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George Gibbs’ Journal Reveals Details of Early Native Life

George Gibbs traveled with Indian Agent Col. Reddick McKee on his 1851 expedition to Northwestern California to meet with tribes and explore the region.  Gibbs’ journal describes some of the customs of the Indians of coastal and inland Northern California. Until the account was published in 1853, little was known about the mountainous region.

Gibbs’ pencil sketches and narrative detailed the wild terrain and animal and plant life, and described how the indigenous population lived.

One entry related how the Hupa Yurok Tribe built homes. Gibbs wrote, “The lodges of these Indians are generally well built; being made of boards riven from redwood or fir, and of considerable size, often reaching twenty feet square. The roofs are pitched over a ridge-pole, and sloping each way; the ground being usually excavated to the depth of three or four feet, and a pavement of smooth stones laid in front. The cellars of the better class are also floored and walled with stone. The door always consists of a round hole in a heavy plank, just sufficient to admit the body; and is formed with a view to exclude the bears, who in winter make occasional and very unwelcome visits.”

Source: Gibbs, George. Excerpts from the Journal of the Expedition of Col. Reddick McKee. Siskiyou Pioneer, The 2.3 (1953): 1-4. Print.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.