Volvon Mystery – Livermore

We have always found interesting the lack of knowledge and information about the Volvon tribe, possibly the most important pre-historic group in native California.

Here is the prominently displayed map of native populations at the Sacramento Indian Museum. Note the big black space around Mount Diablo and the dearth of settlements around San Francisco Bay.

Here is Sherburne Cook’s famous map, with nothing showing around Mount Diablo and Marsh Creek.

When the first Spanish and Missionary expeditions entered this region the Indian scouts refused to lead the soldiers onto Mount Diablo due to the powerful spirits that resided there.

Here is our GoogleEarth map of Volvon Territory.

If you download our map this is the text Bob prepared regarding the Volvon tribe.


The Volvon were one of the Bay Miwok tribelets living in Contra Costa County at the time of European contact. They were a hill people based in the rugged Black Hills southeast of Mt. Diablo. The mountain itself was in Volvon hands. It had been the home of the supernatural First People, who created Indians and their world, and was a spiritual focus for nearly every tribe that could see it. Shamen and religious leaders went to the mountain to pray. Everyday people would visit its slopes for intertribal festivals. This meant the Volvon must have been a prosperous people. One did not just sashay into Volvon territory without bearing tribute for the privilege. Imagine the trade goods the Volvons acquired this way. They were regular participants in regional trade festivals hosted by their Ohlone neighbors, the Ssaoams, at the Brushy Peak trading grounds not far from the Altamont Pass. The Volvons’ preeminent position at the crossroads of Central California no doubt made them a sophisticated and cosmopolitan people. 

That Volvons were active traders does not mean their territory was short on natural resources. The name ‘Volvon’ itself roughly translates as “natural springs,” which befits a triblet based in the Black Hills where the headwaters of a number of perennial creeks rise. The highland heart of Volvon territory today is rich in oak, pine, and manzanita. Mount Diablo is home to a number of endemic plant species–rare resources controlled by Volvons. Open rangelands, now mostly overrun with nonnative grasses, must once have been covered with food-bearing plants. Deer, elk, and antelope were no doubt abundant in the lighly settled ridges and valleys on the eastern side of the territory. 

Volvon territory gives every appearance of once having supported a substantial population. We have discovered 81 bedrock mortar sites, and over 2,100 bedrock mortars. Each site carries its own sense of place and is an individual window into the past. As you walk the paths that connect these sites and build up a richer mental map and sense of the landscape, you may acquire a feeling for the possibilities of life in Volvon territory in the not so distant past. 

There are magical and metaphysical powers associated with Mt. Diablo and the Black Hills. Go there now and experience its effect on your perspective. Steep yourself in prehistory. The Spanish extirpated the Volvons from their homeland 200 years ago, but physically, their territory remains virtually intact today. The land still has a life of its own.

for more info:

Other Bay Area tribal descriptions can be found on the sidebar.

Here is our thinking regarding the potential Volvon National Park.

and Tom Stienstra’s article in The Chronicle on the subject