Me-Wuk people or their ancestors have inhabited the Sierra foothills for several thousand years. Proof of their encampments is found in bed rock mortars, grinding stones, and otherartifacts discovered in the area.
Prior to the Gold Rush, the Me-Wuk lived in balance with nature which supplied all their needs. Plentiful game, fish, grasses, and minimal snow made the area ideal for establishing camps. An abundance of Oak trees provided acorns, the year-round staple of their diet. They traded acorns and baskets with other tribal groups to provide for some of their other needs such as shells, salt, pine nuts, and obsidian.
The Me-Wuk way of life changed rapidly and forever with arrival of miners who infringed upon their lands. Many of their harvesting grounds for bulbs, seed grasses and berries were stripped bare by gold-seekers or trampled by grazing. Rivers, their source of fish and hygiene, were polluted by mining practices. The Oaks that were their year-round staple food were cleared. They died from introduced diseases to which they had no immunity. The Sierra Me-Wuk population was drastically reduced from 10,000, prior to outside contact, to less than 700 in 1910.
Me-Wuk camps were scattered all around the Big Oak Flat-Groveland area. Pigliku, also called Big Creek Rancheria because of its location, was one of the larger Me-Wuk sites. Pictures of Pigilku's ceremonial Roundhouse are found in early printed archeological studies. In the band's final years at this site their chief was Nomasu, also called Chief Louie. His daughter Sophia followed him as leader briefly.
With their land usurped, resources defiled, and numbers reduced to less than 20 at Big Creek in 1917, the few remaining Me-Wuk left the area. Some went to the federally designated land, the Tuolumne Rancheria near Tuolumne City. In 1970 their Big Creek Rancheria location was inundated by the dammed waters of Big Creek which now form Pine Mountain Lake
Sophia Thompson, Me-Wuk Leader
(Photo, UC Berkeley)