Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Russell Means, A Warrior

Russell Means, Who Clashed With Law as He Fought for Indians, Is Dead at 72

United Press International
Russell Means, left, and Dennis Banks in 1973, when they led a protest at Wounded Knee, S.D.

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Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was 72.
Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
Protesting at a Columbus Day Parade in Denver in 2000.
Marcy Nighswander/Associated Press
Russell Means in 1989.

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The cause was esophageal cancer, which had spread recently to his tongue, lymph nodes and lungs, said Glenn Morris, Mr. Means’s legal representative. Told in the summer of 2011 that the cancer was inoperable, Mr. Means had already resolved to shun mainstream medical treatments in favor of herbal and other native remedies.
Strapping, and ruggedly handsome in buckskins, with a scarred face, piercing dark eyes and raven braids that dangled to the waist, Mr. Means was, by his own account, a magnet for trouble — addicted to drugs and alcohol in his early years and later arrested repeatedly in violent clashes with rivals and the law. He was tried for abetting a murder, shot several times, stabbed once and imprisoned for a year for rioting.
He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
But critics, including many Indians, called him a tireless self-promoter who capitalized on his angry-rebel notoriety by running quixotic races for the presidency and the governorship of New Mexico, by acting in dozens of movies — notably in a principal role in “The Last of the Mohicans”(1992) — and by writing and recording music commercially with Indian warrior and heritage themes.
He rose to national attention as a leader of the American Indian Movement in 1970 by directing a band of Indian protesters who seized the Mayflower II ship replica at Plymouth, Mass., on Thanksgiving Day. The boisterous confrontation between Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” attracted network television coverage and made Mr. Means an overnight hero to dissident Indians and sympathetic whites.
Later, he orchestrated an Indian prayer vigil atop the federal monument of sculptured presidential heads at Mount Rushmore, S.D., to dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land. In 1972, he organized cross-country caravans converging on Washington to protest a century of broken treaties, and led an occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also attacked the “Chief Wahoo” mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, a toothy Indian caricature that he called racist and demeaning. It is still used.
And in a 1973 protest covered by the national news media for months, he led hundreds of Indians and white sympathizers in an occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., site of the 1890 massacre of some 350 Lakota men, women and children in the last major conflict of the American Indian wars. The protesters demanded strict federal adherence to old Indian treaties, and an end to what they called corrupt tribal governments.
In the ensuing 71-day standoff with federal agents, thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Mr. Means and his fellow protest leaderDennis Banks were charged with assault, larceny and conspiracy. But after a long federal trial in Minnesota in 1974, with the defense raising current and historic Indian grievances, the case was dismissed by a judge for prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Means later faced other legal battles. In 1976, he was acquitted in a jury trial in Rapid City, S.D., of abetting a murder in a barroom brawl. Wanted on six warrants in two states, he was convicted of involvement in a 1974 riot during a clash between the police and Indian activists outside a Sioux Falls, S.D., courthouse. He served a year in a state prison, where he was stabbed by another inmate.
Mr. Means also survived several gunshots — one in the abdomen fired during a scuffle with an Indian Affairs police officer in North Dakota in 1975, one that grazed his forehead in what he called a drive-by assassination attempt on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975, and one in the chest fired by another would-be assassin on another South Dakota reservation in 1976.
Undeterred, he led a caravan of Sioux and Cheyenne into a gathering of 500 people commemorating the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, the nation’s most famous defeat of the Indian wars. To pounding drums, Mr. Means and his followers mounted a speaker’s platform, joined hands and did a victory dance, sung in Sioux Lakota, titled “Custer Died for Your Sins.”
Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge reservation on Nov. 10, 1939, the oldest of four sons of Harold and Theodora Feather Means. The Anglo-Saxon surname was that of a great-grandfather. When he was 3, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where his father, a welder and auto mechanic, worked in wartime shipyards.
Russell attended public schools in Vallejo and San Leandro High School, where he faced racial taunts, had poor grades and barely graduated in 1958. He drifted into delinquency, drugs, alcoholism and street fights. He also attended four colleges, including Arizona State at Tempe, but did not earn a degree. For much of the 1960s he rambled about the West, working as a janitor, printer, cowboy and dance instructor.
In 1969, he took a job with the Rosebud Sioux tribal council in South Dakota. Within months he moved to Cleveland and became founding director of a government-financed center helping Indians adapt to urban life. He also met Mr. Banks, who had recently co-founded the American Indian Movement. In 1970, Mr. Means became the movement’s national director, and over the next decade his actions made him a household name.
In 1985 and 1986, he went to Nicaragua to support indigenous Miskito Indians whose autonomy was threatened by the leftist Sandinista government. He reported Sandinista atrocities against the Indians and urged the Reagan administration to aid the victims. Millions in aid went to some anti-Sandinista groups, but a leader of the Miskito Indian rebels, Brooklyn Rivera, said his followers had not received any of that aid.
In 1987, Mr. Means ran for president. He sought the Libertarian Party nomination but lost to Ron Paul, a former and future congressman from Texas. In 2002, Mr. Means campaigned independently for the New Mexico governorship but was barred procedurally from the ballot.
Mr. Means retired from the American Indian Movement in 1988, but its leaders, with whom he had feuded for years, scoffed, saying he had “retired” six times previously. They generally disowned him and his work, calling him an opportunist out for political and financial gain. In 1989, he told Congress that there was “rampant graft and corruption” in tribal governments and federal programs assisting American Indians.
Mr. Means began his acting career in 1992 with “The Last of the Mohicans,” Michael Mann’s adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, in which he played Chingachgook opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Over two decades he appeared in more than 30 films and television productions, including “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Pathfinder” (2007). He also recorded CDs, including “Electric Warrior: The Sound of Indian America” (1993), and wrote a memoir, “Where White Men Fear to Tread” (1995, with Marvin J. Wolf).
He was married and divorced four times and had nine children. He also adopted many others following Lakota tradition. His fifth marriage, to Pearl Daniels, was in 1999, and she survives him.
Mr. Means cut off his braids a few months before receiving his cancer diagnosis. It was, he said in an interview last October, a gesture of mourning for his people. In Lakota lore, he explained, the hair holds memories, and mourners often cut it to release those memories, and the people in them, to the spirit world.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Vikings & Native Americans

