Zayante is a census-designated place (CDP) in Santa Cruz County, California. It is a residential area located on Zayante Creek. Zayante sits at an elevation of 699 feet (213 m). The 2010 United States census reported Zayante's population was 705.
The Zayantes, a local tribe of the Ohlone people, originally inhabited the area. Early history of the area recalls the Zayante people finding shelter and game in the plentiful forests. The area provided them with enough acorns, fish from Lompico and Newell Creek, and small game to live a peaceful, easy life. Temascals (saunas), songs, and games were the rule, while fighting and thievery the exception.
In 1769, the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà discovered the land area which is now known as the City of Santa Cruz. When Portola came upon the river which flows from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the sea, he named it San Lorenzo in honor of Saint Lawrence. He called the rolling hills above the river, Santa Cruz, which means "holy cross". Twenty-two years later, in 1791, Father Fermin de Lasuen established Mission Santa Cruz, the twelfth mission to be founded in California.
Over the next 20 years, word spread throughout the Ohlone tribes, including the Zayante Indians, that the Santa Cruz Mission would provide a regular source of food, even through the winter, warm shelter in the winter, clothes made from woven fabrics (a miracle to the Native Americans), manufactured items (also miraculous) both useful (pots and pans) and curious (trinkets such as glass beads, etc.), and education, if they came to live at the mission. Unfortunately, once lured to the mission by these things, the Indians became virtual indentured servants. In fact, for the Mission system to work it required the services of large numbers of "workers" (to till the gardens, construct and maintain buildings, etc.), something which New Spain (Mexico) was unable to provide because few there were willing to relocate to what was considered the harsh and primitive environment of Alta (Upper) California. The missionaries truly believed they were benefiting what they considered barbaric people through teaching them the manual skills of carpentry, European farming techniques, etc., and through "civilizing" them to the Spanish / European religious and cultural beliefs and practices. This process shattered the ancient native culture wherever it was exposed to it. In addition, diseases which were mostly annoyances to their European hosts decimated the Indian populace, and only small groups remained after 1820. In 1821, Mexico achieved its independence from Spain, and California came under control of the Mexican government. In the 1830s, Mission Santa Cruz and other California missions were secularized by the Mexican government; only to seriously decline and, in some cases, fall into ruin. The very last of the Zayante people was a woman who lived for many years beside Zayante Creek. When she died in 1934, she was buried somewhere among the giant redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Her grave, like her people, is lost now.