Residents for More than 13,000 Years

Any history of Santa Barbara County, California – however brief – must begin with our First Nation people, the Chumash. Their society – sophisticated, spiritual, artistic, enduring – extends for more than 7000 square miles throughout areas now known as San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, as well as a part of northern Los Angeles County.

At the turn of the previous century, there were no protections for indigenous cultural items found in and around Santa Barbara County, or anywhere else. As the Chumash lived for 13,000 years in Southern California, the trove of cultural artifacts, holy sites, and the bones of their ancestors was immense. Anthropologists pillaged the area in the name of research and study, with little regard for the living culture.

In 1907, in the bulletin, Bureau of American Ethnology, Vol. 6, published by the Smithsonian Institution, includes information about Chumash society on page 296.

According to the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash – History page, about 22,000 Chumash were living in communities among the hills, in the valleys, along pristine seashores, and in a number of settlements on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. They have always been hunters, gatherers, seafarers, artists, sophisticated stewards of land, sea, flora, and fauna of Santa Barbara County, California.

The Spanish

Following a number of Spanish expeditions, a contingent of their militia established a presidio in Santa Barbara in 1782. They were ensuring dominance over the indigenous people, allowing the Franciscan padres to establish 21 Catholic missions from San Diego northward to Sonoma. They also authorized a few enormous Spanish land grants – hundreds of thousands of acres each – to favored individuals. The missions were built by Chumash forced into unpaid labor and made to comply with foreign religious dictates. Brutality and European diseases took their toll. In fewer than 50 years the Chumash population that had lived in the region for more than 13,000 years was reduced by about 80%.

Eventually, the Spanish struggled to supply goods and government support to their military or the Franciscans in California from their European base.

The Mexicans

In 1821, Mexico, also under the rule of Spanish colonizers, revolted in a bid for independence. The Spanish had lost interest in the area and the military withdrew, leaving behind several powerful Spanish military leaders and their families as prominent citizens of Santa Barbara County. When Mexico won their freedom, Spain secularized the missions.

Mexico expanded its holdings, claiming a large area of the southwest as Alta California. They, too, distributed land grants, though in greater numbers. These large ranchos, 600 of them, were given to Mexican citizens or other foreigners who were favored by local governors.

When Mexico claimed Alta California, they promised to return mission lands to the Chumash, but did not make good on that promise.

The Americans

Like Spain, Mexico had difficulty ruling their large official holdings, as Mexico’s capitol lay a hard 2000 miles away. The situation worsened when the Mexican-American War began in 1846. In December 1847, General John C Fremont arrived in Santa Barbara to lay claim to the area on behalf of the United States of America. By April, 1848, the Mexican-American war ended; California was then administered by the US until official statehood was granted in 1850.

By 1920, generations of disease, racism, and brutality had reduced the Chumash culture almost to extinction. In the 1930s, Mary J. Yee (née Rowe) and Lucrecia García (née Ygnacio), worked closely with linguist John Harrington, to capture the sounds and meanings of the Barbareño language, the very breath of Chumash culture.

Chumash Culture – Visit Santa Ynez Chumash Pow Wow 2022

Today, there are 14 bands of Chumash living in California. Santa Barbara County’s First People, more than 5000 strong, continue to thrive and evolve. They are active in local educational activities, and share indigenous culture and wisdom with others.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow Wow will be held on October 1 – 2, 2022, at the corner of Meadowvale and Highway 246, in Santa Ynez, California. In 2015, the Santa Ynez Chumash held their first pow wow in 1965 to bring running water to residents who lived on the reservation. The 2015 video, Santa Ynez Chumash Pow Wow, provides the history of the event.

Anthropologists Study Chumash Culture – The 1920s

In the 1920s, AL Krober was considered to be the ultimate authority on indigenous people of California. Educated at Columbia University, he was awarded the first doctorate in anthropology by the university. As a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, Krober’s work included helping to develop the museum of anthropology on campus. He was honored with a building the university named after him, Krober Hall. (He also happened to be the father of author Ursula K LeGuin.)