Vikings and Native Americans

Arctic Mask


Following a subtle trail of artifacts, a Canadian archaeologist searches for a lost chapter of New World history.

By Heather Pringle
Photograph by David Coventry
Something about the strange strands didn’t fit. Patricia Sutherland spotted it right away: the weird fuzziness of them, so soft to the touch.

The strands of cordage came from an abandoned settlement at the northern tip of Canada’s Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle and north of Hudson Bay. There indigenous hunters had warmed themselves by seal-oil lamps some 700 years ago. In the 1980s a Roman Catholic missionary had also puzzled over the soft strands after digging hundreds of delicate objects from the same ruins. Made of short hairs plucked from the pelt of an arctic hare, the cordage bore little resemblance to the sinew that Arctic hunters twisted into string. How did it come to be here? The answer eluded the old priest, so he boxed up the strands with the rest of his finds and delivered them to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Years passed. Then one day in 1999 Sutherland, an Arctic archaeologist at the museum, slipped the strands under a microscope and saw that someone had spun the short hairs into soft yarn. The prehistoric people of Baffin Island, however, were neither spinners nor weavers; they stitched their clothing from skins and furs. So where could this spun yarn have come from? Sutherland had an inkling. Years earlier, while helping to excavate a Viking farmhouse in Greenland, she had seen colleagues dig bits of similar yarn from the floor of a weaving room. She promptly got on the phone to an archaeologist in Denmark. Weeks later an expert on Viking textiles informed her that the Canadian strands were dead ringers for yarn made by Norse women in Greenland. “That stopped me in my tracks,” Sutherland recalls.

The discovery raised tantalizing questions that came to haunt Sutherland and drive more than a decade of dogged scientific sleuthing. Had a Norse party landed on the remote Baffin Island coast and made friendly contact with its native hunters? Did the yarn represent a key to a long lost chapter of New World history?

Viking seafarers were the explorers par excellence of medieval Europe. Crafting sturdy wooden sailing ships that inspire awe even today, they set sail from their Scandinavian homeland hungering for land, gold, and treasure. Some voyaged west to what is now Scotland, England, and Ireland in the eighth century, bringing death by the sword in raids immortalized in medieval manuscripts. Many turned to foreign commerce. As early as the ninth century Viking merchants nudged eastward along the shores of the White and Black Seas and navigated the shoals of eastern European rivers. They founded cities on major Eurasian trade routes and bartered for the finest wares from the Old World—glassware from the Rhine Valley, silver from the Middle East, shells from the Red Sea, silk from China.

