April 20, 2010
"An Overlooked Treasure"
Prior to John Augustus Sutter's arrival in the Sacramento Valley in 1839, the central California Valley had been inhabited by Plains Miwok and Nisenan Native Americans for potentially thousands of years. The Miwok people consisted of two major groups here in the central valley area; the Sierra Miwoks, who inhabited the Western Slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the Fresno and Cosumnes Rivers, and the Plains Miwok people, who inhabited the Central Valley in the northern vicinity of the Delta where the Cosumnes, Mokelumne and Sacramento Rivers all meet.
The other group, and most prevalent, of indigenous people to this area was the Nisenan people, whose name translates literally to "from among us". This group of Native Americans was actually not a tribe so to speak, but instead a gathering of tribelets joined together by nothing more than a language relatively similar in dialect as each tribelet had its own interpretation of the language. Today, there are very few surviving members of these people, and far fewer who are able to speak any dialect of the language, as it is nearly a dead one.
These Native American groups were far more careful with the land than the European settlers that would eventually settle here. In both cases, they ate a diet consisting of mostly acorns, berries, and fish, and left behind virtually no trace of their existence. In fact, many early conquistadors who came to this region thought that they were falling ill to sea sickness or delirium, as they constantly felt a presence around them, but could never find a trace of anyone there. It wasn't until years later that they would discover the native people.
Several exploration sailors would make their way to California over the course of several hundred years, including Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake; however none found the central valley. In 1808, a Spanish Conquistador Gabriel Moraga came to the valley, finding it plentiful in natural food and other resources. It was then that the area was dubbed Sacramento. It was described as "Es como el sagrado Sacramento" meaning "this is like the Holy Sacrament". After his discovery, Moraga gave a favorable report on the region to the Roman Catholic Church, who dismissed it as an exaggeration of his findings, and decided not to colonize. It wasn't until nearly 30 years later when John A Sutter arrived in California that anyone would again visit this region.
Dave "Bug" Young, Historian