Indian Grinding Rock, California

After enjoying our lunch at the Jackson Rancheria Casino and Hotel, we headed out to our next destination. It was a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to eat the lobsters at the buffet but we were already full and that was all that matters. Along with my parents, Aunt Gie and Sam, we drove to Ridge Road and joined highway 88.

Historic Farmhouse by the entrance

If you’re coming directly from the freeway, go straight to 88, then turn right towards the small road of Pine Grove Volcano Road in the downtown of Pine Grove. The Indian Grinding Historic State Park will be on your left.  Following the sign, turn left again and then you will arrive at the entrance where you will need to pay a fee of 8$ per vehicle. Since I had a Military Pass, we got in for free. Before we entered, we saw an abandoned car that had collided into the park’s fence but thankfully, there were no passengers in it.

There wasn’t a lot of people on that day so parking was plentiful. The day was hot, yet there was some breeze so we just looked around for a shade to park the car under. Then we headed to the Chaw’s Regional Museum where the California Landmark is located. Here is a inscription on the marker and the brief history of the Museum:

Chaw’se Roundhouse Museum

“In a village, the Roundhouse served as the center of ceremonial and social life. Constructed in 1974, the Chaw Se Roundhouse continues this tradition. With its door facing the east, towards the rising sun, four large oaks are the focal point of this sixty foot in diameter structure. Today, Ceremonial roundhouses are the most significant architectural manifestation of the continuing Miwok spiritual heritage.” Now here is the museum’s history.

The two-story Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum has been designed to reflect the architecture of the traditional roundhouse. Outstanding examples of the technology and crafts of the Miwok and other Sierra Nevada Native American groups are exhibited in the Museum. The collection at Chaw’se includes Northern, Central, and Southern Miwok, Maidu, Konkow, Monache, Nisenan, Tubatulabal, Washo, and Foothill Yokuts. Examples of basketry, feather regalia, jewelry, arrow points, and other tools are on display.

After entering, we were greeted by a kind ranger who told us some history about the museum and then we walked into the exhibit to learn more about the Miwok in the park. There was brief information stating that the old world of the Indians such as the ones in the grinding rocks, no longer exists due to the simple event at the Marshall’s Discovery Site. It was caused by the discovery of a few small pieces of gold, which resulted in the mass migration to California, completely changing the lives of the Native Americans. As we were touring the exhibit, the ranger in the museum was suddenly interrupted by a police officer who came to ask about the car crash we saw at the entrance earlier. While we looked around the museum, we read about some of the history of The Miwok:

The Northern Sierra Miwok, who settled in this area many centuries ago, established their villages alongside the rivers and streams of the Sierra Nevada – from the Cosumnes River on the north to the Mokelumne Rover on the south. Other Miwok groups lived to the west as far as Mount Diablo and as far south as Yosemite National Park.

The Miwok had a detailed understanding of the resources available to them, passing this knowledge down from generation to gneration. Deer were the most important animal resource, and all parts were utilized. The meat was used for food; clothing was made from the hide. Antlers, bones, and hooves were used for tools and instruments, and the brain was used to tan hide.


Plant foods were generally collected and processed by women while men trapped, fished, and hunted. All resources were portioned so they would continue to be available, and little or nothing was wasted. For example, a plant called soap root was mashed and used not only as soap, but also to stun and catch fish. its leaves were eaten fresh, and the bulb could be baked and eaten. The dried, fibrous leaves were bundled and used as a brush.

Acorns, the mainstay of the Miwok diet, were gathered in autumn, dried, and stored in large granaries (cha’kas) made of poles interwoven with slender brush stems. Resembling large baskets, the cha’kas were thatched with short boughs of white fir or incense cedar to shed snow and rain and then lined with pine needles and wormwood to repel insects and rodents.”

One of their accomplishments the weaving baskets. “A Wealth of Baskets.”

The Baskets

“Used for harvesting, hauling, storing, winnowing and cooking seeds, and as gifts, baskets were vitally important to the regional Indians. Many hours of work were required to produce a single basket. A family’s wealth was measured in part by the number and quality of baskets it owned. Few examples of pre-contact baskets survive today. Made to be used, baskets simply wore out and custom required baskets to be destroyed after the death of their owner. Most California Indian baskets seen in museums today were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s to sell to white collectors. Though recently made, these baskets reflect the skills and techniques used by basketmakers for countless generations. “

Another is the “Miwok Dance.”

Indian Dance

“In dance, Sierra Indians expressed their mostly deeply felt spiritual emotions. They gathered to perform dances of thanksgiving, to appeal for good crops, and to celebrate annual events like spring flowering.  Percussion instruments and song accompanied the dancers. “Of the religious character of these dances there can be no doubt,” wrote pioneer anthropologist Stephen Powers, describing the Maidu fall acorn dance. In the roundhouse, men wearing feathered regalia danced around the fire. They moved to the beat of a hollow foot drum, stopping only for brief intermissions. Women stood in attendance during the dances.”

