The Kawaiisu Culture
On warm winter days the women sat beneath the willows at Nettle Springs, making their baskets and
talking. Still visible today are scratches where the women may have sharpened their awls on the sandstone
ledges. Excellent basket makers, the Kawaiisu twined and coiled a variety of implements and containers for
harvesting, food preparation and storage. It is interesting to note that the Kawaiisu seem to have developed
a unique variation of coiled baskets which is not found in the Great Basin or elsewhere in California. Occasionally
the coils are wrapped around the foundation of the basket and not anchored to the previous row. The purpose of
the deviation is unknown.
Numerous types of woven containers and implements were used, including seed beaters, winnowing trays, burden
baskets, storage containers, cradles and water bottles. Workware was twined of unsplit willow for warps and
split willow for wefts. Coiled baskets offered greater diversity in the materials used. The foundation was
multiple shoots of deergrass coiled with split willow. Water bottles and other vessels used for liquids were
stitched very tightly and sealed with pine pitch to make them watertight.
Cradle boards, which allowed women to carry babies with them when gathering, were woven of willow. One type
was oval and the other Y-shaped so it could be stuck into the ground and rocked. Sand bar willow (Salix
hindsiana) was never used for cradle boards because it was said that quail lost all of her children until
she stopped using it to make their cradles; she has a black face because she wept so much.
Color was provided by the rootstock of the Joshua Tree (red-brown), yucca (orange), and bracken fern
or devil's claw/unicorn plant (black). Bird quills and quail crests integrated into the patterns of
coiled baskets provided additional ornamentation.