Excerpted from MHS Newsletter 2021 Q3

Indigenous Life in Moraga

The Miwok Indians were the original settlers of the Moraga Valley. The Miwok tribe who lived in the Moraga area are known as the Saclan. They lived in a “triblet” of about 250 to 300 people. The location of their village changed according to the seasons. They moved to fish or hunt, gather seeds or harvest acorns.

The Saclans’ houses were built around a frame of tree branches and covered with tule matting. The tules were piled on 10 to 12 inches thick. If you look at the creek across the street from Campolindo High School, you can still see tules growing. The house was pointed at the top and looked like a beehive. The door of the house was on the south side. This would allow light in for most of the day. In bad weather, a fire was built in the middle of the house. The smoke from the fire would go out the hole in the roof. The floor of the house would be covered with several layers of tule mats. In cold weather, rabbit skin blankets would be used. There was always a fire burning outside the house. Cooking and eating would be outside. The Saclans did not have regular meal times. They would gather at the end of the day and eat before sundown. After eating, they would gather around the fire and sing songs or tell stories.

The Saclan wore almost no clothes. Sometimes they would wear two pieces of cloth tied by a vine around their waist. Sometimes they made capes from animal skins. They had no shoes. When it was cold, they would cover their bodies with mud. They also used mud mixed with ashes to make tattoos on their faces. The men had nose-sticks. For special celebrations, they would make costumes out of colorful bird feathers.

In the mornings, the Saclans would take a dip in a nearby river or lake and then scatter for the day. The men would take the boys and go hunting for rabbits, ground squirrels, birds, deer and insects like grasshoppers. They would check the traps or snares they set the day before. If there was a large group of animals, the women would often help surround them and drive the animals into a circle where they were killed. The Saclan also fished. They would string a net across the creek, and then throw buckeye balls into the water. This would stun the fish and the Saclan would wade into the creek to catch them. Sometimes fish would be kept in a trap-cage in the creek to keep them fresh for several weeks. The fish or animals would be taken back to the camp; some would be cooked for dinner for several days. The rest would be dried in the sun to save for when there was no fresh food. No part of the animals was wasted. They cooked and ate the meat; they made clothes out of the fur or skin, and tools were made out of the bones.

The women would go out to gather nuts and berries and grasses for food. They gathered a lot of acorns from the oak trees in the valley. They would grind the acorns with a stone to make a mush (like oatmeal) which they cooked with water. For the Saclans, acorns were like potatoes. They also ate pine nuts. They would gather hundreds of pinecones and throw them into the fire. This would cause the pinecones to open up and the pine nuts could be taken out. They would then roast the nuts to eat.

The Saclan women also gathered weeds, grasses and bark to make baskets. They had no bags, boxes, pots, pans, glasses or dishes. They used baskets of many different kinds. One, shaped like a very large ice cream cone, was used to carry acorns or pine nuts on the backs like backpacks. They made baskets to cook in by placing hot rocks in the basket. Some baskets were woven so tightly they held water.

The children had games to play. One game they played with a hoop made from coiled bark. They would roll the hoop back and forth while other children tried to throw a spear through it as it rolled by. In another game, they would dig a hole in the ground and throw flat rocks at it. There were large festivals and social events between villages and triblets.

Artifacts from the Saclan have been found in Moraga. Lake LaSalle was to the north of St. Mary’s College. In 1828 there were skeletons found in the lake. Also found were several mortar stones, and pestles near the Adobe, along Las Trampas Creek and along the upper San Leandro Creek. Obsidian arrowheads were also found in the bluffs along Bollinger Canyon Road, on Rheem Blvd. and in Canyon.