ContentsPutah and Cache: Davis

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At the Corner of First and A

Robert Thayer

Standing on the abandoned bridge across the "north fork" of Putah Creek by Parking Lot #10 on the UCD campus, you are in the midst of what was once a substantial native settlement. To your northwest, by Voorhies Hall and across the street at the corner of First and A, and to the south in the midst of Solano Park Apartments, lie the bones of Southeastern Patwin people. Graves and archaeological remains that were uncovered during modern building construction reveal a people who, at this very site, probably fished for salmon and sturgeon, gathered acorns, and lived in semi-subterranean houses. Prior to the late 1890's, the main flow of Putah Creek passed under your feet en route to the great seasonal wetlands just to the east that offered the opportunity for the harvest of fish and waterfowl. Close your eyes and imagine the rush of creek waters, the smell of wood smoke, the feel of earthen homes and the sounds of families preparing food, laughing and conversing in daily life.

In order to acknowledge these people, I searched the scant Patwin language that remains and put together a three-word saying, which we hope could be construed to mean "spirit home of the Putah people." The first word is "sal-tu", or "spirit," and it occurs not only in the Patwin language but in other Penutian languages in the downstream. "K'ewe" is river Patwin for "house." "Pu-tah-toy" is the name for the people who lived here, or possibly upstream. On guided tours, we say these words, slowly, three times in a row... "Saltu k'ewe putah-toi. Saltu k'ewe putah-toi. Saltu k'ewe putah-toi." You might like to acknowledge our forerunners this way.

The mapped route to the next stop takes you through the UC Davis campus, home of a world-class university with strengths in the sciences, humanities, engineering, law, and medicine. You will drive between the arboretum to your left and the School of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital to your right.

As you cross Route 113, the sunken freeway, notice to your left the gentle swale in the land. This is all that remains of the original channel of Putah Creek, now occupied by cattle and sheep pens. Just a little further, after we cross back over the original channel, you'll notice the remnant riparian vegetation behind chain link fence, now an experimental ecosystem for research.

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UC Davis