The Coastal Post - January, 1998

The Indians In Marin


The Indians, the first people of coastal Marin, have been around for thousands of years. The 1880 History of Marin by Morrow-Frazer describes the Indians as being nomadic, traveling in search of food and water. "They had no fixed habitat. They roamed from place to place fishing, hunting and gathering. In every stream there were fish, on every mountainside there was game, acorns and pinenuts, roots."

They forded streams on rafts constructed of bundles of tule bound together. "They were remarkable athletes, and as swimmers they were unexcelled."

The men wore nothing, but the women wore "scanty aprons of fancy skins or feathers extending to their knees." The married women wore bracelets, usually of bone, around the ankle or arm. Polygamy was a recognized institution.

Their dialects were as various as those in China today. Natives of San Diego could not understand those of Los Angeles or Monterey or the Miwoks.

Their remains were buried in earth mounds or shell mounds, one of which is found at the Bolinas School site and another at the Audubon Canyon Ranch, and in Marshall.

They were treated as slaves at the missions. Syphilis, measles and smallpox, which they had not encountered before, killed many. The United States Army and the '49ers killed many more.

They used witch doctors and sweat boxes for health.

They were in awe of the grizzly bear, as well as certain mountains, Mt. Tamalpais included.

They believed "Good Indians go to big hill; bad Indians go to bad place."

A more modern account I found in Interviews with Tom Smith and Maria Cops, by Isabelle Kelley, who wrote of the Coast Miwok and southern Sonoma County Indians. It is interesting to note that Kelley was hired by the anthropologist Krocher, who wrote the well-known Ishi, a biography of the last wild Indian in North America.

That book describes the Indians as "a group of hunters and gatherers living in peace with their neighbors in a temperate climate, able exploiters of the vast array of foodstuffs, both animal and vegetable, a people with a rich and ceremonial life, competent weavers of exceptionally fine baskets (some of which held water)."

"Although only bone, stone and shell survived in shell mounds, these fragments revealed clues about their social life, technology, artistic traditions, religious practices and diet."

The book contains information about their herbal knowledge, descriptions of girls who came of age being tattooed (usually by their grandmothers), fables and dances.

Isabel Kelly worked on the Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin, the Indian Preserve at Point Reyes National Seashore. Replicas of an old dance house (round house), sweat lodge, acorn granaries, and tule and redwood bark houses were built with traditional tools and technology in order to learn more about Miwok culture.

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