Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Standing Redwood Burns Fourteen Months

The Chimney Tree, Big Basin.
Courtesy Jill Ramar
Redwoods are somewhat fire resistant and can survive, and in fact heal, after being burned. "Other trees are consumed, but the redwoods battle with the demon and conquer." In August 1907, the Santa Cruz Sentinel asked: "Stand beside the chimney tree and ask its story. It will relate seige [sic] after seige [sic] with the fire fiend."

In 1911, the Chimney Tree, pictured here, was described in the Sentinel: "Its burnt-off top being 150 feet high, the entire tree being hollow inside like a flue, with green limbs growing from the top. To stand in the trunk of this tree and look up through the charred interior to the patch of blue sky far above, interlaced there with green branches, emphasizes the work of nature when producing the strange and awe-inspiring."

In 1904, a huge fire swept through the Big Basin area. It started near the Middleton mill on Waterman Creek and burned for 20 days, blackening around one third of the 3,900 acres of the park. "The fire was little more than a ground fire in the big timber regions. Fir, and other pitch trees suffered of course, but the big redwoods received little harm."

Below is an account from the Mountain Echo newspaper, November 18, 1905 edition. It tells of an unusual fire inside a redwood that erupted twice, months after the original 1904 blaze:

"Last May we published an account of a fire braking out in the top of a large redwood tree in the [Big Basin Redwoods] State Park, where the big forest fire of the September previous, or in 1904, had swept.

This curious fire must have smoldered in the top of the tree from September 1904 to May 17th of this year, when it broke out about 140 feet from the ground and burned off about 10 feet at the top of the tree, which was already a “stub,” or broken topped tree. The tree then burned in the top for a short time and appeared to die out.

On the 7th of this month, or fourteen months after the original fire and nearly six months subsequent to the May eruption, the flames again burst forth in the top of this tree and there was again a roaring furnace of fire for a time and another section of about ten feet of the stubbed top was burned off and fell crashing to the ground. The fire then died down and has since appeared to be out.

It was fortunate that Park Warden Pilkington and his men happed to be at work on the road near by when the fire broke out on the 7th inst., as the woods roundabout were as dry as tinder and if the burning tree had not been promptly surrounded by a fire trail there would undoubtedly have been another fire-swept tract in the park, as the burning tree stands near the edge of last year’s burned district and near plenty of combustible material."

This article was first published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin in March 2019.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Sayant and Achistaca

Before contact in 1769, the Ohlone people lived and managed the land here. Their total population once numbered 10,000 or more with many villages in and around Santa Cruz.

Village populations ranged from 50 to 500. In the smaller seasonal villages, the villagers would take advantage of seasonal sources of food, such as game, fish, fruits, berries, nuts, and acorns.

The Ohlone associated with this area belonged to the Awaswas language group, of which at least three tribelets were associated with the San Lorenzo River and Valley. These were the Sayant living by Zayante Creek and for whom the creek takes its name, the Achistaca living in the vicinity of Boulder Creek, and the Uypi living at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River.

The last speaker of Awaswas died in the nineteenth century, though some words from the language have survived.

In 1769, the Portola Expedition "discovered" and named the San Lorenzo River for Saint Laurence. They gave the name Costanoa, meaning "coast people," to the indigenous people that lived here.

In 1791, Mission Santa Cruz, or Holy Cross, was established. It was the 12th Alta California mission. The first Ohlone to be baptized at Mission Santa Cruz, on October 9, 1791, was an eight year old girl from the Achistaca village. According to the baptismal records her name was Moslon, the she was the daughter of Y-noc and Trocsen.

Between 1791 and 1795, 85 members of the Achistaca village went to Mission Santa Cruz, 75 of them were baptized of which just six were parents. Of the Sayant village, 54 were baptized, of which just 6 were parents.

Records indicate that most neophytes at the mission were forcibly detained, poorly treated, and their way of life obliterated. The Santa Cruz Mission gained the moniker “the Hard Luck Mission” because of its troubled history. Its population was the smallest of the 21 missions and it shrank from a peak of 523 in 1796 through flight, and death from disease and maltreatment. 

After Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, it could not afford the missions, and in 1834, Mission Santa Cruz was one of the first to be secularized. The Ohlone found it impossible to return to their former way of life. Much of their ancestral land had been awarded as Mexican Land Grants.

Three land grants were awarded in the San Lorenzo Valley - Rancho Zayante to Joaquin Buelna in 1843, Rancho CaƱada del Rincon en el Rio de San Lorenzo (meaning valley on the corner on the San Lorenzo River) to Frenchman Pierre Sainsevain in 1843, and Rancho La Carbonera (meaning relating to charcoal) to Guillermo Bocle, aka Englishman William Thompson, in 1838.

William Ware, an Irishman who settled in Santa Cruz County in 1836, resided with his wife Twaneeya on the Zayante Ranch. She has been referred to as the last of the Zayante. When she died, she was buried in Felton Grove. At one time her gravesite had a marker, undoubtably now washed away with one of the Felton Grove floodings.