Albion Monitor /Commentary

Facing a $2 million lawsuit from a disgruntled developer, the Sebastopol City Council prepares to vote on the Palm Terrace project, opposed by the community for more than a decade.

Jude Kreissman contributes a moving portrait of the long struggle against the project, and what it has come to mean to her and the community. Kreissman also provides a chronology documenting some of the many meetings where citizens have spoken against developing this land.

EIR editor Juliana Doms suggests the problem can be resolved, if the City Council and developer have the courage.

Alexis Canillo, whose family is part of the Native community that once lived here, asks the Council not to disturb and desecrate this land.

But first, a history lesson.

Walk With Me

by Jeff Elliott

What do you see? Not much

Walk with me. I know you're busy and have important things to do, but it won't take long -- I promise. I want to show you something. I want to show you Sebastopol.

Let's start here, at the old bank building at the corner of Main Street and Bodega. I hope you can hear me; the traffic is often loud, here where state highways 12 and 116 cross. Stand here with me, in the entranceway for the bank.

Now close your eyes, block your ears to the racket. Pretend it is a drizzly winter morning, grey and chill. The year is sometime in the mid-1850's. You are standing near the door to an adobe house. This is the home of Joaquin Carrillo, a young-ish Mexican man who came here about twelve years ago with a sheet of paper covered with lacy handwriting. This paper declared that he owned this place.

Look down Main Street. What do you see? Not much. It's a country crossroads; a pig is probably rooting in the muddy street, and there's likely an escaped chicken or two. Puddles form in the deep ruts left by wagon wheels. Directly in front of you on the right side of the street is a wagon shop; maybe you can hear the ringing of an anvil or hiss of steam as the blacksmith works. On the other side of this shop is the stable, and you can probably smell the fresh dung of horses.

On the left side of Main Street are a few modest shops, in brand-new buildings made of rough-hewn redwood. One of these is a combined grocery store and saloon. Farther down Main you can see a couple of new houses being built, and at the end of the street, the new church. You hear the sounds of hammers pounding nails into plank boards.

Turn your head to the right, looking towards the Laguna. What do you see?

The Laguna is on fire.

The whites are building their town smack in the middle of this Native community

Or so it seems; a curtain of smoke rises from the Laguna shore, starting about a half-mile to the north. Your eyes follow it southward. It continues as far as you can see. Your eyes trace the smoke downwards to where you see people tending their cookfires. In silhouette you see children at play, darting through the mist and smoke. Let's visit.

As soon as we cross Petaluma Road, we are in a different world; by comparison, the town behind us is uninhabited and ghostly. This place teems with life; there are ten times the hundred (or so) people that are living behind you in those new houses.

The village sprawls. What looked like triangular clumps of shrubbery from the distance are houses, earth-colored from the redwood bark walls. Your first impression is that everything here is woven rather than built; you can see a man repairing a tule canoe and a woman teaching basket-weaving to her daughter. A man passes you carrying a heavy basket and until you notice the sloshing sound, you do not realize that it contains water. The weave is so perfect that not a drop escapes.

Once this place was called Batiklechawi, which roughly means, "the village where Elderberries grow." More than a thousand people lived in the hills above the Laguna and along this shore. Look back the direction you came, towards the crossroads. In the woody hills there are plumes from other campfires -- and it comes to you that the whites are building their town smack in the middle of this Native community.

And you understand why: The whites need laborers, and lots of them. Laborers to stoop over their crops; laborers to do the back-breaking work clearing their land for orchards; laborers to first build their fine houses, then later to serve in them, to cook and clean.

An old man passes by. His name is Mateo -- Spanish for Matthew. He is a very important individual, recognized by the Americans as "chief" and the Mexicans as "Capitan" of people from here to near the town of Cloverdale.

Native children could be indentured servants until they were 25

Batiklechawi was significant in its own right. This was the largest and most important village in the area, about the same size as Oolompali a few miles further south, and with the same status. Frequently visitors from inland villages passed through not so long ago, on their way to the coast for seafood and shells. Now that same trail is the rutted wagon road leading to Bodega Bay.

But almost twenty years ago, smallpox came. Nine out of ten people died. Today you can walk from Oolompali to Healdsburg and not see one Native -- except for here, of course.

Through the village you walk southward. You can't see much to your left; the Laguna's shore is thick with trees and brush. Sometimes there is a break, and you can see someone fishing in a tule canoe.

But in ten minutes or so, you come to a natural rise -- a little knoll. Let's sit here for a while and watch the years flash by, to see what becomes of this place, and the people who live here.

Let's stop just a few years later, at 1860. The census taker is knocking on doors -- or at least, the doors of the nice, new respectable houses. He writes down the names of 22 Indians, all but two under the age of 25. The occupation of each -- including two children just one year old -- is listed as "servant."

Thanks to a ten year-old state law, it is legal to arrest Native people "on the complaint of any resident citizen" and hire them out to the top bidder for four months. Later amendments authorized indenturing Native children until they turn 25 years old. (These laws will be finally repealed in 1867.) Are these people willing servants, or are they forced into virtual slavery? We don't know. But it is curious that all these Indian servants are under the indenture age of 25, and that in 1870, the census-taker will list no Indian servants at all.

