Origin of Tribe
The Concow-Maidu of Mooretown Rancheria are descendants of ancient Northwestern Maidu who migrated to the foothills 25 miles east of Oroville in Butte County, California. The oldest verifiable occupation through scholarly and scientific research is about 1200 B.C. These people settled on the Mooretown Ridge, between the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Feather River, about 1500 B.C. when the Maidu language developed.
The Concow-Maidu were primarily a hunting and gathering people with a comprehensive knowledge of the uses of the local plants and animals for food, medicine, tools and clothing. They planted seeds and bulbs in their nearby gathering grounds which we would call gardens. They carried on an active trade with tribes from the coastal areas, the Nisenan territory, Northeastern California and Nevada. They had a highly developed social order of etiquette and religion that promoted a peaceful lifestyle.
European Contact and Indian Removal
The traditional Maidu boundaries were roughly from Mount Lassen and Honey Lake on the north to the Cosumnes River on the south, and from the Sacramento River on the west to the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the east. Early ethnographers divided this vast territory into three major areas based on certain language differences. These areas are the Northern or Mountain Maidu, mostly of Plumas County; the Northwestern or Concow-Maidu of Butte County and parts of Yuba and Sutter Counties; and the Southern Maidu or Nisenan, generally south of the Yuba River and extending to the Miwok lands.
Earliest contact with Europeans would have occurred during the twenty years while California was part of the Spanish holding and fur trappers constantly explored the Northstate’s waterways. There is a persistent story of a Spanish document, dated 1542 or 1559, being found in the hollow of an oak tree on the Middle Fork. However, the earliest recorded Concow contact was with Gabriel Moraga in 1800. Trapping greatly increased in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Many strange diseases were introduced and along with the many killings and massacres of Indian villages, the California Indians declined from 310,000 to 20,000 during the years 1700 to 1900.
When gold was discovered in 1848, many foreigners swarmed into Concow territory, and the Indians had to get out of the way. As gold fever wore off, these intruders began appropriating more lands for timber, agricultural and commercial ventures, particularly railroading. The U.S government negotiated treaties with tribes, promising many benefits in exchange for the homelands, but none were ever honored, and the Native Americans were left landless and homeless. Reservations were established and the Concows were forcibly moved out of their ancestral homes. Many died or were killed along the way to these distant, hostile places. For example, one group of 461 Concows left Chico on September 4, 1863, but only 277 survived the two-week trip to Round Valley.
Public outcry over the U.S. mistreatment of Native Americans led to the Rancheria Act of 1884. In June 1894, James T. Grubbs relinquished 80 acres of his holdings for the use and benefit of the Indians and their families from seven to twelve in number. Their settlement of four small cabins sat in the center of about eight usable acres, the remainder of the 80 acres being very rough and poor. They had lived there over 50 years and had planted fruit trees and cultivated gardens.
In 1915 the BIA purchased another 80-acre parcel to the east for 53 members of the Frank Taylor band of Indians, all named on a census list.
In 1924, Native Americans were granted citizenship and allowed to vote. In 1928, the Jurisdiction Act gave them the right to sue the U.S. From then until the present time, Indians have been trying to obtain redress for the wrongs done to them and the loss of their lands. In 1951, a land claim was filed for three California Indian groups against their wishes, and payment was distributed in December 1972, based on the 1853 land price of 47¢ per acre! The Mooretown Rancheria was terminated in 1958, effective August 1961.
Tillie Hardwick Reorganization
In October 1979, a Pomo woman, Tillie Hardwick, and six named plaintiffs filed a class action suit on behalf of 34 illegally terminated rancherias, including Mooretown. On December 22, 1983, Mooretown and 16 others were reinstated and restored to Federal status.
In 1987, the U.S. government again was attempting to solve its budgetary problems by reducing services to Indians. Certain types of services would be given only to members of a federally-recognized tribe. In August, a general meeting of Mooretown descendants was held and the decision to reorganize was unanimous. A new Tribal Roll was started and a Tribal Council election was scheduled for October. A Tribal Constitution was adopted in November. Grants were sought and with the awards the Tribal office opened in June 1988.
11 Years of Progress
Many beneficial programs were instituted in the ensuing years, but critical needs existed to establish a new land base for housing and to qualify for better programs. An exhaustive search for suitable land finally ended in late 1989. On February 6, 1990, the Tribe signed a contract to purchase 203 acres of land in the Mesilla Valley, adjacent to the historic Pence Ranch an area notorious as the gathering point for the “Maidu Trail of Tears” of 1853. HUD approved the building of 50 houses, and funds were allocated for the first 20 in 1991.
However, the land posed several environmental problems that would have taken too much time and money to correct. The land search was renewed and a suitable parcel of almost 35 acres just south of Oroville was purchased in January 1992.
It was hoped that this milestone would give Tribal members a renewed sense of community and, with time, an appreciation for their cultural identity. Fifty houses have been built along with a spacious Community Center, which houses Tribal offices, a library, day care center and an after school classroom, plus a large multi-purpose room and a commercial quality kitchen.
The Tribe’s financial future improved with the opening of the modular Feather Falls Casino in 1996. A two-story, 32,000 square foot permanent casino building was completed and the grand opening celebration was held on February 13, 1998. It was highlighted by a spectacular 15-foot waterfall as the center attraction near the entrance.
A major step in this direction was an award of seed money from the National Park Service to begin a tribal Mooretown Heritage Project. Over the course of the first year, in order to develop a Tribal Heritage Manual, hundreds of hours were spent and thousands of miles were traveled in order to locate and collect material specifically related to Mooretown and its members’ ancestors. All pertinent materials gathered were placed in the new Tribal Library.
Hundreds of photos of people, places and artifacts were located and with adequate time and money, duplicates can be obtained in the future. The Tribe is developing a Tribal Cultural Preservation Ordinance in order to determine how to best collect, preserve and protect its dwindling cultural resources. Cemetery vandalism is still a great concern. A Cultural Resource Committee has been established and is in the process of developing a plan to set priorities and obtain funding for the vast array of issues waiting to be addressed.
A survey of the Tribal members received a 98% response, and the vast majority expressed a desire to learn the Concow-Maidu language. Many linguists, scholars and interested individuals have spent literally years of their lives in order to record, transcribe and preserve the Concow language. The Tribe must persevere in its efforts to obtain funding for a Concow Language Program, thus making it possible for members to achieve this vital link to their heritage. A beginning effort was the Concow Language Preservation Conference held on November 15 & 16, 1997. As with all groups through history, people need to know their past in order to know how to deal with the present and plan the future.