Napa Valley First People's History
For 10,000 years...
Native people lived in “Talahalusi," the cultivated paradise of the Napa Valley, shared stories, continued their traditions, and thrived in their way of life. The Napa Valley is one of California's longest inhabited areas. Archaeological surveys indicate 10,000 years of uninterrupted habitation. "It was a paradise - a cultivated paradise where one only had to reach out their hand to eat. A place rich in beauty, water and food," stated the oral history of Native American elder Jim Big Bear King.
Native Americans lived peacefully in pole houses, using clamshell beads and magnesite cylinders for money and jewelry. They processed obsidian into shafts, spears and arrowheads, which were used for hunting and export. Acorns, perennial grasses, wild berries, freshwater shellfish, salmon, fowl and game were their diet. These hunter-gatherers lived in a rich environment with a capacity for a dense, socially complex population of 35,000-40,000 people. They established large permanent villages with nearby seasonal resource and task-specific camps.
The Wappo (Onasatis) became known for beautiful fine-work baskets made of sedge with redbud and bulrush decorations. Feathers, clamshell and abalone beads decorated their gift and ceremonial baskets and the weaving was so precise that baskets were watertight. Women created the finer, more artistic baskets, while men traditionally made rough workbaskets for gathering and fishing from unpeeled willow.
Kanetychama, the great Native leader who lived to be 129 years of age, is born
A Spanish and Mexican expedition, led by Ensign Jose Sanches, is the initial contact with Napa Valley Native Americans; Father Altimura, a Jesuit priest, accompanies the expedition to establish a mission
Epidemic - first serious smallpox virus spreads throughout the region
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo is sent by Mexico to the Northern California territory, where he vigorously engages in "Indian campaigns" (wars against the Onasatis and Pomo).
General Vallejo and the Onasatis leader Satiyomi declare a truce after a yearlong war
"Miramonte's Epidemic" of rapidly spreading smallpox Mid-1800's
The Bureau of Indian Affairs begins a census process, and because it disregards the tribal names of Mayakmah, Mutistul, Mishewal, and Onastis, the Wappo are declared nearly extinct 1851
U.S. Cavalry march 250 Onasatis to Noyo on the north coast of California
U.S. troops "hog-tie" 500 Onasatis and drive them to the coast and to the town of Covelo; some settle at Mt Konocti, creating a new Lilik·Wappo group Early 1900's
Remaining Onasatis force-marched with a promise of "relocation to a land base," but it is ten years before land is granted
Dry Creek Rancheria is established near Geyserville, forcing the blending of Pomo, Onastis and Mishewal-Wappo tribes 1930
Native Elders struggle to reinvest culture and language in young people, and cooperate with ethno-biographers to record Native history and recollections 1958
Congress passes Public Law 671, known as the Termination Act, extinguishing the rights of the Wappo tribe and 41 other rancherias to federal assistance and land bases
Maidu-Pomo Elders Norma Knight and Jim Big Bear King establish the Suscol Indian Council to address archeological concerns in the Napa Valley Mid-1980s
A Native American garden at Bothe Park in Calistoga is established in consultation with Wappo Elders 1987
Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of Indian Affairs, spearheads Senate Bill 2144 to re-recognize "terminated tribes"
Mishewal-Wappo begin reorganization and apply for re-recognition under the leadership of John Trippo
Laura Somersall, famous Wappo-Pomo basket maker, teacher, lecturer and linguist, dies
Traditional Wappo-Pomo singers and dancers gather again in public sites throughout the Napa Valley
Wappo and Pomo Elders, the Suscol Council, and the Napa Valley College create a dedication garden to Napa Valley's First People in St. Helena
Clint McKay promotes awareness of the Native American experience through his lecture series on the Onastis-Wappo culture and traditions
Suscol Council continues to promote cultural awareness through annual events: Pow-wow, art auction, and small venue lectures & films with the ultimate goal of helping to heal generations of colonial trauma. 2018 Suscol Intertribal Council deveops a workshop series to educate the public on the history and trauma of colonization on California Natives. The local high school removes its Indian mascot.
"The Wappo are a group of three similar-speaking people: the northern Mishewal (Warrior People) of Alexander Valley and southern Lake County; the central Mutistul group of Knights Valley and eastern Sonoma County; and the Mayakmah (Water Going Out Place) of the southern tidal areas of Napa and Sonoma Valleys." Their staunch resistance to invasion and cultural destruction earned them the Spanish name "Guapo", meaning daring, brave or handsome. In phonetic English, "Guapo" came to be pronounced "Wap-poe", but the tribe referred to themselves as the Onastis - the people who speak plainly or "Outspoken People".
Ethnographic evidence suggests that the Wappo spoke a Yukian language with significant regional time depth. Moratto's California linguistic settlement history (1984: 543: et seq.) states that Yukian speakers controlled the north coast ranges as much as 8,000 years ago. Eventually, other Native groups moved into the Napa Valley, reducing the Yukian domain. Approximately 3,300 years ago, the Miwok gained a foothold in former Yukian territory. Later, Hokan speakers (the Pomo) expanded southward into Sonoma and Napa Counties. The Wappo re-established control of Napa Valley about 1,500 years ago, and their territory remained roughly the same until the 1800s.
After the Spanish and Mexican invasion in 1823, the tribes were nearly decimated by forced marches and smallpox. When forced to relocate to various missions for religious indoctrination, many fled to friendlier territory. In Alexander Valley, Clear Lake and Sonoma County, Wappos intermarried with other tribes, and blended with the European invaders.
At present, Native Americans are reasserting the beauty and richness of their cultural traditions. California Native Americans have persevered and they have much to share with the dominant culture.
One need only be still to hear.
Jim Big Bear King Suscol Indian Council co-founder Veteran and Native American activist 1931-2007
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Not Your Mascot (2019) Produced by Suscol Intertribal Council Directed by Beth Nelson