Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Two:
The Native Americans and the Land

WHEN SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS of Europeans first entered the interior of California in the middle nineteenth century, they were immediately impressed with the land they found. Every where they looked they sensed potential. They found people too, sometimes lots of them, but the Europeans were not nearly so impressed with them. In a way the separation of the two was odd, for the land and the people were inextricably bound together.

Just when people first came to live in the southern Sierra is not entirely clear. Archaeologists are now confident that human beings have lived in California for at least 10,000 years, and some evidence suggests much earlier occupation of some parts of the southern California desert. In the Great Central Valley, sites 3,000 to 4,000 years old have been excavated, and it now seems apparent that central California, including portions of the Sierra, has been occupied by humans for at least 6,000 or 7,000 years. [1]

In the Sequoia/Kings Canyon region, the record is much more vague, with much of the area archaeologically unexplored even today. Most of the limited archaeological work within the parks areas, moreover, occurred several decades ago. For our purposes the most useful work was done at several sites along the main stem of the Kaweah River. Three of these sites were explored in the late 1950s during construction of Terminous Dam on the Kaweah River below Sequoia National Park. At Hospital Rock, six miles upstream from the park boundary on the same river, additional work was done in 1960 on a large village site. During the same year limited excavation was carried out at a site in Kings Canyon less than a mile from Cedar Grove. [2]

Taken alone, these sites give only limited information. None demonstrates occupation of great antiquity, although deposits of cultural material at Hospital Rock were up to six feet deep. Remaining physical evidence suggests the basic directions of subsistence and culture, but little more. Only when the excavations are placed in the context of historic anthropological research does the haze of the past begin to recede.

sequoia grove
© Photo by Lawrence Ormsby


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap2.htm — 12-Jul-2004