The most adventurous set their courses far west, into the treacherous fogbound waters of the North Atlantic. In Iceland and Greenland, Viking colonists carved out farming settlements and filled storehouses with Arctic luxuries destined for European markets, from walrus ivory to spiraling narwhal tusks that were sold as unicorn horns. Some chieftains, fearless in the face of the unknown, pressed farther west, navigating through iceberg-strewn waters to the Americas.

Sometime between A.D. 989 and 1020, Viking seafarers—perhaps as many as 90 men and women in all—landed on a Newfoundland shore and raised three sturdy halls and an assortment of sod huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair. In the 1960s a Norwegian adventurer, Helge Ingstad, and his archaeologist wife, Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the overgrown ruins of this ancient base camp at a place called L’Anse aux Meadows. Later, Canadian archaeologists found iron ship rivets and other artifacts from what appeared to be a Viking shipwreck off the coast of Ellesmere Island. But in the years that followed, few other traces of the Vikings’ legendary exploration of the New World came to light—that is, until Patricia Sutherland came along.

In the soft morning light on Baffin Island, Sutherland and her field crew wind single file down a rocky footpath into a green hollow known as Tanfield Valley. The high wind of the previous evening has died, and the heavy clouds have cleared, leaving blue sky along the rugged coast that Viking seafarers once called Helluland—“stone slab land.” Long before the Vikings arrived, the area’s ancient inhabitants built a settlement here, at a site known today as Nanook.

As Sutherland clambers down the hill, she scans the shoreline warily for polar bears. The coast is clear this morning, and as she crosses between two freshwater ponds, she marvels aloud at the valley’s thick, spongy moss. “It’s full of greenery, full of turf for making buildings,” she says. “It’s the greenest valley in the area.”

Sutherland, now a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, smiles at the perfection of it all. Below us lies a protected cove, a natural harbor for an oceangoing Viking ship. Along some boggy patches in the valley, an oily-looking microbial slick suggests the presence of bog iron, the ore that Viking smiths worked expertly. But as Sutherland scrambles up a small rise to the excavation, her high spirits evaporate. Eight inches of muddy water from the previous night’s storm flood the pits. Draining them will require hours of bucket brigades and pumping. “We’re running out of time here,” she snaps.
With her silver-gray curls, girlish voice, and diminutive five-foot-nothing frame, Sutherland seems an unlikely expedition leader. But the 63-year-old archaeologist is a rolling storm in camp. She is the first up each morning and the last to crawl into a sleeping bag at night. In between she seems to be everywhere—flipping pancakes, making lunches for Inuit elders, checking the camp’s electric bear fence. She makes nearly every decision, whether large or small. Just three months earlier she underwent major shoulder surgery; after four weeks of excavation her left arm is so swollen that she tucks it into a sling.

But Sutherland is nothing if not determined. In 1999 the discovery of the yarn sent her back to the storage rooms at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. She began scrutinizing artifacts that other archaeologists had dug from sites of Arctic hunters known today as the Dorset, who ranged the eastern Arctic coast for nearly 2,000 years until their mysterious disappearance in the late 14th century. Poring over hundreds of presumably Dorset artifacts, often under a microscope, Sutherland discovered more pieces of spun yarn that had come from four major sites—Nunguvik, Tanfield Valley, Willows Island, and the Avayalik Islands—scattered along a thousand miles of coastline, from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador. Sutherland also noticed something decidedly odd about the collections from these sites. Teams working there had turned up numerous pieces of wood, despite the fact that the landscape is treeless tundra. To Sutherland’s astonishment, she discovered fragments of what seemed to be tally sticks, used by Vikings for recording trade transactions, and spindles, which might have been for spinning fibers. She also noted scraps of wood with square nail holes and possibly iron stains. One was radiocarbon-dated to the 14th century, toward the end of the Norse era in Greenland.

The more Sutherland sifted through the old Dorset collections, the more evidence she found that Vikings had come to these shores. While examining the stone tools, she discovered nearly 30 traditional Norse whetstones, standard gear for Viking men and women. She also found several Dorset carvings of what looked to be European faces, with long noses, prominent eyebrows, and possibly beards.

