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Indians of the Yosemite Valley and vicinity : thier [sic] history, customs and traditions online

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war against the Indians, was perhaps their
best friend while in captivity, and finally
lost his life in a personal quarrel, while
resenting a wrong which had been com-
mitted against them.

The tribes from south of the San Joaquin
Kiver, who were also conquered in 1851,
were put upon the Kings River and Tejon
(fay-hone') reservations.


Ample food supplies, blankets, clothing
and cheap fancy articles were furnished by
the Government for the subsistence, com-
fort and pleasure of the Indians on the res-
ervations, and for a short time they seemed
to be contented, and to enjoy the novelty
of their new mode of life. The young, able-
bodied men were put to work assisting in


clearing, fencing and cultivating fields for
hay and vegetables, and thus they were par-
tially self-supporting. A large portion of
tnem, however, soon began to tire of the
restraints imposed, and longed for their
former condition of freedom, and many of
tiiem sickened and died.

Old Teneiya, chief of the "Grizzlies,"
was particularly affected by the change in
his surroundings, and by the humiliation of
defeat. He suffered keenly from the hot
weather of the plains, after his free life in
the mountains, and begged to be allowed to
return to his old home, promising not to dis-
turb the white settlers in any way, a pledge
which he did not break.


Teneiya was finally allowed to depart,
with his family, after having been on the
reservation only a few months, and some of
his old followers afterwards stole away and
joined him. With this remnant of his band
he returned to the Yosemite, but not long
afterwards they were set upon by the
Monos, a tribe from the eastern side of the
Sierras, with whom they had quarreled, and
the old chief and many of his warriors were


killed. It was perhaps fitting that he should
meet his death in the valley which he loved,
and which he had so long defended against
his enemies.


In 1855, after four years of confinement
on the reservations, an agreement was made
with the Indian Commissioners, by the head
men of the tribes, that if their people were
again allowed their freedom, they would
forever remain in peace with the white set-
tlers, and try and support themselves free
of expense to the Government. They were
soon permitted to leave, and have ever
since faithfully kept their promise.

Most of them went back to the vicinity of
their old homes, and made temporary settle-
ments on unoccupied Government land, as
many of their old village sites were now in
possession of white settlers. As there was
a very large crop of acorns that season,
they gathered an abundant supply for win-
ter use, and, with what was given to them
in the way of food and clothing by some of
the white settlers, they managed to get
through the winter fairly well.

F1iotofji'i>li bij Foleif.

One of the characters of the Valley. Supposed

to be 105 years old, and a survivor of Tenei-

ya's band.



Their four years' residence on the reser-
vations, however, had been more of a school
in the vices of the whites than one of a
higher education. They became demoral-
ized socially, addicted to many bad habits,
and left the reservations in worse condition
than when they were taken there. Their old
tribal relations and customs were nearly
broken up, though they still had their head
men to whom they looked for counsel in all
important matters.

As the country became more settled, much
of their main food supply, the acorns, was
consumed by the domestic animals of the
ranchers, and their mode of living became
more precarious and transitory, and many
of them were, at times, in a condition near
to starvation. In these straitened and
desperate circumstances, many of their
young women were used as commercial
property, and peddled out to the mining
camps and gambling saloons for money to
buy food, clothing or whisky, this latter ar-
ticle being obtained through the aid of
some white person, in violation of law.


Their miserable, squalid condition of liv-
ing opened the way for diseases of a malig-
nant character, which their medicine men
could not cure, and their numbers were rap-
idly reduced by death.

At the present time there are not in exist-
ence a half-dozen of the old Yosemites who
were living, even as children, when the Val-
ley was first discovered in 1851; and many
of the other tribes have been correspond-
ingly reduced.

Photograph b// Jfoi/^m.

