Putting an Ohlone site on the map

Reading the Wikipedia entry for Adobe Creek yesterday, I was surprised to see mention of an Ohlone site not too far away from us off of El Monte Road in Los Altos Hills:

Evidence of a smaller settlement within Los Altos was uncovered in 1971, when an Ohlone burial ground with skeletons—one with ceremonial beads—was uncovered by new construction along Adobe Creek near O’Keefe Lane. The site had other artifacts, and an archeological dig was mounted by Foothill College in 1970. Around this same time, an Ohlone basket was discovered buried in the Creek bank further north. The O’Keefe site has a historical plaque at the entrance to Normandy Lane marking the historic site labeled “Ohlone Indian Village, Town of Los Altos Hills, Historical Site No. 1, Ohlone 10-L0-N11 Village Site Dedicated this day to the Ohlone People Whose ancestors made their homes here April 4, 1973. No. SCI-015. Presented by American Association of University Women of Los Altos”

Wikipedia, Adobe Creek (Santa Clara County)

I decided to go take a look at the marker. Walking along the north side of O’Keefe Lane, I came to an unlabeled creek. (Later, as you can see from the title of the video below, using the Open Street Map view of Adobe Creek I was able to confirm this was indeed Adobe Creek. Google Maps is strangely bad for this.)

Looking around, I didn’t see any marker so I proceeded.

Soon I came across another creek with a much smaller flow of water. Again based on Open Street Maps, I’m now pretty sure this is Purisima Creek.

Looking around, I still didn’t see the marker so I went on.

Further down the lane, I came across a bridge running across another section of Purisima Creek. (The water didn’t seem to be moving too fast.)

The path led to a large area of forest and meadow with a few Santa Clara Water District sandbags lying around. It looks like a nice place to explore, even with the sounds of 280 not far away.

Still, I didn’t find the marker there. I was also a bit conscious of being off the road and out of view and alone but maybe not totally alone. So, I wandered further on, eventually veering off onto O’Keefe Trail.

O’Keefe Trail is pleasant. Walking along it, though, I wondered if even a single native plant survived, and then I saw some common fiddleneck nestled amongst the weeds.

I made it to a fork in the trail, and then it was time to start back for home. I figured I wasn’t going to see the marker.

Down the road, someone was taking out the trash. I asked him whether he knew of any Ohlone memorial in the area, and he said no. So, I thanked him and moved on, mostly retracing my steps.

Then after passing Adobe Creek again, this time on the south side of the O’Keefe Lane, I noticed a boulder by the entrance to Normandy Lane. Looking closer, I saw it was the marker, just as described on Wikipedia.

Jitze Couperus has an archive of Ohlone-related newspaper clippings from the Los Altos area on his homepage: http://www.couperus.org/Scrapbooks/Ohlone/index.htm (Archive of the archive). Among them are multiple describing this O’Keefe Lane site. (I hadn’t seen any of these before heading out on my walk. I notice he also has his own photo of the plaque(s), superior to mine.) There’s even one article with a photo of the plaque in the hands of a city council member (Archive). The articles include a photo of a skeleton with a caption saying more than 20 skeletons were uncovered (Archive). There are also photos of some of the items recovered: mortars and pestles (Archive), “charmstones” (Archive).

This document from the Los Altos History Museum gives some more context: Our Original Residents, the Muwekma Ohlone [PDF]

Over the past year, the Muwekma Ohlone
Tribe has worked with Museum staff and community members to update information about the history and heritage of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and about the Museum’s collection from archaeological sites in the area. The majority of the artifacts in the collection came from the salvage excavations at
a site near Adobe Creek and O’Keefe Lane, excavated by Dr. Harry Nelson from Foothill College in the early 1970s. Based on artifact typology, mortuary patterning, and radiocarbon dating, the site dates to 185-233 AD, and includes a nearby isolated find along Adobe Creek that dates to 2149 BC. Artifacts in the Florence Fava collection, presumably from the same site, include Olivella and clam shell beads dating to both pre- and post-Spanish Contact (1769).

The Adobe Creek site is a pre-contact ancestral Muwekma Ohlone cemetery within the time-period of the Puichon Thámien Ohlone Tribe. Dr. Randall Milliken described the Puichon Ohlone in his 1995 ethnographic study of the San Francisco Bay Ohlone tribal groups – The Puichon were the largest local tribe on the west shore of San Francisco Bay. Their lands were along lower San Francisquito Creek and lower Stevens Creek, now Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mountain View. Their San Francisquito Creek village
of Ssipùtca is mentioned in baptismal

Under the Oaks, Summer 2022, referring to Milliken’s A Time of Little Choice
The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1769-1810
. A more recent work from him is available for free download: 2009 – Ohlone/Costanoan Indians of the San Francisco Peninsula
and their Neighbors, Yesterday and Today

Note that this more recent description calls it a cemetery while the plaque calls it a village. The dates also indicate it had been abandoned long before the Spanish arrived. I wonder how confident we should be about those dates. (The official Los Altos Hills inventory for it [PDF] lists the date as “1700’s”. The CA Office of Historical Preservation page describes the site as “Ohlone village and burial site”.)

The Los Altos Hills town history mentions some other sites:

In 1955, Indian remains and artifacts such as mortars and pestles were found on the Peck property east of Moody Road. In 1964, developers on O’Keefe Lane unearthed more human remains and artifacts. Still later, in 1970, an Ohlone village and burial ground of major significance came to light on the Costello property on O’Keefe Lane, prompting archaeological study by Foothill College and others. Additional mounds and village sites have since been excavated along Permanente and Matadero Creeks.

About Los Altos Hills Town History

I’m still thinking about what to make of all this. One thing though: I wish I had been aware of it before. It reminds me a bit of the destruction of the shell mound in what is now Mountain View’s Monta Loma neighborhood (near where Waymo used to be off of San Antonio).

Here’s the homepage from the descendants of those whose graves and other historical traces were destroyed/disturbed for the subdivision: https://www.muwekma.org/:

Mákkin Mak Muwékma Wolwóolum, Akkoy Mak-Warep, Manne Mak Hiswi! We are Muwekma Ohlone, Welcome To Our Land, Where We are Born!

The present-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is comprised of all of the known surviving American Indian lineages aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay region who trace their ancestry through the Missions Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose, and who were also members of the historic Federally Recognized Verona Band of Alameda County.

Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area: A Brief Historical Overview of A Previously Federally Recognized Tribe (Archive)

To make it easier for others to find the plaque, I’ve added it to Google Maps and Open Street Maps:

I also came across this presentation by Lee Panich, Santa Clara University Archaeology Department: Erasure and Resistance: The Historical Context for Muwekma Federal Recognition [PDF]. I’m looking forward to continuing educating myself and thinking about what else to do.

I release all the images and videos from me in this post into the public domain under CC0. See https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/.


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