Chumash Painted Cave: A Traditional Location In The Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara County, California

By Michael P. Sampson

Elements of rock art, either in the form of pictographs (rock paintings) or petroglyphs (pecked or incised elements on rock), are widely believed by native people and researchers to possess ritualistic importance to those who produced it and the sites are usually considered sacred. Rocks, mountains, caves, springs, and other landscape features, are well documented to possess power, sacredness, or special significance for indigenous people in California and beyond and can serve as mnemonic places with images that are important for legends. Caves, according to oral tradition among California Indian groups, are considered the place where the world began, or as a place where power could be acquired and lives of people enhanced; caves are viewed as entryways to a spiritual or sacred dimension outside of everyday life. Thus, caves or rockshelters are natural locations to be used by native people, in particular, individuals with inherent powers such as shamans (religious leaders and doctors), to produce pictographs and petroglyphs.

Chumash Painted Cave, located within the Santa Ynez Mountains near San Marcos Pass and owned by California State Parks, is one such special place that holds an extraordinary array of polychrome pictographs (rock paintings). The cave, situated at an elevation of 2,600 feet, lies within a steep-sided, densely wooded hillside. Oak trees and various chaparral shrubs are abundantly present here, with bay laurel and sycamore trees also adjacent to the cave. The cave, containing pictographs rendered in black, red, and white pigments, had apparently formed over considerable time through erosion of the geologically soft sandstone outcropping at this location. The front of the cave is characterized by a distinctive series of wind-eroded pockets that align in a honeycomb-like patterning. The effect of this arrangement of erosional pockets draws one’s attention toward the cave, and likely also did so for the prehistoric Chumash who first came to the cave. Natural wind erosion continues to this day inside the cave and removed a significant portion of the prehistoric paintings that were originally present on the cave walls.

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A variety of well-executed geometric and stylized animal and human elements are painted within the cave. The most recognizable figures include a centipede, diamond chains (generally believed to represent the rattlesnake), sun-like paintings, and anthropomorphs. The pictographs are open for public viewing via Painted Cave Road, as the cave site and its adjoining 8 acres are owned by the California State Park System; however, parking is limited along this narrow road. A metal mesh locked gate, installed in 1908 by a former landowner, blocks direct access to the cave interior but permits viewing of the paintings. Graffiti etched into some of the ancient paintings, predating the gate installation, are a strong reminder of the need for this locked gate and continued protection. Today, California State Parks carefully controls access inside the cave due to the delicate nature of the sandstone and cultural importance of the paintings. A few isolated painted motifs are located outside the cave entrance high on the cliff.

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A commonly-held hypothesis relating to the derivation of many pictographs and petroglyphs in California and elsewhere, including among the Chumash, proposes that elements of rock art represent the manifestation of a shaman’s dream experiences, or vision quest. The shaman traveled to world of the supernatural through these dream experiences—either to perform a benevolent act, such as curing, inducing rainfall, and for other purposes, or to perform an act of malevolence. Those dreams or trances experienced by the shamans were induced either (1) by ingesting plant hallucinogens, (2) as a result of extreme deprivation during fasts and sleeplessness, and/or (3) through physical stress. Two plants commonly used by California Indians for ceremonial purposes were Native tobacco (Nicotiana spp.), which is relatively potent, and jimsonweed or toloache (Datura spp.). The most common species of jimsonweed in the traditional territory of the Chumash is Datura wrightii; there are three species of Nicotiana within Chumash territory. Among the Chumash, jimsonweed was ingested during initiation rites and administered by a shaman, taken to avoid misfortune, used as a curative for various ills, and most particularly consumed by shamans to establish contact with the supernatural, as noted above. [The reader should be aware that both native tobacco and jimsonweed are toxic and should not be ingested; one can become exceedingly ill from their use.]

