California's Human History reflected in State Parks

Native Americans

There were between 100,000 and 300,000 Native Americans from more than 100 bands living throughout California with the greatest diversity - as many as 120 - of languages, dialects, and cultures of any comparably sized are in the world. The Tolawa and Yurok in the far north, for example, had very different languages and cultures from the Miwok and Yokut in central California, or the Luiseno and Chumash in the south. Tribes traded with each other but were self-sufficient for the most part. With bountiful game, fish, and plants available and a moderate climate, most California Indians bands led stable, productive lives.

When Europeans and pioneers explored and settled California, they also brought with them diseases, such as smallpox and measles, that devastated Native Americans. Many of the descendants of those tribes who survived the epidemics and conflicts with early Europeans and pioneers now live on small reservations located throughout the state.

Although much of the diverse Native American culture has disappeared, state parks provide an opportunity to see and experience the lives of California's first residents. The California State Indian Museum in Sacramento contains a beautiful collection of Native American baskets. Wassama Round House State Historic Park is a Native American ceremonial site near Oakhurst in the Sierra foothills. Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park (located near Jackson), is home to a reconstructed Miwok village, a museum, historic displays, and a huge grinding rock where acorns were crushed into flour. The Antelope Valley Indian Museum near Lancaster and an Indian museum at Lake Perris State Recreation Area take a regional look at California's Native Americans. Near towering redwoods and crashing ocean waves, members of the Yurok tribe have reconstructed an ancient village at Patrick's Point State Park. These and other state parks offer demonstrations and special events.

The Spanish

Portuguese-born Captain Cabrillo sailed along the coast of California in 1542 and claimed the land for Spain. The Spaniards called the land north of Mexico "Alta California." It was of little worth to them. It wasn't until rumors reached Mexico City of Russian ships in far western Alaskan waters that the Spanish decided to begin colonizing upper California.

To protect their new land, the Spanish built missions and presidios along the coast. Gaspar de Portola, who was accompanied by father Junipero Serra, founded the Presidio Real in San Diego, as well as California's first mission - San Diego de Alcala - in 1769. The padres established 21 missions and brought European-style agriculture to thousands of acres in California. They introduced cattle, sheep, and horses, as well as old-world skills and business practices. The meatpacking and wine and fruit production trades not only provided food for missions - they also helped pay operating expenses. Native Indians supplied most of the labor for these tasks. The Spanish padres converted many native Americans to Christianity but poor treatment and uneasiness with new and strange cultural ideas contributed to revolts and desertions. Spanish soldiers, priests, and frontiersmen brought new culture, ideas, plants, animals such as horses and cattle, and, unfortunately, new diseases that decimated California's Native Americans.

The Spanish and, later, Mexican influences are still very much alive in California, especially in coastal California. In Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, home of one of California's earliest towns, Mexican tradition lives on in festivals, food, and architecture. The missions at state historic parks San Juan Bautista (near Salinas), La Purisima (near Lompoc), Santa Cruz, and Sonoma continue to re-create this era.

American Pioneers

Fur trappers who followed in the wake of Mexican independence discovered more than streams rich in beaver: They found a warm, hospitable people, a wondrous climate, and fertile soil. The early fur hunters opened the door to sailors, merchants, mechanics, and farmers, who settled in port cities. Trapper Jedediah Smith's party was the first to enter California overland from the "Great Salt Lake." Others followed down the Gila River and over the Mojave Desert. The influx of more merchants turned California into a Pacific trade depot. In San Francisco Bay, ships from England, France, Italy, and Russia anchored next to American ships. Many settlers who initially arrived by boat later migrated to the interior valleys. Foreigners arrived, acquired land grants, and became Mexican citizens. Swiss colonist John Sutter eventually oversaw nearly 200,000 acres from his fort, which is today a six-acre state historic park in the heart of Sacramento.

American families and others crossed into California against Mexican law. In spite of their illegal entry, progressive Californios (Spanish Californians) welcomed them, such as General Mariano G. Vallejo of Sonoma. By 1846, nearly 1,000 Americans lived in California - but they were fearful of eviction by Mexican forces. In June of that year, a small band of Americans captured General Vallejo, took over the Sonoma Barracks, and declared California a republic. The "Bear Flag Revolt" ended when the U.S. Navy peacefully occupied San Francisco, Monterey, and most of the rest of California. In late 1846 and early 1847, the Californios revolted, staging battles at San Pasqual - now San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park - and along the old royal road near Los Angeles. Near what is now Los Encinos State Historic Park, Captain Andres Pico surrendered southern Californios forces to Lt. Colonel John C. Fremont. The following year, California officially became a United State territory.

Gold Discovery

In 1848, Sutter's sawmill foreman, James Marshall, discovered gold in the American River near Coloma. In one year, thousands of gold seekers flooded into California and small settlements such as San Francisco swelled into cities.

More people meant more development, which in turn attracted more people. Gold miners, merchants, and con men made the mid-1800's colorful times. These Old West characters also made such gold town as Bodie, in the eastern Sierra, notorious. The mining town of Bodie sprang up in 1859 after prospectors discovered gold just northeast of Mono Lake. By 1878, Bodie was a booming town, home to as many as 10,000 settlers. However, by the turn of the century, most of the settlers and gold were gone. Today, you can see 170 of the ghost town's original buildings at Bodie State Historic Park.

John Bidwell settled near what would become Chico, where he built a successful agricultural empire. Others, such as the "Big Four" - Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford, and Crocker - built the transcontinental railroad. They also erected 19th-century commercial buildings, some of which are part of Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

Others came to California seeking a better life. In 1908, Colonel Allen Allensworth encouraged a number of retired African-American military men and their families to move to the southern San Joaquin Valley. There they created the only all-black town in California. The small farming community did well until a drop in the water table led to its demise. The colonel's dream has been restored as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.

The Chinese were the first of many Asians to come to California, first as gold miners and then to provide the labor for construction of the western branch of the transcontinental railroad. They left beautiful monuments such as the Weaverville Joss House, a state historic park near Redding. The Joss House is the oldest, continuously used Chinese temple in California.