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McLaughlin Natural Reserve



The Clear Lake Basin has been well studied by archeologists because of its old and complex prehistory. The earliest known inhabitants were nomadic hunters and fishers who lived in small groups. Studies of projectile points, using a technique known as obsidian hydration dating, suggest ages of 10,000-6,000 B.C. for this cultural period. The appearance of handstones and milling slabs, 6,000-3,000 B.C., suggests a switch to seed resources as the climate became warmer and drier. The bowl mortar and pestle appeared in about 3,000 B.C., indicating that acorns had become a dominant food resource. The culture that existed at the time of Euro-American contact began about 500 AD. This culture differed from its predecessors in using the bow and arrow in place of the throwing stick (atlatl) for hunting, and the bedrock (hopper) mortar instead of the bowl mortar for grinding acorns. (Bedrock mortars were used in conjunction with conical, open-bottomed baskets; they may be seen as rounded depressions, 10-20 cm in diameter, on flat rocks near streams.)1

Knoxville and Morgan Valley were much less studied than the Clear Lake Basin until the pre-mine survey. When a 4,000-hectare area around the mine project was investigated significant artifacts at 53 sites were discovered. This collection, housed at Sonoma State, is available to researchers. The artifacts included projectile points of obsidian and chert, milling slabs, handstones, mortars, beads, animal remains, and other items. Human remains were found at several sites. Several sites could be interpreted as habitations that had been continually occupied for 6,000-8,000 years. Quarries and workshops for making tools from volcanic rock were found in Morgan Valley.1

The presence of obsidian in the area demonstrates there had been trade with tribes in Napa Valley, Borax Lake near Clear Lake, and Annadel near Santa Rosa. Obsidian that is smoky gray-white is from Borax Lake, while rich black obsidian is probably from Glass Mountain in Napa Valley. From these artifacts, using obsidian hydration dating, a cultural chronology for the Morgan Valley-Knoxville region was developed. This chronology documents the shifting spatial patterns in use of the area, and shows the same pattern of cultural change over time that was known from the Clear Lake Basin.1

From roughly 500 AD until European contact, the area was inhabited by the Hill Patwin and Lake Miwok. The Hill Patwin were Wintun speakers related to the River Patwin of the Sacramento Valley. The Lake Miwok were related to the Miwok of western Sonoma and Marin counties, and more distantly to the Sierran Miwok; they occupied a narrow strip of land from Clear Lake to Pope Valley, including the headwaters of Putah and Cache creeks. Both tribes were divided into "tribelets"; several small tribelets typically surrounded a larger one, which was occupied by a leader and usually contained a dance house.

In the region of the present reserve there were two Lake Miwok and three Hill Patwin tribelets. Lake Miwok lived in Morgan Valley near Grizzly Peak and a small area southwest of the tailings pond, while Hill Patwin occupied the rest of the area. The main Hill Patwin settlement, called Waitaluk, was along Hunting Creek in northern Morgan Valley. The Davis Creek valley contained a Hill Patwin group called the Chenposel, who were centered in a village on Cache Creek called Tebti. Another Hill Patwin tribelet called the Topaidisel lived along Knoxville Creek; their principal settlement, Topai, is now beneath the Berryessa Reservoir.

Both tribes used the area for seasonal resource gathering. Year-round foods included deer, squirrel, woodrat, quail, rabbit, rodents, seeds, bulbs, and greens. At the beginning of autumn, temporary camps were established near oak groves to harvest the year's supply of acorns. In winter, back in the village, people lived off stored acorns, buckeyes, pepper nuts and waterfowl. In late winter to early spring they began fishing the streams; later in the spring they harvested bulbs, roots, worms, and grasshoppers. In summer they lived in the main village and ate manzanita berries, gooseberries, blackberries, wild grapes, juniper berries, pinole seeds (pine nuts), roots, bulbs and larvae of ground wasps.

There were no recorded conflicts between Native Americans and settlers, although many occurred around Clear Lake in the nineteenth century. Instead, Euro-American diseases probably brought Native American inhabitation of this region to an end.