Many of us may think of the forest as a place to reflect upon times long past. There may even be a bit of nostalgia in those ruminations. Yet for members of the Round Valley Tribes, a recent walk through the Mendocino National Forest in California was more than a time to contemplate—it was a time to remember an agonizing event in history.
This autumn marked the 150th anniversary of the Nome Cult Walk, a forced relocation of 461 Native Americans from Chico, Calif., to the Nome Cult Reservation, near Covelo, Calif. Only 277 of those completed the forced march that passed through what is the heart of today’s Mendocino National Forest. Those who did not complete the journey were too sick to go on, some escaped, and others were killed.
The Nome Cult Walk was one of several military-enforced relocations of Native Americans throughout California in the mid-1800s. During those moves, Native Americans were not only taken from their tribal lands, but were also forced to live with many different tribes. Sometimes those people forced to live together had been longtime rivals. One result of the Nome Cult Walk relocation was the creation of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. This federally recognized tribe exists today and includes the Yuki, Wailacki, Concow, Little Lake Pomo, Nomlacki, Pit River, Maidu and Nissinan tribes.
Nearly two decades ago, descendants of the Nome Cult Walk began an annual commemoration of the 1863 forced relocation of their ancestors. September 2013 marked the 18th year that members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes retraced the original 100-mile route across the Sacramento Valley through the rugged North Coast Ranges. Three generations of Native Americans partook in this year’s tribute.
“It is important that our youngest members take part in this annual event,” said Kenneth Wright, president of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. “The theme of the walk is ‘Honor Their Memory–A Path Not Forgotten.’”
Not all of the participants hiked — some offered moral support, made camp, or cooked meals for the walkers. At the culmination of the weeklong event, the entire group descended into Covelo for various celebrations sponsored by the Round Valley Indian Tribes. The closing celebrations served as a meaningful way to end the week of remembrance.
“While the Nome Cult Trail is a tragic chapter in our state’s history, it is also a story about the resilience and strength of California Indians,” said Mendocino Forest Supervisor Sherry Tune. “It is an important legacy for their decedents and for all Californians.”
November is Native American Heritage Month and the theme is “Guiding our destiny with heritage and tradition. The Mendocino National Forest encompasses over 913,000 acres of rugged landscape in northwestern California, and is a three-hour drive north from San Francisco. It is the only one of California’s 18 national forests not crossed by a paved road or highway.