The Smithsonian Musum of Natural History considers these feathered baskets "prehistoric" which might mean the 19th century. The smoothly polished deer antler awl was used to make them.

Pomo People: Brief History

"Among our people, both men and women were basketmakers. Everything in our lifestyle was connected to those baskets. Our lives wre bound the way baskets were bound together." Susan Billy, Ukiah Pomo, master weaver, teacher

The map above shows Pomo communities that had been re-federalized (recognized as reservations) in the early 1990's, when Veronica Velarde Tiller compiled the massive modern-day American Indian Reservations and Trust Areas (1996) under a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant. Not all have re-achieved federal status yet; those are not shown on this map (which is adapted from Tiller).

"The word 'Pomo' which some believe is derived from Poma, the name of a particular village, was given to us by anthropologists at the turn of the century. Because of similarities of our basketry and culture, anthropologists conveniently saw us as one group. Actually, there are more than 70 different tribes within what is known as Pomo country. We originally had 7 different languages, but only 3 are still spoken. In terms of basketry, though, there is a commonality in our weaving -- the shapes, materials, and techniques we use." -- Susan Billy

There is another commonality, that stems from interactions with Europeans. It is well-known that the Mexican-Spanish establishd a string of missions along the California coast in the early 18th century. Indians were rounded up militarily, forced to live in mission dormitories (that kept men and women separated) and do forced labor for the church and for Mexican land grant-ranchers. About 2/3 of all California Indians were killed off in less than 100 years of this, from European diseases and hard labor. Like most Northern California tribes, the Pomo were less affected by this except for occasional marauding roundups, because the string of missions ended just north of San Francisco. Costanoan and Wappo tribes formed a partial buffer to Spanish incursions.

But the Pomo were invaded during the 18th century by Russian fur-traders, whose brutal ways were also carried out along the coast of Alaska among Aleut, Yuupik, Tlingit and other northwest coastal tribes. Indeed, through the center of Pomo Country (today comprising the California counties of Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma) runs the river still called the Russian River, after these depredations. The Russian fur trade was regularized in 1799 when one company received a monopoly charter from the Czar. In 1812 the Russians established a permanent base at Fort Ross on Bodega Bay, which was the main source of the fur animal they sought: the now nearly-extinct sea otter.

Bodega Bay was the most important seacoast site for summer Pomo habitation. They sought the abundant clams, fished, and got seal and bird eggs from offshore rocks. The Russian exploitation from this base, the southern limit of their fur empire in 1812-1841, was almost entirely of the Pomo peoples.

The Russian method was to attack a village and kidnap all the women and children. The women were used as whores and domestics, children, and older women made to work fields. They were hostages for the men's forced labor: bringing in furs, meat and fish food supplies. All worked the hides. Women and children were tortured and killed to enforce compliance. The Pomo (and much further north, the Tlingit) were the only groups to mount a concerted resistance to this brutal exploitation. Here's a cleaned-up, genteel tourist version. Especially noteworthy is their genteel mention of "intermarriage with Native women" their way of describing rape.

Mostly this resistance was individual and small group efforts -- sabotages and occasional attacks on overseers, escapes -- though it helped to unify the linguistically diverse people, who were never one unified tribe. (The Pomo languages, though referred to as dialects, are not mutually intelligible.) But by the time the Russians abandoned this outpost and the Americans began to arrive with the discovery of gold in 1848, Pomo population had been reduced by murder, debilitating labor and especially by diseases, just as was the effect further south, of the Spanish Catholic mission system.

Pomo people traditionally were what has been described as "the moneyers" of north-central California. There were two kinds of trade items that served as money, that is as items of more or less standard trade value. (The value became greater the further these items were from their source.) Money was beads. Mostly from Bodega Bay came the clamshell beads seen around the edges of both baskets, above, flat, button-like disks which took on a luster and polish with years of handling. For trade, these were kept in strings, made to careful widths and exact diameters, so the number of bead-disks on a string could be measured, as well as counted. The Pomo had an elaborate numbering and arithmetic system -- base 20 and units of 400 -- to keep track of their value, which varied by diameter, thickness, and fineness of polish.

The second kind of money-beads, which were controlled by the southeastern Pomo, were made of a grey-white-buff mineral called magnesite, a deposit of which was at White Buttes, near Cache Creek. When fired, these turn beautiful banded shades of pink, orange, buff, often with bits of melted quartzite and other minerals adding to the complex shadings. These were made into tapered cylinders (and sometimes round beads). While the clamshell disks were traded in values based on strings, magnesite beads were valued much higher and traded individually -- Pomo people called the clamshell disks "our silver" and the magnesite ones "our gold." when telling Americans about it.

Interestingly, the name for magnesite in all Pomo languages was "po". No one seems to have wondered if there was a sacred meaning or story, and if this had something to do with the fact that almost all the Pomo communities called themselves by a name that had this word in a suffix. Elder, band chief and tribal historian William Benson (1860-1930) was one of the few Pomo men to make fancy baskts. His spendid oriole feather basket has already been shown. Here is an unusual fine coiled basket just 5" in diameter with an unbaked magnesite base that Benson made sometime between 1900 and his death in 1930.

