Big Sur’s Esselen Tribe Stands at the Forefront of a Movement

Monterey County Weekly
PUBLISHED JUL 19, 2022 12:00 A.M.

  By Daniel Dreifuss

By Sara Rubin

From the top of Bixby Mountain, nearly 3,000 feet tall, the landscape of Big Sur unfolds like corduroy. Deep redwood-lined canyons are carved into the earth in every direction, and to the west is the expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

This peak was named for Charles Bixby, who arrived here in 1875. And according to a real estate listing a few years ago, this place was “originally settled” by Bixby. In the timeline of that story of this land, it was Bixby – who developed a successful mill and a landing to ship lumber at the mouth of the canyon below – who got here first. A Swedish man named Axel Adler bought the land known as Rancho Aguila starting in 1950, and it became known as Adler Ranch.

But there is an entirely different timeline if you use a different starting point. It wasn’t Western settlers who settled this mountaintop first. It was Indigenous people, thousands of years prior. By the time Charles Bixby was born in 1836, Spanish missionaries had systematically destroyed Indigenous communities. A generation later, in 1902, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber visited Central California. “The Costanoan group,” Kroeber wrote in 1925, referring to Indigenous communities using the Spanish term, “is extinct so far as all practical purposes are concerned.”

But the people who lived here more than 8,000 years ago are not extinct. And today, they call this land their own.

Read ‘The Esselen Tribe, formerly landless, was once declared extinct. Now they’re a Big Sur property owner at the forefront of a movement’ on the Monterey County Weekly.

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