Indians of San Mateo County California

In Portola’s narrative of the first expedition in search of Monterey Bay he makes several allusions to the Indians through whose country they were passing; sometimes referring to them as very friendly and sometimes as hostile.

The Indians of the county were an inferior race, and not to be compared to the fierce warriors of the plains west of the Rockies. They were not red or copper colored, but almost as dark as Negroes. In stature they were rather short but their well knit frames possessed great strength and endurance.

Father Engelhardt, in his “History of the California Missions,” thus describes their way of living: “Their habitations were primitive, consisting in the summer of a mere shelter of brush. Their winter quarters were a flimsy structure of poles fixed in the ground and drawn together at the top, at a height of ten or twelve feet. The poles were interwoven with small twigs, and the structure then covered with tules or tufts of dried grass. In some places these dwellings were conical in shape ; in others oblong, and their size ranged according to the number of people living in them.

“At a distance they resembled large beehives or small haystacks. On one side there was an opening for a door, at the top another for smoke. Here the family, including relatives and friends, huddled around the fire without privacy and without beds or other furniture. In these huts were kept a few baskets, a stone mortar or two, some scanty rags of clothing and food obtained from the hunt. All refuse food and bones were left where they were dropped, giving the earth the appearance of a dog kennel. Fleas and other vermin abounded in this mass of filth, which soon became too offensive even for savages, and they adopted the very simple method of setting fire to the hut and building another.”

These Indians waged few wars against other tribes; but from time to time they attacked the missions in the nearby regions, despoiled them and carried away the converts as prisoners and slaves.

In 1792 George Vancouver, the English navigator who traversed this region on horseback, from the Mission of San Francisco to that at Santa Clara, described the Indians as quite numerous throughout the peninsula. Some, he wrote, roamed through the country, while others inhabited villages adjacent to the missions.

Those who came under the refining influence of the priests were taught the tenets of the faith and the rudiments of farming; while the young women were instructed in the weaving of coarse but serviceable cloth. Many of the younger women were persuaded to live entirely within the enclosures of the missions, until they were married, when the Franciscan fathers fondly hoped that they would in turn convert their husbands.

When the grain and other products of the field were harvested, these were fairly divided among the Indian families, in a sort of Utopian manner. At the Mission of Santa Clara, where the natives were more numerous than at the San Francisco Mission, twenty-four bullocks were slaughtered every Saturday night to meet the needs of the community. Of this number the priests only appropriated six for their own use.

From this time on, the numbers of the Indians dwindled; and when settlers began to slowly establish themselves in the country, they found only a scattering of natives. These were located mostly in the neighborhood of Halfmoon Bay, and at a place later known as the 17-Mile House. The lumber jacks at Searsville found less than half a dozen inhabiting that part of the country.

Indian mounds located in various parts of the county, are evidence of a large Indian population which had been there for many generations. These mounds were the former sites of Indian villages. and acquired their elevation through receiving the refuse from the camp and the bodies of the (lead. Upon the crest of these mounds can be seen the remains of the “sweat house” or council chamber where the braves held their powwows and also indulged in hot medicinal baths.

Scattered about and half buried in the ground have been discovered many evidences of Indian life, such as stone mortars, crude fishing tackle, animal traps, weapons, stone cooking utensils, ornaments of shell and stone, and ashes of the dead.

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