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First Contact

The Nisenan of Pushune village may have had brief contact with Spanish soldiers when Gabriel Moraga and his men traveled through the Sacramento Valley in 1806. In any event, it is known that their first contact with Americans, which may well have been their first contact with any non-native people, occurred when fur trapper Jedediah Smith and his band of trappers suddenly galloped into their village on horseback in 1828. The Pushune villagers, according to Smith, were “wild” with fear. Their reaction to the intrusion made such an impression on him that he named the river next to their village the “Wild River” (now known as the American River) in his written account of the event. He also mentioned the “Buenaventura River” (now known as the Sacramento River).

His account, with sad details, now follows:

"March 1st 1828 I went in company with the trappers down to the confluence of Wild River and the Buenaventura which was about 2 Miles from camp. The Buenaventura still continued about 300 yards wide and came from the North maintaining the appearance of which I have before spoken. The Mountain on each side about 30 Miles distant. In going down Wild River we came suddenly on an indian lodge. Its inhabitants immediately fl[e]d. Some plunged into the river and some took a raft while some squaws ran down the bank of the stream.

"We galloped after them and overtook one who appered very much frightened and pacified her in the usual manner by making her some presents. I then went on to the place where I had seen one fall down. She was still laying there and apparently lifeless. She was 10 or 11 years old. I got down from my horse and found that she was in fact dead. Could it be possible, thought I, that we who called ourselves Christians were such frightful objects as to scare poor savages to death. But I had little time for meditation for it was necessary that I should provide for the wants of my party and endeavor to extricate myself from the ebarrassing situation in which I was placed. I therefore to convince the friends of the poor girl of my regret for what had been done covered her Body with a Blanket and left some trifles near by and in commemoration of the singular wildness of those indians and the novel occurrence that made it appear so forcibly I named the River on which it happened Wild River. To this River I had before that time applied a different name."


The main part of Pushune village of the Nisenan People at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River is now Discovery Park.