Traditions and Landmarks of Yolo
Kathryn Jean Simmons
Extract relating to the Indians of Yolo County
Miss Kathryn Jean Simmons (c.1860-1939) was a member of a pioneer family that settled in the central Sacramento Valley. She grew up in the 1860s and 1870s in the Knight's Landing area (Grafton), where she observed the customs and traditions of the local Indians, who were probably speakers of the River Patwin dialect, and whose ancestors had likely come from the ancient Patwin village of Yolo. Many years later as a teacher and local historian she put together a speech that appeared on February 16, 1905 in the Woodland Daily Democrat. Portions of her speech follow that relate to the Indians of Yolo County.
The following Indian tradition, relative to the great valley of central California, and as such applicable to our own county, is of such ancient origin that it would be impossible to trace it even if it were possible to do so by the Indian moons. It passed from father to son through countless generations of Indians until it was at last interpreted by the Mission Fathers.
"Many, many moons ago this great valley of central California was a vast inland sea, having for its eastern boundary a range of mountains now known as the Sierra Nevada, and for the western boundary the Coast Range. The Indians lived around its shores happy and contented, going back into the mountains in search of game and again returning to fish along its peaceful shores. In the midst of this quiet and contented life an earthquake shook this body of water to its very depths, Mt. Diablo was upheaved a blazing mountain, emitting vast quantities of smoke and fire, from which it takes its name, Devil Mountain. The sun was obscured and the terrified Indians, convulsed with fear, lay prostrate on the ground, or fled toward the mountains. On the third day the smoke cleared, and this vast body of water was found to have escaped through an opening in the Coast Range, now known as the Golden Gate, and what was before a vast inland sea had become a beautiful inland valley."
The Indians in time occupied this valley, not divided, however, as they were in the northern part of the state into large tribes, but scattered over its surface in innumerable small bands. When the first settlers came to Yolo county they found a number of these bands located in different sections of the county. One of these bands, the Yodos, is of especial interest to us. The word "Yodo" is an Indian word, meaning "the land of tules or rushes", and Yolo, the name of the county, is a corruption of this word. This band occupied the region in and around Knights Landing, and their chief, Yodo, is well remembered by old settlers. He is described as being somewhat of a finer type of Indian than the average "digger". He wore his hair roached high off his forehead, and sitting 1n council surrounded by bands of Indians collected from different parts of the county and other counties he made a striking figure.
According to accounts of these early settlers, the Indian population In Yolo county and all through the great central valley at the time of their coming was very sparse. There were two reasons for this: The bleached and dismembered remains of Indians were found in large quantities, as evidence that some fatal disease had quickly decimated their number. These were so thick in the vicinity of the Yodo mound at Knights Landing, where Mr. Wm. Knight built his first rude house, that he collected and buried them in one side of the mound. Another and more potent reason was owing to the fact that the Mission Fathers had previously traveled through the valley and succeeded in gathering many of these Indians around the missions of southern California. When the secularization of the missions was completed, permission was granted by the Mexican government to many of these settlers to bring the Indians back to the places from which they had originally been taken. Mr. Knight brought to his grant 90 at one time.
These bands of Indians did not assume any tribal relations, consequently their mode of life was very primitive and wholly devoid of tradition. They were so mild In their dealings with the early white settlers that their actions often reached the point of timidity and they fled from the whites more often than they approached them for the purpose of warfare.
They were found in an extremely nude condition. In summer all they required was to be shaded from the sun, and for this a pile of bushes, a tree, or the shelter of a crag sufficed. Their winter huts were a trifle more pretentious. Willow poles were set upright in the ground and the tops drawn together, forming a conical structure. Brush or strips of bark were then piled up against the poles and the whole was sometimes covered with a thick layer of mud. A hole in the top let the smoke escape and a small opening close to the ground admitted the occupants. Collections of these native huts, called by a familiar localism "rancharee," were found scattered over various parts of Yolo county. One may still be found at the head of Capay valley. This one as it now exists may not be typical of early Indian life in the county, but a visit to it disclosed some interesting facts. They have erected in front of one of their wigwams a pole, closely resembling the totem pole of the Alaska Indians. This was wrapped with different pieces of colored cotton cloth. Investigation disclosed the fact that this was a record of the history of the band.
They were found engaged in the ingenious and skillful art of basket-maklng and their baskets are said to rank among the best In the state. The food of these roving bands was easily obtained, which accounts in a measure for their laziness, a characteristic the Indians of central California are especially noted for. Game and fish were plentiful, but they preferred a vegetable diet and subsisted principally on acorns, roots, grass seeds and berries.
One custom, the Indian dance, common to all Indians, whether living in tribes or bands was witnessed by early settlers. The Indian adorned himself with feather ornaments, painted his body with glaring colors, sometimes painting one-half of his body one color and the other half a contrasting color, and in this brilliant plumage more resembled a bird than a human being. The dancing was accompanied by yodelings, clapping of hands and other instruments. The mode of burial among these bands was cremation and the scene ---???--- a weird spectacle. In a frenzy of excitement the friends and relatives leaped about the body. The fingers were dipped in the remains and smeared over their faces as a badge of mourning. It was allowed to remain there until worn off by the action of the weather. Much more might be said in a general way of the life and custom of these Indians. Bancroft in his "Native Races of the Pacific Coast" denotes many pages in describing the Indians of the great central valley, but since his description applies to all the bands and no special mention is made to any in Yolo county, I have preferred to treat of the Indians as the early settlers found them.
Kathyrn Simmons was born c.1860 in California,