Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Frog Woman Rock’s History and Tribal Significance Is Commemorated with New Historical Plaque

The unveiling of a new plaque commemorating Frog Woman Rock [Pictures by Sarah Reith]

Leaders from the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians and CalTrans unveiled a new plaque with the ancient name for Frog Woman Rock, just off of Highway 101 south of Hopland on Friday morning. The site is sacred to the original people of the region, but in the last two hundred years, settlers gave it names that were offensive for a variety of reasons. Sonny Elliott, the Chairman of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, spoke about the importance of the sacred rock’s history before the unveiling.

“There’s a level of respect that comes with these things,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get people to understand that part of it…all these places already had names. They were already called something, throughout history. When the names were given in the last fifty or a hundred, seventy-five years, it’s just a small part of time. Our connection with this place goes thousands and thousands of years back…that name has always been Frog Woman Rock, it’s always been that here, and we want to honor that and make sure that people know that history. The tribes have been here. The tribes aren’t going anywhere.” He added that the tribe is working to create relationships and share some of its history with the wider community as well as CalTrans and the state.

The history of Frog Woman Rock could have been lost, if it weren’t for the late elder Frances Jack, one of the last fluent speakers of Central Pomo and a key figure in restoring traditional practices. Ethnographer and oral historian Vicki Patterson recalled a conversation she had with Jack in the 1980s. Patterson was recording Jack telling the story of Frog Woman and Fox Boy in English and Central Pomo. When she was done, Jack said, “You know, there’s another Frog Woman. I said, oh, really? She said, you know that rock down there? That’s Frog Woman. Frog Woman lives there.” Later, when Patterson was going through some notes by early ethnographer John Hudson at the Grace Hudson Museum, she found the same name for the site in Northern Pomo. “Then I realized, that’s the name. That’s Frog Woman Rock. So anyway, the name is Kawao, which means frog, in Central Pomo, Maatha, which means woman, quabe, rock.”

The new plaque

Patterson was one of the people who successfully petitioned the State of California to change the name back to Frog Woman Rock from a common offensive slur, which it did, in 2011. In 2021, CalTrans and the tribe were in archaeological consultations about repairing a slide across Highway 101 from Frog Woman Rock. Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramon Billy, who wrote the inscription on the plaque, says Frog Woman is a protector, but she can also be a destroyer. The rock is widely revered. 

“Other tribes have visited here, because it’s a sacred site for all our people,” he said, noting that another name incorporates that of an ancient village to the south. As for appropriate behavior around the site, he said, “Just be respectful. Watch your children, because this is a sacred site. Power is unpredictable. You have to be cautious. And I say with children, because there have been a lot of issues in the past —  the distant past, that we as Natives, we know about. But we try not to scare the people who come out here. All in all, if you have a respectful heart and  a respectful demeanor and intentions, then it’ll work out for you. I hate to say it like that, because it sounds so gloom and doom, but in reality, everything is perilous if you don’t respect it.”

Sonny Elliott (left), Chairman of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, and Ramon Billy, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians

Kirsten Johnson wrote her dissertation on Frog Woman Rock, which was also known briefly as Lovers Leap. The replacement story, about the woman who threw herself from the rock, was a colonial standard. Johnson said she’s done “extensive folkloric study of the phenomenon of the Lovers Leap as a type of Vanishing Indian myth that was attributed to many rocky outcroppings and cliffs throughout the Americas, Canada, and even Australia…the origin, actually, traces back to another story about a Greek poetess, Sappho, who also didn’t throw herself off of a cliff for unrequited love.”

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Sometimes in the original versions of the Mediterranean stories, the women became goddesses after they leaped off of cliffs. But in the 1800’s, things took a different turn. Johnson noted that, “The myth changed over time, and ended up being used, in the conquest and the genocide of American Indians, as that image of the Disappearing Indian, as if nothing else happened.”

Billy agreed that the dedication of the plaque, with the original name and figures, is the culmination of a huge amount of history. “We’re pleased that it did occur,” he reflected. “We’re saddened that it occurred this late in the game. But nonetheless, it’s here, and we honor it. It’s in the honoring of our elders, our spiritual being, and the living people that are here. And for the future of our tribe, and our community, Mendocino and beyond. Other people are going to see this when they drive by. They’re going to want to take pictures, want to read it. And we’re hoping that it allows them to get a glimpse of who we are, and how we feel about life and the way we believe. So there it is. Thank you.”

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  1. I so appreciate reading the history of Frog Woman Rock, and learning about the plaque. I would also like to know the story of Frog Woman. Who was she? Why was this rock named for her?

