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The story of California is the story of dreamers—explorers, gold miners, immigrants, ranchers, moviemakers, farmers, and everyday Americans who headed west for a fresh start. The first native inhabitants arrived 9,000 years ago, ancestors of the tribes who would greet the Spanish in the 1700s. Father Junípero Serra later established a chain of missions along the coast, expanding European and Mexican influence. But when gold was discovered in 1848, the rush was on, and two short years later California became a state. After the gold ran out, other rushes followed, from agriculture to industry, Hollywood to Silicon Valley.
California History for Kids includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and Web resources for further study. And to get a better idea of the scope of California history and the lives of its citizens, readers can:
* create a Chumash rock painting
* play the Miwok Hoop-and-Pole game
* bake and eat hardtack like a gold miner
* design a cattle brand
* decode a railroad cipher
* immortalize their handprints in plaster
* assemble an earthquake preparedness kit
* and more
Author Katy Duffield tells the rich story of the men and women who, despite challenges and occasional hardships, settled and built the vibrant cities and bountiful farms, ranches, and orchards of the Golden State.
About the Author
Katy Duffield is the author of the picture book Farmer McPeepers and His Missing Milk Cows and five nonfiction library reference books for older readers. She has also written for numerous children’s magazines including Highlights for Children, Appleseeds, Hopscotch, and Clubhouse.
Read an Excerpt
California History for Kids
Missions, Miners, and Moviemakers in the Golden State Includes 21 Activities
By Katy S. Duffield
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2012 Katy Duffield
All rights reserved.
The Earliest Californians
In order to appreciate California's rich history, it's important to start at the beginning. Go back, way back, to the Ice Age at the end of the Pleistocene epoch (PLYS-tuh-seen EH-puck), 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. Humans have yet to set foot in the area.
At first glance, the land might have appeared totally desolate, but a wide variety of interesting creatures did in fact exist among the sage scrub, pine, and cypress.
A Sticky Situation
An extraordinary spot in Southern California boasts of one of the most plentiful deposits of Ice Age fossils in the world. Rancho La Brea (ran-CHO lah BRAY-uh), often referred to as the "tar pits," is found within Hancock Park near the heart of Los Angeles. A single glance tells visitors they are looking at something quite unusual. Softball-sized globs bubble to the top of a pool of gooey, dark gunk.
Even though it's often called "tar," the gunk in the La Brea Pits is actually asphalt. The pits form when crude oil creeps to the earth's surface through cracks called fissures. After the lighter portions of the oil evaporate, only the heavier oil, or asphalt, remains, creating the sticky pools. Each day, about 8 to 12 gallons (32 to 48 liters) of oil ooze to the surface.
These pits may be interesting, but what do they have to do with California history? Plenty. Bones found in these gummy pits have provided vital clues to California's very first inhabitants.
When people first began finding bones in the asphalt pools, they didn't think the remains were anything unusual — they simply thought the bones came from cattle that had wandered into the pits and become stuck. In 1901, however, scientists began excavating the site, performing tests, and reconstructing skeletons of the retrieved bones. At that point they learned the remains came from animals that made up a part of California's ancient past.
From early excavation to the present day, scientists have recovered the remains of 231 different species of vertebrates, 234 types of invertebrates, and more than 150 types of plants. And these aren't simply animals we recognize today; the remains include bones from extinct creatures such as dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, Columbian mammoths, American mastodons, and many more.
If you've ever stepped into a mud hole so deep and sticky that you've almost lost your shoe trying to get your foot out, you have a sense of what birds, coyotes, American lions, frogs, turtles, ancient bison, short-faced bears, and others went through when they stepped on or were chased into one of the asphalt pits. In warm temperatures, the asphalt pools became extremely sticky. Sometimes leaves, dust, and water covered the pits, camouflaging the danger that lurked below. Insects, birds, and small mammals might have become immediately trapped on contact with the asphalt. Larger animals might have sunk only a few inches into the asphalt's stickiness but fought back hard enough to escape. Still others struggled until exhaustion forced them to surrender to the gooey mass. And in some cases, predators attacked prey that were already trapped — only to become entrapped themselves.
Dire wolves, mammals similar to modern timber wolves, are the most commonly discovered large mammal fossils in the pits. More than 3,000 have been found in the La Brea Pits. The saber-toothed cat, the official state fossil of California, is the second most commonly discovered fossil. In total, more than one million bones have been recovered from the pits. These discoveries have provided vital information about the types of creatures that once roamed California.
These creatures were the first to tromp across ancient California, but where did California's first humans come from?
California s First Human Inhabitants
A debate rages over the identities of the first people to set foot in the Americas and how they arrived there. Some archaeologists believe the first Americans came from northeast Asia, while others believe the first inhabitants arrived from Australia, Southeast Asia, or South America. As to how these first Americans arrived, some researchers say by foot; others say it was by boat. Archaeologists continue to study evidence both old and new in order to learn as much as possible about the identity of the "first Americans."
