They knew many things. They could tell the year’s beginning and ending by watching the sun rise exactly in line with two objects, even miles apart. The spilt milk of stars that stretched across the firmament, the Milky Way, were the tracks of the bears as they walked across the sky. An eclipse, which took a bite from the moon, gave rise to tales of a fight between Sun and Moon. The missing part of the eclipse was a bear’s bite. The aggressive biter was frightened away by the Shamans. Their secret spells and magic always worked.
Venus, the Morning star, was a woman, who looked down on her people. The Evening star was her sister. The North star, Sirius, was the eye of the Creator, who as a good Lord, kept watch over his people. Shooting stars were bits of fire from the sky. What else could they be?
Each phase of the moon had a name; Clover moon, Crop moon, Acorn moon, and Falling leaves moon. Each month was a signal for something; acorn gathering time, fish running time, and time to go to the ocean for salt and abalone shells. They cared little for when they were born or the what year it was. More wisely than the men who followed, they made their own time.
They danced, they were religious, they had parties. They made baskets; of Willow, of bark, of Saw grass, of Carex root, and Tule. They made the finest baskets in North America and for every conceivable purpose.
They loved their children.
They were artists; coloring their bodies and faces with paint and tattoos from the green leaves of soap root, charcoal ashes, black sap of the poison oak, or red from the pulverized rock of cinnabar. Purple came from wild violet juice and white from blue clay.
They loved to gamble.
They played the ‘Stick’ game with bones for shell money of Washington clam shells and magnetite from a local quarry until, at times, they were bankrupt.
They played games.
Wrestling, running races, diving and swimming under water, proving the length an arrow could fly, pole vaulting, and spear throwing contests that filled their leisure time, were games they played.
And they sang songs and made music.
They sang to their children, for good fortune in the hunt, and for fishing expeditions. They sang as they made their baskets strong and beautiful. They made music with acorns on a string, pieces of clam shell blown to imitate bird sounds, drums of hollow logs, flutes from elder shoots, bows of sinew for violins, rattles from cocoons or pebbles, while they clapped or whistled or sang.
They had more medicines than an apothecary. The teas and ointments cured burns, colds, diarrhea, earaches, fevers, paralysis, Poison Oak rashes, rattlesnake bites, boils and sores, and toothaches.
And they created a highway system of trails and footpaths; over Mt. St. Helena, between Napa and Middletown, from the Geysers to Cobb Valley, from Cloverdale to Big Valley, from Hopland to the South Fork of Scotts Creek through Ben Moore Valley, Ukiah to Scotts valley by way of Eight-mile valley, along Blue Lakes, Bachelor valley to Potter Valley, Clear Lake to the Sacramento valley, and Lower Lake to Morgan Valley… and that was only for starters.
There were legends told and retold over the camp fires. Mt. Konocti was created from the result of a titanic battle between two Indian Chieftains, Chief Konocti and Chief Ka-bel:
‘Chief Konocti had a beautiful daughter, Lupyoma. Chief Ka-bel sought her hand in marriage but the union was forbidden by Lupyoma’s father. The two Chiefs readied for battle to decide the question. Ka-bel stood at the north of the narrows, Chief Konocti stood at the south end. Boulders flew back and forth like a hail storm. Finally, both Chieftains died of their wounds.’
‘Ka-bel’s blood painted the hills red where he fell, while Konocti sank to form the rugged volcanic pile that bears his name. What happened to poor Lupyoma? Naturally she threw herself into the lake. Her tears still gush forth from the largest of the springs around the lake at Soda Bay.’
By 1800, the native populations had grown smaller, from disease and genocide. Where once they traded for their salt and other things, now, at times the young men went on forays outside their territory for salt or fought to right a wrong.
Next week: The Salt Journey; Preparations
Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)
Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485