Lake County News Columns

Kathleen Scavone

Lake County Time Capsule: Salt in Pomo Indian history

LAKE COUNTY, Calif., – Before pioneers began to inhabit and change the landscape of what is now Lake County, the various Indian nations such as the Pomo, Miwok, Wappo, Yuki and Patwin Indians would have looked upon great deciduous oak woodlands and ever-green pine forests.

The viewer's eye would not have spied pastures, hay-fields, vineyards and orchards.

The grounds coursed then with a lacework of creeks teeming thick with fish. Some areas would have resembled parks with the advent of spring's verdant growth after a control burn utilized to manage acorn harvests and hunting grounds.

All food, medicines and homes were provided by the earth.

Salt was then, as now, a mineral of great importance. Most of the California Indians used salt to enhance the taste of their food and to chew on, and some salt was used for medicinal purposes. Salt was a curative for stomach ailments or other minor maladies.

Tribes obtained salt from various sources. It could be harvested from grasses, from mineral deposits, and also from some marshes. It also was obtained when it was harvested during one of their trade expeditions to the coast.

According to "The Handbook of North American Indians" in an article by McLendon and Sowalt , along with a paper in the "Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology" by Helen McCarthy, entitled "Salt Pomo: An Ethnogeography," the landscape that the California Indians inhabited could be described by what activities took place within a particular area, or even named for foods that were harvested there.

A name of an area could also have been derived from the various stories, myths or some other detail with significance, such as a hazard that a particular landscape feature contained.

The study of these particular place names has been undertaken over time, and presents insight into the Indians and the lands they once inhabited, and is known as ethnogeography.

Although salt was important to most California Indians, and most certainly to the Indians who lived in what is now Lake County, the Salt Pomo or “Tceefoka” as they were known, once lived in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley in what is now Colusa County, at the Big Stony Creek area near Stonyford.

The areas that the roughly 350 Salt Pomo Indians once inhabited were previously thought to be the territories of the Patwin and Wintun groups.

Some of the salt was obtained via a deposit created by salty water having seeped, then crystallized during the hot months. Then, the salt was simply gathered, and cleaned until it was white and ready to use.

There is evidence of a series of well-used trails and many seasonal camps that led to the important commodity of salt that interconnect the Clear Lake Pomo, Indians from Potter and Round valleys to the Sacramento Valley salt gathering areas.

Typically, salt was paid for during or after gathering. This economic resource was stolen by some, when the Salt Wars of the early 19th century ensued.

This area of great import to so many California Indians was, sadly, disturbed by Californios who made raids to the Indians' camps for the purpose of enslaving the Indians to work the ranchos.

Originally published by Lake County News

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