8.8.6 Portrait of Maria Antonia Ynitia Knox and Maxima Antonia Ynitia
Photograph of Maria Antonia Ynitia Knox (on the left) and Maxima Antonia Ynitia (on the right). Maria has her hand on Maxima's shoulder. Photograph also available at the Sonoma County Library.
These sisters, Maria Antonia Ynitia and Maxima Antonia Ynitia, were the daughters of Camillo Ynitia, the leader of the Olompali tribe. They grew up on their father’s ranch, which was awarded to him by the Mexican government in 1843. The cattle and wheat ranch was situated near the Petaluma River, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Ynitia traded his goods in San Francisco and along the northern coast. The Ynitia family was unusual for its ability to secure a stable living and working environment during an era of tremendous change and loss for California’s Native peoples. Maria Antonia and Maxima Antonia Ynitia married American men after California statehood. What can we learn from this photograph that gives us some idea of how the Ynitia sisters adapted to Mexican and then US rule over California?
The Native population of California plummeted as a result of the Gold Rush and in the years following California’s entry into the United States. There were an estimated 150,000 Indians remaining in California when the Gold Rush began (which was approximately a 50 percent loss of population from the beginning of contact with Europeans); by 1900 estimates placed the total indigenous population at only around 16,000. Some of this population drop was due to disease and displacement, and Native Californians also suffered from violence and murder at the hands of newly arrived Americans and the US military. For those who did survive, their options were limited by a loss of land and changed environments, as well as by the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, which gave settlers legal rights to the labor of an Indian convicted of a crime. A crime could simply mean that the person was without a job and a “vagrant.” At this time it was difficult to find laborers, as the Gold Rush drew so many able-bodied people to the gold fields and away from ranches and farms.