      • Penny, not asking native people about their history is a thing white people picked up from the woke internet. In fact everyone in this comment thread seems white. Lynda, frog woman is the rock herself. The land slides into her from the east (man) and she devours him (takes that never ending landslide with her orgasmic river current and swallows it back(the river disperses the sediment all long the fertile river valley and into the ocean). Have respect when crossing that landslide, because frog woman is watching. Or in the case of consumer culture build a freeway right across it so no one even notices the significance at all. White need to get interested and not in a “ooh what a cool legend” type of way. This is animistic science and should be regarded as knowledge. Western globalized industrial consumer culture should get on its knees and humbly ask the remaining first nation’s knowledge carriers for forgiveness, beg to be taught before its too late.

        • Imagine it was called ‘N word rock’
          Now take that ick factor and transfer it to the word ‘Squaw’.. you should feel gross saying both things.
          “Squaw” has been used to de-individualize and dehumanize native woman from all the vast and different indigenous nations across the US. It’s a lumping and dumping of native women, and we wonder why native women go missing and murdered.
          Sun Valley ski resort long ago changed their name, we can too cause otherwise we just sound like jerks who don’t give a fuck.

  2. I can’t believe global industrial culture just blasted a hole straight through a religious site that specifically called for avoidance- in the name of trains. Barf.

      • Really? Because it seems like calling it s-word rock was an even smaller blip, that the land eating rock’s geological and animalistic science history continues despite being trivialized by industrial culture.

            • You mean the group of “people” responsible for 60 percent of violent crime in our county? sure, no problem.

              • That is an interesting statistic. Can you site your reference where you got this number. The more recent the better.

                • Exactly what I was thinking, accusing a minority (census records can back this up, Native Americans only make up about 4% of our county’s population) of being the perpetrator of over half of our violent crime is a pretty asinine statement.

                • “A suspect was identified in nearly all (98.9%) IPV-related AI/AN homicides (Table 5). The age, sex, and race/ethnicity of the suspect were known in 80.6%, 98.9%, and 83.2% of cases, respectively. One fourth (25.5%) of suspects were aged 25–34 years. Most (95.7%) IPV-related homicides of AI/AN females were perpetrated by male suspects compared with 57.6% of IPV-related homicides of AI/AN males. More than one third (35.4%) of suspects were AI/AN, 47.9% were non-AI/AN, and the race/ethnicity of the remaining 16.8% was unknown. Almost two thirds (65.0%) of non-AI/AN suspects were non-Hispanic White, 16.7% were non-Hispanic Black, 12.8% were Hispanic (any race except AI/AN), and 5.6% were non-Hispanic Asian or NHOPI. The victim’s relationship to the suspect for a higher proportion of AI/AN female victims than male victims was a current intimate partner (72.0% versus 37.6%), former intimate partner (10.0% versus 4.2%), or intimate partner but the status of the relationship was unclear (i.e., unknown whether a current or former intimate partner; 5.2% versus 1.2%), whereas a higher proportion of AI/AN male victims than female victims were corollary victims of IPV-related homicide (51.5% versus 10.9%). In particular, a higher percentage of suspects for AI/AN male victims than female victims were an acquaintance or friend (21.8% versus 3.3%), a person known to the victim but the exact nature of the relationship was unclear (11.5% versus 3.3%), or other nonintimate partner (18.2% versus 4.3%).”

                  Hmmm, As a percentage of the population the rate is even higher. So yeah, move to Covolo and see how safe you feel.

  3. i recall a good paddle (whitewater at a trickle of 160 cfs) years ago under squaw rock. i looked up and felt the pain she must have experienced jumping off the cliff. looks like you all want to rename her. go figure. you all want to rewrite all of history. guess you are doomed to repeat it.

  4. Sometime around 1995 I was swimming there with a few friends and we decided to walk through the train tunnel to the other side. Talk about freaky. The tunnel curves and when you get half way through it’s pitch black because you can’t see either end of the tunnel. There was water pouring from the ceiling and in the middle there was a dead deer on the tracks and it smelled like death. Once we got out the other side, two minutes later a train went through. We would’ve probably been killed had we been inside the tunnel still. Stupid things I did when I was young. Don’t know how I survived to adulthood.

  5. Thank you for this article. Every time I drive by this rock I feel it, my boyfriend too! It’s so powerful, and special to us. I had to look it up, and just found this article today! I’m glad a plaque went up to commemorate it. The blasting through it for a train is such a shame, and same for a freeway, but I am so happy I get to pass it on my way up. We stopped and gave our respect when we both realized we love it this trip up north. Thank you.

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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