~Updated June 2017~
"During the season of flowers, the females and children decked themselves in splendor; not only entwining them in the hair, but stringing them with the stalks and leaves, making boas of them."
The Indians of Los Angeles County: Hugo Reid's letters of 1852,
the Tongva ("people of the earth", aka Kizh or Gabrieleno)
What lies beneath Wintersburg? More than the eye can see and much that has been lost.
It was December, 1930. Workers on Wintersburg's old Buck Ranch--then being referred to as the Callens Ranch--found over a dozen skeletons and several large stone bowls. The Orange County Sheriff was called and sent deputies to inspect the site the next day. Their conclusion: it was a Native American burial ground. Someone contacted local collector Frederick R. Aldrich and later, collector Herman Strandt, who is reported as supervising the remainder of the "dig".
ABOVE: The Santa Ana Register first reported the find as a front page headline in its Sunday, December 28, 1930 edition. The next day, hundreds descended upon the site. (Image, Santa Ana Register, December 28, 1930)
The Huntington Beach News reported on January 1, 1931, that "N. Acevedo, intelligent Spanish employee of the ranch and W. Peters, American employed on the ranch, plowing three feet deep in the field discovered the burial mound, Friday, December 26, when their plowshare turned out a skull." The men grabbed shovels and found more skulls and human bones.
More than 500 people descended on the site
More than 500 people descended on the burial site, carting away "skulls and other relics." At least 100 skulls were found, according Paul Chace, Locating the Buck Ranch Prehistoric Burial Ground (Pacific Coast Archaeology Society, Vol. 40 No. 2 2008). Thousands of years of human history were picked apart and carted away to private collections.
LEFT: The Santa Ana Register published an image of the "dig" on their front page, which brought hundreds of artifact hunters to the farm. (Image, Santa Ana Register, December 31, 1930)
RIGHT: "Trinkets" or "relics" carted away from the burial site by the general public and workers on the property, a revealing attitude of the times that Native American burial sites were open to plunder. Skulls were reported by the Santa Ana Register as being sold for 50 cents. Some artifacts made their way to the Bowers Museum eventually. Many may be lost forever in private collections. (Image, Santa Ana Register, December 28, 1930)
Read the Cole Ranch and the Universe Effigy part 1, http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/02/cole-ranch-and-universe-effigy.html and part 2, http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/04/cole-ranch-and-universe-effigy-part-two.html to learn about another find in Wintersburg, on display at the Bowers Museum.
LEFT: Yukiko Furuta and son, Raymond, feeding chickens on the Cole Ranch in 1915, once the site of a Tongva settlement and home to today's Ocean View High School. The Cole Ranch was a short distance from the Furuta family's farm and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, off Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue. (Photo, California State University-Fullerton Center for Oral and Public History, PJA-310) © All rights reserved.
Confusion and stereotypes
In The Case of the Missing Buck Ranch Mortuary Remains: A Mystery Partly Solved (Pacific Coast Archaeology Society, Vol. 41 No. 2 & 3, 2009), Henry C. Koerper writes "the first announcement of the discoveries appeared in a Santa Ana Register, December 27, 1930 article that was repeated by the paper on Monday followed by a December 29 story giving more specifics."
LEFT: By Tuesday, December 30, the burial was reported in the Los Angeles Times, which noted it was "believed to be the oldest in the State of California." Along with early land maps and newspaper accounts, the location of the Buck Ranch is known today. The ranch was in the outskirts of Wintersburg Village, part of the peatlands and wetlands near the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. At the intersection of Varsity Drive and Huntington Beach Central Park, there is now residential and park land. Within the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and mesas, there are documented Tongva burial and settlement sites. Approximately one block west of the Historic Wintersburg property--on the present-day Ocean View High School property--was a Tongva settlement. (Image, Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, December 30, 1930)
"Much of the archaeological information was in error," notes Koerper, of the Santa Ana Register report, "such as the idea that some of the deceased had been buried standing up, that all were male, that the area had possibly been the site of a great battle, and that these Indians raised corn."
"On December 30, the Huntington Beach News published its story and touted the Indian cemetery as 'believed to be the oldest in the State of California' yet later gave the estimated age of the burial ground as only about 200 years," continues Koerper. The Santa Ana Register published a photograph "showing an excavator holding a skull in front of human skeletal remains in situ."
The dig went on through January 1931, when the Huntington Beach News again reported on the finds. Koerper writes that the article stated "the cemetery contained women, children and men, but erroneously reported that these people had raised corn, potatoes and tobacco."
RIGHT: Mrs. James V. Rosemeyre, reported as one of the last Tongva language speakers and an informant for the ethnographer C. Hart Merriam. (Photo, Bakersfield, California, circa 1905, WikiCommons)
History intertwines: at the time of the discovery, the Callens brothers were working oil leases on the Buck Ranch. Joseph Callens later served on the first Fountain Valley city council in 1957 with Nisei Charles Ishii and James Kanno, the first Japanese American mayor in the mainland United States. Charles' father, Kyutaro Ishii, and James' father, Shuji Kanno, both Issei, were elders with the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.