The baby basket is carried on the back, like all

burdens, and supported by a band across the



As stated in a previous chapter, all of the
Indian tribes occupying the region in the
vicinity of the Yosemite Valley were more
or less affiliated by blood and intermarriage
and resembled each other in their customs,
characteristics and religious beliefs. What
is said, therefore, on these subjects in the
following pages, will be understood to ap-
ply generally to all of the tribes which have
been mentioned as inhabiting this region,
although, of course, minor differences did
exist, principally due to environment. As
in the case of all primitive peoples, their
mode of life, food supply, etc., were largely
determined by natural conditions, and the
tribes living in the warm foot-hills differed
somewhat in these respects from those
dwelling higher in the mountains.


In their original tribal settlements, at the
time the first pioneer whites came among
them, the Indians had well defined "or under-


stood boundary lines, between the territor-
ies claimed by each tribe for their exclusive
use in hunting game and gathering means
of support ; and any trespassing on the do-
main of others was likely to cause trouble.
This arrangement, however, did not apply
to the higher ranges of the Sierras, which
were considered common hunting ground.


As there was a difference in the natural
products and resources of different sections
of the country, there was a system of recip-
rocal trade in the exchange of the differ-
ent desirable commodities. Sometimes com-
merce between tribes extended for a long
distance, as, for instance, the Indians on
the western side of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains were entirely dependent upon
the Pai-utes (Pye-yuies') on the eastern
side for the obsidian, a kind of volcanic
glass, from which they made the points for
their most deadly arrows, used in hunting
large game or when in mortal combat with
their enemies. They were also dependent
upon the Pai-utes for their supply of salt
for domestic use, which came in solid blocks


as quarried from salt mines, said to be two
days' travel on foot from Mono Lake.

From the Indians at or near the Catholic
Missions to the South, on the Pacific Coast,
they gpt' their hunting knives of iron or
steel, and sea shells of various kinds, for
personal or dress ornaments, and also to be
used as money. From the same source they
obtained beads of various forms, sizes and
colors, cheap jewelry and other fancy arti-
cles, a few blankets, and pieces of red bunt-
ing, strips of which the chiefs and head
men wore around their heads as badges, in-
dicating their official positions.

They had a very efficient system of
quickly spreading important news by relays
of special couriers, who took the news to
the first stations or tribes in different direc-
tions, where others took the verbal dis-
patches and ran to the next station, and so
on, so that all tribes within an area of a
hundred miles would get the good or bad
tidings within a few hours. In this manner
important communication was kept up be-
tween the different tribes.


They also had well organized signal sys-
tems, by fires in the night and smoke by
day, on high points of observation varia-
tions in the lights (either steady, bright or
flashing) indicating somewhat the character
of the tidings thus given.


Their winter huts, or o' -chums, as they
termed them, were invariably of a conical
form, made with small poles, and covered
with the bark of the incense cedar (Liboce-
drus decurrens). A few poles ten or twelve
feet long were set in the ground around an
area of about twelve feet in diameter with
their tops inclined together. The outside
was then closely covered with long strips of
the cedar bark, making it perfectly water-
tight. An opening was left on the south
side for an entrance, which could be readily
closed with a portable door. An opening
was also left at the top for the escape of the
smoke, a fire being kindled in the center

One of these huts would hold a family of
a half-dozen persons, with all their house-
hold property, dogs included ; and there is


This style of house, made of cedar poles covered
with bark, is more easily heated than any
other form of dwelling- known.


no other form of a single-room dwelling
that can be kept warm and comfortable in
cold weather with so little fire, as this In-
dian o'-chiiw.

Their underbedding usually consisted of
the skins of bears, deer, antelope or elk, and
the top cover ing was a blanket or robe made
of the skins of small fur-bearing animals,
such as rabbits, hares, wildcats and foxes.
The skins were cut in narrow strips, which
were loosely twisted so as to bring the fur
entirely around on the outside, and then
woven into a warp of strong twine made of
the fine, tough, fibrous bark of a variety of
milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). These fur
robes were very warm, and were also used
as wraps when traveling in cold weather.

During the warm summer season they
generally lived outside in brush arbors, and
used their o'-chums as storage places.

