California Dark Watcher


Strange creatues in long black cloaks. Seemingly without purpose. They survey the crags and peaks of California’s Santa Lucia Moutains. The Dark Watchers look out to sea, often in strange attire, with broad brimmed hats, often with a staff or walking sticks.

Travelers are said to spot the watchers on some rocky prominence, but by the second glance they have always vanished. Tales of the Dark Watchers appear in many books, and are still gaining momemtum on the Internet.

We see the Dark Watchers all the time. They are always out at dusk and dawn. All you see is just a tall dark silhouette. They almost look like horses standing on their hind legs with the assistance of a walking stick. Its pretty creepy, and nobody has ever seen them close up. They disappear the moment you try to get closer.

We passed the San Luis Obispo reservoir, and as we drove on the road I saw something at a distance down at the end of the mountain. It was a really big human figure, but it wasn’t. It had a Black Cape kind of like the grim reaper and it was leaning over holding on to a staff. Up in an area where no human could climb I saw a black figure in plain daylight. I have never seen anything like it up in the mountain.

Named in 1602 by a Spanish cartographer, the Sierra de Santa Lucia is a coastal mountain range in central California, stretching from Monterey at the north all the way south to San Luis Obispo. The famous Hearst Castle is perched among its southern peaks. North of Ragged Point, the Santa Lucias are the coast, forming a wall of wave-dashed cliffs 100 kilometers long — known as Big Sur — to which the Pacific Coast Highway clings, in some places precariously.

First is a mention in John Steinbeck’s short story Flight. Second is Robinson Jeffers’ poem Such Counsels You Gave to Me, and third is a rather non-specific assertion are stories of the Dark Watchers that are passed alone by the Chumash native American tribe, which has lived along California’s central coast and among the Channel Islands for some 13,000 years.

The Chumash are a Native American people who historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California, in portions of what is now San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, extending from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south.

Mexico seized control of the missions in 1834. Tribespeople either fled into the interior, attempted farming for themselves and were driven off the land, or were enslaved by the new administrators. Many found highly exploitative work on large Mexican ranches.

After 1849 most Chumash land was lost due to theft by Americans and a declining population, due to the effects of violence and disease. The remaining Chumash began to lose their cohesive identity. In 1855, a small piece of land (120 acres) was set aside for just over 100 remaining Chumash Indians near Santa Ynez mission. This land ultimately became the only Chumash reservation, although Chumash individuals and families also continued to live throughout their former territory in southern California.

The most detailed and authoritative account of Chumash beliefs is by Thomas Blackburn, subsequently published as December’s Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives. Blackburn’s principal source was the massive archive, including 111 Chumash oral narratives, collected by American linguist and ethnologist John Peabody Harrington between 1912 and 1928.

Harrington’s body of unpublished research, most of it on California natives, takes up over 200 meters of shelf space at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives. Blackburn’s Ph.D was well earned, because he went through it all, and compiled virtually all we know of the Chumash beliefs.

The legends of the Chumash describe a creature called a nunašīš. Chumash believed the Earth, as we know it, is the Middle World, an island surrounded by ocean; and the sun and other celestial bodies occupy the Upper World; and below is a Lower World. Among the denizens of the Lower World are the nunašīš, monstrous and misshapen animals, who come up to the Middle World at night and spread illness, bad luck, and other negative things.

They can be shaped like men, but they’re neither dark nor cloaked nor known for standing sentinel-like on prominences and then vanishing. The Chumash also believed in shape-shifting animals and humans, basically the same “skinwalker” belief widely held by many Native American cultures.

Stories like these were the inspiration for my new book

NEXT: Devil Head




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