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Santa Barbara - History

Santa Barbara History

For more than 12,000 years before European settlement the Santa Barbara area was inhabited by the Chumash tribe of native American Indians. The Chumash lived in hundreds of villages along the coast and in the Santa Ynez Mountains, mostly in round thatched tepees of up to 35ft (10.5m) in diameter, called an ap. Each village also had at least one sweathouse or apa yik, a playground, and a place marked out for ceremonial dance and ritual. The Chumash were particularly skilled at weaving and basketry. They fished, hunted and traded baskets for food with other tribes, setting out to sea in large redwood plank canoes, or tomol. There is a melancholy story of an elderly Chumash man building one last tomol for curious anthropologists in 1913.

In 1602, the Spanish cartographer Sebastian VizcaĆ­no, in command of several frigates, mapped parts of the lower Californian coast, searching for a way through to the Atlantic and new trading routes for the Spanish Empire. Landing in a harbour after a severe storm, VizcaĆ­no named it after the saint he and his men had prayed to, the saint who had interceded to save their lives. They were saved on December 4; the Feast Day of St Barbara.

The Spanish did not settle the area until 1782, when a group of soldiers led by Governor Felipe de Neve crossed overland from Mexico and built a military fort or presidio, which still stands in downtown Santa Barbara. The Mission Santa Barbara was founded four years later. What followed, during the so-called 'Golden Years' of the California missions, was the forced conversion of the Chumash people, who were housed around the Mission and taught to wear European clothes and adopt European customs. Concentrated in the mission towns, many Chumash were killed by European diseases.

In 1822, Spain lost its Californian possessions to Mexico, who in turn lost them to the United States in 1848. Gold was found in California the next year, and silver in 1860. Through all this, Santa Barbara stayed a tiny frontier station - until the 1880s, when wealthy Americans from the East Coast began to holiday on the sunny Santa Barbara beaches.

Rapidly the town began to turn into what it is today: a resort city favoured by business people and celebrities. Filmmakers operated out of Santa Barbara even before they settled in Hollywood; from 1910 to 1920 the American Film Company, based at the corner of Mission and State Sts, made hundreds of films in the area, most of them Westerns.

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