Wednesday Sep 14 2011
The Nisenan -- Rocklin's original residents
By: Gary Day, special to the Placer Herald
Rocks, Rails and Ranches
They built their villages on low rises along Rocklin’s streams, hunted game in Rocklin’s hills and meadows and gathered fruits, nuts, seeds and roots here for 1,500 years or more before European explorers made contact with them in the early 1800s. They called themselves “Nisenan,” their word for people. They were the southernmost of three linguistic groups of California’s Maidu culture. The Nisenan hunted and consumed all available types of animals, except coyotes because they believed that coyotes embodied the souls of Nisenan ancestors. Men pierced their ears for adornment, trimmed their beards with hot embers, and went naked, weather permitting. Women and children gathered and prepared a wide variety of flora for food. They favored the acorn of the Black Oak, which they cracked on acorn anvils, pounded in bedrock mortars, leached with water from nearby streams, cooked with heated rocks in watertight baskets, and served as soup, mush, or cakes fried on heated flat stones. There is ample evidence that Rocklin was an important center of Nisenan life. Dozens of bedrock mortar sites border Rocklin streams. One site, at John son Springview Park that contains 62 mortars, is located near a year-around spring, and is among low mounds which might cover the refuse of hundreds of years of Nisenan settlement. The first Europeans to make contact with the Nisenan were the Spanish in 1808. However, there is no evidence that the Nisenan were ever missionized. In the late 1820s European trappers established camps on Nisenan lands and brought European diseases to the area. In 1833 a plague, probably malaria, decimated Nisenan villages and about 75 percent of the villagers perished. Some survivors fled to the hills, but a few stayed behind and joined other Native Americans working at Sutter’s Fort in the late 1830s. Soon the gold rush of -19th century brought hoards of Europeans to the Sierra foothills. The ensuing widespread destruction of villages and persecution as well as killing of the Nisenan permanently disrupted Nisenan culture. By 1870 only one Nisenan appeared on Rocklin’s census, although Rocklin old timers remember hearing about a Nisenan settlement in downtown Rocklin as late as 1904. Gary Day is a member of the Rocklin Historical Society.