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Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of American Indians in California:

Mankins Ranch
Plumas County

Mankins Ranch, also known as the Janesville Bear Dance site, is located southeast of Highway 395 near Janesville, California. Thompson Peak lies west of the ranch, and Honey Lake to the east. The Bear Dance ceremonial grounds are approximately two acres in area, and presently belong to Harley Mankins. The ceremonial complex consists of several structures and areas, including a cedar round house built by Tom Epperson in the 1950s, a grass game ramada, a flag stand, communal dance grounds, a barbecue serving area, and a wooded area where visitors put up their tents when they come to participate in the Bear Dance. Surrounding the two-acre complex is a campground established and run by the Mankins family.

The Bear Dance, a Mountain Maidu Indian ceremony, takes place each spring. Prior to the 1900s, its purpose was to share food among the Indian people, and to celebrate life. Although its original meaning is unchanged, the Bear Dance also symbolizes the celebration of the beginning and connecting of all beings, both animate and inanimate. People who participate in the dance share food, prayers, and thanksgiving for their world, as well as respect for two animals that live in the area. The right of the bear and the rattlesnake to co-exist is acknowledged along with their right to use the same environment. Another important aspect of the Bear Dance is the cleaning of the outward body with medicinal wormwood immediately following the ceremony. During the hours prior to and after the ceremony, many people play hand games or grass games. These, along with the oak and the ceremonial practices, were given to the Maidu to remind them who they are, where they are going, and their right to choose their own direction.

The Maidu Indians hold the Bear Dance in several places in the spring, but the Mankins Ranch site is the home of one of the longest continuously used sites in the region. Therefore, during the 1970s, the Maidu asked the State of California to preserve the Mankins Ranch site as a sacred place under the Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The state, however, wanted to supervise the area as it would a state park, so the Indians withdrew their request. At the present time, the owners of the ranch are responsible for maintaining the grounds and overseeing the Bear Dance. Should anything happen to them, it is uncertain who would take responsibility for the ceremony.

Mankins Ranch
Mankins Ranch

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