Christmas Story — Esselen tribe to get their land back…

…At least some of it. “Although the history of Native American indigenous peoples have unquestionably been filled with hardship, the Esselen Tribe in California—maybe the smallest native tribe in the country—has perhaps struggled the most. But now, thanks to a historic deal, it has gotten its land back.

“Forcibly converted to Christianity by Spanish missionaries, pulled into missions for tutoring, and exploited for forced labor, the number of remaining descendants from their tribe located in Big Sur is so small that in 2010, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied their request to be recognized as a tribe and given tribal status.

“Recently, however, California authorities managed to raise $37 million for 21 different cultural and city projects, including a $4.5 million grant to buy a large tract of ancestral Esselen land as part of the Esselen Tribal Lands Conservation Project.

“The 1,199-acre ranch, once owned by a Swedish man named Alex Adler, runs along the Little Sur Coast near the Central California shore where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise above the Pacific Ocean.

Tracts of old-growth oak and redwoods, grasslands, and chaparral cover the area where the Spanish missionaries first encountered the Esselen during their travels north through California. Thanks to the grant, the Esselen are no longer landless; the forests and fields where their ancestors lived are theirs once more to continue the traditions of the past.

“This is one of the first times a tribe has gotten its land back,” Tom Little Bear Nason told Monterey County Now. “We consider the place sacred and we intend to protect it. We will use it to preserve our traditions.”

“Nason, who heads the Esselen Tribe of Monterey, a nonprofit set up in June to accept ownership of the ranch, also added that there will be no commercialization of the land and their culture, although they do plan to allow small tour groups to visit and learn from their settlement a few times a year.”

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Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/25/19

from Sylvia Trotter Anderson

26 Jun 1937 MPH – Mrs. Helena Smith, Early Settler of Big Sur Country, Recalls Olden Days

Opening of the new Carmel-San Simeon highway is focusing attention on the magnificent Big Sur country and those interesting people who are pioneer settlers of that region.  One of the oldest residents of the Sur country alive today is Mrs. Helena Smith, 77 years old.  Mrs. Smith, who lives at Westmere, is the widow of the later Richard M. Smith, who was with the first wagons that crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains after the Donner Party.

It was nearly 50 years ago that Mrs. Smith first visited in the country with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. John Edward Boland.  The Bolands, who lived at Little River, are the parents of Mrs. Thomas Doud and Mrs. Edward Doud, present residents of Monterey.

In 1888 the Smiths bought the Dexter ranch and a few years later purchased the adjoin Jones Ranch, property that is still in the family and now known as Westmere.

“It was the horse and buggy days,” Mrs. Smith recalled, as she spoke of her first trip down the Coast.  “We left Monterey at ten o’clock in the morning and reached Little River with a span of horses and a spring wagon about 5 hours later.  The roads were barely passable; some grades were so steep we walked to lighten the load on the wagon.”

As years progressed, Bixby’s Landing was built and from there the tan bark of Mill Creek was shipped.  Later Notley’s Landing, purchased from the Smiths, came into existence and from there lumber and tan bark were shipped points East.

The mail stage started its first delivery with Charles Kessler as driver.  That was about 1891 or 1892 when the first mail contract was given to Keller, who was later killed on duty when his horses went over the cliff.  Even today, mail is being delivered just three times a week, although it is reported that a daily delivery will start with the opening of the new roads.

Like many other Sur residents, the Smiths had Dr. John L. D. Roberts of Monterey as the family physician.  Doctor Roberts who dreamed the new coast road many years ago, and his son, Houghton Roberts, will take prominent parts in the road opening ceremony tomorrow.

Hobart L. Pierson, present resident of Oakland, was one of the first people to drive an automobile on the old coast road in 1906, Mrs. Smith remembers. “Charles Culp of Pacific Grove and Shelley Pickles of Oak Grove were among his fearless passengers who rode on the running board as an early safety measure.”

“The first road improvements were sturdy wooden bridges that defied the elements for many years” Mrs. Smith said.  “These were followed by the steel constructed bridge that was soon destroyed by the ocean spray and breezes.  Today, with our fine concrete bridges, cars can pass Little River in three quarters of an hour.”