All these artifacts pointed strongly to friendly contact between Dorset hunters and Viking seafarers. But to gather more clues, Sutherland needed to excavate, and Tanfield Valley seemed the most promising of the four sites. In the 1960s American archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had dug part of a peculiar stone-and-turf structure there. The ruins, he later wrote, were “very difficult to interpret,” but he finally concluded that wandering Dorset hunters had built some sort of house there. Sitting in her office, surrounded by trays of Viking artifacts, Sutherland found that hard to believe. The Dorset had built snug homes the size of an average modern bedroom. The house in Tanfield Valley, one wall of which measured more than 40 feet long, would have been much, much larger.

On a cold Arctic afternoon Sutherland hunches over a square of earth inside the mysterious stone ruins. With the tip of her trowel she loosens a small piece of whale bone. Lifting the piece free, she brushes away the dirt, revealing two drill holes. The Dorset had no drills—they made holes by gouging—but Viking carpenters stowed augers in their tool chests, and they often drilled holes for wooden dowels used to fasten pieces of wood together.

Sutherland slips the find into a plastic bag. Earlier archaeologists, she explains, excavated extensively in the ruins, so she and her colleagues must work like forensic investigators, searching for minute, overlooked clues that could shed light on Tanfield Valley’s occupants. In sediments taken from inside the walls, for example, Sutherland spied several tiny pelt fragments. Expert analysis later revealed that they belonged to an Old World rat species, most probably the black rat, which must have reached the Arctic by ship.

The ruins have yielded other clues that aren’t so subtle. One team member excavated a whalebone shovel closely matching those found in Greenland’s Viking settlements. It’s “the exact size and material as the spades used to cut sod for houses,” notes Sutherland. And that makes a lot of sense. Sutherland and her colleagues found remnants of turf blocks—a material the Vikings used to build insulated walls—and a foundation made of large rocks that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with Norse stone masonry. The overall size of the structure, the type of walls, and a drainage channel lined with stones resemble features of Viking buildings in Greenland. One area still has the telltale reek of a latrine. Along the floor, a team member excavated hand-size clumps of moss, the Viking equivalent of toilet paper. “The Dorset people were never in places long enough to build a toilet structure,” says Sutherland.

But why would restless Vikings stop long enough to build on this blustery corner of Helluland? What treasures did they seek?

Toward the end of the ninth century a wealthy Viking trader arrived at the court of King Alfred the Great in England. An effusive man dressed in rich, foreign attire, Ohthere told of a long voyage he had taken to the coast of the White Sea, where northerners known as the Sami had furnished him with rare Arctic luxuries, from otter and marten furs to bushels of soft bird down. Then the Viking trader presented the king with walrus ivory that could be carved into gleaming chess pieces and other exquisite works of art.

Ohthere was not the only Viking merchant who catered to the European appetite for fine goods from the frozen north. Each spring, men from Greenland’s Western and Eastern Settlements went north to a rich coastal hunting ground known as Nordsetur. Camping along the shore, these medieval Greenlanders pursued walrus and other Arctic game, filling their boats with skins, furs, ivory, and even live polar bear cubs for trade abroad. Just two or three days west of Nordsetur, across the choppy waters of the Davis Strait, lay another, potentially richer Arctic treasure-house: Helluland. Its glacier-topped mountains loomed forbiddingly, but its icy waters teemed with walruses and narwhals, and its lands abounded with caribou and small fur-bearing animals.

The Viking seafarers who explored the North American coast a thousand years ago likely searched, as Ohthere did, for trading partners. In Newfoundland, a region they called Vinland, the newcomers met with a hostile reception. The aboriginal people there were well armed and viewed the foreigners as intruders on their land. But in Helluland small nomadic bands of Dorset hunters may have spotted an opportunity and rolled out the welcome mat. They had few weapons for fighting, but they excelled at hunting walruses and at trapping fur-bearing animals, whose soft hair could be spun into luxurious yarn. Moreover, some researchers think the Dorset relished trade. For hundreds of years they had bartered avidly with their aboriginal neighbors for copper and other rare goods. “They may have been the real entrepreneurs of the Arctic,” says Sutherland.

With little to fear from local inhabitants, Viking seafarers evidently constructed a seasonal camp in Tanfield Valley, perhaps for hunting as well as trading. The area abounded in arctic fox, and the foreigners would have had two highly desirable goods to offer Dorset hunters for their furs: spare pieces of wood that could be carved and small chunks of metal that could be sharpened into blades. Trade in furs and other luxuries seems to have flourished. Archaeological evidence suggests that some Dorset families may have prepared animal pelts while camping a short stroll away from the Viking outpost.

