Cultures of Cache Creek
Several cultures in the Cache Creek watershed have interacted with and impacted the landscape. This section introduces three: the Wintun culture, agriculture, and mining. These three cultures have played a large part in the land that now is the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.
…the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.–Cambridge Dictionary
The Wintun are members of several related Native American peoples of Northern California, including the Wintu (northern), Nomlaki (central), and Patwin (southern). Their range is from approximately present-day Lake Shasta to San Francisco Bay, along the western side of the Sacramento River to the Coast Range. Wikipedia
The Yocha DeHe Wintun Nation is the tribe that lived in the Cache Creek watershed. For thousands of years, ancestors of the current tribe had a rich culture that included language, art, medicine, technology, food production, and land stewardship. The towns and roads of today in Yolo County were the villages and trade routes of the Wintun past.
The Tending and Gathering Garden at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve is one way the Conservancy honors that history and culture. The demonstration garden is used as an outdoor classroom for Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) about how to tend the landscape (coppicing, burning) and gathering (when to collect materials for cultural uses, specifically basket weaving). This video presents one person’s view of the TGG.
Life changed dramatically for the Wintun Nation in the 18th century with the Spanish explorers coming into California, followed by the American westward expansion almost 100 years later.
Yolo County has some of the most productive agricultural land in the state. As people from Europe immigrated to California, they brought their farming techniques and seeds with them. Early Spanish settlers raised horses and cattle in the area. In 1842 Willian Gordon received the first land grant on the creek, and established a livestock farm on the landscape that is now the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. He also was the first to plant grain in the area.
With early European settlements in the 1840s, Yolo County became known for its extensive dryland grain production. By 1856, the county was the most intensively farmed county in the region with 28,000 acres under cultivation, farms were within a mile or two wide on both sides of the county’s rivers and creeks (mainly the Sacramento River and both Cache and Putah Creeks) prior to 1867.
Later, it was discovered that county’s adobe soils could be just as fertile if farmed properly. Grain production expanded in the county, and with the addition of irrigation systems, expanded again to include other crops. Agriculture would remain the dominant economic engine in Yolo County for more than 100 years.
Much of the rest of the county had been grazed, predominately by sheep, but reclamation and irrigation projects gradually made more land available for farming. As canning technology and transportation improved, new markets were available for fruit production, mainly apples, peaches, and plums.
Cache Creek has long served as a regional source for aggregate. Mining within the creek dates back to the early 1900’s, when sand and gravel were removed and shipped by rail to be used in the reconstruction of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake.
Many of the early excavations were small and scattered throughout the region, meeting both local needs as well as large public projects, such as the Golden Gate Bridge. The scale and intensity of aggregate mining increased with the post-World War II economic boom in the 1950’s. The building of airports, schools, hospitals, highways, dams, and residential suburbs created a strong need for concrete and other construction materials. Sand and gravel production in Cache Creek continued to escalate for several decades in response to the robust growth of both California and the Sacramento metropolitan region.
In the 1970’s, the “Gravel Wars” began. Concerns over the environmental impacts of instream mining led to new county policies. These aggregate resources management policies include in-channel and reclamation ordinances, use permits, and reclamation plans. Most recently, the County updated its Cache Creek Area Plan and its Cache Creek Parkway Plan, for which it won an Award of Excellence from the American Planning Association in 2020.
The partnership between Yolo County, the aggregate producers, and the Cache Creek Conservancy was and still is innovative. The Conservancy has hosted several visitors from other countries wanting to see the restoration of a former mining site and to learn more about how the partnership was formed for success.