Digital-Desert : Mojave Desert
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Mojave Desert Indians - Historic Desert Indian Territories Map:
Indian Culture
(Owens Valley Paiute, Tubatulabal, Western Mono, Yokuts)


Subsistence

In the matter of subsistence interesting and significant differences exist between the peoples of the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra. Those Yokuts who lived within the flats of the San Joaquin valley are of no great moment in this connection, for their subsistence exhibits many features which are not generally representative of California nor characteristic of those tribes which are of interest from the point of view of Sequoia National Park. Of far greater importance is the food getting activities of the foothill Yokuts, Western Mono, and Tubatulabal who, living in a region which abounded in the acorn, made use of this food in a typically California manner, and the Owens Valley Paiute, who, living in the arid Great Basin, utilized the pine nut in characteristic Shoshonean manner. The peoples on both sides of the Sierras were non-agricultural, seed gatherers who specialized in utilizing those native plants which were most abundant. In each case a complex or set of practices developed around this species.

Among the Yokuts and no doubt also the Western Mono and Tubatulabal, the manner of gathering and preparing acorns was also extended to the buckeye (Aesculus) and probably to several other plants. They were collected in conical baskets, stored in large elevated basketry granaries (See Kroeber, 1925, pl. 36 for a similar Miwok granary end Gifford, 1932, p.20-1, and plate 4-a for a Northfork Mono Granary) and prepared by a method of leaching. The nuts were broken and soaked for a few days, then crushed with pestle. For this, the bedrock mortar and occasionly the wooden mortar with a counter-sunk pit was used (for photos of these see Kroeber, 1925, plate 45, and Gifford, plate 3-b, illustrating the sun shade) The poison or bitter was extracted by lining a crater of sand with evergreen boughs, filling it with the ground nuts, then pouring hot water through ten times. This process for the Northfork Mono is described by Gifford, 1932, pp. 21-2. It was then boiled into mush, being placed in a pottery or possibly steatite vessel, stirred with a looped stick (illustrations of looped stick, Kroeber, 1925, fig. 38) and heated with hot stones. Or it was made into a kind of loaf; or boiled with other ingredients, such as seeds or meats. (Kroeber, 1925:527-814-5).

The Owens Valley Paiute gathered pinenuts (Pinus monophylla) in conical carrying baskets after beating them off the trees with poles. These were stored in brush lined pits. Sometimes they were roasted in the cones or beaten out and ground on a flat slab (metate) with a rubbing stone (mane or muller). (The metate is typical of the Great Basin and Southwest, the mortar and pestle of California west of the Sierra. A few mortars may be found in Owens Valley and more in Death Valley.) The seeds were then winnowed with a flat winnowing basket. Sometimes they were parched by shaking in a winnowing basket with e few coals. They were generally cooked in a pot with other seeds and meats into soup or were ground after roasting and eaten as flour. The Owens Valley people had virtually no acorns except those secured through trade. The western Sierra tribes frequently received pinenuts in trade. Steward, 1933:241-2)

In addition to these, all peoples in the vicinity of Sequoia Park used every other edible plant. Seeds were gathered on both sides of the Sierras by beating with a seed beater into tightly woven conical carrying baskets, then ground, winnowed, and variously cooked. These included grasses, sages, compositae, berries, etc. For a list of these and their uses among the Owens Valley Paiute, see Steward, 1933:242-246. Roots were dug with the practically universal digging stick, which was made, among the Owens Valley Paiute, of mountain mahogony (Cercocarpus).

The usual treatment of these foods among both peoples involved leaching, parching and boiling. (See Kroeber, 1925; 527, 814-5). The metate was rarely used by the Yokuts. (See illustration, Kroeber, 1925, pl. 66, for Northfork Mono treatment of manzanita berries, see Gifford, 1932, pp 22-3 and plates 4, 5.)

The tribes in the vicinity of Sequoia Park were also practically omnivorous with respect to animal foods. The Yokuts ate all large mammals, excepting the dog, which was strictly tabu here, although generally eaten in northern California, the grizzly bear, and coyote. They even relished the skunk when properly killed. They also ate all small mammals, grasshoppers, ants, etc., but drew the line at reptiles, which were tabu. (Kroeber, 1925:526) The Western Mono and Tubatulabal probably shared these customs.

The Yokuts took deer by nooses set in trails over pits, or hunters stalked them in deer headdresses. Antelope, and frequently elk, were taken by surrounds of people on foot. Pigeons were snared with decoys and fish speared from booths which concealed the hunter. Eagles were attracted by decoys and captured with nooses. Fish were taken with basket scoops or were stupified with ground buckeye nuts or with crushed leaves of some species, and removed from the stream with a dip net. (Kroeber, 1925:528-530.)

The Owens Valley Paiute stalked deer in disguise, used a surround with people, trained dogs, and sometimes fired brush. Mountain sheep and antelope were taken by driving into corrals or between rows of rockpiles and hunters, or in narrow canyons. Bear were tabu, being said to resemble human beings. A very characteristic Great Basin hunt was the rabbit drive, in which all the men, women, and children at the large fall gatherings went out equipped with sticks, bows, and long nets about three feet high. They placed the nets in a huge semi-circle, end to end (each was 100 feet or more long), the horde of people driving the rabbits into it. Small mammals were taken with traps. Water fowl were shot from blinds. Fish were taken by diverting the stream; by stupifying, using crushed slim solomon (Smilacina sessilifolia Nutt), by shooting with arrows, by spearing, by means of bone hooks, by means of scoop baskets, or by nets, made of Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabium L. A general tabu on dogs, coyotes, buzzards, eagles, and hawks prevailed. Other species eaten were the caterpillar of Coloradia pandora Blake, the larvae of Ephydra hians Say., breeding in alkaline lakes, snakes, lizards, etc., and such insects as ants and grasshoppers. Even horses, when first introduced, were eaten. (For details see Steward, 1933:250-257.)

Peoples on both sides of the Sierra lacked any one food that was all-important, as was the bison to the Plains, the salmon to the Northwest coast, etc., and that they were therefore largely omniverous, eating all kinds of foods secured by a great variety of means. Pictorial displays should thus represent such things as the very important digging stick in use, deer hunting by stalking, seed gathering by means of the seed beater and conical basket. For the Great Basin people a sketch could show the communal rabbit drive or possibly an antelope or mountain sheep drive. Second, it should be brought out that the acorn was most important to the western people, the pinenut to the eastern. The process involved in each case should be explained. The acorn complex would portray through artifacts, and sketches or photographs, the gathering, storing, grinding (in mortars), leaching, and cooking. The pinenut process would similarly show gathering, storing, grinding on a metate, roasting or parching in a basket, and cooking.

In connection with trans-Sierran trade, it could be brought out that salt was greatly coveted by the mountain people and therefore constituted an important article of trade from the Paiute and Shoshoni to the east.

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Desert Indian Culture

Combined Ethnography

Introduction & Overview
Tribal Distributions
Subsistence
Weapons, Houses, Clothing
Pottery
Basketry
Cradles
Other Weaving
Musical Instruments & Misc.
Tobacco
Transportation
Trade
Games
Social Organization
Money
Other Social Customs
Ceremonialism
Archaeology
Bibliography



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