Their clothing was very simple and scant,
before being initiated into the use of a more
ample and complete style of covering while
living at the reservations. The ordinary
full complement of dress for a man (Nung'-

Draiciiifj bi/ Jorf/ciixcn.

This buckskin costume has now been replaced

by the unpicturesque calico of civilization.


ah ) was simply a breech-clout, or short hip-
skirt made of skins; that for a woman
(O'-hoh) was a skirt reaching from the
waist to the knees, made of dressed deer-
skin finished at the bottom with a slit
fringe, and sometimes decorated with var-
ious fancy ornaments. Both men and wo-
men frequently wore moccasins made of
dressed deer or elk skin. Young children
generally went entirely nude.


The Indians of the various tribes in this
part of the Sierras vary somewhat in phy-
sical characteristics, but in general are of
medium height, strong, lean and agile, and
the men are usually fine specimens of man-
hood. They are rather light in color, but
frequently rub their bodies with some kind
of oil, which gives the flesh a much redder
and more glossy appearance. The hair is
black and straight, and the eyes are black
and deep set. The beard is sparse, and in
former times was not allowed to grow at
all, each hair being pulled out with a rude
kind of tweezers. They are naturally of a
gentle and friendly disposition, but their


experience with the white race has made
them distant and uncommunicative to

Most of the older Indians still cling to
their old customs and manner of living, and
are very slow to learn to talk our language,
but the younger ones are striving to live like
the white people, and seem proud to adopt
our style of dress and manner of cooking.
They all speak our language plainly, and
some few of them attend the public schools
when living near by, and acquire very read-
ily the common rudiments of an education.

Their style of architecture is in a state
of transition, like themselves. Their old
o'-chum form of dwelling is now very sel-
dom seen a rude building of more roomy
and modern design having taken its place.

All the able-bodied men are ready and
willing to work at any kind of common
labor, when they have an opportunity, and
have learned to want nearly the same
amount of pay as a white man for the same

As a rule, they are trustworthy, and when
confidence is placed in their honesty it is
very rarely betrayed. During nearly the


past fifty years, a great many thousands of
people have visited the Yosemite Valley
with their own camping outfits, and, during
the day, and often all night are absent on
distant trips of observation, with no one
left in charge of camp, yet there has never
to my knowledge been an instance of any-
thing being stolen or molested by Indians.
There are, however, some dishonest In-
dians, who will steal from their own peo-
ple, and sometimes, when a long distance
from their own camp, they may steal from
the whites. A few, if they can get whisky,
through the aid of some white person, will
become drunk and fight among themselves,
and occasionally one of them may be killed;
but, as a rule they are peaceful and order-
ly, and hold sacred the promise made to the
Indian Commissioners by the old tribal
chiefs, when released from confinement on
the reservations that they would forever
keep the peace, and never again make war
against the white people.



The food supply of the Sierra Indians
was extensive and abundant, consisting of
the flesh of deer, antelope, elk and mustang
horses, together with fish, water-fowls,
birds, acorns, berries, pine nuts, esculent
herbage and the tuberous roots of certain
plants, all of which were easily obtained,
even with their simple and limited means
of securing them. Mushrooms, fungi,
grasshoppers, worms and the larvae of
ants and other insects, were also eaten, and
some of these articles were considered
great delicacies.


Their main effective weapons for hunting
large game were their bows and obsidian-
pointed arrows. Their manner of hunting
was either by the stealthy still hunt, or a
general turn-out, surrounding a large area
of favorable country and driving to a com-
mon center, where at close range the


hunters could sometimes make an extensive

When on the still hunt for deer in the
brushy, sparsely timbered foothills of the
Sierra Range of mountains, or higher up in
the extensive forests, some of the hunters
wore for a headgear a false deer's head, by
which deceptive device they were enabled
to get to a closer and more effective range
with their bows and arrows. This head-
dress was made of the whole skin of a doe's
head, with a part of the neck, the head part
stuffed with light material, the eyeholes
filled in with the green feathered scalp of
.a duck's head, and the top furnished with
light wooden horns, the branching stems of
the manzanita (Arctostaphylos) being gen-
erally used for this purpose. The neck part
was made to fit on the hunter's head and
fasten with strings tied under the chin.
This unique style of headgear was used by
some Indian hunters for many years after
they had guns to hunt with.