Before leaving the museum and buying our souvenirs we came across this gigantic painting.

“This majestice painting of Mr. Tallac (Elev. 9,735 ft) located near Lake Tahoe, represents hunting, gathering and trading sites near the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Miwok, and other foothill tribes, followed the migration of deer and other game upland during the summer months. Equallt important was trading with Eastern Sierra tribes, such as the Washoe and Paiutes. Trade items included, various Eastern Sierra plant materials and obsidian (volcanic glass), a highly valued stone used for arrowheads and many other rools. In exchange, the Miwok and other foothill tribes traded mainly the favored Black Oak acorn, coastal clam shells, abalone shells, and other native goods. Painting by  Valerie Moore 1989.”

Mt. Tallac

We bought some souvenirs to help out the nonprofit, Chaw’se Association where one may buy books, posters, postcards, and educational items related to the site. There are also lectures, videos and demonstrations at the museum that help provide insights into the Native American life in the Sierra Region. My dad and I went outside and walked to the back of the museum. Passing by the dancer’s monument right behind the museum, we came across  a replica of the Bark Houses and granary.

Bark Houses (U’macha)

The Land is a Living Thing – Traditional Miwok Homes

Seen through Native eyes, the land is alive. Rocks, trees, meadows, and streams; all of these natural elements possess their own life spirit. Our culture is deeply intertwined with the belief that mother earth is an active force and out true relationship with her must be founded on respect, balance, and thanks. Historically, our homes were called U’ macha.

U’ macha were built of cedar poles tied with wild grapevines or willow, and covered with incense cedar bark. Overlapping layers of bark made the houses waterproof, while a small hole was left in the top for smoke and to escape from cooking and heating fires. The door was made of bark slab or deer hide, and pine needles or grass covered the floor.”

We walked on the grounds and took some pictures and saw what it looked like inside. Then we came to the main attraction of the park, the Grinding Rock. Walking to the platform view, we read the sign descriptions:

Chaw-se – Grinding Rock

Our Chaw’se – A Place for Gathering, Laughter, and Work

This grinding rock is the largest in North America. It is also a rare example of petroglyphs (rock art) set in association with mortar holes. Although the meaning of the petroglyphs cannot be fully explained, they do suggest that this was a powerful and important place,  a place where many generations worked together on this Chaw’se, pounding acorns and seeds into meal.

The Chaw’se is not simply a stone. In their culture they view the rock as a living thing. It embodies the seasons that have passed upon it, and it has felt the slow grinding of its surface by women’s hands and their stone pestles over hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years.

We looked at the holes trying to find some petroglyphs but didn’t find any. Besides the big enclosed one, there were other 3 smaller ones that were also enclosed by the small fence. We followed the path and came across a reconstructed field game of about 110 yards long, and there was another marker.

Indian Field Game (Poscoi a we’a)

“Sometimes people think that life in the old days was always hard work. Hardly, they have always plenty of time for leisure and sports. One of their tradition games is called Indian football, a lot like a mixture of today’s soccer and rugby…only with a twist.

Ball Field

Indian football is always set up as girls versus boys, and each side plays by different rules. Using a piece of elk hide stuffed with soap root fiber for a ball, the boys can only kick it, but the girls can pick it up, toss it, run with it, or jump with it. The boys, however, can pick up one of the girls and run with her if she holds the ball! If this happens, the girl will try and get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Indian youth groups still hold matches here today.”

We walked a few steps and came across the largest roundhouse I ever saw in my entire life. We tried going in but unfortunately, the main door was locked. In front of the roundhouse was a marker dedicated to the site.

Miwok Roundhouse (Hun’ge)

“Only a tribal headsman could bear the great responsibility to construct a hun’ge for the village. Roundhouses were, and still are, the center of community life for their people. Every element of architecture contains spiritual significance. When a headsman dies, the hun’ge he created is destroyed or abandoned.

Hun’ge or Roundhouse

Today, the roundhouse stands as a powerful symbol of cultural survival. In spite of the tremendous hardships faced by the Miwok – the tragic loss of land and life – they continue to dance in this hun’ge today and follow the traditions established by their ancestors. The roundhouse is in active, year-round use by the Native community members. The largest building tended to be between 20 to 50 feet in diameter while the hun’ge in the park is 60 feet across – the largest in California. Four massive beams and center poles support the roof. A hole in the center of the root allows smoke from the fire pot to escape and also permits some observation of the night sky. The sound of the beating drums and ancient songs continue to fill the night air.”

