From Miwoks to Ewoks— Plus the Bear Flag Revolt… Olompali: Part II

I found this ancient fence at Olompali State Park. It was likely built by the Black/Burdell Families who owned the property between 1852 and 1940.

I found this ancient fence at Olompali State Park north of San Francisco. It was likely built by the Black/Burdell Families who owned the property between 1852 and 1940.

After 3000 years of relative stability under the Miwoks, the fate of Olompali entered a period of rapid change in the 1800s. Mexican Independence in 1821 signaled the beginning of the end for the mission system in California. By 1834, the Mexican government had decreed that the missions would be secularized. The priests would no longer control vast estates.

It was the intention of the Mexican government to give the mission land to the Native Americans, but this intention was quickly subverted. Californios, California born people of Spanish/Mexican descent, either bamboozled the Indians out of their land or seized it outright for their own use, and then initiated a campaign of terror, stealing whatever the Indians had left— including, on occasion, their freedom.

An interesting exception to the mistreatment of the Miwoks took place at Olompali where, in 1843, the Miwok chief, Camilo Ynitia, was awarded a Mexican land grant. (Ynitia was the only Native American in California to receive one.) His father had built the first adobe house north of San Francisco. Portions of the house, along with Camilo’s, still stand at the park.

Remnants of Camilo's adobe house, and that of his father, still stand at Olompali State Park.

Remnants of Camilo Ynitia’s  adobe house, and that of his father, still stand at Olompali State Park.

Ynitia’s Rancho would soon play a role in the Bear Flag Revolt. With encouragement from John C. Fremont, the explorer and future US presidential candidate, a small band of American settlers in Northern California revolted against Mexican rule in 1846. The revolt was short-lived and only one person was killed, which is hard to imagine in any revolution. The point here is that the person was killed at Olompali in a clash between the settlers and Californios.

With bloodless coups in San Francisco and Monterey, Fremont and his followers soon afterwards declared California a republic. A quick flag was created featuring a grizzly bear, a star, and the word Republic. The fledgling country lasted three weeks; the Mexican-American War made it irrelevant. All that is left of the revolution today is the flag. It still flies over California even though there is no republic— or grizzly bear for that matter. The last known grizzly in California was killed in 1922.

The California flag, adopted during the three week existence of the Bear Flag Revolt.

The flag from the three-week republic still flies over California as the California state flag. The hump back of the bear is a defining characteristic of the grizzly bear. I once had a guy like this stalk me in Alaska. It was sneaking through the brush when I spotted its hump.

In 1852 Ynitia sold most of his land to James Black, who was on his way to becoming one of the largest landowners in Marin County. Legend is that robbers killed Ynitia for the money he received, or that he buried the money on the Olompali property, or that members of his own tribe did him in the old-fashioned way, with an arrow. Whatever happened, our history of Olompali now leaves the Miwoks and Californios, and moves into modern times.

Before leaving the Miwoks, I did want to pass on one more bit of trivia I picked up doing research. George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch is located in Marin County, not far from Olompali. Nearby redwood forests were used for some of the Star Wars scenes for the forest moon of Endor, where the Ewoks lived. Lucas reportedly used the Miwok name as inspiration for the Ewok name.

Sky Walker Ranch is appropriately located on Lucas Valley Road. (The road was there before George Lucas built his ranch there, however. Maybe the road inspired Lucas's choice.)

Skywalker Ranch is appropriately located on Lucas Valley Road. (The road was there before George Lucas built his ranch, however. Maybe the road inspired his choice.)

Black, and his family, through various convolutions, would own the land up to the 1940s. Black gave the land to his daughter Mary as a wedding present when she married Galen Burdell, a dentist. But when Black’s wife died in Burdell’s dentist chair, he reneged on the gift and took Mary and Galen out of his will. When Mary first saw the will after Black’s death, she allegedly ripped her dad’s signature off  with her teeth and ate it. Tough woman. She then hired a bevy of top lawyers and managed to obtain Olompali.

A barn built by the Burdells and other ranch structures still stand at Olompali Park. And I have a weakness for old barns. (grin)

A barn, built by the Burdells, still stands at Olompali Park.  I think the massive stump on the left  is from a eucalyptus tree. Old barns demand being photographed; I couldn’t resist…

 

A corner shot of the barn looking up for a different perspective.