The high ranges of the mountains, as
already stated, were considered common
hunting ground by the different tribes. The
deer, many of them, were in some degree



migratory in their habits, being driven from
the higher ranges to the foothills by the
deep winter snows, and in the spring follow-
ing close to the melting, receding snow,
back again to their favorite summer haunts.
Late in the summer, or early in the fall,
just before holding some of their grand
social or sacred festivals, the Indian hunters
would make preparation for a big hunt in
the mountains, to get a good supply of veni-
son for the feast. One of the first absolute
prerequisites was to go through a thorough
course of sweating and personal cleansing.
This was done by resorting to their sweat
houses, which were similar in construction
to the o'-chums, except that the top was
rounded and the whole structure was cov-
ered thickly with mud and earth to exclude
the air. These houses were heated with hot
stones and coals of fire, and the hunters
would then crawl into them and remain un-
til in a profuse perspiration, when they
would come out and plunge into cold water
for a wash-off. This was repeated until they
thought themselves sufficiently free from all
bodily odor so that the deer could not detect
their approach by scent, and flee for safety.


After this purification they kept them-
selves strictly as celibates until the hunt
was over, though their women went along
to help carry the outfit, keep camp, cook,
search for berries and pine nuts, and assist
in bringing to camp and taking care of the
deer as killed, and in " packing " the meat
out to the place of rendezvous appointed
for the grand ceremonies and feast.

Their usual manner of cooking fresh
meat was by broiling on hot coals, or roast-
ing before the fire or in the embers. Some-
times, however, they made a cavity in the
ground, in which they built a fire, which
was afterwards cleared away and the cav-
ity lined with very hot stones, on which
they placed the meat wrapped in green
herbage, and covered it with other hot rocks
and earth, to remain until suitably cooked.

When they had a surplus of fresh meat
they cut it in strips and hung it in the sun-
shine to dry. The dried meat was generally
cooked by roasting in hot embers, and then
beaten to soften it before b.eing eaten.

A young hunter never ate any of the first
deer he killed, as he believed that if he did


so lie would never succeed in killing


They had various methods of catching
fish with hook and line, with a spear, by
weir-traps in the stream, and by saturating
the water with the juice of the soap-root
plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). Be-
fore they could obtain fishhooks of modern
make, they made them of bone. Their lines
were made of the tough, fibrous, silken bark
of the variety of milkweed or silkweed,
already mentioned. Their spears were
small poles pointed with a single tine of
bone, which was so arranged that it became
detached by the struggles of the fish, and
was then held by a string fastened near its
center, which turned it crosswise of the
wound and made it act as an effective barb.

Their weir-traps were put in the rapids,
and constructed by building wing dams
diagonally down to the middle of the stream
until the two ends came near together, and
in this narrow outlet was placed a sort of
wicker basket trap, made of long willow
sprouts loosely woven together and closed


at the pointed lower end, which was ele-
vated above the surface of the water below
the dam. The fish, in going down stream,
ran into this trap, and soon found them-
selves at the lower end and out of the water.

The soap-root was used at a low stage
of water, late in summer. They dug several
bushels of the bulbous roots and went to a
suitable place on the bank, where the roots
were pounded into a pulp, and mixed with
soil and water. This mixture, by the hand-
ful, was then rubbed on rocks out in the
stream, which roiled the water and also
made it somewhat foamy. The fish were
soon affected by it, became stupid with a
sort of strangulation, and rose to the sur-
face, where they were easily captured by
the Indians with their scoop baskets. In a
stream the size of the South Fork of the
Merced Eiver at Wawona, by this one oper-
ation every fish in it for a distance of three
miles would be taken in a few hours.

