By Mike Rhodes
Have you ever thought about what the Central Valley was like before it was invaded and taken over by our ancestors? Tulare Lake, which was just south of where Lemoore is today, was the largest lake this side of the Mississippi. The Yokuts (the people indigenous to this area) thrived with the abundant natural resources provided by the lake and the valley.
They hunted deer and elk, they fished, gathered food and lived here for thousands of years, always maintaining a balanced lifestyle that would sustain the tribe. The Yokuts were one of the largest tribes in North America.
Shortly after the invasion by European settlers and dramatically escalating during the Gold Rush, the Yokuts’ land was taken from them. The governor of California put a bounty on the heads of the Yokuts. The price for a scalp went from 25 cents each to $5, and the population dropped from an estimated 20,000 (around the lake) to 600. European diseases, like smallpox and cholera, also played a role in the group’s declining numbers.
Tulare Lake was taken over by farmers who diverted the water and forced the remaining Yokuts to a reservation near Coalinga. When oil was discovered, they were forced to move again, this time to a piece of useless and desolate land. Their children were removed and sent to schools where they were taught to be more like the invaders. It is a miracle anyone survived.
To learn more about the Yokuts, reference an ABC 30 news story by Gene Haagenson (www.youtube.com/watch?v=a68hXZ5ZZqc) and a YouTube video that tells the Yokuts story in greater detail (www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7vlz39L96w&t=608s).
On May 2, you can learn more about the Yokuts history and see an opening cultural blessing and drumming at the Foothills Picnic Area in Sequoia National Park (one mile beyond the Sequoia Park entrance) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 559-280-0712.
Mike Rhodes is a member of the Community Alliance newspaper’s Editorial Board and the author of a book about Fresno’s homeless, Dispatches from the War Zone. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.