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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Old stone structure has Solano historians rocking

Jerry Bowen

It’s leading them toward an historic mile of discovery

For the past few months the Vacaville Heritage Council has been researching old records, history books and maps trying to learn more about a small stone and adobe structure near Suisun Valley Road on the old Mangels Winery property.

Since then we have found that Solano County is lucky enough to have roughly a mile of historic sites that date back to the earliest recorded history of the county that still survive in one form or another.

Our voyage of discovery began when Cordelia historian and artist, Daphne Nixon, called me and asked if I knew anything about a small stone and adobe building near the WestAmerica Bank. Since then, the Vacaville Heritage Council team of history sleuths - Robert Allen, Elisa DeCarro, Robert Hind, Carol Noske and I - have discovered numerous errors in our history, learned new details, and have rediscovered an asistencia (secondary mission) where Chief Solano was an Alcalde, and its baptismal fount.

The site remains somewhat intact because of the Pienovi family’s interest in preservation of what they believed was a historic site, even without knowing fully of its rich history.

That historic mile extends from Rockville to Interstate 80 where thousands commuters pass daily, unaware of the historic significance of the sites along Suisun Valley Road.

The sites include Rockville itself, the Pony Express Trail, an old wagon and stage road, the site of Chief Solano’s rancheria (village) a mission site, an old structure built of stone, Chief Solano’s original gravesite and the original location of Cordelia before it was moved to its present site.

To fully appreciate the history of this important area, we need to start with the earliest documented history.

The first historical documents about the Suisun Indians were recorded at the Mission San Francisco de Assis, also known as Mission Delores at San Francisco.

In January 1804, 14 neophytes (Christianized Indians) took a trip from the mission for the East Bay and never returned. Their deaths were documented in Mission Delores’ Libro de Difuntos (Book of the Deceased) as follows:

“On January 25, 1804, a party left here for the other shore to the east of the mission at about ten in the morning. Shortly afterward a strong storm came up. Fourteen men went on this occasion. In the days immediately after we received reports that everything seemed fine. We heard nothing more until, three weeks having passed; we heard that the party went far beyond the strait of the Carquines to the village of Suyusuyu. (Suisun) ... It is not possible to affirm whether they died by drowning or at the hands of the pagans, as the incident has caused everyone to stop talking. But I am inclined to believe that they died by drowning. If the pagans had killed them, their relatives would have told me about it. Four Christians from another party said that on the March 7 they (the former group), definitely left the area directly across the bay.”

In a UC Berkeley Ph.D thesis, Randall Miliken suggests:

“Most of the Mission men who died were Saclans and Jalquins from the East Bay area. They were probably killed while trying to bring relatives back to the missions who were living among the Suisuns and their allies the Chupcans.”

He had good reason to believe that because, from the initial sortie by neophytes into the Suisun Indians’ territory in 1804, the Suisuns repelled all intrusions by the Christian Indians until 1810. They also protected mission runaways who did not wish to be Christianized.

Up until 1810, the Spanish didn’t have boats to cross the Carquinez Strait that they could use to launch a major expedition in the Suisun area. In 1807, Spanish authorities planned an attack using tule boats to search for “criminals” among the Suisun Indians who had selectively, by tribe, killed several Indians in 1807.

But the Spanish were too preoccupied with skirmishes in other areas, so the attack never occurred.

In June 1809, the Carquin Indians who inhabited the area around present-day Vallejo moved to Mission San Francisco. Of 60 Carquin children under age, 10 were baptized that summer. Until the Carquins moved to the mission, they more or less served as a buffer from the Spanish for the Suisuns.

