Ancient Age: The Coming of the Amerindians
A hundred and forty million years ago, Lake County, a part of Northern California, began with another of the ear-splitting rumbles that were a part of a continuing grand archaeological planet-wide show. Earth’s rocky mantle slid about over the molten core with ear-splitting groans and titanic shudderings. Tectonic plates rose and fell. Sections of the planet shifted here and there as they changed the form and shape and location of continents, all during the slow passage of time, like giant playing cards dealt by a sleepy cosmic dealer.
The Pacific Plate began a slow slide beneath the Farallon Plate, where California would one day be. What was left of the broken and shattered remains, as the rocky contest moved northward, became the San Andreas Fault. The Grand Theater of Mother Earth played to an empty house, as she continued her endless slow modifications and alterations.
San Andreas and The Creation of Mountain Ranges
Three million years ago, the San Andreas Fault’s massive, slow-motion hiccup caused the land east of the western edge of the Pacific Plate to rise up. The rocks, bunched in sections like pleats of an accordion, formed a parallel series of three major mountain ranges; the Outer Coastal Range, that stretches from Mendocino to Bodega Bay; the Mayacamus Mountains that reach from Cow Mountain to Mt. St. Helena; and the Inner Coastal Range, which lines the Sacramento Valley like watchmen on eternal duty.
San Andreas woke again two million years ago. This time the fault’s rumble of destruction split the center of Lake County like a wishbone. The Clear Lake Basin was created; a fifty-mile long volcanic field. That field is nine miles wide and eighteen miles long. The bubbling magma cauldron filling the field is a mere four-and-a-third miles beneath our feet; a distance no more than an hour’s walk.
Active Volcanic Fields
After the quakes came quietus. Four hundred and sixty thousand years passed. The Volcanic field, each time it came alive, spouted the semi-liquid viscus rock slowly from the ground in layered stages; toothpaste oozing from a tube. The lava continued to worm its molten way through thinner places in the crust of Northern California to form Cow Mountain, Cobb Mountain, Mt. St. Helena, Mt. Hannah, Konocti, and the rest of the tall sentinels that guard Clear Lake today. Volcanoes sent their molten messages sluggishly upward to the surface every three or four thousand years until, with the passing of the centuries, eruptions grew less urgent, less often, and ceased at last. Unseen by any human eye, Clear Lake slowly filled and began, as it increased in depth, to drain into the Sacramento River.
Clear Lake, California, USA ( Public Domain )
The last Ice Age, several thousand years ago, changed the face of the globe. Centuries of snow and ice had stolen water from the sea. Like a mammoth, slow-moving elevator out of control, the sea fell hundreds of feet. Land bridges, once a part of the ocean’s bottom, were left naked and exposed. Australia linked Asia. The Bering Straits became Beringia. The new continent was a tundra land a thousand miles wide cut by roaring streams and scoured with bitter winds. One more way was open to early men of Asia toward the New World of the Americas.
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New People in New Worlds
It’s been thought man followed the herds across this desolate terrain to North America. Others came on Catamarans, across 3000 miles of Pacific, following the winds from Asia. They populated the islands that dot that monster ocean; one-third of the planet.
They were a handsome race, varying from five and a half to six feet in height. Hardy people, these first Native Americans shared that world with saber-tooth cats, giant bears and mammoths.
A Pomo Indian in a tule boat, circa 1924. ( Public Domain )
Came a warmer time. With the warmth came rain. In western North America, Lake County, no longer did the Pines and Cypress hold court all the way to Clear Lake’s shores. Oaks and Chaparral had their day and covered the land.
The transition was swift. By comparison, with the eons it had taken the planet’s heaving tectonic plates to settle down, the last two hundred centuries were but a speck of geological time.
The Glaciers melted and the oceans rose. Unmolested, the Amerindian Pomo Tribes prospered beside the shores of Clear Lake. The climate had cold wet winters and hot dry summers.
The First Americans were tool makers. They made stone mills to grind acorns and seeds for meal and bread. They chipped Obsidian to make their spearheads for their darts and spears. They made weapons; axes, bows and arrows, and spears. They used native copper, animal bone, flint, obsidian, and stone. The shorter throwing spear was accurate to a hundred feet. They hooked, harpooned, and netted fish.
Tule plant reeds (Schoenoplectus acutus) ( Public Domain )
Made from the reeds of the Tule that grew in abundance around Clear Lake, the Lake County inhabitants became the finest basket weavers in North America. Basketry gave the Indians pots and dishes. To keep warm through the wet Lake County winters, they wore animal skins and kept fires burning in their wickiups and huts of reeds. They prospered and grew in numbers.
Pomo, Native American. Girl's Coiled Dowry or Puberty Basket (kol-chu or ti-ri-bu-ku), late 19th (Brooklyn Museum/ Public Domain )
Trade and Prosperity
There was trading. The First Americans invented a medium of exchange; bead money. Elephant Ear Clam shells, found along the coast and used as currency, were called ‘White Money’. Valued according to size, the shells were cut into buttons or discs and strung on a string of the inner bark of one of the Milk-weed plants. Red-backed Ear Shells were Indian bills and coins of currency. After grading in size, they were worth, in present day coinage, anywhere from a nickel to a dollar each.
Pomo Indian square shell beads ( Source)
Around the shores of Clear Lake there was plenty. Pomo, Yuki, and Miwok lived there. Villages were run by ‘Captains’. There was a class structure and some Amerinds were wealthier than others. The ‘Tule Potato’ , roots of the Tule reed, furnished nutrients. There were acorns, seeds and a score of edible plants. There was no need for agriculture as it was in other places in the world. Fish, along with clams, shell fish, and mussels, were plentiful. The hills and woods above the lake were filled with deer, bears, and other game. The lakes had fish and fowl. Ducks were caught with slings and skipping stones thrown with such accuracy a single stone could strike several birds. By 1500 AD the Native population of Northern California had grown to more than a third of a million people.
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There was light snow in winter and the weather was mild. The land was covered with Pine and Cypress. As the marshy land around the lake dried, Oaks and Chaparral appeared. The groups and tribes remained small and lived separately several miles apart around Clear Lake. Trails to the sea let them travel far for trading, hunting, and gathering salt.
Clear Lake and Mount Konocti, California (Larry McCombs/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
After a hundred and forty million years, time had run its course. Under the watchful eye of mighty Konocti, the red mountain, continued to stand guard over Clear Lake. All was still at last... but in Lake county, the fire beneath our beds does not sleep and, some silent night, we may yet be wakened from our sleep.
Top Image: Deriv; Dramatic view from Mount Saint Helena, California ( CC BY-SA 4.0 ), and photo of a Pomo native in a tule boat, circa 1924.
By Gene Paleno