|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 (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.
|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, also known as Mount Baldy, at sunrise (Daniel Medina)|
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 (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, 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 morning sky near Mount San Antonio (Daniel Medina)|
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.
|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 go north into San Gabriel canyon to reach higher elevations (Daniel Medina)|
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 eastern terminus of San Gabriels in the Cajon Pass (Augie Medina)|
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 lead to colorful blooms as seen here in foothills of eastern San Gabriels (Augie Medina)|
The people of Asuksangna followed a route that led up the West Fork of San Gabriel Canyon and scaled the mountains.
|Cider was made from manzanita ("little apple") berries (Daniel Medina)|
Few groups continued north as well, crossing the entire transverse range and dropping into the blazing sands of the Mojave Desert.
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].