Collections Spotlight: Essie Parrish

November 22, 2021

Eric Stanley, Associate Director and History Curator

Essie Parrish was the spiritual leader of Sonoma County’s Kashaya Pomo who preserved the language and culture of her people. She raised 13 children, managed an apple cannery, was an accomplished basket weaver and, for many decades, provided spiritual focus for her people.


Essie Parrish in front of the Kashaya Roundhouse, 1963


Parrish- her Kashaya name was Pewoya- was born in 1902, on a ranch north of Fort Ross, seven miles inland. Many Native Americans made their home on the ranch and worked as farm laborers until 1920, when the federal government bought 42 acres on Skaggs Springs Road to establish the Kashaya Reservation.

Throughout her life, Parrish used her power to unify her people. She was the acknowledged center of the community, recognized as the last of four promised leaders sent to guide the Kashaya. After marrying Sidney Parrish, a Point Arena Pomo, she lived in Graton and Windsor, but always considered the Kashaya Reservation her home.

It became her mission to educate the Kashaya children in their language, culture, and laws. She compiled a Kashaya Pomo dictionary, working with Robert Oswalt, a Berkeley scholar in the field of Native American linguistics.


Essie Parrish (foreground) and Mabel McKay doing a weaving demonstration at the 1967 Valley of the Moon Festival

During World War II, the reservation emptied as families moved to the valleys for work in the orchards and hop fields. Essie and Sidney Parrish and their family moved to Sebastopol to the Barlow apple ranch, returning to the Stewart’s Point Rancheria each weekend, as gas rationing allowed.

After the war, Parrish broke precedent by opening the tribe’s ceremonial roundhouse to outsiders for the annual White Deer Dance and Strawberry Festival, bringing hundreds of visitors. She was there to greet Robert Kennedy when he came in 1968 on a fact-finding trip. Essie escorted him to the roundhouse and made him a gift of one of her baskets.

Parrish died in 1979 and is buried at the reservation- where the ceremonial roundhouse was locked upon her death, awaiting another “dreamer” to take her place.


Three baskets made by Essie Parrish.


The Museum of Sonoma County maintains a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, including several of Essie Parish's baskets. Her work was recently featured in the exhibition "From Suffrage to #MeToo: Groundbreaking Women in Sonoma County." 

More About MSC's Collection:

Museum of Sonoma County
475 Seventh Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 579-1500

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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.