An oil painting sponsored in 1934 by the WPA depicts John Marsh examining his wheat crop as Volvon Indians work his land. The site around the Stone House has been used by humans since before the construction of the Egyptian Pyramids. (Photo courtesy of ECCHS)
The Volvon and John Marsh
In the 1820’s Mount Diablo was called by the Spanish Padres Sierra de los Bolgones, apparently because the Volvons held sway in its eastern canyons. They were a hill people who seem to have ranged in the upper reaches of what became known as Marsh Creek.
The natural resources of this terrain suggest to scholars that the Volvons may have migrated up and down the drainages throughout the season, building a series of temporary villages. Their proximity to the pass between the Livermore Valley and the San Joaquin Valley may have provided them a strategic trading location.
Native life changed radically with the coming of the Spanish missions to the Bay Area. The mission at San Francisco was formed in 1775 and the mission in the San José area was founded in 1797. Between 1804 and 1806 a third of the Volvon people went to Mission San Francisco and Mission San José. Many Volvon escaped the missions and lived elsewhere and carried on their traditions.
Tragically, over half the Volvon at Mission San José died just one year later in a measles epidemic. The surviving adults intermarried with other neighboring tribes at the mission. Only 13 Volvon children were born at the mission between 1806 and 1840.
Within two years of his arrival in California, John Marsh had purchased Rancho los Meganos, a substantial Mexican land grant at the base of Mt. Diablo for $500.
When Marsh came to live on the rancho in the spring of 1838, he found a village of about 30 native Volvon people there.
Marsh Adobe Home
John Marsh’s Volvon neighbors built his four-room adobe near their village. He was still living in the adobe when he met and married Abigail Smith Tuck in 1851.
The Volvon labored on Rancho los Meganos, and Marsh provided medical care, food if needed, and some protection from other whites.
A letter from Abby Marsh to her parents in 1853 talked about how the Indian women adored and helped care for her baby, Alice, and provided her companionship, and she lamented when they had moved away.