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History of Laguna de Santa

posted Mar 3, 2012, 10:26 AM by Western Sonoma County Historical Society   [ updated Mar 3, 2012, 10:46 AM ]

Whaling Captain Settles Along the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Charles M. Scammon bought a farm along the Laguna in the 1870s. Scammon is best known for his years of whaling and the book he wrote from his observations of whales. Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America in 1874.

Scammon was born into a sailing family in Maine in 1825, Scammon went to sea at 17. He arrived in San Francisco in 1849. He led many whaling expeditions to Mexico and discovered a Baja lagoon where the migrating whales gave birth.

The Scammon's, Charles and his son, Alexander, tried farming in the Sebastopol area until 1902 when they sold their property.

Hunting and Fishing on the Laguna

In the mid-1800's as white settlers began homesteading in the area, the Laguna held an extraordinary abundance of wild game, fish and waterfowl.

With the California Gold Rush in 1849 came thousands to Northern California.

Wild game hunters came also to make their fortune feeding the gold prospectors and the Laguna proved to be a vast hunting ground. These market hunters killed wagon loads of elk, antelope, deer, quail, duck and bear that were hauled to the Petaluma Creek and shipped to San Francisco and on to the gold fields. Antelope and deer fetched $20 each, a large elk was worth $40, ducks brought $1 each and quail went for $9 a dozen.

The Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho

In 1843, Joaquin Carrillo applied for a grant of the Rancho Llano de Santa Rosa containing 13,336.55 acres, which included much of the Laguna. Joaquin was Maria Carrillo's eldest son. Senor Carrillo built a home near what is now downtown Sebastopol and began to farm cultivating 100 to 300 acres of corn, barley and wheat.

When settlers arrived after the Gold Rush, Carrillo sold off parcels of his land. The Miller (actually spelled Millar) and Walker. Trading post was situated on former Carrillo land.

Charcoal From the Laguna

Up until the 1830's the Laguna was a dense forest with thousands of oak trees. Acorn mush was a major food staple for the Laguna Indians and each fall they gathered tons of acorns for their winter food supply.

With the arrival of Europeans, the face of the Laguna began to change. Farmers to make way for farmland girdled thousands of oaks. A huge charcoal business developed as the wood from the oak was burned to make charcoal that was a much-desired commodity in San Francisco restaurants. In 1878, 150 railroad carloads of the charcoal were shipped from the town of Fulton.

Farming Along the Laguna

Joaquin Carrillo was not alone in his farming efforts. John Cooper's El Molino ranch in 1833 produced barley, cattle and hogs.

Otis Allen planted hops along the Laguna in 1874 with great success. By the turn of the 20th century many dairymen had developed herds in the area also.

Farmers tried to control Laguna water flow with ditches, drains and dredging. A sediment dam formed what was called Ballard Lake. In the early 20th century, farmers dynamited the dam then used a backhoe to open a drainage ditch. Ballard Lake disappeared in a day.

Recreation On the Laguna

Other lakes and swimming holes were developed along the Laguna as the previously mentioned Ballard Lake.

Lake Jonive covered 40 acres near today's Occidental Road at High School Road. The Moran family built a 120 foot landing and boat rental operation. The public could fish and swim there also. In 1912, it was reported that the P&SR Railroad even thought about building a branch line to the lake.

Egrets at the Laguna

The striking while breeding plumage of the Great Egret nearly led to its extinction.

During the Victorian era, the delicate white feathers were in great demand as adornment for m'lady's fine hats. An ounce of prime egret feathers was worth $32 to hunters in 1903. Double the price of gold at the time. Later, the price soared to as much as $80 an ounce.

Not only were the birds destroyed, eggs in the next and young birds were lost. Egrets were at one time on the verge of extinction. Betty Burridge, local bird watcher reported there was a sighting of an egret in 1908 and in 1913 they started seeing a few. But in the 1920s the sighting of either a Great Egret or a Snowy Egret was still a notable event. By the 1940s they were beginning to noticeably recover.

The outcry of preservationists led to international laws forbidding sale of egret feathers (and led to the creation of the Audubon Society). Populations have reestablished in the last 75 years. Today, the Great Egret, The Snowy Egret and the Cattle Egret can be found in Sonoma County wetlands.

-- Excerpted from Nesting of the California Cuckoo by Alfred C. Shelton, 1911

The Laguna as Sewer

Sebastopol citizens recognized they had a serious sewage problem by the late 1800s. Downtown sewage flowed through open gutters leading to a diphtheria epidemic as well as a continuously bad smelling town.

With incorporation in 1902, the new city hoped to deal with the sewage problems in a more healthful and efficient way. The City pumped out private cesspools. Then in 1906, a bond issue was passed to invest in a major sewer and water system.

The estate of John Brown donated land along the Laguna for a sewer farm. The City's new septic tank collected the effluent but within a few years the discharge of untreated sewage began to taint Lake Jonive on the Laguna.

Native Americans and the Laguna

Professor John Crevelli in an essay entitled Cultural Perspectives of the Laguna de Santa Rosa relates the history of Native American existence along the Laguna.

Here are some excerpts from that work:

European settlers moved into the Laguna around 1830. Indian settlers moved into the Laguna about 10,000 years earlier. In fact, a Santa Rosa Junior College archaeology class found an obsidian artifact thought to be 11,100 years old in the Laguna.

In 1908 Anthropologist S.A. Barrett, in his study The Ethno-Geography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians, identified 11 Pomo village sites on the Laguna. We know that at least seven of the Barrett sites were north of present Highway 12 and well beyond Sebastopol city limits. In subsequent years, particularly in the last 20 years (this essay is not dated) or so, fieldwork has unearthed many more archaeological sites, at least 10 along the Laguna inside the city limits of Sebastopol and all located south of Highway 12.

The major village site for the Konhomtara on the west bank of the Laguna, as documented by S.A. Barrett, was Batiklachawi, just southwest of where the railroad depot was located in Sebastopol and where Pomo people still resided in 1908.

The Laguna people looked upon their mastery of coiling, twining and weaving as a synthesis of the intimate knowledge of the plants from which the baskets were made. As one accomplished weaver explained, The basket is in the roots, that¹s where it begins. The cultivation of the sedge field, and encouragement of the plant to grow straight with supple roots, the knowledge gained from generations of experience, plus the annual labor and attention to detail was required to help the plant fulfill its destiny. A failure to talk, sing or pray to plants was like being a neglectful parent.

The great basket-maker, Mabel McKay, once said, When people don't use plants they get scare. You must use them so they will come up again. All plants are like that. If they're not gathered from, or talked to, or cared about, they'll die.  She advocated restraint in harvesting, respect for the ways of the plant, and ³doing what the plant would want.

The Pomo, Coast Miwok and Wappo saw themselves as an integral part of nature. In their worldview, plant and animal forms had intelligence and feelings that were equal to man. There were rituals of supplication and appreciation. Hunters had to be physically clean before a hunt, not just to remove human scent, but because the deer wished it to be so before he would permit himself to be killed. Killing an animal, using a spring, entering a cave was always preceded by a ritual and a prayer.