A short time before his death, in 1930, Benson told some California historians the story of a little-known U.S. Army massacre of Pomo people in 1850, which has remained buried in an obscure California history journal of 1931. This seems to have been the first massacre of nearly all of peaceful village's inhabitants conducted by the U.S. Army -- a kind of warm-up for later, better-known infamies such as the dawn massacre of Black Kettle's Cheyenne band at Sand Creek, in 1864, Nez Perce and Walla Walla, in the 1870's.

It occurred on Clear Lake, the largest freshwater body in California. (On the map, it's in the orange area of Lake County, with a great many Pomo rancherias designated by alphabet letters clustered around it.)

Two abusive Americans, Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey, had captured and bought hundreds of Pomo, forcing them to work as slaves on a large ranch they had taken over in 1847 from Mexicans. Perhaps it was to these two that the mule train of slavers was taking the Pomo children to be sold, as Elsie Allen describes on her page. Slavery was illegal in California after the U.S. acquired it by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that ended the U.S. war with Mexico in 1848. But that applied only to Blacks, not to Indians. Here's an account of the Army rounding up slaves for ranchers. Americans enslaved Indians in California wherever they found them, for forced mining and agricultural labor. Here's Benson's description of what led to the massacre:

"About 20 old people died in the winter from starvation. From severe whippings, 4 died. A nephew of an Indian lady who was forced to live with Stone (as his whore) was shot to death by Stone. When a father or mother of a young girl was asked to bring the girl to his house [for sex] by Stone or Kelsey, if this order was not obeyed, he or she would be hung up by the hands and whipped. Many old men and women died from fear or starvation."

One day in early 1850, Shuk and Xasis, who had been working the cattle herds, lost one of Kelsey's horses. Afraid of their inevitable punishment (they would be whipped to death), they met in council with all the enslaved people to decide what to do.

"All the men gathered at Xasis's house. Here they debated all night. Shuk and Xasis wanted to kill Stone and Kelsey. They said they would be killed as soon as the white men found out their horse was gone."

5 Pomo men were assigned to strike first. They killed both Stone and Kelsey. The people fled to the hills, expecting the American soldiers to come. They planned to meet these troops in peaceful council and explain the conditions of brutal slavery that had led to what they had done.

In May of 1850, a detachment of Army regulars led by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon entered the Clear Lake area to punish the Indians for the killings. Unable to find the band of slaves who had fled, they attacked a small Pomo village, Badonnapoti, on an island on the north side of the lake -- later called Bloody Island by the Pomo. This island was formerly the sacred ceremonial site of a complex of towns around the northern part of Clear Lake.

Men, women, and children, unable to flee, were massacred by the U.S. Army there. On their way home, the troops continued their bloody actions, massacring every Indian group they encountered -- mostly Pomo groups. This just isn't in the history books, even good ones, I found it when researching for these pages. Perhaps historians were embarassed that most of their info would have come from California newspapers, like these headliners from Eureka's Humboldt Times: "Good Haul of Diggers," "38 Bucks Killed, 40 Squaws and Children." "Band Exterminated!" One -- The Northern Californian which covered it differently, told of "Indiscriminate massacre of innocent Indians -- Women and children butchered" covering the details of the brutal Bloody Island slaughter with hatchets and axes of 188 peaceful men, women and children in their villages. The youthful editor, western short-story writer Bret Harte, then had to flee ahead of a lynch mob, which smashed his printing press for daring to tell the truth about it. Here's an account of one of the masacres.

Bloody Island seems to have set a precedent for similar Army massacres of encampments in the Plains and settled farming villages among the Navajo. These better-known events mostly took place after the Civil War. The massacre and round-ups of the Pomo took place before it, just 1 year after the U.S. took control of California, after its victory in the Mexican war. Here's a detailed account by Russ Imrie (who runs the California Costanoan Tribal website) on how the law was used to enslave California Indian people.

In 1851-52, a treaty commission visited California and signed 18 treaties with most California tribes, which would have reserved about 8.5 million acres for the original peoples. Under the pressure of ranchers and miners, who flooded California with the discovery of gold there in 1848, these treaties were never ratified by Congress. They "accidentally" got lost in the archives of the U.S. Senate. Instead, 4 small reservations -- Hoopa Valley, Round Valley, Tule River and Smith River, and a few small "rancherias" were established, whose purpose was more in the nature of internment camps, to get the Indians out of the way of the flood of American whites. The brutal nw invaders hunted Indians for sport. Here's an account of a sport-hunt by whites of northern California Natives that ends in a rape. Meanwhile, the Pomo, especially those in the fertile, well-watered lands at the south of their country, were rounded up in what descendants describe as "death marches" and interned at Fort Bragg to the north, and Covelo, (Round Valley).

You can read some of this genocidal history in background sidebar -- Legacy of Nome Cult -- to a detailed invstigation story of recent killings at Round Valley and the trial of traditionalist Bear Lincoln. In a sidebar, local racism and tribal splits (caused by missionary inculcation of militant Christian hostiilty to traditional culture) indicated that The Indian Wars Are Not Over. Thorough reportage and historical investigation by a northern California newspaper, the Albion Monitor. A followup on the case is a long interview with Edwina Lincoln: Outlook OnLine: Edwina Lincoln-Part 1

Many Pomo escaped from these internment camps and made their ways back to their own traditional village lands, somewhat cor