Home City Council Departments Services Calendar Contact Us Search
Las Trampas Regional Park views

San Ramon LogoIndians of the San Ramon Valley

This information comes from the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in 2001.

For untold centuries people have lived in the San Ramon Valley.  They built their homes by the creeks, hunted in the valley and worshipped on the Mountain.

The First PeopleGreger Village

Today we call these first people Indians or Native Americans.  While little information remains about the valley Indians' specific culture, they would have had an intimate relationship with the land, a cycle of life which changed very gradually from generation to generation and a tribal organization which owned the rights to hunt, fish, gather and pray within clearly designated territories.

Living in village communities of 50 to 200 people, the rhythm of their lives was determined by one harvest or another.  The Bay Area and the San Ramon Valley provided an enormous variety of foods.  The Indians collected acorns, nuts and seeds, hunted birds, deer and elk, fished and gathered all kinds of plants.  Sometimes large groups met for feasts and dances, including autumn festivals on Mount Diablo. Some people lived along the small streams and springs of the Mt. Diablo foothills either permanently or seasonally.

Sacred Mount Diablo

Mount Diablo was sacred to the valley Native Americans, as it was to other Indians who lived within sight of it.  Many Indian tribes had traditions and creation accounts which featured the Mountain.

Each tribe had its name for the Mountain.  The Costanoan speaking people south of Mount Diablo called it Tuyshtak. Early Spaniards named it Cerro Alto de los Bolbones (High Point of the Volvons) for the tribe which controlled the summit and eastern areas of the Mountain.  The name Mount Diablo (Devil's Thicket in Spanish) originated during a Spanish expedition around 1804.  The superstitious Spanish soldiers called a willow thicket Monte Diablo when a group of Chupcan Indians from today's Concord area escaped from them during the night.  Later the name was transferred to the Mountain.

Choris Indians
Louis Choris, drawings of "Three Bay Area Indians"
Courtesy of the Bancroft Library

The Spanish Arrive

In 1772, the first westerners traveled through the San Ramon Valley.  In his diary for March 31, Father Juan Crespi said that they "came to three villages with some little grass houses.  As soon as the heathen caught sight of us they ran away, shouting and panic-stricken."  The next day he noted that the Valley had "level land, covered with grass and trees, with many and good creeks, and with numerous villages of very gentle and peaceful heathen. It is a very suitable place for a good mission."

Spanish priests first recorded the names by which San Ramon Valley Indians were known to their neighbors: Tatcan and Seunen.  The Tatcans were part of the Bay Miwork linguistic group.  The Tatcans lived in the Alamo-Danville-San Ramon area in the watershed of the San Ramon Creek.  The Seunens were Ohlone (Costanoan) speakers and lived south of today's Norris Canyon Road in San Ramon and Dublin.  A huge marsh around today's I580-I680 interchange provided rich food supplies for Indians in that area.

In the fall of 1794 the Bay Miwok Saclans (from Walnut Creek-Lafayette) and Tatcans went to Mission Dolores in San Francisco.  The Spanish weapons and their unusual gifts intrigued the Indians; some of them wanted to ally themselves with the powerful newcomers.  But, only months after they moved to Mission Dolores, an epidemic swept the Mission.  In the spring of 1795 a large number of Indians fled the Mission and returned home.  For nearly ten years the Saclans and other neighboring tribes fought against the Spanish -- "gentle and peaceful" no more.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

Founded in 1797, this Mission attracted Seunens beginning in 1801, although Seunens and Tatcans went to Mission Dolores as well.  Had it not been for the hostility of many tribes in the inland valleys, the Spanish would have placed Mission San Jose in the Amador,  San Ramon or Diablo Valleys, instead of a mere 13 miles from Mission Santa Clara.

The inland valleys became part of Mission San Jose's grazing land and recruitment area.  An Indian named Ramon lived in the San Ramon Valley and tended mission cattle and sheep during the winter months; he later was an alcalde of the Mission Indians.  His name was given to the Creek and Valley, with "San" added to conform to the Spanish usage of the day.

Ultimately contact with the Spanish destroyed the Indians' way of life.  The livestock ravaged their carefully nurtured meadows.  Western diseases and Spanish cultural and spiritual expectations altered Indian society forever. 

The Rancho Era

Padre teaching neophytes the art of brandingIn 1833 and 1834, just as the Missions San Jose and San Francisco were being prepared for secularization, two Ranchos were granted by the Mexican government in the San Ramon Valley.  Both were called Rancho San Ramon.  The pastoral rancho era began, with lands carved from former Mission areas. The cattle and sheep brought to these Ranchos were probably former mission livestock.  Cattle hides and tallow provided the economic basis for the Ranchos.

Jose Maria Amador's Rancho San Ramon eventually included over 16,000 acres, with his headquarters in today's Dublin.  He employed Indian and Mexican workers and developed an industrial center which produced leather goods, harnesses, wagons and furniture.  Mariano Castro and Bartolo Pacheco, owners of the northern Rancho, lived elsewhere because of the aggressive Indian tribes in the area.

Mission San Jose became a parish church with no more temporal control over the Indians in 1836.  The Indians scattered to work on the Ranchos and at the Pueblo of San Jose.  Some more recent recruits went back to their tribes in the Central Valley.  On a rancheria in Pleasanton, called Alisal, Indians from different tribes preserved their customs and traditional religious practices for many years.

American California

When the Gold Rush began, it transformed California from a slow-paced Mexican territory to a lively and populous American state.  Although the Indians controlled most of the inland area, thousands of miners invaded these traditional lands and decimated these tribes.  California, which entered the Union as a free state in 1850, passed laws which allowed Indians to be enslaved by any white man.  Children and young women were taken and sold as servants.  Not until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, was the so-called "Act for the Protection of the Indians" repealed.

Choris BasketsThere are 242,000 Indians in California today, more than 40,000 of them California natives.  Most live in urban areas, but many are still part of over 100 traditional communities in rural rancherias and reservations. 

The traditional Tatcan and Seunen tribes of the San Ramon Valley are no more. The artifacts unearthed next to creeks by bulldozers and the bedrock mortar holes on Mount Diablo remind us that a culture of great antiquity existed in this Valley just 250 years ago.

Sources:

  • Randall T. Milliken, An Ethnohistory of the Indian People of the San Francisco Bay Area from 1770 to 1810  (Berkeley: Dissertation, 1991).
  • A Time of Little Choice   The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area 1769-1810  (Menlo Park:  Ballena Press, 1995)
  • Bev Ortiz, " Mount Diablo As Myth and Reality, An Indian History Convoluted," American Indian Quarterly  (Fall, 1989)
  • This information comes from the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in 2001.
  • Louis Choris, drawings of "Three Bay Area Indians" and of "Weapons and Utensils," 1816, courtesy of the Bancroft Library
  • Drawing of "The Padre Teaching Indians" and Village scene by Al Greger, 1996.
  • Conceptual Drawings of Mission San Jose by Jo Mora.

 

We provide efficient delivery of quality public services that are essential to those who live and work in San Ramon.
7000 Bollinger Canyon Rd, San Ramon, CA 94583 | Map | Phone (925) 973-2500 | Fax (925) 866-1436