The Ohlone Indians settled on California’s central coast in 10,000 B.C.E. The local tribe, known as the Awaswas, was known to live throughout Santa Cruz County and spoke a variety of different languages. The Ohlones, also known as Costanoans, were very spiritual, and had several supernatural and mythological stories that they told. Unfortunately, the majority of the tales were lost over time, and only a few remain, such as the story of the Sycamore Grove Spider (written below), or the "Chuntana" (Bigfoot) legends. (For more Bigfoot stories, see the ‘Creature Feature’ page on this website.)
One of the oldest spooky legends of Santa Cruz was first told by a local Ohlone Indian tribe, who believed that the flat area from Highway 9 to the San Lorenzo River was cursed. The campfire story is that a giant supernatural spider inhabited the dark and uncanny grove, feeding off of humans, -humans with bad intentions. The people who hid darkness in their souls and passed by the area would get tangled in the mystical spider’s web and be trapped for all eternity. Some tribe members said they saw the enormous web, “jeweled by dew drops from the fog, deep in the woods.” Witnesses reported seeing stolen souls wander the area. This legend carried throughout history, and is still told by a few locals today, who say that spirits killed by the supernatural spider still haunt the Sycamore Grove.
Another legend, or more so - "tall tale", is that long ago, a tragic event took place near River Street and Mission, and the residual energy from the massacre still lingers. Rumor has it that the Ohlones were attacked by another tribe, and many lives were taken. A local Indian woman claimed that after the attack, bones covered the area so thoroughly that one couldn’t even walk without stepping on them. Since the battle, it has been observed that over 20 strange deaths have been accounted for in the area; some believe it has to do with the bad juju that occurred on the land.
Sacred Indian burial grounds are still being discovered around the county. The most well-known burial sites are found along Lee Road in Watsonville, Mission Park, and Beach Hill, in Santa Cruz; as well as the hill on Bay Avenue in Capitola. Depot Hill at the former “Lover’s Lane” in Capitola could also be a sacred burial ground, according to Santa Cruz historian Margaret Koch. In the 1960s, the skeletons of six Ohlone Indians were found buried along Depot Hill, as well as along the creek that runs through the Capitola Village. Indians have also been found along the San Lorenzo River, up the coast of Davenport, and even in backyards and beneath sidewalks around the county. Who knows … You might even have an Ohlone or two buried on your property.
Photo of Ohlone Indian remains that were found buried at an Aptos residence
Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 18, 1954
Indian remains that were found at a residence on Bay Avenue, Capitola
Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 16, 1949
In August of 2011, a company planned to build apartment buildings at the end of Market and Isabel Drive in Santa Cruz. While excavating the property, 6,000-year-old remains of a young boy and an adult were found. Still planning to build on the site, locals went on strike to try and preserve the historic land. “Haven’t they seen the movie Poltergeist?” A neighbor exclaimed. A local Native American stated, “My mother believed that when a burial site is disturbed, the spirit of the individual is wandering,” Santa Cruz Patch Article, September 19, 2011. Hearing the locals’ concerns and wishes, the company still proceeded with the project, but built a sacred site on the land called ‘The Knoll’, which contains the Indian remains that were found; although I and many others believe that the property shouldn’t have been touched in the first place.
Spirits of the Awaswas tribe have been heard and sighted throughout Santa Cruz County. Mission Santa Cruz has several of their souls lingering. Pogonip Park is also said to be inhabited by the spirits of Indians, and burdened by an old Ohlone curse. Ghosts of the Indians have been seen by commuters along scenic roads during the hours of darkness. On Highway 17, as well as on Lee Road in Watsonville, the spirit of an old Indian man has been sighted traveling on foot.
** For more information and hauntings of the Ohlone Indians, check out stories: Mission Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz-Part 2), The San Lorenzo River (Santa Cruz - Part 2), Pogonip (Santa Cruz - Part 2), Lompico Mountain (Felton), and Lee Road (Watsonville).