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Chumash Painted Cave possesses certain painted elements that may depict astronomical events in the past, in particular–a solar eclipse that occurred on November 24, 1677–according the late anthropologist Travis Hudson.* Other rock art sites in Chumash territory and elsewhere in California are hypothesized by researchers to hold astronomical associations from which solstice and equinox events, constellations in the heavens, or appearances of comets were observed and documented. A study by Travis Hudson, Georgia Lee, and Ken Hedges* provided a detailed review of ethnographic accounts for observations of solstice events among California Indian groups and discussed rock art sites identified as solstice observation places, including sites in traditional Chumash territory. Hudson and Underhay* made the following conclusion based upon a study of Chumash ethnographic information related to this subject: “…the Chumash shaman-priests were watching the heavens in earnest and observing the motions, positions, “behavior,” and characteristics of a large number of celestial objects. The daily movements of the sun and moon were unquestionably followed, as were those of a large number of stars, constellations, and planets.” David Whitley, a noted rock art researcher, has however recommended we view the solar eclipse hypothesis related to specific painted elements at Chumash Painted Cave with caution, and pointed out that ethnographic accounts for the use of Chumash paintings to record eclipses are lacking.

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We would argue that Chumash Painted Cave and other sites with pictographs and petroglyphs functioned as places of ritual practice; here, individuals sought power and spiritual renewal and they served as locations where a balance between the dynamic forces in nature were sought. Among the Chumash, such ritualistic practitioners were all members of a prestigious cult called the ‘antap; only the ‘antap cult members could have entered such a powerful place as this cave and then produced the paintings that we see today. Those Chumash who were not members of ‘antap would avoid such places as Chumash Painted Cave and other area rock art sites.

The visitor to Chumash Painted Cave should act with respect as this is a place sacred in Native American culture. Please stay on the trail, but, do sign the visitor book. This cultural property and all archaeological sites within California State Parks and other public lands are protected by law.

*See Bibliography below

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

For additional information on Chumash Painted Cave, prehistoric rock art, cultural landscapes, and other topics discussed in this blog post, the reader can consult the following documents as well as others not listed here.

Richard B. Applegate (1975) The Datura Cult Among the Chumash. The Journal of California Anthropology Vol. 2 (1):7-17.

Keith H. Basso (1996) Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Lowell John Bean, Sylvia Brakke Vane, and J. Young (1991) The Cahuilla Landscape: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Ballena press Anthropological Papers No. 37.

Robert S. Begole (1984) Equinox, Solstice and World Renewal. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 20(4):1-12.

C. William Clewlow, Jr. (1978) Prehistoric Rock Art. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 619-625. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Lora Cline (1984) Just Before Sunset. LC Enterprises, Tombstone, Arizona.

Constance Goddard DuBois (1908) The Religion of the Luiseno Indians of Southern California. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 8(3):69-186.

Lynn H. Gamble and Michael Wilken-Robertson (2008) Kumeyaay Cultural Landscapes of Baja California’s Tijuana River Watershed. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 28:215-227.

Alan P. Garfinkel and Harold Williams (2011) Handbook of the Kawaiisu. Wa-hi Sina’avi Publications, Tehachapi, California.

Amy J. Gilreath (2007) Rock Art in the Golden State: Pictographs and Petroglyphs, Portable and Panoramic. In California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity edited by Terry L. Jones and Kathryn A. Klar, pp. 273-290. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham.

Campbell Grant (1966) The Rock Paintings of the Chumash. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Susan M. Hector (2009) Cupule Petroglyphs as Elements of the Cultural Landscape. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 29:68-76.

Ken Hedges (1981) Winter Solstice Observatory Sites in Kumeyaay Territory, San Diego County, California. In Archaeoastronomy in the Americas, edited by Ray A. Williamson, pp. 151-156. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 22.

Ken Hedges (1983) The Shamanic Origins of Rock Art. In Ancient Images on Stone, edited by Jo Anne Von Tilburg, pp. 46-61. The Rock Art Archive, The Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Ken Hedges (1992) Shamanistic Aspects of California Rock Art. In California Indian Shamanism, edited by Lowell John Bean, pp. 67-88. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.

Travis Hudson (1982) Guide to Painted Cave. McNally & Loftin, Publishers, Santa Barbara, California. [This is a brief guide book to Chumash Painted Cave authored by the late Curator of Anthropology at the Santa Barbara County Museum of Natural History.]

Travis Hudson and Kathleen Conti (1984) The Rock Art of Indian Creek: Ritual Sanctuary of the Gifted Chumash. In Papers on Chumash Rock Art, pp. 47-88. Occasional paper #12, San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society.

Travis Hudson and Ernest Underhay (1978) Crystals in the Sky: An Intellectual Odyssey Involving Chumash Astronomy, Cosmology and Rock Art. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 10.

