Healdsburg History

Pomo Indians

General Vallejo

Healdsburg History

There’s a lot of talk today about reparations and stolen land and racism. So I thought I’d relate the history of the area here in Sonoma County where I live.

I like history so when I moved here I read the books by the local historical museum’s authors. Healdsburg is an interesting place.

The Pomo Indians lived here for millennia. They hunted deer and fished the copious salmon that came up the streams and rivers to spawn.

Every summer the Pomo would burn the underbrush to help the oaks grow. Because the only source of starch for them was the acorn.

The Pomo ground down the acorns into a flour, but the flour needed to be leached by water. The Pomos put the acorn flour into the sand in the rivers and creeks. This led to sand in their acorn flour and bread which led to ground down teeth.

But it was an easy life for the Pomo. The climate was great. Food was plentiful.

Then the Mexicans came. General Vallejo founded a fort in the city of Sonoma, still standing on the huge plaza where the Bear Republic rebels later founded California (another story).

General Vallejo is reputed to have given a blanket from one of his soldiers who died of small pox to the Pomo Indians. The small pox pretty much wiped out the tribe. Estimates are that 90% of the 10-20 thousand Pomo died.

The rest were enslaved for the Mexicans rancherias.


Then came the war against Mexico by America. The local Mexicans fled back to Mexico abandoning their lands here.

After the war was over. Many soldiers of the USA moved to Healdsburg and squatted on the land of the old Mexican rancherias.

The local sheriff, Louis Norton, didn’t approve of squatters. He’d force them off of their stolen land. The Mexicans were happy to sell. Some Americans weren’t happy to pay.

Sheriff Norton was an intimidating figure. He was 6’4” tall and weighed 280 pounds and it wasn’t fat. He was famous for finding a grizzly bear in the redwood tree outside of his house on Grove Street (still standing).

Norton just stared up at the bear and told him to get the hell out of his tree. The bear ambled off into the wilderness.

When Norton died he had 13 bullets in his body. The coroner figured he had died of lead poisoning. Those squatters did shoot back.

The town and surrounding valleys were now settled by white soldiers and their families. Most of whom were from Ohio and the Midwest.

After the Civil War even more Union soldiers moved to the valley with their families. ( Abe Lincoln kept a large garrison in San Francisco to protect the gold there. The Confederacy thought about stealing it, but again, another story.)


Then came the Italians from northern Italy in the late 19th century. They started the prune farms and the vineyards. They brought the Zinfandel vines.

The Italians are a huge part of the culture here.

In the early 20th century our town was famous for prunes. The local baseball team is called “The Prune Packers”.

WWI came and 101 locals were sent to Europe. Only one didn’t come home. WWII came and dozens more locals didn’t come home.

Then came Korea, a few lost, and Vietnam, a few more lost. And now our town is becoming Mexican again. 66% of the kids in the school are Hispanic.

You are as likely to hear Spanish as English walking around the town.

As for the Pomos… a few hang on. They have a casino north of town which is not doing well.

The valley of oaks and deer are now vineyards and the streams no longer have many salmon in them. Though the fishery at Warm Springs Dam keeps releasing young fish into Dry Creek.

At least our bread and tortillas don’t have sand in them.


Dry Creek Valley

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