Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Indigenous dawn of San Gabriel Mountains, LA

Daniel Medina (kcet.org); Xochitl, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
From modern city, the San Gabriels look like this. From up there, they look like that:
Looking west from the snow capped summit of Mount San Antonio | Photo: Augie Medina
Looking west from the snow capped summit of Mount San Antonio (Augie Medina)
The brilliant heritage of the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles is largely unknown to millions of Southern Californians.

Etching a captivating relief into the horizons of LA each morning, they chart a rousing history that enriches the region's collective identity.

Far from a mere geological backdrop, these omnipresent mountains have fostered, threatened, and inspired generations of civilizations that have taken root in greater LA.

The historical and cultural impact of the San Gabriels on one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world is astonishing, yet few have heard their stories.

Jumakha-IndoWolf(Jumakha-IndoWolf, Feb. 28, 2015) Actual footage of Native Americans in the late 1800s-early 1900s. History (wiki)...

Land-god vs Sea-god and Mount Baldy
Indian pictographs on a rock near the confluence of the West and North Forks of the San Gabriel River in 1937. | Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
Native American pictographs on a rock near the confluence of the West and North Forks of the San Gabriel River in 1937 (Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library)
One of the earliest indigenous people believed that the first chapter of the San Gabriel Mountains began on the highest summit in the range, Mount San Antonio, more commonly known as Mount Baldy.

In the creation legend of Mount San Antonio, published in George Hazen Shinn's Shoshonean Days, John Morongo, son of a Yuhaviatam leader in Morongo Valley, recounts a time when, "There was nothing; all was darkness."

Mount San Antonio, a.k.a Mount Baldy, at sunrise | Photo: Daniel Medina
Mount San Antonio, also known as Mount Baldy, at sunrise (Daniel Medina)
Then two quarrelsome brother deities, Sea-god and Land-god, worked together to beget land, sea, and animals. The brothers fell into discord, however, over their opposing visions for man's form.

The disagreement turned disastrous when Land-god decided to create man to his liking, while Sea-god was away:

An ancient footpath once led into the sylvan heights of Little Santa Anita Canyon via the West Fork of San Gabriel Canyon en route to Mount Wilson. | Photo: Daniel Medina
An ancient footpath once led into the sylvan heights of Little Santa Anita Canyon via the West Fork of San Gabriel Canyon en route to Mount Wilson (Daniel Medina).
It was believed that Land-god, from his position at the apex of Mount San Antonio, sculpted these ramparts that thwarted Sea-god. Around the same mountain, according to another legend, the Yuhaviatam people (called the Serranos by the Spanish invaders) came to settle, after following a "pure white eagle, the bird of their great Captain Kukitatc, (Land-god)" from the north.

The symbolic peak of Mount San Antonio marked an approximate boundary between Yuhaviatam territory, which primarily occupied the eastern end of the San Gabriels, and parts of the San Bernardino Mountains, and the expansive realm of the Tongva (called the Gabrielenos by the Spaniards) to the west.

Asuksangna and the San Gabriel River
Territory of the Tongva and Yuhaviatam relative to other Takic-speaking groups.
Territory of the Tongva and Yuhaviatam relative to other Takic-speaking groups, LA (wiki).
Mount San Antonio was also of vital importance to the thriving Tongva communities in the lowlands of the San Gabriel Valley.

One of the largest permanent villages, Asuksangna, was established near the gaping drainage of the San Gabriels' largest watershed, which collected the generous snow melt of Mount San Antonio.

In the looming shadow of the mountain, the San Gabriel River was born, and was the lifeblood of Asuksangna and other villages that dotted the valley south to the sea.
Yucca dominate the morning sky near Mount San Antonio | Photo: Daniel Medina
Yucca dominate morning sky near Mount San Antonio (Daniel Medina)
On a rise just south of San Gabriel Canyon, the thatched huts of Asuksangna, known as a kizh (keech), stood firm above the river, subject to extensive winter flooding in the wet winter months.

