We are humbled to have the privilege to continue in the legacy of protecting and restoring this land in what is now called El Sobrante. It’s important to acknowledge that we all live on stolen land in the United States and that we have a responsibility to the first peoples here to recognize their leadership, ancestral knowledge, incredible resiliency, and right to preserve their cultural practices in the Bay Area. We are learning from women leaders at Sogorea Te’ Land Trust: “Guided by the belief that land is the foundation that can bring us together, Sogorea Te calls on us all to heal from the legacies of colonialism and genocide, to remember different ways of living, and to do the work that our ancestors and future generations are calling us to do.”
The Garrity Creek watershed upon which our 13-acres surrounds was a place that was used seasonally by the Ohlone people ~ more information can be found in this article, “The Prehistoric Huchiun Band of the Native Ohlone at Garrity Creek & Along San Pablo Bay” by Mike Racoon Eyes Kinney. “The Huchiun used the El Sobrante site of Garrity Creek as a seasonal village for hunting herds of tule elk, pronghorn antelope and black tail deer and also for seed gathering and harvesting. The Huchiun homeland was high in the western hills of West Contra Costa County. It was a great stretch of high, rolling grassy hills clothed in a sweep of prairie-type grasses and endless fields of wildflowers. For the Huchiun, the important features were in the forests following the creeks and rivers down from the canyons in the high hill country and across the grassland savannahs to the San Pablo Bay. Here the coast redwood, buckeye, coast and live oak, big leaf maple, madrone and manzanita trees formed thousands of acres of forest that shadowed the Bay shoreline of West Contra Costa.”
The Garrity Creek site in El Sobrante played an important role in the life of the Huichun people whose village sat upon the banks of the Wildcat Canyon Creek. Ohlone Native-American archaeologist Andrew Galvan estimates that around the time of the Fages and Crespi expeditions in 1769 there were some 10,000 Huchiun in the East Bay. These indigenous people lived hunting and gathering lifestyles in tribelets of 250 or less. They lived in seasonal villages, migrating from the shores of San Pablo Bay to the inland canyons along Garrity, Rheem, San Pablo and Wildcat Canyon Creeks on a annual cycle for thousands of years.
The Huchiun seasonally followed the harvesting locations of their food, abandoning winter villages during gathering and hunting periods. Garrity Creek was highly prized because it offered the basic sustenance of acorns from tanbark, valley, coast and live oak trees, as well as buckeye trees. They also harvested seeds, berries, greens, nuts and roots at the site location. They would venture down Garrity Creek to fish for steelhead, salmon and sturgeon that swam up Garrity Creek to spawn.
The Huchiun hunting at the El Sobrante site did not reduce the native animal populations. However, there were significant results when the Huchiun made seasonal summer camps such as at the Garrity Creek location. Each fall they would set fire to the dry hillocks and hills. This kept the brush from overtaking the meadowlands, giving good growth to seed harvest and ensuring plentiful grazing for large game animals like tule elk, pronghorn antelope and black tail deer. This created an ideal setting for excellent hunting conditions for the Huchiun at the Garrity Creek site. It also encouraged oak and pine nut seed germination, which germinate best after a controlled fire, and prevented a build up of fuel that could create a major firestorm.
The Ohlone people, and this land, thrived for many thousands of years before the Spanish missionaries/colonizers arrived in 1769. In 1776, the San Francisco Mission was completed. Between November 1794 and May 1795, the entire population of the Huichun people in the East Bay -- men, women, children, and elders -- were forcibly removed from their ancestral land and villages and sentenced for life to hard labor at Mission San Francisco. Between 1769 and 1833, 81,000 Ohlone people were baptized at Mission San Francisco, and 60,000 people were killed and buried there in a mass grave. Their lives were taken by colonial, state-sponsored violence; biological warfare (smallpox, measles, and other European diseases); land theft, and forced labor/internment at Mission San Francisco.
In 1841, Governor Juan Alvarado granted 20,565-acres called Rancho El Sobrante (which means “left-over” in Spanish) to Juan Jose Castro and Victor Castro, the sons of a soldier from Presidio San Francisco. Many former Mission Indians were forced to work on Spanish and Mexican land-grants to raise the cattle and sheep, construct buildings, plant and harvest crops, and more. As European-Americans descended upon California during the Gold Rush, Rancheros became land-rich and cash-poor. The burden of attempting to defend their claims was often financially overwhelming, and many grantees lost their lands as a result of mortgage default, payment of attorney fees, fraud, or other personal debts, plus there was a sharp decline in cattle prices, the floods of 1861–1862, and droughts of 1863–1864 that also forced many of the Rancheros to sell their properties to Americans. By the early 20th-century, Rancho El Sobrante had been reduced to a number of smaller ranches, generally following a dirt road along San Pablo Creek. Many of these ranches were further subdivided. As roads were paved and homes were constructed, El Sobrante changed from a rural to a semi-rural community. We know from old photographs, long-time neighbors, and historical artifacts of water infrastructure that our initial 10-acre parcel used to be part of an orchard in the early and mid-20th century until the 1980s! On site, we've found a fallen windmill, a concrete storage tank, and old pipes used to plumb water uphill.
The history of how this land was protected from suburban development is largely a result of the surrounding community’s tenacious actions and attentive stewardship. In 1990, the local community defeated an attempt to turn this open space into a large subdivision. Again in the late ‘90s, a multi-year legal challenge prevented a 35-lot subdivision (called the “Afshar Project”), which would have paved over the spring and part of Garrity Creek. Since the Afshar Project obtained funding and County approval, the neighbors had to mobilize a highly coordinated effort: filing a lawsuit against the County for failure to adequately perform an environmental impact assessment. Preserving the land as an ecological refuge and protecting the Garrity Creek watershed were leading priorities of the plaintiffs. These values remain an integral part of our vision too, in addition to building both a sustainable urban farm and residential community that model practical solutions to environmental problems nationwide. Wild and Radish, LLC members have done extensive outreach and built solid relationships with many of the same neighbors who were active in prior struggles to protect the open space and Garrity Creek. All of them have been excited and supportive of our project, and many neighbors are interested in investing themselves!