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Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 7:31 am
by Yosemite_Indian
What did the early Yosemite Native Americans wear before whites entered Yosemite?

Paiute wearing rabbit robe like those found in Yosemite. Rabbit robe upclose

In the early spring of 1851, in order to stop the attacks on gold miners and ranches in the lower foothills, the Mariposa Battalion led by James Savage went up the Sierra Nevada to capture the infamous Chief Tenaya and his band of Ahwahneechees. This incident was when whites first discovered the hidden Yosemite Valley.

Chief Tenaya voluntarily turned himself in so the rest of his people could escape. Not satisfied with only the capture of Chief Tenaya the battalion moved on to round up the rest of Tenaya’s people. But by the time the Mariposa Battalion arrived at Tenaya’s main village they found it and other camps empty. The Ahwahneechees had left in such a hurry they left behind everything; basketry, acorn caches, bark houses, small drums, Paiute foods like piuga (dried Pandora Moth larvae), kutsavi (Mono Lake brine fly larvae), tuba (pine nuts), Kua (grasshoppers), and clothing. The Battalion burned everything.

The doctor for the Mariposa Battalion, Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell, documented the items found in the abandon camps on pages 78 and 79 in his book The Discovery of Yosemite.

On page 79 Bunnell describes the clothing found in the camps;

“There were also found at some of the encampments, robes or blankets made from rabbit and squirrel skins, and skins from water fowls.”

--- from “The Discovery of the Yosemite”.... by Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell

These type of robes were made by Great Basin Indians, mainly Paiute, Monos and Washoes. The robes were called “wega” singular. The most common were robes made of Jack rabbit skins. The robes took up to 180 hundred rabbits and strips of rabbit or squirrel fur were twirled so they were soft on both inside and out and woven together with some sort of plant or sinew.

Nevada Indian making rabbit robe with Sierra Nevada mountains in the background

Because Paiutes and other Great Basin Indians like Monos, and Washoes lived in cold desert and high mountain areas like the high mountains of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada rabbit robes meant life or death in the life of Indians.

Paiutes wearing rabbit robes. Paiute tribes as far away as Arizona and Oregon all wore rabbit robes.

Here are some references about how important these rabbit skin robes were to Paiutes, including those in Yosemite;

“Rabbitskin blankets were vital to the life of every Paiute Indian. They were worn about the shoulders during the day and used as a blanket by night. They were soft and very warm, welcome even in the summer where desert nights are always cool. In winter they could mean the difference between life and death.”

-- from “Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes”..... by Margaret M. Wheat

Surviving the high desert nights of eastern Oregon for the Northern Paiute (Wada-Tika) people required that each member of the tribe own a rabbit blanket to keep them warm. Each blanket required a hundred or more rabbit pelts...
...Jack rabbit were plentiful in the old it is difficult to make these blankets, due to the scarcity of jack rabbits in Harney County. In the last 50 years the rabbit population has dwindled so much that it is difficult to ge even 10 to 20 hides in the winter, when the fur is thick (and thus preferred). Rabbit bounties in the 1950’s and other means of eradication have left few rabbits...

---Minerva T. Soucie (Burns Paiute)
The Art of Ceremony: regalia of Native Oregon

So one item of clothing every Paiute and Great Basin Indian had to have was a rabbit skin robe or a blanket of any other type of animal. They also made moccasins of rabbit skin tied with twined plants or sinew. Jack rabbit was the most common item for clothing because Nevada had millions of Jack rabbits. Skins of water fowl were used as rain coats.

This was only one item of Yosemite Indian clothing, but the most important. I will continue to write about other items of clothing that were traditional and indigenous for Yosemite Native Americans.

Paiute rabbit drive

Re: Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 3:49 pm
by dan
Out of curiosity, I looked for rabbit skin in Miwok Material Culture and found two references. It seems the Miwok obtained them from the Washoe and Mono. That confuses me--I never thought of rabbit as rare--they are all over near my home in San Diego. Why would they trade instead of making their own?

