After 3000 years of relative stability under the Miwoks, the fate of Olompali entered a period of rapid change in the 1800s. Mexican Independence in 1821 signaled the beginning of the end for the mission system in California. By 1834, the Mexican government had decreed that the missions would be secularized. The priests would no longer control vast estates.
It was the intention of the Mexican government to give the mission land to the Native Americans, but this intention was quickly subverted. Californios, California born people of Spanish/Mexican descent, either bamboozled the Indians out of their land or seized it outright for their own use, and then initiated a campaign of terror, stealing whatever the Indians had left— including, on occasion, their freedom.
An interesting exception to the mistreatment of the Miwoks took place at Olompali where, in 1843, the Miwok chief, Camilo Ynitia, was awarded a Mexican land grant. (Ynitia was the only Native American in California to receive one.) His father had built the first adobe house north of San Francisco. Portions of the house, along with Camilo’s, still stand at the park.
Ynitia’s Rancho would soon play a role in the Bear Flag Revolt. With encouragement from John C. Fremont, the explorer and future US presidential candidate, a small band of American settlers in Northern California revolted against Mexican rule in 1846. The revolt was short-lived and only one person was killed, which is hard to imagine in any revolution. The point here is that the person was killed at Olompali in a clash between the settlers and Californios.
With bloodless coups in San Francisco and Monterey, Fremont and his followers soon afterwards declared California a republic. A quick flag was created featuring a grizzly bear, a star, and the word Republic. The fledgling country lasted three weeks; the Mexican-American War made it irrelevant. All that is left of the revolution today is the flag. It still flies over California even though there is no republic— or grizzly bear for that matter. The last known grizzly in California was killed in 1922.
In 1852 Ynitia sold most of his land to James Black, who was on his way to becoming one of the largest landowners in Marin County. Legend is that robbers killed Ynitia for the money he received, or that he buried the money on the Olompali property, or that members of his own tribe did him in the old-fashioned way, with an arrow. Whatever happened, our history of Olompali now leaves the Miwoks and Californios, and moves into modern times.
Before leaving the Miwoks, I did want to pass on one more bit of trivia I picked up doing research. George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch is located in Marin County, not far from Olompali. Nearby redwood forests were used for some of the Star Wars scenes for the forest moon of Endor, where the Ewoks lived. Lucas reportedly used the Miwok name as inspiration for the Ewok name.
Black, and his family, through various convolutions, would own the land up to the 1940s. Black gave the land to his daughter Mary as a wedding present when she married Galen Burdell, a dentist. But when Black’s wife died in Burdell’s dentist chair, he reneged on the gift and took Mary and Galen out of his will. When Mary first saw the will after Black’s death, she allegedly ripped her dad’s signature off with her teeth and ate it. Tough woman. She then hired a bevy of top lawyers and managed to obtain Olompali.
NEXT BLOG: By the late 40s/early 50s, the University of San Francisco had obtained Olompali with plans to turn the ranch into a retreat for Jesuits. The effort failed. Maybe the Jesuits didn’t go along with the plan. It was this lack of success, however, that eventually led Olompali to become a footnote in the history of the Grateful Dead, as well as a famous/infamous hippie commune: The Chosen Family. But that is a story for my next blog.