“Our first school was located one mile from the ocean on Mill Creek,” Mrs. Smith recalled.  “It was called the Palo Colorado School.”  Miss Grace Fitch was the teacher and was justly proud of her nine pupils.  The largest school attendance recorded was round 30 pupils when Mrs. Florence M. Houge was the teacher.  Mrs. Houge owns and lives on the Bixby Ranch, where she conducts a school today.

“No better proof of the progress of time has come to my attention, “Mrs. Smith said, “then when my grandson, Lieutenant John S. Chennault, who is with the US Air Crops at Selfridge, Michigan, flew down from the Oakland airport to Westmere in 40 minutes.”

Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/18/19

26 Jun 1958 MPH – Fabulous Big Sur Country Lies South of Carmel

“Oh the south coast’ a wild coast ane lonely…” So goes the opening line of the “South Coast Ballad”, written a number of years ago by Mrs. Harrydick (Lillian Bos) Ross of Partington Ridge in the Big Sur country.

Big Sur, about 30 miles south of Carmel on the Coast Highway, is a good stop-over on the way to the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, another 64 miles to the south.

The loneliness and inaccessibility of the region is described where “the lions still rule the barrancas and a man there is always alone.”

Things have happened in the Big Sur country, however, and more and more people have been attracted to this area above Pacific waters.

As early as 1948, residents there worried about a “building boom” and feared such additions as hot dog stands, cocktail bars and subdivisions.  True, there are camp sites, store, motels and restaurants as well as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and thousands visit there each summer.  A master plan for the area, however, restricts building and in such sections as Coastland, only large parcels are available.

First Settlers – The first settlers, the Pfeiffer family arrived there in 1869 and others, such as the Posts, came in not long after.

Electricity was carried to Grimes Canyon below Big Sur in 1952, daily mail service began in 1951 and in June of last year dial telephone service was installed.  This latter innovation eliminated the old crank-type phone and enabled residents to dial their neighbors instead of having to meet face-to-face to exchange the time of day.  Prior to that toll stations only were available.

More recently, residents there were faced with a garbage disposal problem and a temporary solution, at least has been found.  Plans to establish a dump area on the ridge above Sycamore Canyon brought loud protest from home owners.  At the present time resort owners have made an agreement with the Carmel Valley Disposal Service to handle their garbage.  Residents will continue to dispose of their own until a satisfactory plan is developed.

Despite such modern additions Big Sur, away from the highway, is still wild and remote.  People living there seek solitude away from the hurly-burly of modern urban existence.  Artists and writers have migrated there to live and work and many of them can boast of outstanding achievements in the creative fields.

Among them are Louisa Jenkins, noted for her mosaic tiles; author Henry Miller; Nicholas Roosevelt, writer, diplomat and gourmet; Brad and Helen Fuller who are, respectively, writer, photographer and actress; Dr. Dryden Phelps, religious philosopher who spends part of his time there and his son, Lyon Phelps, a visitor, who is a New York play producer.

David and Bettina [Betty] Tolerton are long-time residents of Partington Ridge.  He is known for his iron sculpture and ceramics.  Harrydick and Lillian Bos {Shanigolden) Ross are also pioneers of that section.  Harrydick is a sculpture and Shanigolden a writer.

Other Residents – There is Maud Oakes, author of such volumes as “The Two Crosses of Todo Santos”, who does her research in Guatemala under a Bollingen Foundation Grant.  Emile Norman and Brook Clement are famed for their laminating process in plastics and are busy working on new commissions.

There are others, of course.  Some who come to work, some who wish to retire among the majestic stands of redwoods and others who, liking the country, come to seek a means of livelihood.

Residents there, however, are jealously guarding their privacy.  They don’t want the Big Sur country to expand.  They don’t want thousands of people to live there.  The still want I to remain “a wild coast and lonely.”

Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/4/19

Monterey American Aug 31st 1916

A big smoke on the Coast Ridge north of Cone Peak and the Gamboa Trail was reported almost simultaneously by E. E. Murry on the Jolon road and by Ranger Abbott from Pine Ridge and Guard Bixby from Chew’s Ridge Lookout.  Supervisor Merrill telephoned to Guards William Twitchel and Ed. Burns, who hurried to the scene, while Ed. Dutton dispatched to men from Jolon with provisions.  Later Jim Stanley followed up with reinforcements.  According to the latest reports the fire has covered about fifty acres, but it is believed to be under control.

(Provided by Sylvia Trotter Anderson)

Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 4/27/19

Dec 30th 1931 MPH- Six Members of Marooned Party Rescued

Fighting their way on foot over seventeen miles of muddy trail, six members of the party marooned since Saturday in the coast country reached the southern end of the Carmel-San Simeon highway yesterday and were brought to Pacific Grove last night by auto.

They were George Harlan of Lucia, his three sons, Gene, Donald and Stanley; a nephew, Gilbert Harlan, and Marion Hall of Watsonville.  Five members of the party, Mr. and Mrs. A. Victorine of Pacific Grove and Mrs. Bertha Harlan and Phyllis and Blanche Harlan, remained in the coast section and are staying at a ranch house near Gorda, northern terminus of the highway being constructed from the south.

They are in no danger, according to Mrs. George Harlan and Mrs. Eva Smithers of Pacific Grove, who accompanied the rescue party which brought the six men and boys to Pacific Grove last night.  Plenty of food and fuel is available at the highway camp nearby and several ranch houses in the vicinity, the said. They are expected to ‘come out’ as soon as roads are repaired.

Much difficulty was experienced in driving up the Carmel-San Simeon highway from San Simeon, Mrs. Harlan said.  Nine large slides were passed in a fourteen mile stretch below the Gorda camp.  The road, she said, is out in many places, a number of fills having been washed away, making the highway passable only on foot.  Even horses were unable to get by the washed-out fills.

Until Friday night, when the big week end storm started, about ten inches of rain had fallen in that vicinity.  The figure was believed doubled during the storm.

The Harlan family left Pacific Grove this morning to spend a few days with friends in San Jose before returning to their home at Lucia, which is located on the coast, half way between Gordaand Slates.  [reported on same page that Little Sur had about 18 inches of rain since before Christmas]

(Provided by Sylvia Trotter Anderson)

The Story behind California’s Powerful Coastal Commission

From UC Berkeley News: (

No feature defines California like its 840 miles of coastline.


And that’s no accident, said Todd Holmes, a historian with the Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center who has long studied California’s coast.

“There’s a reason we don’t look like Miami or the Jersey Shore,” Holmes said. “It is because of the California Coastal Commission.”

Holmes is the creator of a new podcast from the Oral History Center about the commission, a powerful — sometimes controversial — state agency created by voters in 1972 to protect California’s iconic coastal redwoods, golden beaches and rugged cliffs.

Each of the 15 episodes will examine a particular moment in the commission’s history, from efforts to preserve San Francisco Bay to a fight over the Hearst Corporation’s plans to build a golf resort in Big Sur.

“So much of what the commission does you don’t see,” Holmes said. “All these developments that didn’t happen.”

The project started when Holmes and his colleagues began to interview the men and women involved in the creation of the commission for the Oral History Center, which collects firsthand accounts of major moments in California and global history.

Holmes realized the long interviews could be crafted into a narrative about the commission’s work.

“This way, people can hear the story of why the coast looks the way it does,” he said.

The first episode, about a fight over development at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, is available now, and the remaining 14 episodes will be posted over the next year, Holmes said.

Eventually, he hopes placards along the coast will point people to the audio histories.

“You could be in Santa Barbara and hit a QR-code with your phone to listen to a story about the fight over offshore oil drilling,” he said.

Every Californian has a connection with the coastline, said Holmes, who grew up outside of Sacramento and still remembers spending a day on a Los Angeles beach with family when he was four years old.

They picnicked, played in the water and gathered together to watch the sun go down before driving home.

“I’ve been a fan of sunsets ever since,” he said. “There is no better place to watch a sunset than the California Coast.”

Listen to the first episode on the Oral History Center’s page