“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

  1. Free Concert

    Thursday, April 28 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
  2. Traditional Folksongs of the Great Lakes – Free Concert

    Tuesday, May 10 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
  3. School Assembly

    Friday, May 13

CDBaby Player Here?



The Place of Many Owls – The Esselen Village on the Carmel River

Antonio Tomas Juan Onésimo was born in Carmel in 1796. They say that, as a boy, he helped in the construction of the Carmel Mission – and that he was so beloved by the Franciscan padres, they gave him a rare and precious violin, and taught him how to play. According to one account, Juan’s great-grandfather, a Rumsen Chief named Bohuranda, is said to have prevented an Indian massacre of Spanish explorers in 1770. Bohuranda was later baptized by Father Serra and given the family name Onésimo. Although Father Serra baptized many California Indians, the Onésimo family is said to be the only remaining direct descendants of local indigenous people who were given a baptismal name by Father Serra, himself. Juan Onésimo married an Esselen woman named Ignacia Patcalansi, who was born at the Carmel Mission in 1800. Their youngest daughter, Anselma, born in 1831, married a Connecticut Yankee sailor named Bill Post and homesteaded in Big Sur. Their oldest daughter, Maria Loreta, was born at the Carmel Mission, in 1817. Like her father, she was well-liked by the padres. In 1834, when Loreta Onésimo was seventeen-year-old, she married Domingo Peralta. The priests at the Carmel Mission gave the newlyweds a wedding present – a 4,592-acre land grant in Carmel Valley, situated between the Rancho Cañada de la Segunda (north of Hacienda Carmel, and northwest of Quail Meadows) and Los Laureles (near present-day Carmel Valley Village). However, they received no written legal deed for this property. A few years later the Catholic church lost all its land as a result of the Decree of the Congress of Mexico Secularizing the Missions, which transferred the ownership of all mission property from the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church to the Mexican authorities. Domingo Peralta was Esselen. His wife, Loreta was Rumsen-Esselen. Because they were Indians, their claim to the land grant was easily challenged. *           *           * On March 7, 1836, a “neophyte” Indian at the Carmel Mission named Baldomero was the recipient of a land grant of 2,000 varas (twelve and a half acres) in the Carmel Valley, “in all directions,” known as Rancho Corral de Padilla. José Antonio Romero, a Mexican citizen who then owned Corral de la Tierra. Three years later, in 1839, he petitioned to acquire a land grant which encompassed the Rancho Corral de Padilla property belonging to Baldomero, as well as the land of his neighbor, José Agricio. Several Indian families were already homesteading on this land, including Domingo and Laura Peralta. The acting justice of the Carmel Mission, José Amesti, remembered that Romero’s petition caused fear and insecurity among the Indians, who had reestablished a community on the property: “[T]hey came to me and beg me to represent to the Government how dangerous he [Romero] is and how in consequence of his notorious bad conduct which they can prove they would receive manifest injury if the tract he solicits were granted to him.” One can appreciate Loreta and Domingo’s Peralta’s bewilderment when the new governor claimed the land which had recently been given to them by the priests.  Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, the justice of the Carmel Mission, Marcelino Escobar, and Simeon Castro, alcalde of Monterey (the city’s leading officer, and later Superior Judge) – two Mexican citizens – opposed the Peralta’s claim to the grant. Ironically, in a few years, Simeon Castro would come to own Baldomero’s twelve and a half acres. Under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States was (and still is) obligated to prevent the “alienation of lands” deeded to Indians under Spanish and Mexican rule. Ignoring the terms of the treaty, Governor Alvarado awarded the grant to José Antonio Romero on January 27, 1840, adding a stipulation that José Agricio would remain in ownership of his home and farm, and that some the Indian families who lived on the land would be permitted to remain. It was sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” solution that left the Indians who lived on that land without any legal title to their homes. Many similar court rulings ensured that California Indians were dispossessed of ownership of their properties easily and frequently. In his decree, Governor Alvarado made no mention of Domingo and Loreta Peralta, who continued to live on the property with their two children and Loreta’s father, Juan. The priests had assured them that the 4,592-acre land grant was theirs, but they possessed no deed or title to the property. Consequently, they were continuously hassled and harassed by Romero and his ranch hands about their unwelcomed presence there. One fateful day, Domingo Peralta was found dead in a gulch. Loreta was left a young widow with two small children. No one was ever tried for his murder. *           *           * James Thomas Meadows was born north of Norwich – in Cley-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, England – in 1817. According to Monterey County Place Names by Professor Donald T. Clark, published by the Monterey County Historical Society (1991), “[Meadows] sailed on the whaling ship Indian in March 1835, and deserted in Monterey in 1837.” However, the Sydney Morning Herald of New South Wales, Australia, reported on September 7, 1837, that the whale ship Indian was then in Australian waters. At this time in history, the production of whale oil for lamps and lubrication was on its way to becoming the fifth largest industry in the United States. Of about nine-hundred whaling ships, worldwide, seven-hundred and thirty-five of them were American. Fewer than one hundred ships visited the entire Alta California territory in 1837, therefore very few English whalers docked at the harbor in Monterey that year. Consequently, it is much more likely that the teenage James Meadows signed on as a “green hand” on board the Toward Castle, a British whaling ship, under the command of Captain Thomas Emmens, that set sail from London on its third whaling voyage, on October 6, 1835. This would have put young seamen Meadows in Monterey, California, in November of 1837, at the time of his desertion –