The commonest blanket, however, was made by winding narrow strips of rabbit skin about cords and weaving these, using plain cord as woof, into a loose but very warm blanket (plate LXI). It was called ūdjū'le (P), yū'ptī (N, C, S). All blankets, particularly of rabbit skin, were used especially as bed covers, but served as garments in cold weather. Except for rabbit skin blankets made in the low foothill region, the Miwok imported most of theirs from the Washo in the north and the Eastern Mono in the south.

PLATE LXI. Jackrabbit-skin blanket. Width about 1700 mm. Obtained from Northern Miwok, but purchased by them from the Washo. Spec. No. 1-9919. Neg. No. 8278

A few rabbit-skin blankets were made by the Central Miwok of Knights Ferry, but the bulk were imported from the Miwok higher in the mountains, who in turn obtained them from the Eastern Mono. Sometimes a Mono would give one to a Miwok friend, who would reciprocate with an arm’s length of clam shell beads (howoku, C)

Re: Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 5:48 pm
by Yosemite_Indian
Dan, note that the Miwoks got that from Washo Indians in trade. That has to be around 1860 or later, because before that like all tribes in the area. Washoes and Miwoks, like the Paiutes and Miwoks, were enemies. Meaning the rabbit robe had to be 'traded' after Yosemite was discovered.

The rabbit robe was not created by Miwoks, but by a tribe that was once their enemies at the time Yosemite was discovered.

Also Dan, there are two tribal groups around San Diego, one is related to the Washoes and one is related to Paiutes. The tribes in the San Diego region are from the same language and cultural groups as the Washo and Paiute people in around the Yosemite area. They are Hokan and Uto-Aztecan, Miwoks are Penutian. Both Hokan and Numic (Uto-Aztecan) groups made rabbit robes. There is no evidence that Miwoks made them, even in the book Miwok material, the robe was not produced by the Miwoks. Before the white man entered the area Miwoks were fighting Washoes and Paiutes, Washoes were fighting Paiutes and Miwoks, and Paiutes were fighting both, and the rabbit robes were found in 1851 in Yosemite.

Here is the map of Indian people by language grouping, which means cultural group also;


Note Washoes and Mono Lake Paiutes are the same as the Indian tribes in your area. Miwoks are the light yellow.

But good catch.

Re: Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:16 pm
by dan
My guess is the rabbit blankets aren't as needed as much on the western side of the Sierra Nevada because it's much warmer there, at least in Winter, than the eastern side of the Sierra. Maybe rabbits are much more abundant on the east side too.

Interesting about the language/cultural groups. I (and most of San Diego County) live in the southern area marked Hokan on the map. I've heard it referred to as Diegueno (named after the despised former mission here) and Kumeyaay. The northern edge of San Diego County area is marked Uto-Aztecan and I heard them say that they can't understand each other's language at all ("them" being the few fluent speakers left). There's actually more Hokan speakers in Mexico, I understand, since they were left alone more than on the US side of the border.

If I remember correctly from what was told me, the entire area (Southern California) was formerly all Hokan. Later (I don't know if it was hundreds or thousands of years ago), the Uto-Aztecan invaded leaving the Hokan only on the margins on the map. You probably know this stuff better than I do though. Thanks.

- Dan

Re: Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:28 pm
by Yosemite_Indian
Hokan speakers are the oldest California group, than Paiutes expanded north and west centuries ago, and than when the white man entered so did the Penutians or Walla Walla, who followed the whites, who came down from Washington around the same time of Sutter's Fort. The Walla Walla became Miwoks and other groups.

Did you know the Walla Walla were used to fight the Modocs, and also helped kill off Ishi's people? Warms Springs Indians = Walla Walla

Walla Walla come to California:

Re: Yosemite Indian clothing; Paiute Rabbit Robes

PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:01 am
by ashleyjames222
The origin of the word Paiute is unclear. Some anthropologists have interpreted it as "Water Ute" or "True Ute." The Northern Paiute call themselves Numa (sometimes written Numu); the Southern Paiute call themselves Nuwuvi. Both terms mean "the people." The Northern Paiute are sometimes referred to as Paviotso. Early Spanish explorers called the Southern Paiute Payuchi (they did not make contact with the Northern Paiute). Early Euro-American settlers often called both groups of Paiute "Diggers" (presumably because of their practice of digging for roots). As the Paiute consider the term derogatory, they discourage its use