The traditional theory behind the coming of the first Americans revolves around a land called Beringia. During the late Pleistocene Ice Age a huge amount of ocean water became frozen into huge, flowing ice sheets called glaciers, which caused sea levels to drop. This drop exposed land that had been previously covered by water. One such land area, called Beringia, emerged from the Bering Strait, a channel of water located between Siberia and present-day Alaska. Some archaeologists believe that people migrated to North America between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago by walking from Siberia to Alaska across what is known as the Bering Land Bridge.
When picturing a "land bridge," it's easy to imagine a narrow strip of land, but scientists don't believe that is accurate when it comes to the Bering Land Bridge. They estimate that the grassy, treeless plain ranged up to 1,000 miles wide. But no matter what it's called, many archaeologists now agree that the first Americans crossed this land area from Asia to populate the Americas.
These first human inhabitants of North America, thought to be hunter-gatherers, may have followed mammoth, mastodon, and other large-bodied animals called megafauna across the land bridge from Siberia to North America. Eventually these first inhabitants made their way to other areas. Experts aren't sure of the exact routes taken during the migration. Some believe early inhabitants moved southward and settled in present-day California, while others believe they first migrated east toward the plains and later drifted back into California. Still others believe that coastal migration (arrival by water routes) took place. Theories of people arriving by boat are still being studied. Unfortunately, the rise in sea levels that occurred since the last Ice Age flooded much of California's coastline, taking with it important archaeological evidence.
The Arlington Springs Woman's age (see sidebar) adds another piece to the "how and when" puzzle of the arrival of the first Americans. Traditional Bering Land Bridge theories established that the first settlers had possibly arrived in North America about 11,500 years ago. The dating of the remains of the Arlington Springs Woman, along with the fact that her bones were found on an island, support conflicting theories. Maybe early inhabitants did arrive by boat, and perhaps they arrived much earlier than first believed.
No matter how they arrived, the first people of the Americas — called Paleo-Indians, which means "old Indians" — did, in fact, reach California as early as 20,000 years ago. Over time, the cultures of these earliest people continued to evolve, and they began to leave evidence of their lives behind for archaeologists to discover. Items such as spear points, baskets, stone bowls, and beads have been excavated from California sites. Archaeologists study these items to determine how they might have been used. They also study the various villages in which these early Californians lived. These studies allow researchers to better understand the lives of the earliest people, the Paleo-Indians, and their descendants, the early Native Americans.
Many of the first California Native Americans lived in small village groups of about 100 to 500 people. Sometimes, several smaller communities combined made up larger villages. These villages often surrounded a large building called a roundhouse that sat in the center of a main village. Whenever the native peoples needed to discuss problems they met at the roundhouse. They also held celebrations in the building.
One interesting use of the roundhouse by the Maidu (MAY-doo) tribe of central California was the grizzly bear dance. The Maidu people believed if they honored grizzlies with a dance and feast, the animals wouldn't attack their people. Even today, the Maidu people continue to perform different types of cultural dances.
Many Native American villages also had a building called a sweat lodge The sweat lodge was made by building a wooden structure above a large hole in the ground. To enter, native men (women were not usually allowed in) climbed down a ladder into the earthen hole. Once inside, they built a fire so that the room would become very warm. As you might guess by its name, the sweathouse was a place the men went to sweat.
Men of the Miwok (MEE-wuk) and other tribes used the sweat lodge before hunting or important ceremonies (and some still do). Miwok men sat in the scorching house, sweat dripping. After as much as three hours inside, the men quickly climbed the ladder and raced outside to jump into a pool of cool water. After that, they sometimes went back in and did it all over again. The men believed this ritual was good for cleanliness and health, and that it purified them and helped them become better hunters.
Outside of the main villages, California's early Native Americans built their own individual houses. As in other parts of their lives, the natives considered the climate and resources that surrounded them before building their homes.
The Yurok tribe of the northwest Pacific coast had just what they needed to build their homes. Huge redwood trees located near their villages made the perfect building material for constructing their split-plank homes.
The Mountain Maidu had to think about the snow and freezing temperatures in their areas when building their homes. The Mountain Maidu dug two- to three-foot-deep holes and then built their homes over and around each hole. The ground helped to insulate their houses from the cold. They also built steeply slanted rooftops so that heavy snowfalls would slide off more easily.
Other tribes, such as the Chumash, built dome-shaped houses roofed with grass mats, while some Cahuilla (ka-WEE-ya) families made their homes by simply sheltering the front of a cave with a tangle of brush.
Most California Native Americans that lived during this time were hunter-gatherers. They scoured woodlands for berries, grasses, nuts, and acorns; hunted for game such as deer, elk, and rabbits; and fished the waterways for salmon, crab, and clams. A few groups grew crops, and some even nibbled on grasshoppers, caterpillars, and seaweed.
Since some of the Chumash tribes lived on islands or in coastal areas, they not only hunted inland game, such as squirrel and geese, but also ocean game. Chumash hunters rowed out in canoes called tomols (TOH-mohlz) to harpoon seals, sea otters, and even porpoises.
