Sitting in a display case at the Saugus Train Station Museum in Heritage Junction are two baskets made by
Sinforosa, the last known Tataviam Indian basket maker. The two baskets were donated by Irene (Ruiz)
McKibben (1898-1995), the daughter of Martin Ruiz and stepdaughter of Nick Rivera, who were business
owners in Newhall's early years.
Basket by Sinforosa Fustero, at the Saugus Train Station in Heritage Junction (William S. Hart Park, Newhall.)
Click here for larger image.]
I interviewed Irene in 1986, and she recalled that the baskets were given
to her mother by Sinforosa, who was known as the last Tataviam basket maker. Irene did not have much
more information on Sinforosa other than she lived in Newhall when Irene was young. Irene's stepfather,
Nick Rivera, was a well-known saloon keeper in Newhall. I had acquired a merchant trade token embossed
on the front, "N.H. Rivera, Newhall, CAL" and on the back, "Good for 10 cents in trade." Irene recalled
that Nick Rivera also had a saloon in Randburg, a Mojave desert mining camp, and vividly remembered
the dance hall girls in their brightly colored clothes.
I also had found another merchant trade token
embossed "Martin R. Ruiz Saloon" and "Good for one drink," but Irene emphatically denied that her
father ever owned a saloon. She said her father was a butcher and died in Newhall in 1900 while
digging a well. She added that she had the same argument with the late SCV historian A.B. Perkins
in the 1950s, so the subject was dropped.
Irene McKibben was a great source of local history and her donation of Sinforosa's baskets were a great
legacy to the Santa Clarita Valley. Most of the generation who knew Sinforosa were now gone. Thanks to
Tom Frew IV and Gladys Laney, I was able to find someone still living who remembered Sinforosa. Mrs.
Lyda (Cooke) Marquez, who was born 95 years ago in Tapia Canyon (near present day Castaic) still
remembers, "Sinforosa lived across the street from my parents on Walnut Street. She lived in a tent."
[Click here to see another basket by Sinforosa Fustero]
Lyda's parents were Indians with some Tataviam blood lines. Lyda went on to recall, "Sinforosa was
very old at this time and was no longer making baskets. She was a very small woman. One day they took
down her tent, so she must have died. Later I saw two men digging where the tent was. I was told by my
parents they were looking for money that she may have buried."
Lyda thinks they took the tent down in the early 1910s.
Dr. John Johnson at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History agrees.
He co-authored a paper with David Earle of the Lancaster Museum on Sinforosa Fustero's genealogy.
He believes Sinforosa died in a Tehachapi sanitarium in 1912.
The two baskets sitting quietly in the Saugus Train Station are a testament of a people, the Tataviam — a
small material reminder of its last basket maker, Sinforosa Fustero. Although we cannot rewrite history and
erase the rapid development of the West which diminished the Tataviams and thousands of other Indians,
we can still honor the memory of Sinforosa Fustero through her exquisite baskets.