The fish were generally cooked by roast-
ing on hot coals from burned oak wood or

Acorns were their main staple article of
breadstuff, and they are still used by the

Druu'huj by Mrs. Joi'<jcn$en.

Storehouse for nuts and acorns, thatched with

pine branches, points downward, to keep out

mice and squirrels.


present generation whenever they can be

They are gathered in the fall when ripe,
and are preserved for future use in the old
style Indian cache or storehouse. This con-
sists of a structure which they call a
chuck'-dh, which is a large basket-shaped
receptacle made of long willow sprouts
closely woven together. It is usually about
six feet high and three feet in diameter. It
is set upon stout posts about three feet high
and supported in position by four longer
posts on the outside, reaching to the top,
and there bound firmly to keep them from
spreading. The outside of the basket is
thatched with small pine branches, points
downward, to shed the rain and snow, and
to protect the contents from the depreda-
tions of squirrels and woodpeckers. When
filled, the top also is securely covered with
bark, as a protection from the winter
storms. When the acorns are wanted for
use, a small hole is made at the bottom of
the chuck'-ah, and they are taken out from
time to time as required.

The acorns from the black or Kellogg 's
oak (Quercus California) are considered


much the best and most nutritious by the
Indians. This is the oak which is so beau-
tiful and abundant in the Yosemite Valley.

These acorns are quite bitter, and are not
eaten in their natural condition, as most
fruit and nuts are eaten, bui have to be
quite elaborately prepared and cooked to
make them palatable. First, the hull is
cracked and removed, and the kernel
pounded or ground into a fine meal. In the
Yosemite Valley and at other Indian camps
in the mountains, this is done by grinding
with their stone pestles or metats
(may-tats'} in the ho'yas or mortars, worn
by long usage in large flat-top granite
rocks, one of which is near every Indian
camp. Lower down in the foothills, where
there are no suitable large rocks for these
permanent mortars, the Indians used single
portable stone mortars for this purpose.

After the acorns are ground to a fine
meal, the next process is to take out the
bitter tannin principle. This is done in the
following manner : They make large shal-
low basins in clean washed sand, in the cen-
ter of which are laid a few flat, fan-like ends
of fir branches. A fire is then made near by,


and small stones of four or five pounds in
weight are heated, with which they warm
water in some of their large cooking baskets,
and mix the acorn meal with it to the con-
sistency of thin gruel. This mixture is
poured into the sand basins, and as the
water leaches out into the sand it takes with
it the bitter quality the warm water being
renewed until all the bitter taste is washed
out from the meal sediment, or dough.

This is then taken, and, after being
cleansed from the adhering sand, is put into
cooking baskets, thinned down with hot
water to the desired condition, and cooked
by means of hot stones which are held in it
with two sticks for tongs. The mush, while
cooking, is stirred with a peculiar stirring
stick, made of a tough oak sprout, doubled
so as to form a round, open loop at one end,
which is used in lifting out any loose stones.
When the dough is well cooked, it is either
left en masse in the basket or scooped out
in rolls and put into cold water to cool and
harden before being eaten. Sometimes the
thick paste is made into cakes and baked on
hot rocks. One of these cakes, when rolled
in paper, will in a short time saturate it


with oil. This acorn food is probably more
nutritious than any of the cereals.


The Indian dogs, of which every family
had several, are as fond of the acorn food
as their owners. These dogs are made use-
ful in treeing wild-cats, California lions
and gray squirrels, and are very expert in
catching ground squirrels by intercepting
them when away from their burrows, and
when the Indians drown them out in the
early spring by turning water from the
flooded streams into their holes.

As far as can be learned, dogs were
about the only domestic animals which the
\osemites, and other adjacent tribes of
Indians, kept for use before the country
was settled by the white people.


Pine nuts were another important article
of food, and were much prized by the In-

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Online LibraryGalen ClarkIndians of the Yosemite Valley and vicinity : thier [sic] history, customs and traditions → online text (page 2 of 5)