Point Arena Middle School Mural History Project
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Point Arena area was the homeland of the Pomo Indian Tribe. These peaceful people were not numerous and their small communities were only loosely interconnected. They practiced a largely hunter-gather type of existence and needed access to relatively large areas so that they could take advantage of the natural bounty that was seasonally accessible. As first Russian and then Spanish and Mexican intruders entered the area early in the nineteenth century, the Pomo were easily pushed aside, but they were able to sustain their cultural integrity. When immigrants from the United States started arriving in the middle of the nineteenth century the Pomo permanently lost access to increasingly large areas of the land that they had traditionally ranged over. Like Indians elsewhere in North America they were looked down on by the "white" settlers as being inferior and were commonly called "digger Indians." Their culture was suppressed and their children taken away from them by well meaning persons who intended to teach them to be "civilized."Although various efforts at assimilation were attempted they were not particularly successful. Today the remnants of the Pomo Indian Tribe live in a few, very small rancharias sprinkled through the region.
The very first Europeans to land on this part of the coast of California were probably Spanish and there are several names that are credited with the title of "first." The Russian and Aleut fur hunters that came later were more important, but stayed for only a very brief period of time. The records are not particularly clear and scholars debate exactly who walked on which sand bar first. The truth is that we really do not know and further more it is not very important to the local history of this area. We do have a clearer picture of the waves of humanity that started arriving in the nineteenth century. Spain had claimed the area for centuries, but had never been strong enough to settle it. In the early nineteenth century it's colonial empire collapsed and Mexico declared its independence. At about the same time the United States became interested in expanding its 'empire' across the continent. In the first half of the century, a trickle of Americans began settling in northern California and the Mexican government became concerned that it would lose control of the area. In 1844 Mexico granted Rafael Garcia a huge tract of land that stretched from the Gualala River in the south to the vicinity of present day Elk in the north. Garcia was part of the Mexican effort to discourage, or at least control settlement in the area. He established a cattle ranch, but it was not particularly successful and he was unable to exclude European squatters that had arrived via the United States.
With the discovery of gold in the American River in 1848 the political situation in the Point Arena area changed dramatically. Gold from the central Sierras created San Francisco and its port instantly made it the most important city on the west coast. Literally overnight tens of thousands of people streamed through San Francisco in search of instant wealth. At first they lived in tents and driftwood lean-tos on the beach, but soon thereafter began building more substantial structures. They needed building materials and food stuffs at a time when the only viable transportation system was waterborne shipping. This focused the initial search for supplies on the coast of California. Because the north coast was difficult for large ships - bad weather and hidden rocks combined with an absence of adequate harbors - coastal shipping was composed of a rag tag fleet of very small schooners - the famous "dog hole schooners."