The Karok, whose name means "upriver people," feasted on the salmon and steelhead they caught from the Klamath River. The Karok had an interesting way of catching fish: they hung nets from platforms built over the river, and as the salmon leaped from the water when traveling upstream, they jumped right into the nets. This method was so effective that several days of fishing often provided enough food for the tribe for the entire winter. It only had to be cured by drying or smoking first.
Like other tribes, the Cahuilla hunted game and gathered other edible materials, but they also planted their own food for harvest. The Cahuilla tended to plants that already grew in the area, such as cactus (which they boiled and ate) and mesquite beans (that they pounded into meal), but they also grew crops. Squash, corn, melons, and beans could all be found growing near Cahuilla villages.
Fish, plants, and wildlife were important foods in the lives of the early native people, but out of everything they ate, one thing stands out as a primary food source: the acorn. Abundant oak trees such as the blue oak, black oak, valley oak, and tanbark oak provided the natives with huge amounts of acorns, which are rich in fat and energy-providing carbohydrates. Most tribes ate acorn meal daily in the form of mush, soup, or bread. One source notes that in some Maidu cultures, an adult could eat up to a ton of acorns each year — that's 2,000 pounds of acorns!
In autumn, acorn harvesting time, young men and boys climbed high into the oak trees. Some of them shook the trees' limbs to make the acorns fall. Others knocked the acorns to the ground by hitting the trees' branches with poles. Women, children, and the elderly scurried on the ground below, gathering the fallen acorns and placing them in baskets. The acorns were dried in the sun and then stored in granaries, large shelters made from woven grasses, twigs, and vines. Granaries, built on stilts so that the acorns would be stored above the ground to keep animals and other pests from destroying or gobbling up crop, could each hold between 100 to 1,000 pounds of acorns.
Traders from one tribe might visit another to swap some of their own plentiful resources for items their region lacked. Salt, fish, acorns, tools, and skins were all traded between groups.
In some northern Miwok villages a volcanic glass called obsidian could be found. The Miwok chipped te shiny black stones into strong, efficient arrow points. Since obsidian wasn't available in all areas, it was a valuable item that could be traded to other groups for various goods.
Instead of trading goods, some tribes used shells as money. The Pomo exchanged clamshells or clamshell beads with other groups for fish. The Yurock and Hupa prized a different type of shell called dentalium. Yurocks strung the long, thin shells on lengths of string and used them for currency. A small boat might be purchased for a 13-bead string, while a house could cost 2 strings; obsidian blades ranged from 2 to 10 strings. Ceremony dancers or important people in the community might wear the shell beads on elaborate necklaces or to decorate their clothing — the amount of dentalium worn often signified how wealthy, famous, or important a person was.
Baskets played another important part of daily village life. Native American women created baskets from willow twigs, grasses, roots, and other materials. They also used tule, a plant similar to the cattail. Baskets woven in sizes ranging from the tiniest cups, to bowls, to larger storage containers were designed to fit different uses. And the baskets weren't just useful; many were beautiful as well. The Pomo often made coiled baskets in which grass or twig bundles were stitched together, while other groups such as the Maidu primarily made twined baskets.
Native people used burden baskets to collect acorns or other foods. Other baskets, used for cooking such foods as acorn mush, had to be waterproof. Skilled basket weavers could weave baskets tightly enough that no water would leak through. The Maidu sometimes used pine tar or asphaltum, such as that found in the La Brea Pits, to waterproof their baskets. Food was also stored in baskets. Some baskets weren't used for food at all; some were used as small packages for gifts or to hold valuables, and others were worn as hats to protect the wearers' heads from the sun.
California Native Americans wisely utilized the resources that California's varied geography offered them. They had a great respect for the natural world and worked to give back the resources they used. They wanted to make sure these resources would be available to their children and to their children's children. What the Native Americans may not have known is that they would soon share their world with those from outside their tribes.CHAPTER 2
Early Explorers and Early Settlers
For thousands of years, Paleo-Indians and Native Americans were the only people living in California. By the late 1400s and early 1500s, however, changes began to take place. People from other countries began to take interest in the West. Two of those countries were England and Spain. Adventurers wished to explore and conquer new areas and claim them for their own countries. Spanish conquistadors and English explorers hoped to find new sea routes that could make their voyages to Asia shorter. They also hoped to find lands of plentiful resources and maybe even riches and fame.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés (kor-TEZ) is most well known as the conqueror of the Aztec empire of Mexico for Spain, a colony that was part of the territory known as New Spain. But Cortés had California connections as well. From 1527 to 1539 Cortés led or sponsored several voyages to explore parts of the Pacific Ocean. Cortés hoped to find additional lands to conquer for Spain. He also hoped to discover a fabled waterway that connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that the Spanish called the Strait of Anián (ah-nee-AHN).
Excerpted from California History for Kids by Katy S. Duffield. Copyright © 2012 Katy Duffield. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The Earliest Californians,
2 Early Explorers and Early Settlers,
3 From Mexican California to an American Beginning,
4 Gold! and Statehood,
5 Making Connections,
6 Growing Crops, Growing Cities,
7 A New Century,
8 Difficult Times,
9 Moving Forward,