The San Francisco Bay Area used to be a very different place, and we’re not talking about the 60s. As recently as the 1700s, the only people there were Native Americans, living in small tribes and using shells as currency.
A map called “The Names Before The Names” shows the tribes, languages, and terrain in the area in 1769, the year of the first documented European visit to the Bay.
It’s one of many fascinating maps included in “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas” by (relatively) longtime Bay Area resident Rebecca Solnit. For this map, cartography was done by Ben Pease.
As Solnit describes it in the book, the old Bay Area sounds pretty nice: “It was the homeland of highly localised people who knew their terrain intimately and invested it with names, stories, memories, and associations that made the place incredibly rich in ways beyond the biotic richness that also existed then, when the Bay Area teemed with salmon, with antelope, with shellfish, with huge flocks of migratory birds that would later be decimated.”
As for the perhaps surprising number of tribes who lived there, she writes: “Unlike in the rest of the United States, where large groups of individuals operating as tribes or bands led by chiefs or heads were the norm, in California, small communities numbering from as few as fifty to as many as four hundred possessed regional identities, living together and managing a defined area.”
The population of the area back then was about 17,000. Today it’s almost seven million. And, of course, everything looks a lot different.