Known Human Inhabitants
first known Native Americans to inhabit the East Bay area are believed
to have arrived approximately 3,000 years ago.
These people, known as the Ohlone Indians, enjoyed the natural abundance
of the area. They hunted and fished in the marshlands, in the bay, and
the creeks. With no need to roam or move around in search of new sources
of food or to fight neighbors for scarce resources, these were believed
to be a
peaceful people who remained in the same
village locations over many generations living off the bounty of the
Over 400 Indian burial mounds were found around the San Francisco Bay
remains of about 450 people was found in Alameda City near Santa Clara Ave. and
Mound Street. It also contained "stone implements and
shell ornaments." The natives decorated themselves with shells and
feathers and they used stones, shells, and bones for tools, some of
which can be seen in the pictures above, which were taken at the Alameda
City Museum. The mound and its contents was "removed" in 1908. A
plaque commemorating the burial mound can be found at Lincoln Park in
Alameda City today. (see picture above)
European Discovery of the San
Francisco Bay area in 1772
The San Francisco Bay area was "discovered" relatively
late, because it lay hidden from non-native
discovery until 1772. This can likely be attributed to the
small opening to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean at the
Golden Gate, along with the area being often shrouded in fog, and the
natural camouflage provided by the East Bay hills seen in the background
of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. In fact, the Bay Area was first
seen by Europeans who were on a land expedition. They quickly claimed the
land was owned by Spain.
Mission San Jose Established 1797
seven years later, in 1797, the Spanish established Mission San Jose in
the East Bay (The San Jose Mission is located at 43300 Mission Blvd in what is Fremont,
California today). Ohlone Indians lived in the area. Between 1825 and
1830 there were approximately 2,000 California natives living on the
mission grounds. The mission raised cattle
and sheep. In 1832 the mission had 12,000 cattle, 13,000 horses and
12,000 sheep which grazed between the area of the mission and Oakland.
The mission was very productive and had the second highest agriculture
output and the highest olive oil production of all of the California
missions. In 1833 the mission
had thousands of acres of crops and grazing land stretching from San
Jose to Oakland to Livermore.
1834 control of the missions shifted from the Spanish to the Mexicans
and the Spanish Padres left. Within three years, by 1837, the San Jose Mission's
land was divided into Ranchos and the mission buildings were abandoned.
The natives that had been living there suddenly no longer had the
support of the Mission and its way of life; finding it very difficult to
adjust back to their previous ways, many of them died.
Rancho Era circa 1820-1850
In 1820 the King of Spain granted Luis Maria Peralta, a Spanish Army
officer, a 44,800 acre, 35 mile land grant (known as a "rancho"). The
land was given to him in recognition for his
service in the Spanish Army. The land included what are today the cities
Alameda, Oakland, Piedmont, , Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito.
In 1842, Luis Peralta divided his land up
among his four surviving sons. His third son, Antonio Peralta, received
land that today includes the cities of Alameda and most of Oakland.
the Damming, Dredging, Filling and De-Forestation of the Land
The image at the left is from a close-up of a map that was made in 1844
- five years before the gold rush (click on it for a bigger picture).
The San Leandro label on the map is not identifying a city, but
refers to the water (Sand Leandro Bay and San Leandro Creek, which at
this point are not too indistinguishable, they are more like one body).
S. Antonio is where the entrance to the estuary between Alameda and
Oakland (the inner harbor) is today. Lake Merritt hasn't been "made" yet
. Lake Merritt was made in 1869 from 155 acres of "dammed tidal water"
from the headwaters of Indian Slough. First known as "Merritt's Lake",
the land used to make Lake Merritt was donated by Dr. Samuel Merritt in
1867. (map info)
Alameda can be clearly seen
as a peninsula in this map from 1844, which was fifty years before the
"estuary" and "tidal canal were completed in 1902, which separated
Alameda from Oakland and made Alameda an Island City.
Notice the "Pins Rouge" (Redwood
Trees) in the Oakland Hills. Within just ten years these would all be cut down, creating a major
change in the eco-system of the area.
Other than maps there are very few visual references
(such as photographs or drawings) during this early period. However, there
are some early visual descriptions of what the environment was like at this
time. In an address during the "Pioneers Picnic at Dry Creek" Judge Crane provided a first hand account of what the land in the
area of Alameda County was like in the 1850s, when the ownership of the land
was still largely controlled by a handful of large Spanish and Mexican land
grants, with some squatters also beginning to gain some control of the land.
During this period Judge Crane observes, "Nearly all of this land was
still in a state of nature, unenclosed, uncultivated, and unoccupied,
except as a range for herds of half a wild cattle."
San Antoino Forest is Cut Down ca. 1842-1853
An early and
major environmental impact caused by human activity started in 1842
when full-scale logging of the Oakland hills began. This was
same year Don Peralta divided his land among his four sons. The Redwoods in the
Oakland Hills were in an old growth redwood forest called the San Antonio
Forest. Visual accounts from the time indicate that the Oakland Hills may
have had some of the oldest and biggest redwood trees in the world. William
P. Gibbons, who in 1855 was the curator of geology and mineralogy at the
California Academy of Sciences, in 1893 published “The Redwoods in the
Oakland Hills”, a survey that he had made 40 years earlier describing a “sea
of stumps” in the Oakland Hills
(when he was there in 1855). He found one redwood tree stump that
measured “over 31 feet across at a height of four feet from the ground."
The "Blossom Rock Trees"
Two trees in
the Oakland Hills were so tall that Sea Captains could see them as they entered the Golden Gate of the San Francisco Bay. Known
as the “Blossom Rock” trees, the Sea Captains used them as a visual
marker to help navigate safely away from the “Blossom Rock”, an
underwater rock near Yerba Buena Island.4
Captain F. Beechey, of the British Royal Navy, noted in his ship’s log
(the H.M.S. Blossom) "dangerous rock lay roughly between Alcatraz and
Yerba Buena islands in about a fathom of water. In order to miss the
“Blossom” rock, one should line up the northern tip of Yerba Buena
Island with two towering trees on the ridge of the Oakland Hills."
On the first
official map of the San Francisco Bay, published by Navy Captain Cadwalader Ringgold in 1851, it clearly explains how ships should sight
on the two “Navigation Trees” to avoid Blossom Rock.
After the trees were
cut down, in the early 1850s a lighthouse was built on Yerba Buena Island to
help guide the Ship Captains. Although many of the redwood trees in the
forest were likely over 2,000 years old, in just about ten years the entire
Redwood Tree forest in the Oakland Hills, called the San Antonio Redwood Forest, was virtually completely cut down. The trees
were milled at saws in the Oakland Hills and the lumber was sold largely to
people building the first buildings in San Francisco.
After the San
Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, once again there was a tremendous
demand for wood in San Francisco. And once again, the San Antonio Redwood
Forest was logged to provide lumber to build the city. This time however,
not only the trees, which were now only second growth trees that had been
growing for only about 50 years taken, but even the stumps were cut up
and sold. This is especially unfortunate because redwood trees often grow
new trees from their old stumps and their removal made it virtually
impossible for the forest to ever recover. This area today, which includes
two regional parks, is vastly different from the original old growth forest
that existed pre 1840s; although today there are a relatively small amount of
third growth redwood trees which are now up to about 100 years old.
the elimination of the trees in the Oakland Hills had a very severe impact
on the surrounding ecosystem -- including causing a vast amount of soil
erosion, which washed large amounts of soil down the creeks and into the San Leandro
Bay. It is also highly likely that the removal of the trees had a
devastating cascading impact on a variety of plant and animal life, whose
existence was intertwined with the trees.