How the West Was Won – Big Sur After the Gold Rush

The California redwoods were legendary – another tall tale of The West – like Paul Bunyan, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite, and Death Valley. They were, in fact, bigger than any trees still standing in post-Civil War America. Many were over 350-feet tall, hundreds of years old, and as big as twenty-five feet in diameter at the base. The rugged mountains south of Carmel were then still considered too inhospitable and inaccessible for the average homesteader. The vast stands of virgin redwood trees in the Santa Lucia Mountains, perched on the western-most edge of the North American continent, attracted the attention of only the most ambitious pioneers. It was a tall order just to get there. *           *           * For centuries, the prospect of acquiring “free land” was a cornerstone of the American Dream. In response to the Homestead Act, Anglo settlement of the Big Sur region began after the Civil War. In 1845, John O’Sullivan, editor of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review wrote: “That claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” Once the California Gold Rush ensued, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, Free-Soil Political Party candidates, and many labor leaders campaigned for legislation on behalf of homesteaders. It took fourteen years before Congress finally passed a Homestead Act, only to have Democratic President James Buchanan veto it in 1860. The new Republican Party’s platform for the 1860 election promised a new homestead bill if Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The Homestead Act took effect on January 1, 1863, the same day the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The act granted 160 acres (a quarter-mile square) of “unappropriated public lands” to anyone who could gain clear title to it, solely by their own physical effort and the payment of a filing fee of about $26. The homesteader had five years to work the land and improve it, and build a house, to acquire the deed to the land. This landmark legislation motivated tens of thousands of American families to head west and take advantage of the so-called “free land.”But the land wasn’t really free. As homesteaders moved west, indigenous people were driven off their lands. In The Laws the Shaped America, Dennis W. Johnson estimated that, “After 1862, between 100 and 125 million acres of Indian reservation land was also sold off to white settlers.” Many would-be homesteaders discovered that five years of roughing it at a primitive campsite was more than they – or their wives or children – could endure. As one homesteader put it, “Why, I’ve got a little bet with the Government – they’re bettin’ me that I can’t live here for five years, and I’m bettin’ them that I can!” *           *           * The Bent County Bachelor is a satirical traditional folksong from this era, widespread in the United States and Canada since the turn of the century. It’s sung to the familiar tune of an Irish jig called, The Irish Washerwoman: Uncle Chris Boyd is my name, an old bachelor, I am, and I’m keeping “old batch” on an elegant plan, And you’ll find me out west on the Colorado plain, starving to death on my government claim.  My house it is built of the national soil and the walls are erected according to Hoyle, The roof has no pitch, but is level and plain, and I always get wet if it happens to rain.    So, hurrah for Bent County, the land of the free, the home of the grasshopper, bedbug, and flea, There’s nothing to make a man hard and profane, like starving to death on a government claim. In point of fact, most of the arable land was already occupied, consolidated into large holdings by wealthy real estate speculators. A lot of homesteaders tried (and failed) to support their family on the less desirable parts of the prairie. However, a quarter-section of sunbaked clay couldn’t really support a family. It became harder and harder for the homesteader to “win that bet” with the government. Although its intent was to grant land for agricultural purposes, most of the elected officials in Washington DC who drafted the Homestead Act had never been west of the Missouri River. They had no inkling of how arid and inhospitable the lands were, east of the Rocky Mountains, where the dry and sunbaked earth was so poor, a family just couldn’t make it, even on 640-acres. *           *           * Americans, by and large, don’t like to follow rules. Thus, in practice, the Homestead Act was widely abused. It was a common charade for an individual representing a large cattle outfit to file for a homestead that completely surrounded a spring or water hole, under the pretense that the land was intended for “agricultural purposes.” After the deed was acquired, neighboring cattle ranchers discovered they no longer had access to that water source, ostensibly obliterating any possible competition for the adjacent public land. The same fraudulent scheme was employed by big businesses and speculators to acquire large tracks of timber and oil-producing land. The federal government, perhaps intentionally, never instituted a system for evaluating claims under the Homestead Act. As a matter of policy, land offices simply accepted, on an honor system, the affidavits and attestations of witnesses that the claimant in question had, in fact, lived on the land for the required period, and had, in fact, made the required improvements. At that time, one could claim 160 acres on a pre-emption, live on it six months, and then make a final “proof.” And later, one could take another 160 acres as a homestead, on which had to live for five years before one could get a government title. As soon as children were old enough, their parents would help them make claims on all of the land surrounding the