Viquero, like Mateo before him, is the leader of all the people

Joaquin Carrillo continues selling land to the American newcomers. One of his first customers had been a man named J.H.P. Morris, who opened that grocery-saloon. Carrillo sells a large chunk to James Miller and John Walker, including this little knoll that we're sitting on. As partners, Miller and Walker had a store about a mile south of the crossroads. This store was also the post office for this area, then called "Bodega" by the whites. Walker and Miller bet that the town would grow up around them, near the post office. They were wrong; it grew around the crossroads. Civilized men, it seems, want a saloon in their neighborhood more than their mailbox.

We pause our time-travel again in August of 1888. Our knoll has been part of the "Walker Ranch" for about two decades, but that's not why we've stopped. We are here to meet William Buckline. I know you haven't heard of Mr. Buckline, but don't feel bad -- no one has. Likely this is the first time his name has appeared in print (as it were) for more than a century. But you and I owe Bill a great debt; next time you're at your favorite saloon, hoist one to his memory.

Buckline is here to write "An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California" for Lewis Publishing Company in Chicago. Frankly, it's a lousy job. The assignment is to interview the most important (read: rich) people he can find, write up their area history -- with heavy emphasis on contributions made by those same wealthy folks, of course -- and then sell copies to everybody mentioned therein. Doubtless you'll find similar tomes for every county in the nation, usually several of them.

But Mr. Buckline is different. He doesn't write about Native people as being ignorant savages, the norm for the day. He goes out of his way to interview the people and report on their situation. His is the longest description of what it is like here, for the children of Batiklechawi.

We meet Caskibel, an old friend of Mateo. Through Caskibel we learn that about 15 people of Batiklechawi died each day during the smallpox epidemic. And because Mr. Buckline had more humanity than local newspaper editors, we discover that earlier this year, road workers nearby stumbled across a mass grave for smallpox victims, "a perfect charnel of human bones." In none of the newspapers is this mentioned.

Mateo is now dead, but a new man is identified as leader of all the people as far north as Cloverdale: Jose Viquero.

We'll skip ahead now to December 23, 1899, when Viquero dies. His obituaries are notable for two reasons: again he is identified as "chief" of people living in this area. But most significantly, he is deemed important enough to have an obituary at all. Never are Native people mentioned in the press.

Those who stay and eventually die are buried on this property

On this winter day before the last Christmas Eve in the 1800's, it is a good time to look around. How has the town changed?

It now has the name "Sebastopol," of course, although J.H.P. Morris was pushing "Pine Grove" for a time. Those orchards on lands cleared by Native laborers are dormant, but will flourish in the spring. Societies meet monthly to venerate their pioneer ancestors, now that the third generation of whites are growing up.

Batiklechawi has all but vanished. A small group still remains on the lands known as the Walker Ranch but most have moved on, to clear land for other orchards, to stoop over other crops. Those who stay eventually die, and are buried on this property; tomorrow, Jose Viquero will be buried here, too.

Some people are house servants for the wealthier families. One works in the Walker family house directly behind us, built on the crest of this knoll. Her name is Josephine Alvarado. She lives in a toolshed behind the knoll, separated from the rakes and hoes by a thin wall.

Josephine is a survivor of the "Death March," which probably happened around 1857. Many Native people were driven like animals to Round Valley, the newly-built Indian reservation near Covelo. As a young girl, Josephine was among those who trudged up that long road, urged on by whites carrying bullwhips.

Let's skip ahead to 1912. Now living in the toolshed with Josephine is her grandson, Grant Smith. Although only six, Grant has already learned to stay clear of Petaluma Avenue. The last time he walked on this street, other boys threw stones at him and called him nigger -- while the boy's parents sat on their porches browsing the evening newspaper. When Josephine and Grant go downtown, they walk along the Laguna bank until they come to the railroad tracks. There the boy and his 70 year-old grandmother walk the rails until they safely emerge past the troublemakers.

This year probably is as good as any to say Batiklechawi has at last faded into history. On the Walker Ranch is buried John Elliott (no relation to this writer), the last Native man or woman known to be interred here.

But Batiklechawi didn't die with John Elliott. At special times of the year, the people would meet near here for Big Times. And during the Depression, some Native people returned to the area and resumed living in the traditional manner. Family stories were passed down about the Walker Ranch, and what had been here. The memories burned.

Sitting on this little knoll, the years speed by. The land changes hands again and again; finally, we reach the 1980's, when speculators decide it's a good little piece of property to build swank houses.

All that remains of Batiklechawi is this

We turn off our time machine in the early autumn of 1995 for a last look around. The sister community, Oolompali, is now a state park where Native people are rebuilding a traditional village. On a fine weekend in September, they have gathered together to weave tule houses in the grass meadows.

But what is left of Batiklechawi? The hills are thick with homes -- the same hills where once the people filled their watertight baskets from springs, cremated their dead, built their cookfires. The place where we first walked into the village now has a car dealership, industrial buildings, a trailer park. We couldn't walk the shoreline if we tried; we would be constantly stopped by back yard fences, more homes, other businesses.

All that remains of Batiklechawi is here, where we sit. These tiny eight acres, this small knoll.

And in a few months, even this will be gone.

To repeat:

Alexis Canillo, whose family is part of the Native community that once lived here, asks the Council not to disturb and desecrate this land.

EIR editor Juliana Doms suggests the problem can be resolved, if the City Council and developer have the courage.

Jude Kreissman contributes a moving portrait of the long struggle against the project, and what it has come to mean to her and the community. Kreissman also provides a chronology documenting some of the many meetings where citizens have spoken against developing this land.

Albion Monitor September 18, 1995 (

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