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Sonoma County’s largest freshwater lake, sacred site was drained by a farmer with dynamite

Susan Minichiello, PRESS DEMOCRAT

One thing you won’t see at Tolay Lake Regional Park: a giant lake.

It was once Sonoma County’s largest freshwater lake, according to Sonoma County Regional Parks. But Tolay Lake was drained by a 19th-century German immigrant farmer using dynamite, and with his action a sacred gathering place for Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo tribes for thousands of years washed away.

Thousands of charmstones were found at Tolay Lake after it drained, and many are more than 4,000 years old, according to a 2017 Bay Nature magazine article by Greg Sarris, chair of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

Charmstones were usually flat, rectangle or oval-shaped stones a few inches long and used for a variety of reasons, including for luck in hunting or healing. At Tolay the charmstones came from places as far away as Mexico, Sarris wrote.

“What we’ve always known is that Tolay Lake was a great place of healing and renewal, that Indian doctors came from near and far to confer with one another and to heal the sick,” Sarris wrote.