In The Pipeline: Marsh docent gives personal history tour

April 26, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

I ran into my friend Marinka Horack recently at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. She and her fantastic Miracles of the Marsh docent team from the Bolsa Chica Land Trust were taking yet another school group out to learn about nature. Marinka introduced me to an older gentleman, a docent, and said, "You should write about him, Chris."

I went back a week later to watch him teach the kids about birds and local history — as he told them, he'd even actually been inside the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. In fact, this seasoned sage even had a local elementary school named after him. So I took Marinka's advice.

A few days later, on a bright, warm day, my son and I met 88-year-old lifelong Huntington Beach resident Bill Kettler at the end of Bolsa Chica Street, right where the Trails at Brightwater starts, next to a 6-acre parcel of land called the Goodell property.


Strong spring winds shook the palms and created waves in the carpets of vibrant yellow coast sunflowers. The view of the ocean was glorious from the mesa. But Kettler wasn't studying the view; he was ambling toward a cut in the fence, narrating his memory at this very same spot about 75 years ago.

"There were no houses out there," he said. "It was all rural. Far as you could see. I graduated from Springdale Elementary as class valedictorian — though there were only two of us in the class." With a short chuckle, Kettler motioned down at the soft dirt, which was studded with seashell fragments.

"These shells are all part of the Indian middens; their garbage heaps. This is where they discarded all their shells. I'd come up here as a young boy after the rains and look for arrowheads."

We kept moving ahead as Kettler looked for a special spot.

"Things have grown over a lot, changed over the years," he said to himself. Then he stopped at a point next to the thick, towering wild mustard. "It was here, right in here," he said softly.

Kettler has led us to the exact site where, as a young teen in the early 1930s, he made a discovery.

"I saw something shiny," he said. "Got closer and saw it was a skull. Then I saw another."

The rain had uncovered two complete Indian skeletons, most likely at least several thousand years old. He knew, after witnessing several scientific exhumations in the area, that he'd come upon part of a burial site.

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