Early HistoryWhere should we start our history? Let's begin with the formation of the Earth, 4.5 billion years ago.Another way to look at our past is a geologic time spiral, which focuses on plants and animals as well as the history of the rocks.Here is what the continents looked like 300 million years ago. The California story begins to get interesting during this time period. About 200 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean, which you can see below as the border between what will become Africa and what will become North America, started to spread. That pushed North America to the west, where it ran into the Pacific plate, which lay beneath the ocean water.The Pacific plate, which was made of heavier rock than the continental plate, sank beneath the continent's oncoming western edge, then melted in the hot depths of the Earth's mantle. Sediments and volcanic islands on the Pacific plate were made of materials too light to sink, and were scraped off and crumpled as the plates collided. Most of our area of California is made of those scraped off rocks. Some of the melted rocks floated up to become volcanoes because they were less dense than the other melted rocks, which sank.Evidence of our geologic history can be found in our local rocks.The oldest rocks in our area can be seen in the green area marked A. They are ultramafic rocks, formed during the Jurassic, 201 million years ago to 145 million years ago. Ultramafic rocks are dark seafloor rocks with very little silica (quartz) and lots of iron and magnesium, related to the rocks in the Earth's mantle. Our local rocks of this type are mostly serpentinite and periodotite. Serpentinite is a metamorphic rock, formed from ultramafic rocks exposed to water. It is California's state rock.This is a sample of serpentinite. It has a green tint, and often feels smooth.
The green color in this area comes from serpentinite rock. Few plants thrive in areas with serpentinite soil because of the high magnesium content. Manzanita loves serpentinite, and when you see manzanita, you often see serpentinite soils.B marks areas where marine mudstone and sandstone can be found. These rocks are from the early Cretaceous, and are 145 million to 100 million years old. The climate during the Cretaceous was warmer than it is now, and the Earth had many hot, desert areas. In our area, on the edge of the ocean, plants and animals looked like this.The rocks marked C are from the late Cretaceous, 100 million years old to 66 million years old. They are mostly marine sandstones, with some mudstone. The rocks at D are similar sandstone and mudstone, but younger. They are marine rocks from the Eocene, and are 66 million to 23 million years old. The rocks are a combination of mudstone and sandstone.The scene below shows Eocene animals.The rocks at E are younger and different. They are from the Tertiary, and are 24 million years old to 2 million years old. The rocks are a combination of rock from a volcanic eruption (andesite and rhyolite) and resulting mudflows. There were multiple active volcanoes in the Coast Range during this time period. Mt. Konocti, about two hours north of where we live, is a volcano. There are actually multiple volcanic domes and cones in the area, ranging from 10,000 years old to 2.1 million years old. Mt. Saint Helena in Napa County is also a five peak volcano. It erupted 2.4 million years ago.The rocks at F are 23 to 2.6 million years old, and consist of standstone and conglomerate. They were deposited when the earth looked like this.During the Pleistocene, animals included giant sloths, short-faced bears, tapirs, peccaries, the American lion, giant condors, American cheetahs, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, bison, giant beavers, giant tortoises, and camels.The rocks at G are between 7 and 3 million years old, and are dactite and rhyolite, both volcanic rocks. They came from the Sonoma volcanic field in the Napa area.The rocks at H are marine deposits that are between 5.3 million and 12,000 years old.The rocks below are from left to right rhyolite, andesite, and basalt. They are arranged in order of decreasing silica content. Silica has a light color, and the darker rocks have less of it.This is dacite, another volcanic rock from this time period. If it were in the picture above, it would fall between andesite and rhyolite. If it had cooled slowly underground instead of being ejected from a volcano, it would be granodiorite, which make up the Sierra Nevada mountains.As you drive on Interstate 80, here are some of the rocks you will see. These sketches are from Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California, which is a handy book to have if you are interested in the geology you pass when you travel.And here's a top view.
500 ADThe story of the people of the Solano County area begins with Native Americans. Since about 500 AD, Patwins have lived in this area, and there has been a Native American presence in our area since about 11,000 years ago. In the rest of the world in 500 AD, this was what was happening:
- The Gupta Empire in India was declining, but advances in mathematics continued, including the development of the decimal system, which used the concept of zero.
- The Roman Empire was declining, and Rome had been sacked multiple times. Christianity had become the dominant religion.
- China was weak and divided, with northern areas ruled by barbarian emperors.
- The Mayan civilization of central America was at its height. Their calendars showed that they had also developed the concept of zero.
- The Goths and Huns controlled Europe.
- Ethiopia, a Christian kingdom, emerged in Africa.
- In the Pacific, the Polynesians had settled the islands of Hawaii and Easter Island.
