Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

4. Children of Nature

About the time the Roman Empire was crumbling in Europe, a mass migration of people began on the upper Great Plains of America. Why they left their homes amid tall prairie grass and bison herds is unknown. How they happened to find their way into the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys is equally a mystery. No one is even sure of what they called themselves.

Fierce and warlike, they managed to push the Chumash beyond Piru Creek and the Yumans over toward the Colorado River. These newcomers, arriving about AD 450, spoke Takic, the Uto-Aztecan language of the Shoshone Indians.

Later Spaniards would call them Serranos, or Mountain People. These Serranos occupied the San Gabriel Mountains, settled along the Mojave River — where they were known as Vanyuma — and wandered into the Antelope Valley to become Kitanemuks. The invasion was complete by AD 500 with the takeover of the Upper Santa Clara River Valley.

Displaced natives, forced into the San Fernando and lower Santa Clara Valleys, were not on the best of terms with the Serranos. They referred to them as Atapili-ish or Allikliks, meaning "grunters."

On the other hand, their cousins, the Kitanemuks, always called them Tataviam, or "Dwellers on Sunny Slopes" — a much kinder term than "grunters."

The Tataviam settled down into some twenty-five semi-permanent villages with strange-sounding names. Kamulus stood at the present Camulos Ranch, Piru-U-Bit sat on the banks of Piru Creek, Tochonanga clustered around Newhall Creek, while Chaguayabit was a metropolis of about five hundred souls at Castaic Junction.*

They hunted small game, such as rabbits, squirrels and snakes, and exploited larger animals — deer, antelope and mountain goat — which were found in abundance. They chewed or smoked tree tobacco and took yerba santa as a pain killer. Buckwheat was mixed with water and cooked to make a sort of gruel, while toyon berries were roasted and eaten.

Acorns from oak trees were the staple of the diet. They were leached of their bitter tannic acid and made into a sort of tortilla.

Home was a wikiup, resembling an upside-down basket, made of arched sycamore poles and thatched with grass. They also constructed dwellings partially underground with domed adobe roofs and raised platforms for sleeping.

Small beads made from hard steatite have been found, scarcely one-sixteenth of an inch wide, with minute holes drilled in the center.

The Tataviam wove excellent baskets but made no pottery, even though clay was available. They were at the hub of a trading network that extended from the Channel Islands to the Arizona desert and northward into the San Joaquin Valley. Many imported items have been found in graves. No doubt asphaltum and fused shale were bartered over to the coast, while acorns and pinyon nuts were sent inland.

    Editor's note: Reynolds also listed "Nuhubit" as being situated in downtown Newhall; however, there probably was no such place. Reynolds was familiar with the map made in 1937 by Van Valkenburgh, who was a credible ethnographer but a less-than-accurate map maker. Later historicans have discredited his identification of Nuhubit, generally agreeing that Tochonanga was the village in the Newhall area — although its precise location remains a mystery.

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