Little Bear, a Rush Ranch volunteer, shows children his collection of Patwin Indian hunting tools and artifacts.
Hundreds of years ago, long before the Spanish arrived in California in the early 1800s, the north-central portion of this state, including all of Solano County, was home to the Patwin Indians. The Suisunes tribe, who were also called “The People of the West Wind” resided in what is now Fairfield, and historians estimate they lived in this region for well over a thousand years.
Today, evidence of the Patwin villages can still be found throughout the region, especially in Suisun, where visitors can step back in time while visiting Rush Ranch. There are several displays filled with historical information and artifacts and a tule grass hut identical to one used by the Patwin’s can be found on the marsh trail. On ‘Get the Rush’ days on the third Saturday of every month, guests are welcome to visit with Little Bear and his collection of hunting tools and artifacts. It’s a great history lesson for all guests, but especially children in third grade, who learn about Native American history in their classrooms. Rush Ranch hosts weekly field trips, led by volunteer docents, that brings in schools from Solano County and beyond.
“The entire program is on the Patwin Indians,” said volunteer docent John Takeuchi. “Patwin was not one of the larger tribes but they had a great territory right here. This was a natural trading and meeting area for other tribes. It was a nice territory for them, with lots of plants and lots of critters.”
Before European settlement, Patwin Native Americans resided in Solano County for thousands of years. Some historians estimate it to be as long as 4,000 years, although no historical documentation of that time exists. The Suisunes likely hunted tule elk, grizzly bears and waterfowl, fished in the Suisun slough, and gathered plants for food and medicine. It is estimated that there were about 2,300 Patwins living in the area of Solano County in 1800, but the population soon plummeted to zero due to disease, forced moves to Spanish Missions and battles with Europeans. By 1823, there were no observed Native Americans left in the area, only abandoned and destroyed village sites.
Rising out of the northeast edge of the Suisun Marsh, Rush Ranch, part of the Solano Land Trust, stretches across 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland. Within the property’s boundaries is one of the best remaining examples of a brackish tidal marsh habitat in the United States. Once a continuous tidal marsh habitat, the greater Suisun Marsh is now a vast complex of wetlands owned privately by local duck clubs. Only about 10 square miles of the historic tidal marsh remains, one-tenth of which occurs at Rush Ranch. In addition to its ongoing activities like ‘Get the Rush’, Rush Ranch also features a visitor center, a working blacksmith shop, an old farm equipment “graveyard” and a native plant garden.
All visitors are welcome to enjoy walks on the three main trails at the ranch. The marsh trail, only a quarter mile long, takes visitors to the tule hut. While walking around, keep your eyes open for giant rocks that have grindings on them that have been traced back to the Patwin Indians. And just as the Patwins once did, fishing continues to be a common practice on the marsh trail. “Fisherman have discovered it’s a good fishing place,” Takeuchi said. “So few locals are even aware of this place. Often, when they first come out, they are just amazed.” To learn more about Rush Ranch, visit www.solanolandtrust.org.