Thirteen years ago, when she first spotted the curious strands of cordage, Sutherland could never have envisioned a small Viking trading post standing on the coast of her beloved Arctic. But for Sutherland much work remains. Only a small fraction of Tanfield Valley has been investigated, and Sutherland’s remarkable findings—new evidence of friendly contact between Viking seafarers and aboriginal North Americans, and the discovery of what is probably the earliest European fur trade in the Americas—have stirred intense controversy among many of her colleagues. Archaeology is all about interpreting the evidence. As with the discovery of L’Anse aux Meadows decades ago, the fight for acceptance will be hard and long. But Sutherland is determined to prove the doubters wrong.

She pulls the mosquito netting over her face and resumes digging. “I think there is more to dig here, absolutely,” she says with a smile. “And we are going to find much more.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Belo Monte Dam Halted

Construction of the Belo Monte Dam has been ordered stopped, pending an Environmental Impact Report and input from the affected communities, including the Xingu.

Court suspends Amazon dam construction - Americas - Al Jazeera English

Friday, July 27, 2012



Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Paperback, 690 pages | purchase
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July 27, 2012
This interview was originally broadcast on August 8, 2011. 1493 is now available in paperback.
"In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," goes the old elementary school rhyme.
But it was Columbus' activities in the years that followed, says writer Charles C. Mann, that really created the New World. When Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492, his journey prompted the exchange of not only information but also food, animals, insects, plants and viruses between the continents.
"It was a tremendous ecological convulsion — the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs," says Mann. "And this underlies a huge amount of history learned in schools: the Industrial Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the rise of the West — all of these are tied up in what's been called the 'Columbian exchange.' "
Mann writes about the changed world after Columbus' voyage in 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, a sequel to his 2006 pre-Columbian history, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. He tellsFresh Air's Terry Gross that almost nothing we consider locally grown was, in fact, native to the Americas.
"There's absolutely nothing in my garden that originated within 1,000 miles of my house," he says. "Tomatoes originated in Mexico. Basil came from Italy. Onions came from Europe. I live in Massachusetts. There's absolutely nothing in there from New England."
Columbus and his men brought wheat, cattle and domesticated animals like horse and sheep to the Americas. As more Europeans followed, they brought a plethora of insects and animal-borne diseases that had not previously existed outside Europe.
"All of the great diseases from smallpox to measles to influenza ... [did not] exist in the Americas because they didn't have any domesticated animals," says Mann. "When the Europeans came over, it was as if all the deaths over the millennium caused by these diseases were compressed into 150 years in the Americas. The result was to wipe out between two-thirds and 90 percent of the people in the Americas. It was the worst demographic disaster in history."
Charles C. Mann is a journalist and contributing editor for Atlantic Monthly and Science.
J.D. Sloan
Charles C. Mann is a journalist and contributing editor for Atlantic Monthlyand Science.
Early accounts and diaries mentioned the epidemics in their accounts of life in the 1500s and 1600s. But it wasn't until the 1960s that modern historians realized the scale of the human death toll in the years following Columbus' landing, says Mann.
"When you start adding up everything that we know, it becomes apparent that there was just an enormous catastrophe that took place," says Mann. "These diseases exploded like chains of firecrackers across the landscape."
Mann is also the co-author of The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics; The Aspirin Wars: Money, Medicine, and 100 Years of Rampant CompetitionNoah's Choice: The Future of Endangered Species and @ Large: The Strange Case of the Internet's Biggest Invasion. His book 1491 received the U.S. National Academy of Sciences' Keck Award for best book of the year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Tragic demise of “People of the West Wind”

Entire tribe commits suicide during battle with Spaniards

History by Kris Delaplane Conti

Stone Age people were the first inhabitants of Solano County. This is known through artifacts found in Green Valley some years ago and dated by archaeologists to 2000 B.C. The next residents that we know of were the Patwin Indians. These people were the southern branch of the Wintun group and they lived in the region for a thousand years or more; some figures are as high as 4,000 years.

Telling the story of these native people is riddled with uncertainties as nothing was ever chronicled. What has been recorded is based on what was known of similar Indian groups, lore and best guess. Spellings vary from record to record, as these names were written phonetically.