The Catholic Prison Camps at their Zenith – A Visit to California’s Missions in 1826

  In 1821, during the last year of Spanish rule, nine ships visited Alta California. The following year, the number of vessels that visited the territory grew to twenty. Just before Christmas of 1826, after fifty-two days spent exploring and charting the bay of San Francisco, Captain Frederick William Beechey, sailed into the harbor at Monterey under the colors of Great Britain – the last of some forty-four ships to visit Alta California during that calendar year. The English and the Russians were, at this time, in a brisk competition to harvest all the sea otter pelts on the Pacific Coast. Captain Beechey commanded the Blossom, an imposing British sloop, equipped with sixteen guns and a crew of one hundred men. Beechey’s orders were to discover the fabled Northwest Passage before the Russians found it. Captain Beechey’s journal of the voyage of the Blossom, titled Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s [sic] Strait, was published in London, in 1831. It contains detailed passages about the missions in Alta California during their heyday. *          *          * In November of 1826, forty years after La Pérouse’s visit, Captain Beechey described the missions on the California Coast as prison camps. If any Indian expressed “repugnance to conversion,” they were “incarcerated until they declare their readiness to renounce the religion of their forefathers.” At Mission San José (situated at present-day 43300 Mission Boulevard, in suburban Fremont, California) Beechey witnessed: “[F]orty miserable [Indian] women and children [who had been corralled at gunpoint by soldiers] … [T]he prisoners they had captured were immediately enrolled in the list of the mission, except a nice little boy whose mother was shot while running away with him in her arms, and he was sent to the presidio… The poor little orphan had received a slight wound in his forehead. He wept bitterly at first and refused to eat, but in time became reconciled to his fate.” According to Beechey, converted Indians at the church were disciplined with: “[A] long lash with a broad thong at the end of it [and] ­whips, canes, and goads [a sharply-pointed traditional farming implement, used to spur livestock] to preserve silence and maintain order, and, what seemed more difficult than either, to keep the congregation in their kneeling posture. The goads were better adapted to this purpose than the whips, as they would reach a long way and inflict a sharp puncture without making any noise. The end of the church was occupied by a guard of soldiers under arms with fixed bayonets – a precaution which I suppose experience had taught the necessity of observing… Captain Beechey, like most Europeans, erroneously believed Indians experienced a better quality of life at the mission than they had in their pre-contact villages. “[W]hether the Indians be really dragged from their homes and families by armed parties, as some assert, or not, and forced to exchange their life of freedom and wandering for one of confinement and restraint in the missions … they lead a far better life in the missions than in their forests, where they are in a state of nudity and are frequently obliged to depend solely upon wild acorns for their subsistence.” Beechey bemoaned the fact that the padres made no effort to learn the languages spoken by their Indian converts, while many the Indians had learned to speak Spanish and could easily communicate with the priests. He found his hosts, the priests to be “very bigoted men” who “had so long been excluded from the civilized world that their ideas and their politics, like the maps pinned against their walls, bore the date of 1772, as near as I could read it for fly spots. Their geographical knowledge was equally backward…” *          *          * When Father Serra travelled from Baja California to San Diego in 1769, he brought cattle with him. Each of the first five missions started out with an inventory of eighteen cattle, four hogs, and some chickens. Over the years, the size of the herd increased until soon, the missions in Alta California collectively possessed hundreds of thousands of cattle. They were valued as much for their meat as for their hides. Raw cowhides and tallow (rendered animal fat) were Alta California’s primary export in the early 19th-century – the most marketable products produced by the missions. These commodities became the mainstay of the Mexican Rancho economy in California, in the 1820s and 30s. The cowhides were soaked, scraped, rinsed, staked, and dried. After being salted to prevent rot, they were folded in half and stacked for shipping. They were known colloquially as “California Bank Notes” because they were used as currency in transactions between the missions and the trading vessels that sailed along the Alta California coast. In the early 1800s, hides were worth one dollar each, but by 1830 their value had doubled to two dollars apiece. Between 1831 and 1836, more than 300,000 hides were shipped out of Alta California and transported to markets in Lima, Peru and New England. With their California Bank Notes, the padres purchased items that were scarce in their faraway territory – like irons cooking pots, musical instruments, silk, ribbon, robes, tools, gunpowder, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and molasses. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., the Massachusetts politician and attorney, attended Harvard University in 1831. As a junior, he contracted measles, which led to a case of ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye). With his vision degrading, he decided to take a sea voyage, but not as a tourist, rather as a merchant seaman. On August 14, 1834, he departed Boston bound for Alta California aboard the brig Pilgrim. Dana described an 1835 visit to a beach near the San Juan Capistrano mission in southern California, at Dana Cove (which was named for him), where the Pilgrim’s crew tossed the hides, one by one, off the top of the cliffs and into the wind, watching them drift down to the beach below. Unfortunately, some of the hides wafted on the breeze, and got stuck on the

