Marin is one of the original 27 California counties. It was created months before California was formally admitted as a state in 1850. But, the source of the name for the county has always been in doubt. Two major stories have competed almost since the founding of the county as the true origin story for the county. While there is no definitive historical evidence either way, one story is usually favored because it is much more interesting.
General Mariano Vallejo was in charge of the 1850 committee responsible for naming each of the new California counties. He filed what he called a historical report on the naming of the counties with the new California State legislature where he stated Marin County was named after the great Chief Marin who had fought many ferocious battles against the Spanish.
Chief Marin was born into Huimen tribe, a branch of the great costal Miwok tribe. His birth name was Huicmuse. He was later baptized and took the Christian name Marino or Marin.
General Vallejo reports that in 1815 or 1816 Chief Marin led an expedition into the area north of San Francisco Bay. Upon his return to civilization there was a battle with the Spanish where he was captured and imprisoned at the Presidio. He later escaped and reunited his forces for years of harassment and guerilla style warfare against the Spanish, finally being captured again in 1824. At some point he also hid out in the Marin Islands. After he was freed after the 1824 incarceration, Chief Marin retired to the mission at San Rafael.
Problems With the Chief Marin Story
There is scant evidence that General Vallejo’s account is true. Chief Marin was unquestionably a real person, and records show he lived various missions and acted as baptismal witness several times. He was married three times, as he outlived his first two wives. He did escape the mission system at least once, and probably twice, and he was imprisoned. But, there is no evidence of his military campaign.
He did die at the mission in San Rafael. There is also little to link Chief Marin as the namesake of the Marin islands, where records show he did hide out upon one of his escapes.
A Matter of Geography
The second story of the naming of Marin is less interesting and probably more accurate. The bay between San Pedro Point and San Quentin Point was called by the Spanish Bahía de Nuestra Señora del Rosario la Marinera as far back as 1775. The bay and the surrounding area were often called by an abbreviation of the long name, Marin.
While the second story might be true, Mark Twain once wisely advised to never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Perhaps General Vallejo felt the same way and decided to gift Marin County with an exciting origin story that incorporates both its Spanish period and is a tribute to the native people who first called this beautiful area home.