Travis Hudson, Georgia Lee, and Ken Hedges (1979) Solstice Observers and Observatories in Native California. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology Vol. 1 (1):39-63.

William D. Hyder (1989) Rock Art and Archaeology in Santa Barbara County, California. San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society, Occasional Paper No. 13.

William Hyder and Georgia Lee (2015) Chumash Paintings on Stone. In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 89-96. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Don Jewell (1987) Indians of the Feather River: Tales and Legends of Concow Maidu of California. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.

Manfred Knaak (1988) The Forgotten Artist: Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art. Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, Borrego Springs, California.

Georgia Lee (1977) Chumash Mythology in Paint and Stone. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly Vol. 13(3):1-14.

Georgia Lee (1997) The Chumash Cosmos: Effigies, Ornaments, Incised Stones and Rock Paintings of the Chumash Indians. Bear Flag Books, Arroyo Grande, California.

Ruby Modesto and Guy Mount (1980) Not for Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman. Sweetlight Books, Angelus Oaks, California.

Gerald A. Smith and Steven M. Freers (1994) Fading Images: Indian Pictographs of Western Riverside County. Riverside Museum Press, Riverside, California.

Julian H. Steward (1929) Petroglyphs of California and Adjoining States. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 24(2). University of California, Berkeley.

Dorothea J. Theodoratus and Frank La Pena (1994) Wintu Sacred Geography of Northern California. In Sacred Sites, Sacred Places, edited by David L. Carmichael, Jane Hubert, Brian Reeves, and Audhild Schanche, pp. 20-31. Routledge, London.

Jan Timbrook (2007) Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California.

D.L. True and Georgia Waugh (1986) To-Vah: A Luiseño Power Cave. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 8:269-273.

David S. Whitley (1996) A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana. [Chumash Painted Cave is specifically discussed on pp. 170-174.]

David S. Whitley (2000) The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Mission La Purisima Concepción de Maria Santisima: A Spanish Mission in Santa Barbara County, California.

By Michael P. Sampson

Few traditional locations in present-day California are more emblematic of its early history or more recognizable than the twenty-one Spanish missions found along the El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma.

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On July 16, 1769, Father Junípero Serra dedicated Mission San Diego de Alcalá as the first mission in Alta California [the present-day state of California]. The northernmost and last mission developed in Alta California, San Francisco Solano in the town of Sonoma, was founded on July 4, 1823. The Spanish, as part of their colonization effort, also formed four presidios, or military garrisons, and three pueblos, where Spanish citizens lived. The colonization of Alta California by the Spanish in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century served to sustain their foothold on the Pacific Coast of North America in light of territorial expansions by the English and the Russians along the west coast. The missions, considered indispensable to the Spanish goal of colonizing Alta California, were operated by missionaries of the Franciscan order. Each Spanish mission in Alta California was situated near the villages of Native people, close to reliable water, adjacent to arable land, and chosen with consideration of the marching distance to the next mission.

The Spanish missions in Alta California operated as self-sufficient agrarian enterprises that consisted of a vast complex of buildings functioning as residences, food preparation areas, workshops, a church and adjacent cemetery, as well as, gardens, vineyards, water conveyance systems, industrial structures (e.g., mills, tanning vats, etc.), and fields.

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The labor force at each mission primarily was provided by the “neophytes,”, that is, local Native people. It was the intent of the mission founders that Native people who were brought to reside at the mission would be taught the Catholic faith by the Franciscan missionaries and trained in European crafts and trades.

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Thus, California’s Native people represented the key element to the Spanish goal of occupying Alta California. From the Spanish viewpoint, the Native Californian people who were taken to the missions would be converted into Catholic peasant citizens, that is, become gente de razón.

The mission experience for the California Natives, however, is a complex topic. From the perspective of the Native people, they were forced to leave their traditional lands, required to abandon their culture, and treated poorly if they did not conform to the expectations of the mission administrators. Many Native people attempted to flee the missions and were forcefully brought back, and traditional ways were practiced beyond the watchful eyes of the padres. Certainly, the forced relocation of Native people to missions had a far-reaching and permanent impact on traditional Native Californian culture. Native Californian people today honor their traditional culture, while many descendants of the mission neophytes still practice the Catholic faith.

