They Were Here Before Us

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It was a warm day in July 1769. A small band of soldiers were slowly riding north. They stopped on the bluff overlooking the ocean to refresh themselves. Perhaps they looked towards the Pacific, thinking to them- selves the area would make a great harbor someday. Turning inland, they noticed a band of about five hundred Indians quietly going about their daily lives. Don Gaspar de Portola led his small band of soldiers slowly riding northward, never to return. The Indians lived where the Diego Sepulveda Adobe is today. The tribe was known as the Tongva.

As a docent at the adobe, I tell visitors they are standing where the Indians were in about 1750 and earlier. Also, I point out the display we have about the Tongva lifestyle. Tongva means “People of the earth”. The people lived mainly on small animals, deer, fish, and ducks, and also fruit, berries, and nuts. Both men and women wore grass skirts and animal skins with elaborate jewelry made of shells, seeds, and beads. Hunting was done with bow and arrows, snares, and throwing sticks. Their housing, called wikiups, was made of willow branches and woven mats of tule rushes. Should the wikiups become infested with vermin, they were burned down and rebuilt some distance away.

Want to learn more? Visit the Diego Sepulveda Adobe to view artifacts, speak to our docents, and discover more about our community’s native peoples. The contributions of the Tongva to Costa Mesa history should not be overlooked.

Dave Gardner
President, Costa Mesa Historical Society