By Jeanette A. McKenna, M.A.

Black SageEditor’s note: The history of the native peoples and their lives in what is now California is a fascinating story. Jeanette McKenna is a well-known local archeologist. The following essay gives a brief look at some aspects of that history. The Native Americans of the Los Angeles/Orange County areas (Gabrielino-Tongva, Juaneno, and Luiseno) consider the Puente-Chino Hills to be spiritually sensitive. Further, there is ample documentation to cite the presence of significant archaeological resources throughout the area. In fact, in 1996, I was involved in the testing of a site in Tonner Canyon that yielded both significant prehistoric archaeological resources and resulted in the identification of a petrified forest locale (Cypress trees), proving that the Puente-Chino Hills are also highly sensitive for paleontological remains.

The La Habra/Yorba Linda areas of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor are cited throughout Father Gerónimo Boscana’s early 18th-century volume on “Chinigchinich,” which presents the religious background for the Southern California natives. Not only is the Wildlife Corridor spiritually significant to the Native Americans, the same resources permitted the establishment of village sites and more localized special activity areas associated with the exploitation of the resources. For example, northern Orange County is considered to be associated with the California black sage (photo on right), a plant highly prized by the Gabrielino/Juaneno/Luiseno. The black sage was used in both medicinal and religious services.

Village sites are located along the Corridor, including the La Habra/Yorba Linda areas, including Sehat (near Los Nietos/Whittier), Ahwiinga (La Puente), Pimokangna (near Pomona), Hutukngna (near La Habra/Yorba Linda), and Pamajam (near Corona) … along with others. Smaller limited/specialized activity areas are found throughout the areas between these known villages sites and additional village sites are suggested for the area (see Johnston 1962). Thousands of sites have been recorded for both Los Angeles and Orange County … many identified within the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor.

California SagebrushIn a recent volume on the Gabrielino, McCawley (1996) emphasizes the sensitivity of the Puente-Chino Hills Corridor in his interpretations of Native American terms. Ahwiinga (La Puente) is the “bridge” in Spanish, inferring the bridge between the coastal plain and the inland valleys, providing a pass for travelers. The Native American name means “burned brush,” a reference to the Native American practice of controlled burns. Hutukngna (La Habra/Yorba Linda) is the “night” or “the dark place,” “the place of the devil.”

The presence of Native American populations can also be attributed, in part, to the presence of natural fresh water springs throughout the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. These springs, located at elevations well above the valley floors, drew populations into the hills and provided an array of resources for exploitation. A similar pattern of springs and habitation sites can be documented for the Cajon Pass, also in Gabrielino territory. The presence of the springs is attributed to the seismic activity of Southern California and the development of subsurface catchment basins for fresh water. Sycamore Canyon in Whittier still yields surface water, as do areas in the Puente Hills Landfill, Powder Canyon, and Tonner Canyon.