As spring warmed the foothills and mountain flora ripened, the Tongva would prepare to make their seasonal ascent, up ancient mountain footpaths, into cooler climates to construct summer and autumn camps.

The purpose of these seasonal migrations was crucial: to obtain enough food and material to ensure a sustainable, and ultimately survivable, winter down in the valley.
The <em>kich</em>,a Tongva family dwelling, that would have been located in permanent villages in the valleys | Photo: Daniel Medina
Kizh (keech), Tongva dwelling, located in permanent villages in valleys (Daniel Medina)
In the highlands, as well as below, the elements of nature -- from granite boulders to acorns -- were considered sensate [with feelings, able to sense]. All was kin to the human community.

Out of respect for these relations, hunting and gathering expeditions were always performed in moderation, taking only what was needed. On the game trails, men tracked animals in the thick maze of chaparral.

Tongva would head north into the San Gabriel canyon to reach higher elevations. | Photo: Daniel Medina
Tongva would go north into San Gabriel canyon to reach higher elevations (Daniel Medina)

Hunters preyed on bounding deer and rabbits, with arrow shafts fashioned from greasewood. Below in the San Gabriel River, fishermen hauled in steelhead trout, using nets woven with fibers from the towering yucca plants.
As the primary plant harvesters and processors, women played a pivotal role in the survival of their people. More than half of the average diet was comprised of vascular plants.

Women applied their honed ethnobotany skills to meet this demand, by scouring the parched chaparral slopes and canyon duff for major dietary staples. Stiff shrubs yielded precious mountain cherries and chia seeds.

Mortar holes found on the eastern terminus of the San Gabriels in the Cajon Pass. | Photo: Augie Medina
Mortar holes found on eastern terminus of San Gabriels in the Cajon Pass (Augie Medina)
Berries from the burgundy trunk of the indispensable manzanita were plucked to brew a sweet cider. Acorns, known as kwi, were collected in tightly woven baskets by women and children and ground to meal in granite mortar holes that can still be found today.
Great care was taken to manage this sustainable ecosystem. Fires were often deliberately set on elevated shrub lands to promote advantageous growth.

A common practice in California tribes, conflagrations would enhance the density of specific edible plant communities, increase the food supply for animals, and support the development of material used in construction and medicine.
Fires could lead to colorful blooms like these seen here in the foothills of the eastern San Gabriels. | Photo: Augie Medina
Fires lead to colorful blooms as seen here in foothills of eastern San Gabriels (Augie Medina)
In addition to guiding their ecosystem, the Tongva managed their economy by blazing well-worn trade routes into the mountains to barter with local tribes.

The people of Asuksangna followed a route that led up the West Fork of San Gabriel Canyon and scaled the mountains.

A complex system of footpaths led to major landmarks, like Mount Wilson, Red Box Saddle, Millard Canyon, and the camps of the Chilao back country.
Cider was made from Manzanita berries | Photo: Daniel Medina
Cider was made from manzanita ("little apple") berries (Daniel Medina)
These gathering sites set the stage not only for an exchange of goods, but also functioned as a place to swap songs, gossip, embrace distant family, and meet youth from other mountain areas.

Few groups continued north as well, crossing the entire transverse range and dropping into the blazing sands of the Mojave Desert.
The prosperity of Asuksangna would meet an ineluctable fate, however, when Mission San Gabriel laid its foundations a few miles downriver in 1775.

An empire of Spanish colonists would deliver destructive change to a society, that for so long thrived below the nourishing sanctuary of Mount San Antonio [modern Mt. Baldy].
Author Daniel Medina
The majority of KCET's funding comes from individuals. In addition to many shows both streaming online and broadcasting on TV, KCET is dedicated to providing articles like this one. Many online journalism sites are moving to paid subscription models. KCET feels that it's important to continue to serve Southern California and beyond with coverage of arts and culture, news, and extra stories to support programs. Public media stations need support more than ever. Please, become a member today and help KCET continue to serve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: KCET.org Site Editor Daniel Medina. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and enjoy exploring Los Angeles and learning about its origins.

No comments: