Fremont's Acorns

Fremont's Acorns

In 1770 there had been approximately 10,000 Costanoan natives in the central Californian coast, divided into 40 to 200 person tribelets, each of which settled in a watershed such as San Francisquito Creek[1]. Each headed by a male chief, assisted by an "orator" who (like the Celtic bards) kept the tribal rules and stories, the memes that contained the recipe for survival and success when the world was a simpler place before the Europeans came.

In 1844 the adventurer John Fremont crossed the Sierra Nevada in winter and in April described his guide Kit Carson's intrepid two-man attack on a band of Indian warriors. Fremont called the natives he encountered the Arabs of America:

The scalps of the fallen (indians) were instantly stripped off; but in the process one of them, who had two balls through his body, sprung to his feet, the blood streaming from his skinned head and uttering a hideous howl. An old squaw, possibly his mother, stopped and looked back from the mountain side she was climbing, threatening and lamenting.

Similar scenes were described in Ireland during the Elizabethan wars when it became necessary for many of the uncivilized Irish to be put to the sword for their recalcitrance.

Fremont was not, as we might be today, romanced by character of the natives; inspecting their faces he noted that "I was forcibly struck by an expression of countenance resembling that of a beast of prey; and all their actions are those of wild animals. Joined to the restless motion of the eye, there is a want of mind - an absence of thought - and an action wholly be impulse." Fremont would not have been impressed by the movie Dances with Wolves.

One day Fremont and Carson came to a camp of California natives. The natives had come to fear the white men and had taken to the forest, leaving their camp abandoned. Fremont and Carson discovered several baskets of acorns, treated to be made edible after the manner of the indians. Helping himself to half a bushel, the explorers found them "sweet and agreeably flavored." Having taken this food from the native stores, the adventurers went on their way, leaving in payment for the acorns some articles of clothing.


[1]The natives had been present in the area for almost 5000 years, based on the dating of a skull found in the San Francisquito Creek creek bank a few hundred feet from what is now the Stanford Shopping Mall at a location where, only a few weeks ago, the narrator came across the dead body of an elderly man. As it turns out the man was over ninety years of age and had been a botanist of some standing.

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