacramento. The residence of this chief was the valley of the Suisun, which is bounded by the hill near Suscol. Before receiving the baptismal name of Solano, the chief was called "Sem-Yeto," which signifies the brave, or fierce hand."
In 1817 a military expedition (under command of Lieut José Sanchez, and by order of the commandant of San Francisco Jose Arguello), crossed the straits of Carquinez (on rafts made of rushes, as there were no regular ferries in those days), for the double purpose of exploring the country and reducing it to Christianity. On crossing the river they were attacked by the Suisun tribe, then headed by their chief, Malica, who caused them considerable loss. The Indians fought bravely and to the utmost extreme, but they were in turn attacked with such force and perseverance as to oblige them to retreat to their rancheria (somewhere in the present Suisun valley), where, being still hotly pursued and believing their fate sealed, these unfortunate people, incited by their chief, set fire to their rush-built houses and perished in the flames with their families. The soldiers endeavored to stay their desperate resolution, in order to save the women and children; but even those preferred this doom to that which awaited them from the hands of their enemies. Thus perished the chief, and thus was the hearth and the home of his people destroyed.
YOLO.--A corruption of the Indian word " Yoloy," signifying a place abounding with rushes (tular), with which the Indians composed the term " Toloy toy," Kushtown (Pueblo del Tule), situated on the western shore of the river Sacramento. The tribe occupying this Pueblo derived its name therefrom, and were the subjects of a great chief, who also ruled various other tribes with absolute sway. All these tribes were encamped on the western banks of the Sacramento and its tributaries. The Christian name of the chief was F. Solano, and his usual residence Sonoma. In 1835, Motti, captain of the Yoloy tribe, rebelled against the superior chief, and being unsuccessfully pursued, Solano applied to the commandant of Sonoma for assistance, pursued the tribe once more, and reduced it to submission. The rebellious leader was ordered to Sonoma, where he remained until the tribe and chief returned to their former hearths in 1846
Presented by M.G. Vallejo, Chairman of the Committee on the Derivation and Definition of the Names of the several Counties of California