How many Patwins inhabited the section Solano County between what is now Suisun, Vacaville and Putah Creek? Estimates put the number between 2,500 and 5,000. These were the Southern Patwins and they formed themselves into small tribes - Ululatos (Vacaville), Labaytos (Putah Creek), Malacas (Lagoon Valley), Tolenas (Upper Suisun Valley) and Suisunes (Suisun Plain).

The relations between tribes were generally good and trade routes were well established with Indian tribes farther away. Occasionally, however, the tribes became hostile toward one another and the usual argument was over poaching on another’s land for game or fish.

When clashes would break out, it was “take no prisoners” and women suffered the same fate as the men. However, just as often peace was negotiated before things came to this.

Most accountings show that each tribal village consisted of 100 people; nevertheless, at least one account says 1,500.

No on-site sketches were made, but it is believed that the Patwins of this region lived in conical-shaped huts made of tule thatch. A separate house was constructed for women in menstruation or childbirth.

For social gatherings there was a sweathouse for the men. This would be beside a stream or river and the ritual was much like a Finnish sauna; bake in the sweathouse, then jump in cool water.

Food was plentiful; the diet varied. The people were hunters and gatherers. The main staple of their diet was the acorn, which they would leach with sand and ash-water to take out the bitterness and poison and make it palatable for meal or flour for bread.

(Here’s a recipe for acorn mush: Shell dry acorns. With a meat grinder, process acorns into find flour. Put flour into a muslin-lined colander and run warm water through, stirring occasionally, until flour loses its bitterness. Squeeze out excess water. Dry flour. Cook 4 cups of flour to 12 cups of cold water, stirring constantly at a slow boil for 1/2 hour. Reduce heat and cook another 1 1/2 hours. Eat hot or cold. Add dash of salt if you wish. Bon appetit!)

Other foods were the buckeye ball, pine nuts, juniper and manzanita berries, blackberries and wild grapes. Sunflower, aliflaria, clover, bunchgrass, wild oat and a yellow flower provided seeds that were dried and pounded into a meal. Brodiaea bulbs and tule roots were some other plant foods collected and stored. Bulbs were baked or boiled.

The people were, of course, adept at stalking local game: deer, antelope, tule elk and bear. They also had the hunt of wild duck, geese, and quail. Fish were abundant in Suisun Bay and rivers and sloughs that prevailed.

They built canoes out of tule rushes and fished for salmon with spears. Nets were strung between the tule reeds in narrow waterways and sloughs to gather other fish. The deer meat and salmon were sun dried and pulverized into a meal to be stored.

Basket weaving was a highly developed art among the Patwins. Some uses of baskets were to hold babies and as pots for cooking. They were also adept at making tools. Local rocks were shaped into implements. Points and diggers were fashioned from basalt near Vacaville.

Indians of this area made due with little clothing; a loincloth, an apron woven with tule rushes or made of rabbit skins did the trick. Shell beads and feather headdresses were much the fashion. Dances and rituals were a deep part of their culture. To this, women tattooed their faces and men painted themselves excessively.

Europeans were to make their presence known by the early 1800s. However, as early as 1775 they were here. The vessel San Carlos entered San Francisco Bay and for several weeks Jose de Canizares went exploring. For one night he and his men found shelter in a bay at Benicia. No contact with the Indians was made. We can only wonder if the local Indians saw this alien presence.

In the early 1800s, Spain controlled California and the building of the missions was well under way. Indians from various tribes along the way were captured, removed form their native places and while becoming “civilized” labored to build missions, pueblos and presidios. The first mention of the Suisun Indians in any records is a baptismal record at the San Jose Mission dated 1807. By 1810 and 1811 the number recorded is much larger. Other small tribes - Tolenas Malacas and Ululatos - appear in San Francisco and San Jose records in 1816, 1817 and 1819.

Masses of Indians were caught in the convert-or-else net in the missions in San Jose and San Francisco. Needless to say, a number of Indians were reluctant converts. The main village, Yulyul, of the Suisuns, the “People of the West Wind,” is believed to have been where Rockville is today. The distance of the Suisun tribe from the missions appealed to those Indians unwilling to take up the faith and give up their native ways. These “rebels” stole horses to seek their freedom and a return to the natural ways by joining up with the Patwin tribes of the Solano County region.

