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Mescaltitlan Island
updated: Jan 04, 2014, 1:00 PM

By Tom Modugno

Every time you drive to Campus Point, you probably don't even notice this obscure little hill. But before World War II, this lump of dirt was a sizable island and in ancient times it had a huge, thriving Chumash village on it.

The purple line shows the area that was once the Goleta Slough and the "B" denotes the island. Stay on Fairview Avenue past the airport and you go right through the center of what was once Mescaltitlan Island.

The first Europeans to see the island were on the Cabrillo Expedition that came through in 1542. The slough was a large bay and thousands of natives were living on the bluffs of the bay and on the 64 acre island, then known as He'lo. Probably the largest single settlement on the California coast.

In 1769, the Portola expedition passed through Goleta and the soldiers were impressed by the island in the middle of the lagoon. They named is Mescaltitlan, after a similar island in their home province of Nayarit, Mexico. Portola also brought with him two Catholic priests who would attempt to map and name portions of the coast for eventual settlement. One of the priests, Juan Crespi, recorded in his journal that they came upon a large estuary that was, "bordered on the north by a good piece of land of moderate extent, entirely isolated. On that island, which is very green and covered with trees, we saw a large town."

The drawing above was made by a sailor named Pantoja, on the Martinez expedition in 1782. Their goal was to choose a site for a presidio, but due to the presence of thousands of Chumash, they decided this was not an ideal location.

On Mescaltitlan Isnald there were actually two large villages. The island was covered in oak trees that produced a multitude of acorns, a staple in the Chumash diet. A wide variety of seafood was readily available and the nearby canyons were full of small game. Additionally, the island was secure from attack by enemies. Father Crespi wrote, "On that island, which is very green and covered with trees, we saw a large town, in which were counted more than a hundred houses."

Read the full article at www.GoletaHistory.com


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