In the peatlands communities of Wintersburg, Talbert, Bolsa and Smeltzer, everybody knew everybody and the Buck Ranch find was front-page news.
"...the writer found both oblong and pyriform polished stones, such as have hitherto been considered, and described, as 'plummets, plumb-bobs, sinkers, and weights.' An old Tobikhar said that such stones would require too much time and labor to be used only to cast into the sea. The Indians term them 'medicine stones,' and consider them as possessing medicinal properties."
The Indians of Los Angeles County: Hugo Reid's letters of 1852
The portable cosmos
Besides human remains, finds at the site included cogged stones, jewelry, abalone, arrowheads, and a "portable cosmos" crafted by the Tongva, a multi-holed steatite tablet. Carved of stone most likely mined on Tongva quarries on Santa Catalina Island, references to the multi holed stone tablet in newspaper reports were the subject of mystery to archaeological researchers until they realized it was "hiding in plain site."
LEFT: Tongva steatite (soapstone) quarry on Santa Catalina Island, near the island's airport. The rounded formations are said to be partially carved stone bowls. (Photo, LASplash.com)
"This object had been described in contemporary newspaper accounts covering the Wintersburg dig, as having a constellation of features so distinct that it could easily be identified if rediscovered," write Henry Koerper and Joe Cramer, Additional Multi Holed Tablets from the Fred Aldrich Collection, (Pacific Coast Archaeology Society, Vol. 42, No. 2 & 3, 2009). "The artifact is a thin tablet possessing 70 drilled holes."
The January 1, 1931 edition of the Huntington Beach News, Indian Burial Ground is unearthed on Buck Ranch, reported in a front page article that "there was a stone found which was four by five inches with the edges slightly rounded, and 70 small holes in even rows on the stone, the holes being near a quarter of an inch in diameter. That stone was either used in some game or for some unknown purpose. People versed in Indian lore said they had never seen such a relic."
It is on display at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. Much like the remarkable Universe Effigy found on the Cole Ranch in Wintersburg, it has been right in front of us.
In the case of the Universe Effigy--or the "Keystone Cache" of cogged stones found on the Bolsa Chica--it is thought that important ceremonial objects were stored away from dwellings and included in important burials. The Keystone Cache appears to have been buried, encased in a mud slurry, while the tablet was part of a burial site.
RIGHT: Henry W. Henshaw wrote about Perforated Stones from California in 1887, although not describing the cogged stones or multi holed tablets found in Wintersburg. One California Native American woman he interviewed said, "we used to bury them with our dead." (Perforated Stones from California, Henry W. Henshaw, Smithsonian Institution, 1887)
Researchers also believe one of the burials at the Buck Ranch site was for a shaman or spiritual leader, due to the ornamentation and burial remains. The remains of a meticulously-crafted limpet shell necklace and red stone smoking pipe held at the Bowers Museum are believed to belong to the shaman.
"There was one article made of clay. It was possibly an Indian pipe, the clay had apparently not been burned..." reported the Huntington Beach News. "There were Indian stone bowls, used for grinding meal and the pestles that the Indians used to crush their corn into meal. One bowl weighed forty pounds and one pestle weighted nine pounds."
Most of the former Buck Ranch land is now a tract of homes, developed in the 1960s-1970s. Traces of the 1930 plunder of artifacts may be scattered about Orange County in public and private collections.
The Aldrich Collection
Frederick Randolph Aldrich operated a private museum on Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach for many years. When he passed in 1953, his "shell collection" was purchased and displayed by the Balboa Pavilion and later donated to the Bower's Museum.
A newspaper article posted about Aldrich, One of Nation's Finest Shell Collections Open to Public Each Sunday on Bay Island, reports his real break came "when a rancher at work with a sub soiler near the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, north of Huntington Beach unearthed an Indian bowl. He contacted Aldrich and further probing was undertaken. The exploration resulted in the richest Indian cemetery ever found in California, Aldrich says. It yielded human remains, and numerous household, hunting and ceremonial articles. Aldrich has the finest relics of this find on exhibit."
In The Case of the Missing Buck Ranch Mortuary Remains: A Mystery Partly Solved (Pacific Coast Archaeology Society, Vol. 41 No. 2 & 3, 2009), it is reported that "there are 25 adults and three sub adults in the Aldrich Collection that had almost certainly come from Buck Ranch." Moe Gronsky (the Gronsky family owned the Balboa Pavilion) told researchers that "an unspecified number of skulls" were held and not transferred to the Bowers Museum.
ABOVE: Photos circa mid-1940s show Aldrich again standing in front of the glass case with human skulls, holding a stone pestle that was "part of the richest tribal burial find ever discovered in California," a reference to the Buck Ranch, Wintersburg discovery. (Image, Frederick Randolph Aldrich, Shells Magazine)
Archaeological finds in the mesas, lowlands and wetlands of Wintersburg indicate thriving populations with complex beliefs.
A recent environmental impact review for a mixed-use project at Beach Boulevard and Warner (Wintersburg) Avenue reported "the Native American Heritage Commission identified the presence of Native American cultural resources within the immediate area...and noted that the general area was considered sensitive for cultural resources...representatives from the Gabrieleno Tongva Nation (expressed) their concerns about the sensitivity of the...area for Native American resources and burial grounds."