A corner shot of the barn looking up for a different perspective.

This old, boarded up window on the barn had personality plus. Animals must have chewed away at the right side.

This old, boarded-up window on the barn had personality plus. Animals must have chewed away at the right side.

Reflections caught in one the barn's windows.

A reflection, caught in one the barn’s windows, showed the ‘salt block’ house next door.

This salt block house

Salt block houses like this with their steep and sloped roofs were commonly built throughout Northern California in the 1850s. With the exception of the adobe houses, this may be the oldest structure at Olompali.

Remnants of an extensive fruit orchard planted by the Burdells still remain. It was said that their oranges matched anything coming out of Southern California. Bananas— not so good.

Remnants of an extensive fruit orchard planted by the Burdells still remain. It was said that their oranges matched anything coming out of Southern California. Bananas— not so good.

This large rock with its gorgeous backdrop above the barn caught my attention.

This large rock with its gorgeous backdrop was above the barn.

Camilo Ynitia, Miwok chief, received Olompali as a Mexican Land grant and in turn sold it to James Black.

I thought I would conclude with this close up of the fence I featured at the top of my post…

And this aptly named Fence Lizard I found sunning itself on the fence.

…And this aptly named Western fence lizard sunning itself on the fence.

NEXT BLOG: By the late 40s/early 50s, the University of San Francisco had obtained Olompali with plans to turn the ranch into a retreat for Jesuits. The effort failed. Maybe the Jesuits didn’t go along with the plan. It was this lack of success, however, that eventually led Olompali to become a footnote in the history of the Grateful Dead, as well as a famous/infamous hippie commune: The Chosen Family. But that is a story for my next blog.

 

 

23 comments on “From Miwoks to Ewoks— Plus the Bear Flag Revolt… Olompali: Part II

  1. Really fascinated by the history of the people of this area. Had never heard of Californios, either. Thanks for this interesting narrative, especially the tidbit about George Lucas. I may view Ewoks differently! Great photos — I’m a sucker for old barns especially with remnants of original paint.

  2. Great history and fotos.There was something about an attack by a bear. The man who was attacked shoved his arm down the throat of the bear to make him let go. He held no grudge against the bear and reckoned he was intruding on his territory and the bear was really defending his right. Fair enough, I reckon.

  3. I like your last two lizard photos, even though one “lizard” is looking a little old and gray. And I was very interested in the history of the flag. I’ve known it for years, of course, but always just accepted it as it was,not thinking about how it came to be, or what’s up with that bear!

    The barn photos are so great — and the little house, too. Since I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars films, I’m not very well informed about that world. But I did think that the Ewoks had something to do with Hollywood!

    • Thanks, Linda. I doubt that many Californians know about the history of the flag either, unless they went through school in the state.

      Old barns make great subjects for photography. This one was in relatively good condition. As for Ewoks, you may be the only person I know to have never seen Star Wars. (grin) –Curt

  4. I’m kind of partial to old barns myself. They are important parts of our story. Around here, sadly, they’re decaying. Precious few are being preserved, although some are making the effort.

    I didn’t know there are no grizzlies in California. It’s the mascot of your alma mater isn’t it? A pity they’re gone, but I’ll admit I wouldn’t want to have to share our farm with grizzlies.

    • Well, the grizzlies might eat the deer, Bill. But I suspect they would also find goats and pigs tasty. Old barns that are decaying, returning to nature, often make the best photographs. I realize that doesn’t do much for historical preservation, however. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Curt, this is one of the reasons Inion & I love visiting you & Peggy at your blog. The photos alone were unbelievable but the history that came with them is phenomenal!! Sharing this piece of our history so others can enjoy. 😉 xoxo

  6. The shots of the barn are splendid. Of course you couldn’t resist such a place. What colours in that wood! So unexpected. I really appreciated the story, and though I have lived in California (and on the North Coast no less), did not know the history behind the flag. Many interesting facts here, thank you!

  7. Great piece of Star Wars trivia, Curt. I’ve always been a big fan of Ewoks – nice to know their origin. Was the barn originally several colors, or is that patina just part of its age? ~Terri

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