On February 5, 1810, the Spanish governor and the commander of the San Francisco Presidio were preparing an expedition into Suisun territory at the same time the missionaries at San Francisco were allowing newly converted Carquins to go back home on “paseo,” (authorized trips). The San Francisco Mission documents recorded the following report as a result of the “paseo”:

“On February 16 or 19, 1810, in the rancheria of the pagans called SuyuSuyu, they killed three neophytes. Seven people had gone on a ‘paseo’ to the rancheria of the Karquines and four had remained there. The other three had gone on to said rancheria of SuyuSuyu, where they had friends. They were killed just as they were coming near. So swear their companions, who say the pagan Chupanes (tribe of Indians centered around today’s Concord.) came and told them this.”

The three men killed were all Carquins who had been baptized two months earlier.

In a report to the Viceroy, Commandante Arrillaga prepared for a major punitive expedition against the Suisuns as follows:

“He ordered the commander of the San Francisco Presidio, Second-Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga, to go out in pursuit of pagans of the village called Sespesuyu to the north of the San Francisco Presidio. Over the past three years they have brought things to a sorry state, having killed over that time sixteen Christians.”

Second-Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga, with 17 soldiers and an auxiliary force of Christian Indians of unknown size, attacked the Suisun force of 120 fighting men on May 22, 1810, near Rockville.

It should be noted here that the 1879 “History of Solano County” gives the wrong date of the attack as 1817. The 1877 Thompson & West Atlas also has it wrong, stating that Jose Sanchez attacked the Suisuns in 1817, per an interview with General Vallejo. This is probably the source of the error in the 1879 history, although the 1879 history has the correct name, Moraga, as the leader of the expedition.

The military force brought six boys and six girls back to San Francisco, a mixed group of Suisuns and Chupcans, and they were baptized at Mission San Francisco. Arrillaga filed the following report based on Moraga’s statement of the battle:

“Said second-lieutenant ... took as prisoners eighteen pagans. They were set free because they were gravely wounded and he had no way to transport them. He believes that not one of them could have avoided death. Toward the end of the action the surviving Indians sealed themselves in three brush houses, from which they made a tenacious defence, wounding the corporals and two soldiers. Those were the only injuries sustained by the troop. No one was killed. After having killed the pagans in two of the grass houses, the Christians set fire to the third grass house, as a means to take the pagans prisoner. But they did not achieve that result, since the valiant Indians died enveloped in flames before they could be taken into custody. The second lieutenant says that he could not reason with the pagans, who died fighting or by burning.”

On Dec. 22, 1810, Mission San Francisco baptismal records show that 11 Suisun Indians were baptized along with five Indians of other tribes. Four of the Suisun women had their marriages renewed in the Catholic faith on the same date.

The exodus of the Suisuns from their homeland in Suisun Valley to the San Francisco Mission continued during 1811. Between March and June 1811, 69 more Suisuns were baptized including 48 adults and 21 children.

Buoyed with some success in converting Suisun Indians, an expedition under missionary Ramon Abella visited Suisun Valley on Oct. 28, 1811, as he was returning from the Sacramento area heading toward the Carquinez Strait. He reported the following:

“We went about one league and stopped at the end of the slough of the Suisunes (Suisun City) at half a boat’s length from shore so that one could jump onto solid ground. It was on a big plain, with fine land, completely covered at a short distance with oaks and live oaks, finally becoming uneven and hilly.

“We sent four neophytes from the San Francisco Mission, natives of this area, to locate their countrymen, and fifty men from two villages presented themselves, all unarmed. They brought us some of those things, which they held in high esteem, and gave us their war decorations. We responded in the same manner by paying part of their value. The villages are called Malaca (Vacaville’s Lagoon Valley area) and Suisun (Rockville area). According to what the Indians said, the latter is divided into three parts. They claimed that it was quite close but according to the signs between here and the shore somewhat less than two leagues away; a short time ago they were living on the shore. That was where Second Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga struck them the blow. Thoroughly cowed the poor people have remained, for they are badly scared. ... The place is very good for the establishment of missions but there remains the difficulty of getting there except by boat through the narrow passages mentioned above.”

I’ll have to leave you hanging for now, but the best is yet to come when we discuss our recent finds in my next column.