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McWay Falls, Big Sur

This waterfall is named after Christopher McWay who settled in the canyon in the late 1870’s. McWay however was not the first person, to have lived in this canyon. The first people to have lived in the Big Sur area were the Esselen, little is known of this group of Native Indians, they are one of the least know of the California Indian tribes and also one of the smallest with numbers estimated to be between 750 and 1300. What we do know of these people is that they occupied the center of what is now Big Sur, from Point Sur in the North to Big Creek in the south and inland into the Ventana Wilderness. They were hunters and gathers there is no evidence of agricultural. They moved throughout Big Sur by the season, in the fall they moved inland to the oak groves where they would harvest acorns, then in spring into to the meadows and flat lands which were rich in greens, and winter to the coast to harvest from the sea. The Spanish Mission period took a heavy toll on the Esselen, we are still not fully sure what drove the Big Sur natives to the mission, anthropologists have yet to determine whether they came to the missions peacefully and willing or if they were forced to convert. Prior to 1800 it was not the policy of the mission to force conversion but latter as Natives resisted some missions did in fact force them to convert. Once baptized life for a Big Sur native would be changed forever, the converts were forced to live on the mission they were made to pray two hours a day, they were forced to give up the old ways and learn the ways of Spanish, and they became blacksmiths, cowboys, and shepherds. A French explorer who visited the missions wrote that they were reminiscent of Caribbean slave colonies. The population of Indians in the mission grew until the late 1800’s when it is thought that there were no more unbaptized Natives in Big Sur. Around this same time diseases broke out in the missions, foreign diseases such as smallpox and measles decimated the Indians whom had no immunity. In 1902 anthropologist Alfred Kroeber attempted to study the Esselen, and upon not being able to find even a single Esselen, concluded that the Esselen Indians of Big Sur to be the first California Indian tribe to become virtually extinct. Other anthropologists believe that the few that did remain of any Esselen were integrated into the Spanish and Mexican cultures.

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