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VALLEY FOCUS | Angeles Forest

Preserve Reveals Clues to the Past

October 02, 1998|HOLLY EDWARDS

For archeologist Michael McIntyre, artifacts exhumed from Angeles National Forest are more than evidence of prior inhabitants, they reflect the changing significance of the forest in people's lives.

"I feel like a bank teller managing the deposits at archeological sites for future generations to understand how previous generations viewed the forest," he said. "You just can't understand how they viewed the forest with a 20th century mind."

Today, the forest is a recreational mecca, a retreat from city congestion, and the most heavily used national preserve in the country, McIntyre said.

But to Native Americans, it was a source of food, clothing and medicine; for Spanish, Mexican and Anglo settlers who began to arrive in the 1700s, the forest had primarily an economic significance, said author John Robinson, who has written a history of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Gold miners of the mid-1800s viewed the forest as their path to great riches, he said. "The gold miners always thought they were on the verge of striking it rich, but nobody ever made a fortune mining at Angeles Forest," Robinson said.

During his 17 years as a forest archeologist, McIntyre has found a variety of items used by Native Americans, mostly during fall and spring harvests. But because many of the bowls, pestles and other tools are made of stone, he said it is impossible to precisely gauge their age.

"The stones could be millions of years old, but we don't know at what point they became bowls," he said.

When Spanish missionaries arrived in 1769, Robinson said, the population of Native Americans in the forest began to decline sharply. Many were forced to join the San Gabriel Mission where they tended crops and livestock, he said. Others fell victim to diseases brought by the Spaniards, including measles, smallpox and venereal diseases.

Construction of resort camps, railways, observatories and hotels in the late 19th century marked the beginning of recreational use of the forest, Robinson said. Angeles became the first national forest in the state in 1892.

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