A Chumash Monument for Ventura

by Richard Senate

We have few markers or monuments to recognize the many contributions of the Chumash people on Ventura.  I have been thinking that the city should mark important sites linked to our early residents. They need not be large, perhaps no more than a plaque to list the accomplishments of the Native People, in some places an appropriate work of art could be installed.  Some sites were so important that the Spanish Speaking people recognized them as well as the Yankees.

One such location is the site of the sacred “Wind Sycamore” or the “Aliso del Viento” located at Casitas Springs just North of Ventura. It was the site of a bent Tree, a tree deliberately bent into an arch on the trail to the Ojai Valley. Accounting to   reports from Candelaria Valenzuela and her son Jose Juan Olivas, the arch in the tree once hung a wooden image, a sort of puppet that could be manipulated to ask for services of the Gods of the Chumash pantheon.  Offerings were made in the form of shell beads and other items. These prayers were always whispered, and they say the tree became known as the “Whispering Tree.”  Here they also hung offering of banners made of feathers, colored cloth, ribbons and other ornaments.

Such pagan worship was discouraged by the Spanish Padres  when the small chapel of Santa Gertrudis was constructed not far away at Casitas Springs. New Legends sprang up with the coming of the Yankees that may well be a continuation of the rites of the Chumash. The Tree became known as “The Wishing Tree” where wishes could be asked–a sort of wishing well.  It was also said that when young lovers came and whispered their vows it could only mean “True Love.”  and the Tree acquired a new nickname, “The Kissing Tree.”  A kiss under its branches would ensure a happy marriage.  Maybe a plaque should be set up to mark this important shrine where modern lovers could whisper their vows and kiss? Another Chumash site could be marked at the Botanic Gardens over the city. Here at the very top of the Hill of the Cross, over the Mission, was once a shrine, with two tall poles, to mark the location, visible far out to sea.  These were to watch over Chumash in the Channel to focus upon and offer protection from the winds and offer protection to those fishing and traveling in the Channel between the mainland and the islands.

The Spanish removed the shrine and replaced it with a large pinewood cross.  That cross was blown down in a great storm in the 19th Century, and the present cross was restored in 1914 to serve as a site for Easter Sunrise services and it its not on the crest of the hill. That sacred site could be used to honor the Chumash people. There are other locations within the city that could be used to mark, sacred places to the Native People.

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