During the 1970s, human burials were discovered on the east side of Edwards Street (CA-ORA-82). In a report prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1989, it was noted that the "deep deposits at this site appear to reflect lengthy use."
LEFT: "Tongva woman", believed to be Juana Maria, the last surviving member of her tribe and last surviving speaker of the Nicoleño dialect. This photograph was reportedly found alongside a picture of Maria Sinforosa Ramona Sanchez, wife of George Nidever, with whom Maria had lived while at the Santa Barbara Mission. (WikiCommons)
A multiple burial site was found in the 1970s a scant 1320 feet northwest of the Furuta family farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex (Shell Midden, Site Number 30000346). In the early 1900s, the Universe Effigy--on display at the Bowers Museum in Orange County--was found just west of the property off Warner Avenue at the Cole Ranch in the former Wintersburg Village.
On the Huntington Beach Mesa---where present-day Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley converge---there are discoveries of "magico religious" items, charmstones, birdstones, cogged stones, and pipes at the Dobkin site near Newland and Ellis Avenues, the Heil and Newland avenues site, a site between Slater and Talbert avenues, and the Borchard Ranch, south of the old Buck Ranch.
And, there are the significant burial remains found at the Bolsa Chica (Cole Ranch and the Universe Effigy: Part Two, http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/04/cole-ranch-and-universe-effigy-part-two.html). Over a dozen known archaeological cultural sites are scattered throughout the Bolsa Chica and Wintersburg lowlands alone, representing at least 9,000 years of occupation.
RIGHT: Aerial of the relatively untouched Wintersburg - Bolsa Chica area in 1928, now part of north Huntington Beach, California. (Source, County of Orange)
Oscar L. Stricklin, an oil worker who arrived in Huntington Beach in the 1920s, talked in 1971 with the Daily Pilot Newspaper about helping a farmer who had unearthed a mass grave near present-day Slater Avenue. Stricklin remembers this happening in the 1920s.
"Stricklin took some of his men to the grave and helped the farmer uncover 36 skeletons whose origin remain a mystery to him," reported Rudi Niedzielski, Oil Boom Recalled: Pioneer writes of Huntington era. Stricklin wrote about the incident in his memoirs several years before his passing in 1974.
"There were that many in an area about 40 feet square. Some of them were actually sitting up, others were stooped over and some were lying down flat. We didn't take them out. We'd uncover them and get all the dirt away from them and just leave them sitting there. It was a gruesome sight," remembered Stricklin. "Nobody knows if it was a massacre or whether they had died and were put there or whether they drowned in a flood. We called the people from the state and they put them in a museum somewhere."
The continual drain of historic resources to unknown places is a centuries-old problem. With the continual "surprise" discovery of new archaeological finds--combined with the concerns stated by the descendants of the Tongva--it's reasonable to expect there will be more.
Back to Buck Ranch
"Of the hundreds of curious people who visited the burial spot of an unknown people, many carried away skulls and other relics."
Huntington Beach News, January 1, 1931
The Huntington Beach News account of the Buck Ranch discovery reports "arrowheads, some quite large...were beautifully finished, the workmanship being quite smooth..." and speculates some were spearheads. "One skull found had fangs and was undoubtedly the head of a dog...the skulls and bodies bore evidence of having been laid out in graves..."
LEFT: An account of the burial site from the Los Angeles Times, combined with oral history accounts, presents a mix of descriptions of artifacts along with terminology and analysis that is cringe-worthy today. It is believed the Tongva walked the peatlands and wetlands over 8,000 years ago. (Image, Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, December 30, 1930)
The January 1, 1931, article considers the site could have been a mass grave from a battle or that "there may have been a marshy spring there and the Indians disposed of their dead in deposition of the bodies in the spring or march." This appears to be refuted by present-day scholars. The Huntington Beach News then discusses the skulls, in ridiculous fashion.
"One skull brought out with the shovels had jaws hard set on two rows of teeth. The skull was smaller than the average found," writes the Huntington Beach News. " 'That might be a woman's skull' suggested a digger. 'Impossible,' said his companion. 'No woman would ever keep her mouth shut that tight, or keep it shut that long.' "
"Another small skull was found with very low forehead. 'Possibly that may be a woman's skull,' was suggested," writes the Huntington Beach News. " 'It was surely the skull of a very stupid human, but that is not a sure sign it is a woman's skull,' was the answer as the crowd of curious laughed."
The combination of serious scientific speculation with seriously disrespectful, ethnocentric commentary is something to leave in the past, but not forget. It is for good reason the article's author and those quoted were anonymous.
The Huntington Beach News ends the article, "the deputy sheriffs who visited the spot, carefully re interred the bones they found unearthed, but others who followed after have dug the skeletons out again."
Editor's note: It is hoped that those who believe they may have an artifact from the Buck Ranch--perhaps sitting in a family collection for almost a century--will consider coming forward. It is time.
ABOVE: An unknown collector in Palos Verdes, California, circa 1926.
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