Putah Creek, California

Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Well, take me back down where cool water flow
Let me remember things I love Read full Lyrics
"Green with algae and vascular plants" is how brochures describe the primary drainage river for the University of California at Davis campus, which, in its pre-John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival life, was known as something that sounded like "Liwaito" or "Leywe." That's if you want to look back into the 19th century and find the Native Americans who once lived there and who themselves were relegated by Spanish settlers as "Putah" or "Puto," because they couldn't pronounce the real name.

And since "Putah" and "Puto" in Spanish mean female-whore and male-whore respectively, the river was unofficially christened Rio de los Putos, "River of the male-whores."

Putah Creek in Winters, California<br>Photo: Mike Galli, DreamstimePutah Creek in Winters, California
Photo: Mike Galli, Dreamstime
Of course, speculation drives us to acknowledge that the Native American tribe in question called themselves something that sounded to the European settlers' ears like "puttov," and so weren't just being saddled with insulting and demeaning names on purpose by the Spaniards. And as every American is aware, we do have a tendency to bastardize words to fit our own meanings. Take, for example, gay. It used to mean simply, "bright," "happy," "cheerful." As in, "The party was really colorful and gay!" "Dinner at your house was so fun, we had such a gay time!" You get my point.

But if we're going to do an archaeological dig on all things concerning this river, we must also exhume Buffalo Bill Cody. Born in 1846, he started killing buffalo almost right out of the womb. The man was a buffalo-killing automaton, single-handedly bringing down 4,280 unarmed American bison, who had never done a thing to him except be in his rifle range. But they're slow moving animals and who can resist such a challenge?

But enough about that. Cody must have spread his seed somewhere along his earthen travels, and right along Winters, California, where The River of the Male-Whores (in years hence re-christened Putah Creek) sings along its merry way, a junior Cody from somewhere down the ancestral trail set up camp. It is at this camp where Mom and Dad Fogerty brought their six young Fogertys for family summer vacations.

John Fogerty's brother, Tom, tells the following story. "I went there with my family every year until I was ten. Lot of happy memories there. I learned how to swim there. There was a rope hanging from the tree. Certainly dragonflies, bullfrogs. There was a little cabin we would stay in owned by a descendant of Buffalo Bill Cody. The actual specific reference, Green River, I got from a soda pop-syrup label. You used to be able to go into a soda fountain and they had three bottles of flavored syrup. My flavor was called Green River. It was green, lime flavored, and they would empty some out over some ice and pour some of that soda water on it, and you had yourself a green river. Instead of calling the river Putah Creek, John called it Green River."

He may have gone on to talk about how many nights they'd lie awake trying to write a song that rhymed with "River of the Male-Whores" before finally caving in and going with "Green River." We feel the choice was a good one.

Shawna Hansen Ortega
May 12, 2010
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Comments: 1

  • Dino Gay from Near Winters CaFirst of all, it's John Fogerty. Secondly, the name Putah derives from a Native American tribe who referred to themselves using a word which sounded something like Puttoy.
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