Rancheria: an amount of land set aside for small native American communities, specifically in California.
I drove to the Cortina Rancheria one day, just to see what was there. The Wintun Indians have lived in this community for over a hundred years, probably much longer. It is not easy to find, although a mapview will show that the rancheria is just over a range of hills from our B&B in Rumsey. I drove north on highway 16 to its junction with highway 20; then east until I came to a two-lane road winding between oak covered hills. Deep within the hills, and at the end of the road I found the community with its cluster of homes and a…roundhouse!
I was too nervous about disturbing residents to get out of my car, although I longed to discover when and if the roundhouse is still used for celebrations. I had read accounts of the Big Head Dance being performed at the Cortina Rancheria outside an earlier roundhouse in 1916. Anthropologists from the Hearst Museum were present to take photos. It was possibly the last Big Head Dance performed, certainly one of the last. The dance is named after the turkey feathers worn on the headdress of the male dancers. The feathers splay out in all directions. The dance is involved with mystery and magic, keeping evil spirits at bay. This blog entry isn’t really about the Big Head Dance, just the fact that the Cortina Rancheria is an important historical place for Wintun Indians.
A Wintun roundhouse where Big Head Dances were performed. This roundhouse was at a neighboring rancheria near Cortina, Grindstone Creek.
Big Head Dancers
Today I learned that the Cortina Rancheria is threatened by fire. The “Highway 16 fire” has bloomed out of control in the last few days. Reports say the beautiful Cache Creek Canyon, just above my home at Cache Creek Inn, is blackened and charred. The fire has spread over the hills toward the rancheria.
Today’s fire nearing the rancheria