The visitors to most Spanish missions today find it difficult to visualize the variety of activities that occurred at the missions of the late eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth century. Mission La Purisima Concepción de Maria Santisima (hereafter, referred to as Mission La Purisima), located near the city of Lompoc in San Barbara County, is one of the few mission sites today that is still situated in a rural area.   A visit to Mission La Purisima, owned and skillfully operated by the California State Park System and a group of dedicated volunteers, is a step into the past and permits the visitor to better comprehend life at the mission and gain some sense of the Spanish mission system.

Mission La Purisima was founded on December 8, 1787 under the administrative guidance of Father Fermin de Lasuén, who was then Father Presidente of all missions in California. The mission in 1787 was situated south of the Santa Ynez River in what is today the city of Lompoc at a place the local Native people, the Chumash, called Algsacupi. The buildings of this original mission, known today as “Mission Vieja,” were mostly destroyed by an earthquake on December 21, 1812 and the rains that followed. By the time of the earthquake, the Franciscans had been successful in relocating many of the Chumash to this mission from their villages. However, the mortality rate of the Native neophytes was high, prompting ever increasing forays into the Native villages to replace those who died from diseases brought by the Spanish.

Mission La Purisima was moved in April 1813 to its present location, a canyon the Spanish called “Los Berros” [watercress]; this location had the Chumash place name of Amúu.

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The Spanish continued to be successful in relocating the Chumash from their native villages into Mission La Purisima after this move but the rate of deaths among the neophytes also increased – triggering ever more intensive attempts to bring the Chumash from their traditional villages and keep those who wanted to leave from doing so. Mission La Purisima proved to be a highly successful agricultural enterprise during time the Spanish administered the mission as evidenced by the strong crop production numbers and high numbers of livestock. Considerable information about the neophytes and their condition, as well as mission crop production, livestock numbers, etc., is available today because the Spanish Franciscan missionaries maintained excellent records.

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Mission lands throughout California were secularized in 1834. Significant portions of Mission La Purisima and its vast landholdings were given as land grants to Mexican citizens by the Mexican government. Thereafter, the mission experienced a marked decrease in agricultural production, the number of Chumash living at the mission declined, and the mission buildings and landscape features slowly deteriorated. Finally, the actual mission buildings were sold on December 6, 1845 by Mexican Governor Pio Pico to John Temple, thus closing this chapter in California history. California State Parks acquired the Mission and surrounding acreage in 1935.

The main mission buildings, structures, and landscape features at Mission La Purisima today were reconstructed or significantly restored by Civil Conservation Corps workers in the 1930s, who labored under the direction of National Park Service staff and other experts. [A first-hand account of the 1930s work by the Civilian Conservation Corps at Mission La Purisima is provided in the 1991 book by Hageman and Ewing cited below.] Some buildings that had been present at the time the mission operated, such as the Neophyte Family Housing, have not been reconstructed.

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Archaeology typically plays a crucial role in the reconstruction and restoration of historic buildings and structures, most often by providing information unavailable in historical documents and through exposing the tangible evidence of daily life, such as, artifacts and food remains. The reconstruction and rebuilding efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Mission La Purisima in the 1930s were preceded by archaeological excavations that complemented the historical research on the mission. These archaeological excavations unearthed the physical remains of the mission buildings and structures, thereby indicating the exact outline and size of them, their configuration, the number of rooms, the specific functions of various rooms, the alignment of aqueducts or other features, and yielded the actual implements used on a daily basis at the mission.

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The archaeological efforts of the 1930s at Mission La Purisima represent the earliest large-scale investigation within an historic-period site in California at the time, and the National Park Service staff and the Civilian Conservation Corps workers used a methodology more rigorous than was standard for archaeological investigations in the 1930s. Subsequent archaeological excavations at Mission La Purisima, such as the work of archaeologists from the University of California at Santa Barbara, California State Parks archaeologists, and other researchers, have produced additional important information about life at the mission and the exact uses of structural remains.

The historical record at Mission la Purisima is colored by the worldview and religious fervor of the Spanish priests who managed the mission. The archaeological record of Mission La Purisima, however, reveals a different and compelling perspective that directly reflects the behavior of the neophytes, that is, those who day-to-day used the tools and resided in the residences at the mission uncovered during the excavations. The Chumash neophytes at Mission La Purisima, for example, performed their daily mission chores and prayed as directed by the Franciscan fathers, while also maintaining important aspects of their traditional culture, such as the use of traditional stone and bone implements to perform mission chores and use of traditional tools for domestic tasks and practices in their residences.