The Patwins were a southern branch of the Wintun tribe with their own language called Patwin. Patwin territory was bordered on the northwest by the Yuki tribe. On the north, there were the Nomlaki, also a Wintun group, with the Konkow, a Maidu group, in the northeast. On the east of Patwin territory lived the Nisenan, a Maidu group, and Plains Miwok. The Bay Miwok lived to the south and the Coast Miwok to the southwest. On the west of the Patwins lived the Wappo, Lake Miwok, and Pomo.The Patwins lived between what is now Suisun City, Vacaville, and Putah Creek. By 1800, they had been forced by the Spanish into small tribal units, with the Ululatos living in Vacaville, the Labaytos living by Putah Creek, the Malacas in Lagoon Valley, the Tolenas in upper Suisun Valley, and the Suisunes living on Suisun marsh and plain.Political OrganizationThe Patwins lived in tribelets, which were groups of about 100 people. Anthropologists call the groups tribelets, meaning little tribes, because they were smaller than the large tribes of the Native Americans who lived on the plains. Each tribelet has a territory and claimed the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in that area. Most warfare among California Native Americans was caused by territory disputes or by one triblet poaching game or acorns in another tribelet's territory.
Each triblet had a chief, who had absolute power as the community’s administrator and military leader. The chief divided the tribelet’s land among families for the gathering of seeds, acorns, and wild grains. Hunters brought all fish and meat to the chief for division among the households of the triblet.Chiefs led their triblets into warfare, but did not fight themselves. If a battle was not clearly won or lost by either side, the chiefs of each tribelet would arrange a peace through a process that involved an exchange of gifts. A council of the oldest and most respected family heads of the triblet advised the chief, but he was not bound to act on these suggestions. Communal tasks were allocated to individual families. Many Patwin triblet families inherited charms, rituals, or medicines, which were thought to endow the families with special aptitudes for such tasks as fishing, basket weaving, and caring for the sick. With the exception of some plant gathering and hunting activities, the inheritances passed through the male line of descent. Families who possessed these charms and rituals had an exalted social status.Hunting and Gathering for FoodMiner's lettuce, shown above, was a staple of the Patwin diet. It tastes a little bit like spinach, and is high in Vitamin C. It is called miner's lettuce because gold miners ate it during the gold rush.
The most important source of carbohydrates for the Patwin was acorns. Acorns had the same place in the Patwin diet as wheat flour for bread or corn flour for tortillas have for people in our area now. The Patwins collected acorns in the fall, and ground them into flour. Acorns take quite a bit of preparation because they have bitter tannins that need to be removed before cooking. The usual method of doing this is to pour boiling water through the flour, which is contained in a basket. The water washes the tannins out.A mature oak tree can produce between 500 and 1,000 pounds of acorns every year, and tribelets would claim trees by hanging a marker on groves of oaks. When one tribelet poached the acorns claimed by another, fierce fighting broke out. The seriousness of the claims is understandable because one grove of oaks could produce up to 100,000 pounds of acorns per year and ensure enough food for the whole tribelet.Patwins fished for salmon, perch, and suckerfish. They hunted elk, antelope, deer, black bears, and sometimes grizzly bears. There is some evidence that they had domesticated dogs.Shells, skins, red woodpecker belts, flicker quill bands, and dried salmon were traded with other groups in the area.Although Patwin Indians had fairly permanent settlements, many tribelet members traveled in search of food. From midsummer through fall, tribelet members collected plant foods and fished. Some may have traveled as far as the Sacramento River for salmon.
When they came back, they brought acorns, seeds, and fish. This core diet was supplemented by hunting deer, elk, and waterfowl.Patwin VillagesOak, willow, and grapevines were used for construction. The Patwin dug pits and constructed dwellings over the pits. Rushes, tule, and hemp were used to thatch the outside of the houses. They were also woven into mats and belts. The inner bark of cottonwood trees was used for women's skirts. Bear, rabbit, and deer skins were used for clothing and bedding. Green willow boughs were used for beds. They were able to make fire, and wove baskets.Triblets built villages that they occupied on a permanent basis. Villages had three kinds of structures: dwellings, occupied by two or more families; a sweat house, which served as a residence for young single men but was also frequented by older males; and a menstrual house, the retreat of women during menstruation or childbirth. Larger settlements also included a ceremonial dance house where religious activities took place.
Inside the home, families had their own space, including a portion of the fireplace and their own cooking utensils, beds, and furnishings. They shared a large mortar for grinding seeds, acorns, and dried fish. The mortar was a log several feet long and about two feet thick. A round stone was used to grind food. There is a wood mortar at the Pena Adobe Museum in Vacaville that is between 400 and 600 years old.The Patwin had names for the constellations. They called the Milky Way the Antelope Road. Orion was called Coyote Carries on Head. Ursa Major was called Stick for Knocking Off Acorns.
The Wintun population was estimated to be about 12,000 in 1770. There were about 3,300 to 5,000 southern Patwin in our area at that time.