Behind the roundhouse was a miniature version of it with the name, “Practice house,” and in front of it was a box with a leaflet of the plants from the park.  Across from it and the Hun-ge was a gigantic Oak Tree in the roundabout and like all mother nature’s gifts, this tree has a significant value.

Valley Oak (Mo’lla)

“The common name “valley oak” describes where the tree is most often found- on deep, fertile bottomland soils with plenty of water. The genus name Quercus means fine tree and the species name lobata was applied by botanists because the leaves are deeply lobed.

Oak Tree

By virtue of its beauty, age and size, valley oak is considered by many to be the monarch of California’s nine species of tree oaks. The largest valley oaks in the park have an estimated age of 300 years, and if they can resist the ravages of disease, drought, wind, fire, and man, they may be able to reach ages of 400 to 600 years.

The largest trees here at Chaw’se were no doubt growing, and the acorns harvested for food, when this area was an active Miwok village prior to the Gold Rush.”

After that, we continued on our path heading to the South Nature Trail, and saw the Miwok reconstructed village. It mostly consists of the Bark Houses like the ones by the Grinding Rock.  Here is some information about it:

Miwok Reconstructed Village

“Miwok home ranged from eight to fifteen feet in diameter and were built of cedar poles interwoven with grapevines or willow covered with cedar bark. A hole was left at the top to vent smoke from cooking or heating fires.”

Reconstructed village

We looked around but didn’t follow the trail because our companions were waiting foR us. While walking back, the shade of the trees and the breeze were so cool and relaxing that it was nice to walk under this summer heat. We found both my Mom and Aunt Gie sitting by the museum and parking lot. We took them back to check out the same trail that we already went to but touring the park for the second time wasn’t so bad. Now, here’s a history of what happened after the White folks came to California.

The Gold Rush

“The annual cycle of native life that revolved around the little meadow was dramatically altered by James Marshall’s discovery of gold of Coloma in January 1848. Miners poured into this area, forcing the Miwok out of their traditional patterns of residence and subsistence. Prospectors and both hydraulic and quartz mining operations eventually surrounded the area. Mine tailings can still be seen today in the park’s ravines.

Native plants

Though mining was the dominant economic activity in this area during the 1850s, agricultural enterprises were also attempted. Several farms and ranches were established in the area, with one of the first located in the meadow area of the present-day park. In June 1852, one miner wrote in his diary, “They are mowing their grass and barley on the flat and offered me $3 a day to mow.” the diarist declined this offer and hastened to nearby Volcano, where a miner’s wage was $6 a day. Reminders of early-day Amador County ranching and farming activity are dotted throughout the park, including a farmhouse and outbuildings, a garden site, orchards, livestock pond sites, and other traces of farm life. by 1868 the property belonged to the Else family, who grew barley and other grain crops, raised cattle, and planted an orchard. The small stream that runs through the park is still known as Else Creek.

William Blakely acquired the property in the 1870s. In the late 1880s, he sold about 160 acres to Serafino Scapuccino. Scapuccino tended the orchard, raised cattle, and developed a truck garden.he is said to have welcomed the Miwok, who sometimes camped in the meadow, gathered acorns, and held ceremonial events at the old village site. He also put a fence around the “great rock” to protect it.

At the park

After Scapuccino’s death, his family continued to hold title to the property until the 1950s. At this time the surviving members, Hames and Serafino Jr., became concerned that development pressures would eventually destroy the scenic, historical, and archaeological value of the meadow and its unique bedrock mortars. A friend suggested that it might be possible to preserve the site as a state park, an idea that found immediate support in the nearby town of Volcano.

A campaign to save the site was launched, and in 1958 the State of California acquired 48.5 acres of the Scapuccino property. The site was formally dedicated as a state park in 1968 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.”

Large tree

After walking around the park, we rested at Shade Ramada, where there were wooden benches and tables used for picnics. Nearby was the Special Event Food Stand. The area was quite empty. When the afternoon siesta hit us, we took a quick nap, enjoying the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. Today, descendants of the Miwok still come to the park to celebrate the Big Time.


Big Time

“Several times each year, ceremonies are held in the hun’ge by local Native Americans. In September, Indian families meet at the park for the annual acorn gathering ceremonies, the Big Time. Dancing, hand games, singing, and storytelling are traditional activities. Spectators are welcome, but there is no fixed schedule of events. Native American crafts and foods are available.”

Nap Time

After our nap, we went back to the truck where Sam was waiting/napping. We left the area with a quick pic of the farmhouse at the entrance. The car that collided into the park’s fences earlier was nowhere to be seen; I guess it was taken away by the police. With the day coming to an end but the sun still shining, we drove back to the city looking for an ice cream shop. Learning about the Miwok and their heritage was very educating. Each culture has a different take on life and is unique in their own ways.

Say Cheez!

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