When people talk about the history of an area, they usually refer to the written and recorded history. There is, however, what is often called “pre-history,” before written records existed and, in our area, this involves thousands of years and a great many people that we call Indians. Even that term is pure accident, because Europeans did not know of the Americas and Columbus thought he’d reached the East Indies in Asia when he made landfall in the Caribbean over five hundred years ago.
The hunting-and-gathering native people of the Chino Hills area are generally referred to as “Gabrieleño” because of the Mission San Gabriel and its control over much of what is the greater Los Angeles region. Descendants of the natives use names like “Tongva” and “Kizh” and there is great controversy about native encounters with the Spanish and the mission and between these groups today. That’s why the term “native people” is used here.
The earliest written description of the local native people came from a Scottish emigrant, Hugo Reid, who settled in Los Angeles in the early 1830s. Not long after he married a native woman, whose baptismal name at San Gabriel was Bartolomea, but Reid called her Victoria, after the new queen of the British empire. Reid was enormously curious about the native people of the region and compiled a trove of documents that were published as “letters” in the first local newspaper, the Los Angeles Star, shortly after his death in 1852.
Reid provided the names for some two dozen villages in the area, including one on the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino that he listed as “Pasinogna.” Unfortunately, Reid did not pinpoint a specific location for the village, though it seems clear that the spot would have been close to water, for obvious reasons. This means that the most likely areas for Pasinogna (also spelled as “Pashiinonga”) would have been along Chino Creek, running roughly north to south along the edge of the Chino Hills or where that creek intersected with smaller tributaries coming out of the hills. One source suggests the village was on the present site of Los Serranos Country Club. They would have hunted animals and gathered food material in the hills and made and used trails through places like Carbon Canyon to the coastal plain for trade.
There is also no indication from Reid about the size and population of Pasinogna, but it must have been considerable related to other regional villages, because when the Spanish showed up in 1769 and established Mission San Gabriel two years later, one of the ranches created by the missionaries was Santa Ana del Chino (Saint Anne of the Fair Hair). Indian labor, as well as forced conversions to Roman Catholicism, were essential to the success of San Gabriel, and a rare reference to Pasinogna came from Reid.
In one his letters, titled “Conversion,” Reid discussed efforts by the missionaries at San Gabriel to forcibly coerce natives to become Catholics. He wrote, “on one occasion they went as far as the present Rancho del Chino, where they tied and whipped every man, woman and child in the lodge [village], and drove part of them back with them.” Upon arrival at San Gabriel, the men were deprived of their bows and arrows and children under eight baptized. Families were separated until the parents agreed, for the sake of keeping their families together, to be converted.
Yet, it was disease that decimated the native population, as well as violence and alcoholism, and the disaster continued through the Mexican and early American periods, as well. When the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino was made available for private ownership, after the missions were “secularized” (basically, closed as missions and converted to parish churches), Indians were used as labor under the ownership of Antonio María Lugo and his son-in-law, Isaac Williams, but their numbers dwindled dramatically by the end of the 1850s.
Much of the surviving native population intermarried, mostly with Latinos, and many of their descendants still live in the region. While the history of the native people is not written, it does exist, through stories passed down through families, written down by people like Reid and others who studies them, and through artifacts found in archaeological work. It is important to remember these first people, who occupied what is now Chino Hills for millenia.
(Paul Spitzzeri, a historian and author who lives in Chino Hills, maintains a blog on the history of Carbon Canyon called carboncanyonchronicle.blogspot.com.)