Squaw Rock

Early Picture of Squaw Rock and the Trail that has become Hwy 101*

The legends of an area reveal parts of the community’s soul and Ernie’s recent post, Betcha-didnt-know, scorns the legend that is attached to the California Historical site.

This early landmark, also called Lover’s Leap, is associated with the purported legend of a 19th-century Sanel Indian maiden, Sotuka. Her faithless lover, Chief Cachow, married another, all three were killed when Sotuka, holding a great stone, jumped from the precipice upon the sleeping pair below.”

Could it be that the legend of Squaw Rock demonstrates our ugly habit of erasing Native American culture and substituting a Wonder Bread alternative?

But the tale told about the landmark is old. 

The History of Mendocino County California – (Alley, Bowen & Co., San Francisco, 1880) relates how, in 1878, the 18 year old Miss Fannie Lamar reads a piece (probably written by her) at Mrs. Poston’s Seminary in Oakland that romantically details an elaboration of the same story. Fannie claims the tale came from a native woman, Miss Chatta Feliz, whom she says was reared near Squaw Rock.

However, though this is the oldest version of the legend I can find, I wonder how true to the native people this story is. Fannie was the daughter of the Hon. Joseph B. Lamar who was elected to the Legislature and “introduced the Bill organizing Mendocino County.”

Though Fannie was born and spent her early years near Ukiah, Mrs. Poston’s Seminary is in Oakland.  And her father (and probably the rest of the family) served in the Legislature and spent a good deal of time in the Bay Area.  Thus, she probably was not raised among the native Pomo.

Furthermore, Joseph B. Lamar was an apologist for the genocidal wars against the native people. He believed the Native People should be made into servants to the whites. He proposed,The State should, then, adopt a general system of peonage or apprenticeship, for the proper disposition and distribution of the Indians by families among responsible citizens. General laws should be passed regulating the relations between the master and servant, and providing for the punishment of any meddlesome interference on the part of third parties. In this manner the whites might be provided with profitable and convenient servants, and the Indians with the best protection and all the necessaries of life in permanent and comfortable homes.”


It is hard, though not impossible, to conceive of his daughter being a sympathizer and recorder of actual Native American stories.

By contrast, Helen Carpenter, wife of the well known Mendocino photographer, A. O. Carpenter, arrived in the area around 1858 and, according to No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, “Almost as soon as she arrived, Helen went to work recording the lives and traditions of the Pomo people who lived in her area.” She eventually wrote a little piece for the Railroad that came North to Ukiah around 1889 that told the legend of two rocks below Squaw Rock which she says is known by the Pomos as Dah-nol-yo.  Carpenter acknowledges that there are many “extant Indian Legends of Squaw Rock” but none which explain the visage at the top.

If such a romantic story as that told by Lamar had some threads of authenticity, I would think Carpenter would know and use that tale instead in her book designed to amuse the railroad customer. I’m inclined to think Ernie is right and the legend of the leaping Indian maiden is ridiculous but…. I wish I knew somewhere to check out what story the Pomo tell about this eyecatching landmark.

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*Photo found on a wonderful Historical site about Healdsburg.


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14 comments

  • My Great Grandparents date to the 1880’s in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. My Grandmother was somewhat of a local Indian historian. Fifty years ago she told me why it was named “Squaw Rock.” Her story supported the old legend.

    Language and words are powerful and have meaning. A prisoner is a prisoner. NOT a detainee. You can try to put lipstick on a pig with fancy words. The word “squaw” connotes a different meaning than “Female Indigenous Woman.” I don’t much like being called “Gringo” either, but that word has specific meanings when those meanings are intended to be made.

    So, is the legend just another white man’s lie designed to put a pretty face on a rather sordid history regarding their treatment of these Indian peoples? Your guess is as good as mine.

  • Joe, I posted on Ernie’s blog that the Pomo’s did use cremation as a funeral rite so that would seem to support Lamar’s version but, it is so highly colored it is kind of hard to swallow the story.

  • Another noteworthy (albeit less historically dated) factoid:

    The creekside swimming area just upstream of the shear cliff face is where Dr. Hunter S. Thompson got roundly thumped back in the mid-60s by the Hell’s Angels when he was in the process of writing the book of the same title, thus ending his embedded association with that, um, organization.

  • Plannax,
    I checked that out and found a Russian page which, under translation, claimed Sonny Barger had said that Thompson got into the fight there because some guy kicked his dog. I got quite a laugh out of it.

  • Kym… You have done a great job on this post. Good research. As I mentioned on Ernie’s blog, Feliz was the name of the family holding the land grant at Healdsburg. Steven Powes, in “Tribes of California” describes cremation ceremonies at Sanel. He suggest that the old Indian town there had 1500 residents.

  • OK, I can’t help myself. Most folks don’t realize that “indenture” (slavery) of Indians was legal in California. The parent’s permission was required and judged legal with an X. When one judge asked a man if he had the parent’s permission, he replied: “Sure, I killed ’em myself”. I’m told that tha Humboldt County Courthouse has many copies of indenture forms.

  • I laughed and then was horrified.

    I’ve been in several courthouses doing genealogy but never in Humboldt’s. I would love to go someday.

  • Kym… Your jump to the Military records in the Joseph Lamar paragraph:”he proposed” is extraordinary. How did you find that one? A complete layout of the process leading to Assembly bill 64: “for the protection of the Indians”. The internet is a powerful tool. I’m amazed. Thanks.

  • Ben, This is the advantage of never settling on one career. I end up with lots of bits of howto info. In this case, I love genealogy (so much so that I’ve actually done it for pay) and one of the best ways to get information is to google variations on someone’s name ie “J Lamar, “”Joseph B. Lamar”–enclosing them in quotation marks helps narrow the field to a manageable search size. Also, you can add places like Mendocino, which I did in this case because Lamar comes from quite an important East Coast family that freely sprinkled their offspring with the first name of Joseph.

  • Thanks for this. I passed it on to my mother. She is almost certain that Chatta Feliz is the daughter of Fernando, who is my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

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  • I would refer you to an article published in Redwood West, by Andrew M. Genzoli & Wallace E. Martin, 1965, entitled Indian Blood A High Price for Cattle 1860. Although being painful to read, me being a decendent of another California Indian tribe, the Karuk, and a decendent of the Lamar family (J.B. Lamar was my great great great uncle)it does shed some light on the horrors that were occuring in Mendocino Co. regarding the slaughter of Indian men, women, and children and why Mr. Lamar was forced to try to come up with some solution. It also helps to know that Joseph Basil Lamar was from a large slave-owning family in Georgia and you can see how his “solution” was influenced by his upbringing and thoughts and ideas that he carried to California when he arrived here in the spring of 1849. I would never try to defend slavery, but can we all forgive, heal, and move on? Thomas Lamar Farnum

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