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The Chumash people living at the mission also regularly gathered traditional foods outside the mission grounds, maintained many traditional rituals, and continued regular interactions with Native people outside the mission purview. This uneven pattern of acculturation among the Mission la Purisima neophytes, repeated at the other Spanish missions in Alta California, demonstrated that traditional culture cannot be removed like changing clothes. California Native people as a whole, too, greatly valued individuality which was antithetical to the discipline and structure of daily life demanded by the Franciscan priests at the missions. The archaeological record at Mission La Purisima and other missions clearly indicates the California Native people displayed an extraordinary resilience of traditional values, worldview, and practices and resisted the European way of life during their actual conduct of daily actions.

For additional information on Mission La Purisima and topics discussed in the preceding narrative, the reader can consult the following publications (as well as others not listed here):

Boletín, Journal of the California Mission Studies Association.

California Department of Parks and Recreation website: Mission La Purisima State Historic Park.

Edward D. Castillo (1978) The Impact of Euro-American Exploration and Settlement. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 99-127. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. [This is a frank discussion of the effects of European colonization upon the California Indians.]

Julia G. Costello and John R. Johnson (2015) Colonization’s Cultural Earthquake. In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 97-104. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico. [Drs. Costello and Johnson are experts on the Chumash in the historic era and authorities on the Spanish missions.]

James J. F. Deetz (1963) Archaeological Investigations at La Purisima Mission. University of California, Los Angeles, Archaeological Survey Annual Report, 1962-1963, pp. 159-246. Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles. [The late James Deetz was a well-respected historical archaeologist who at the time of the study taught at UC Santa Barbara.]

Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O. F. M. (1986) Mission La Concepcion Purisima De Maria Santisima. McNally & Loftin, Publishers, Santa Barbara, California. [This important book, originally published in 1932, contains considerable primary information from Spanish mission archives.]

Glenn J. Farris and Elise Wheeler (1998) The Neophyte Housing and Infirmary at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park: A Review and Remapping of the Site. Report on file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento. [This report contains a nice history of the mission and includes a documentation of the neophytes who resided in the Neophyte Family Housing site at Mission La Purisima based upon research with mission archives.]

Roberta S. Greenwood (1978) Obispeño and Purisimeño Chumash. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 520-523. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Kent G. Lightfoot (2005) Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. University of California Press, Berkeley. [This book contains a very thoughtful discussion on the Spanish missions in Alta California and their impacts upon the lives of California Indians and the cultural responses to European colonization by the Indian people.]

Fred C. Hageman and Russell C. Ewing (1991) An Archaeological and Restoration Study of Mission La Purísima Concepcion. Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Santa Barbara, California. [Hageman was the National Park Service architectural foreman for the 1930s restoration and Ewing was a National Park Service Historian assigned to the 1930s project.]

Robert L. Hoover (2002) Excavations at the Mystery Column: The Possible Remains of a Wind-Powered Wool Fulling Post Mill in La Purísima Mission State Historic Park. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly Volume 37 (1):37-50.

Mission Vieja, the First Location of La Purisima Mission, 1787-1812, in Lompoc, California. A brochure published by and available at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.

Tsim D. Schneider (2015) Rebellions, Resistance, and Runaways in Colonial Times.  In First Coastal Californians, edited by Lynn H. Gamble, pp. 105-110. School of Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Robert L. Schuyler (1978) Indian-Euro-American Interaction: Archaeological Evidence from Non-Indian Sites. In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 69-79. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Kevin Starr (2005) California: A History. The Modern Library, New York.

Edith Buckland Webb (1952) Indian Life at the Old Missions. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. [A classic study with many old photographs of the missions.]

 

 

Welcome to the Center

We are excited about finally realizing a long term dream to establish a non-profit corporation related to traditional culture.  In the coming months, you will be able to access blogs about places to see and experience traditional culture that are open to the public.  One place we can mention immediately is Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where Living History events are held on the third Saturday of every month.  During the summer months, Stagecoach Days at the park focus on specific themes of San Diego history.  Visit the state parks website for more details.Old Town San Diego SHP