Krober was also well-known for his work with a man called, Ishi, said to be the lone surviving member of the Yahi tribe in Northern California. Krober’s wife, Theodora Krober, authored a book entitled, Ishi – The Last of His Tribe, which was part of the curriculum for California’s school children in the 1960s.

In 2021, UC Berkeley stated that AL Krober, “the founder of the study of anthropology in the American West — is a powerful symbol that continues to evoke exclusion and erasure for Native Americans.” The building known as Krober Hall was then unnamed.

Once considered the authority on the indigenous people of California and their societies, Krober wrote Basket Designs of the Mission Indians of California, published by the Smithsonian Museum in 1922.  The book includes information about design elements and the use of baskets, as well as photographs of fine examples of the art.

He also wrote the Handbook of California Indians, published by the Smithsonian Museum in 1925.

For additional information about the Chumash, you may also visit the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum website, here.

Everyday Historical Artifacts

Writing my debut novel, Reckoned by the Light of Stars, required untold hours of research, of getting into bed with the past, if you will. Rather than seeing history through the eyes of those who have filtered research through their own lens to hand down an interpretation, then filtering that information even further myself, technology has allowed that I, as much as possible, could step into the past with the people who lived it, thanks to online resources, especially materials kept in the public domain.

It has proven such a worthwhile endeavor to discover for myself, through maps and children’s books, house plans and garden manuals, magazine and newspaper articles of the 1920s, to learn for myself what daily life was like in that era, it seems imperative I share with others what I have found.

Items preserved in the public domain belong to all the people, without restriction. This throws wide gates that were previously offered only through formal educational channels and privilege, or to those who traveled to various repositories.

Access seems more important than ever in an era that sees increasing pressure to censor or ban books and information from public schools and institutions; from those who would present true events in a less-than-true manner; or those who wish to dismiss the past altogether and just “move on.”

History can tell its own irrefutable story through period artifacts found in various online holdings, especially those items in the public domain. My hope is to inform and inspire readers to access this wealth of knowledge, to advocate for expansion, and to explore that which belongs to all, without restriction.

More About the Public Domain

For more information about the public domain, visit Cornell University:

Copyright Term and the Public Domain



Santa Barbara County of the 1920s

Santa Barbara County, California, is widely known as a uniquely beautiful area, a place where rugged coastal mountains ease down and gentle out toward the sea. It is a place of rolling hills and pristine beaches, of oak trees and sycamore and enormous swaths of springtime wildflowers. Here, the land is so fertile and the climate so agreeable that sundry crops – wine grapes and cannabis, lettuce, artichokes, strawberries, raspberries, flowers, and more – easily thrive. Ranchers raise cattle by the thousands. Enormous orchards produce oranges, lemons, and avocados that help feed the nation. The Pacific is generous with its gifts, and offshore, the chain of Channel Islands are known as the Galapagos of North America.

Here, in our cities and towns, some of the world’s wealthiest and most famous people reside. Tourists flock to the area throughout the year.

Much of the popularity and mystique of Santa Barbara County is attributed to stories set along El Camino Real, the Royal Road. Since the early 1900s, the mission trail is claimed to mark the historic route of Spanish padres from San Diego through Monterey, though truth tells a different story.

I grew up in a middle-class family in Solvang, the pretty Danish town in the center of the Santa Ynez Valley. I raised my own child in Santa Maria and Orcutt, a city and a small town located in the northernmost part of the county. And, for decades, I’ve lived downtown in the City of Santa Barbara. 

There is the Santa Barbara County I knew as a child, and the one that has slowly revealed itself over my lifetime. 

As a writer, I research truth in pursuit of the fictional story. Through my lifelong love of Santa Barbara County and my determined exploration of its past, I have found history’s complexity revealed in shadow and schism, as well as light and beauty. 

This blog is an invitation to discover the clues left by History itself, artifacts – easily uncovered in our present age – that inform truth, and in so doing, reveals the full beauty of Santa Barbara County, California.