With the stolen horses in hand, slowly but surely the Suisun Tribe hod a serious increase in horse herds and by the early 1800s a small cavalry developed that launched angry attacks on various mission outposts.

This was not taken lightly by the Spaniards and in May 1810 Gabriel Moraga and 17 soldiers crossed the Carquinez Strait to launch an attack on the hostile Indians. They were met by 125 warriors and a fierce battle took place.

Outmanning the Spaniards was of no avail. The Indians were driven into three huts. Those in the first two huts were killed. The Indians in the third hut set themselves afire. This is, we gather, a Spanish accounting of the event. A supposed Suisunes version reads that, as the Suisunes proved to be unwilling prisoners, they were fired upon and flaming torches were tossed on their huts.

In 1817 the commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco was Jose DeArguello. He sent his lieutenant Jose Sanchez, with a small army to conquer the Indians of the Suisun Tribe. The exact battle site is lost to time, but it is assumed to have been in the low-lying hills behind Benicia. A poisoned arrow pierced the air, and the war was on. How long it lasted, how many lives were lost is for us to wonder about. What is known is that the Spaniards gained ground to what is Fairfield and Suisun today. This was where the main village of Chief Malica, sachem of the Suisun Tribe, was located, and where the Chief Malica chose to meet his death and that of the “People of the West Wind.”

A mass suicide took place before the Spaniards’ very eyes. The conical huts, rush-built wickiup, burst in flames one by one. The chief, singing his own death song, leaped into the burning rush. Braves of the tribe followed. Soon the entire village took up the droning chant till their voices rose higher and higher, ending in shrieks of pain. Hut after hut burst into flame. Women with babes in arms or children clinging to their hands, singing their death songs, plunged to their doom.

The sight horrified the Spaniards. They rushed in to save the frenzied Indians, but their efforts were in vain. A few Indians fled their fate and sought refuge in the nearby hills, but as a whole, the “People of the West Wind” perished.

Sem Yeto, at 6-foot-7, was an imposing young brave of the Suisun Tribe. He purportedly was in line to become chief by virtue of his noble birth. One story has him off hunting at the time of the battle and ensuing mass suicide. Another tale is that chief Malica convinced Sem Yeto to flee and take his rightful place as leader of the remaining tribe. Exactly when he was captured and what numbers of the Suisun people remained is not substantiated. Perhaps he fled to the hills with a small group for the next six years. Perhaps he was captured and living at mission outposts. We get a fix on him through the missionary baptismal records.

The Franciscans established their last mission in Sonoma in 1823, and it was given the name San Francisco de Solano. Shortly thereafter, Sem Yeto was baptized and given the name Francisco Solano. Thus it is for this Indian chief that Solano County was named. The converted Sem Yeto lived in Sonoma and Suisun Valley outposts.

The Suisun tribe had represented the eastern wing of the Sonoma tribe, which was scattered through Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Solano counties. It was Sem Yeto, a man of peace and not war, who would bring under his command all the Sonoma Indians and bring about peace between the remaining Indians and the Spaniards. Sem Yeto was also to be of great assistance and became a friend to Gen. Mariano Vallejo in the ensuing years. He and Vallejo are often mentioned together in history of Solano County; theirs was as friendship and an alliance.

Though a converted man and basically a man of peace, Solano was often influenced by the instincts of his past. Stories cropped up that he would occasionally join a band of Indians and attack the Spaniards; but he was always foreign and bought back onto the fold.

Chief Solano’s position came to an abrupt end at the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, when Gen. Vallejo was taken prisoner by Americans form Sutter’s Fort. Though only jailed, rumor was widespread that the general had died. Believing this, Sem Yeto, wanting to avoid the same fate, fled north and traveled form tribe to tribe in Oregon and Washington and possibly Alaska.

Then, lonely for his native land, he returned in 1850. He died of pneumonia soon after at the old Yulyul village site in Rockville. True to custom, this old Indian chief was buried by his people secretly. The precise burial place of Chief Solano is unknown, but legend is strong that his bones rest at the entrance of what is today Solano Community College.

Published February 26, 1995 in the Vacaville Reporter

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A Birthplace of Native Americans

Studying DNA, at least one major birthplace of Native Americans appears to be in the Altay Region, Southern Siberia, just west of Mongolia:

Is This Russian Landscape the Birthplace of Native Americans?