Native American Inhabitants

Pomos lived along the Mendocino Coast for thousands of years prior to European settlement in 1850. Pomo simply means “the people.” Living close to the sea allowed for a diet of fish, seaweed, clams and mussels. Numerous shell middens (deposits) on the Mendocino headlands and on various properties throughout the town provide visible proof of their campsites. In addition, evidence of the village, Buldam, has been rediscovered in east Mendocino, across Highway One.

Pomo Basket WeaverPomo Basket Weaver at BuldamThe arrival of Russian fur trappers along the Sonoma Coast in 1811, followed by Spanish missionaries in 1817, initiated the collapse of the broader Pomo world. But it was the arrival of Hudson Bay trappers in 1833 and Europeans in search of gold and redwood forests during the mid-1800s that resulted in the most devastating impact on North Coast Pomos, including dispossession of their lands, disease, enslavement, and relocation.

In 1855, the federal government established the Mendocino Indian Reservation on 25,000 acres between the Noyo and Ten Mile Rivers, with its military headquarters located in what is now the business center of the town of Fort Bragg, ten miles north of Mendocino. It is reported that by 1857, thousands of Native Americans (not all Pomo) had been rounded up from as far away as Eureka and Chico and confined on this reservation for nine years before it was discontinued in 1866. Reservation lands were then sold off to European settlers and the Coastal Pomos were relocated elsewhere, many went inland to the Round Valley Reservation.

New Exhibit on Native Americans

A new exhibit at the Kelley House Museum offers a historical overview of Mendocino’s earliest residents, as well as an array of photo prints and artifacts depicting their way of life. Interpretive text on Pomo shelters, dance houses, sweat lodges, and basketry round out the exhibit. On loan from the Dorothy Byrnes Leonard Collection are examples of decorative gift and utilitarian baskets, a woven infant carrier, and a duplicate toy cradle. Additional photos and documents can be found be searching our Online Collections.

We have a wonderful article written by Chris Calder, “Living at Kah-la-deh-mun: A Talk with Harriet Campbell Stanley Rhoades, Pomo Elder.”

Links if you want to learn more…