I Have Never Seen One Laugh – A Visit to the Carmel Mission in 1786

According to popular histories and countless documentary films, the new world of the Americas was an unspoiled and pristine wilderness, prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Supposedly, the Indians left no footprint on the land. It is an arresting image, but it isn’t really true. For thousands of years, the Indians of North America controlled and managed their environment by setting strategic wildfires, consciously and on a regular basis. This effectively cleared the underbrush and fallen branches, while leaving the mature trees unharmed, creating an environment prolific in game, edible plants, and grasslands. In 1524, fifteen miles from the beach in Rhode Island, the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano walked among trees so widely spaced that the forest “could be penetrated even by a large army.” In 1609, John Smith claimed to have ridden at full gallop, through Virginia forests he described as “manicured.” Annual fall burning in present-day Maryland kept forests so open that the Jesuit priest, Andrew White wrote in 1634, “a coach and four horses may travel through it without molestation.” In 1637, Thomas Morton reported that Indians in present-day New England carried flints used “to set fire to the country in all places where they come.” In 1641, Adrian Van Der Donck wrote that every fall, the local Indians set fire to “the woods, plains, and meadows,” on Manhattan Island, to “thin out and clear the woods of all dead substances and grass which grow better the ensuing spring.” The first European settlers in Ohio encountered woodlands that reminded them of parks in England – the trees spaced so widely they could drive their carriages through the forest. For more than 13,000 years, hundreds of tribes across California used intentional burns to create habitat for animals, and reduce the risk of larger, more dangerous wild fires. In 1774, Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada, who served as the third Spanish governor of Alta California, wrote from Monterey, that he was having great difficulty in breaking the Indians of their “bad habits” of deliberately starting wildfires: “Having harvested all their seeds, they set fires so that new grasses and herbs will come up; also to catch rabbits which get confused by the smoke.” This practice was so widespread in Alta California at the time of the American Revolution – so integral to the local Indians’ way of life – some of the first laws passed after European settlement of the area, prohibited the setting of wildfires. *          *          * The French explorer, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse visited the Monterey Peninsula in 1786, two years after the death of Father Junipero Serra. The California missions, though underfunded, were still under construction – the tenth mission, at Santa Barbara, had just been founded at the time of La Pérouse’s arrival. It’s difficult to appreciate how utterly remote the tiny Spanish outposts in California were two-hundred and fifty years ago ­– or the kind of kerfuffle the arrival a French ship provoked, at that time, on the Pacific Coast. According to La Pérouse: “No country is more abundant in fish and game of every description. Hares, rabbits, and deer are extremely common; seals and otters as abundant as in the more northern parts; and in the winter they kill a great number of bears, foxes, wolves, and wild cats … these Indians are extremely skillful with the bow and killed before us the smallest birds. Their patience in approaching them is inexpressible. They conceal themselves and slide in a manner after their game, seldom shooting until within fifteen paces. “Their industry at hunting larger animals is still more admirable. We saw an Indian with a stag’s head fastened on his own, walking at all fours and pretending to graze. He played this pantomime with such fidelity, that our hunters, when within thirty paces, would have fired at him if they had not been forwarded. In this manner they approach a herd of deer within a short distance, and kill them with their arrows…” A decade and a half after its founding, La Pérouse paid a formal visit to the Carmel Mission. To his surprise, he found the Spanish priests living in squalor. The mission buildings and courtyards, as we know them today, had yet to be built. It would be a number of years before the Spanish government would authorize the funds to construct the iconic whitewashed adobe walls and red-tiled roofs.   In honor of his reception, the Indian “neophytes” – mostly local Rumsen and Esselen – were given an extra ration of food and were lined up to see him. According to La Pérouse, the missionized Indians appeared anonymous, lifeless, and devoid of spirit. They were obviously traumatized, exhibiting what today would be recognized as psychotic levels of depression. La Pérouse wrote that the Indians at the Carmel Mission were: “[I]n general diminutive and weak, and exhibit none of that love of independence and liberty which characterized the nations to the north, of whom they possess neither the arts nor industry. Their color nearly approaches that of Negroes whose hair is not woolly … and would grow to considerable length but they cut it off at about four or five inches from the root.” The French explorer was probably unaware that many Indigenous tribes in California practiced a mourning custom of singeing their long hair short, to honor recently deceased relatives – of which there were then so many. He wrote that the converted Indians: “[H]ave preserved all the ancient customs which their new religion does not prohibit. They have the same hats, the same games, and the same clothes. The clothing of the richest consists of a garment of otter skin, which extends from the waist somewhat lower than the groin. The most indolent have simply a piece of cloth, which the mission supplies, to conceal nudity, and a small cloak of rabbit skin, tied under the chin, which covers their shoulders, and ascends to their waist. The rest of their body is absolutely