Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: Earth LodgeContentsPrevious: Shelter

Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


Difficulty was encountered in determining the exact scope of the terms applied to houses, especially since purely aboriginal structures are completely lacking and intermediate types common. Apparently, too, there is considerable doubt in the native mind as to just how the terms were applied formerly. The following seem to be the several types of dwellings:

Umū'tca (P, N, C) seems to be the specific term for a conical bark house, sometimes with an inner layer of pine needles and an outer laver of earth heaped against its lower parts.

Kō'dja (P), and ko'tca (N, C) apparently designate a semi-subterranean earth-covered dwelling.

Ū'tcū (C, S) apparently designates a modern board house.

Wo’lle (P), ko’llī (N), and mole (C) designate a simple conical framework of poles covered with a thatch of brush, grass, or tule (wallakayu, C) bound on, in overlapping courses, with grapevine withes. In the hot, dry, rainless summer, the thatch was put on loosely, so as to allow free passage of air, thus making a shade or sun shelter. The terms also apply to shades or sun shelters more or less rectangular and flat-topped in form. Such easily constructed shades were erected on summer camping trips. The flat-topped shade, in particular, served as a pleasant working or resting place by clay, for the women and children, and as a sleeping place by night. Often thistle stems (Carduus californicus), sawala (C), were laid about such a sleeping place to keep away rattlesnakes, king snakes, and a large lizard called metubu (C), which was reputed to bite and not let go, thus causing the victim’s death and subsequent cremation with the lizard still attached. Herpetologists state that the only reptile to be feared was the Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oregonus).

Tcaama (C) was a portable conical house with tule mat covering and tule mat door. All of the mats were fastened to sticks, for rolling and ready transport. This type was employed below 1500 feet elevation in Central Miwok territory.

Sitcma (C) was a very small conical hut, covered with either bark or tule. An aged person or a newly menstruating girl was relegated to it. Apparently the special designation refers to use rather than to any structural peculiarity.

In the mountains the preferred covering for conical dwellings, which ranged from eight to fifteen feet in diameter, was slabs of Incense Cedar bark (ene'na, N, C, S), but bark from other conifers was also used. This was stripped only from dead trees, and the Digger Pine was especially mentioned for the Upper Sonoran zone, the Western Yellow Pine and Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), pusine (C), for the Transition zone. No framework or center post was necessary: the bark slabs were leaned together and supported one another. No binding was required. Weather tightness was secured by overlaying the cracks with other slabs until there were three or four thicknesses. The entrance was an opening left in the sloping side. There was no built-out framework or doorway. The opening was closed with a large bark slab, kept leaning against the house when not in place. Powers (fig. 37) pictures a half-open summer hut of bark.

Large earth-covered semi-subterranean dwellings, in which a dozen people could live, were constructed at times, in the plains, hills, and mountains. The pit of such a one was examined at the site of the former village of Eyeyaku, near Tuolumne, at about 2500 feet elevation. This type of dwelling was similar in construction, but smaller than, an assembly house (haņi, C), to be described below; it was, however, entered by a ladder through the roof.68 There was no dancing in this type of house. The Plains Miwok describe this as a rather rare type of winter house, built by men of importance.

In the center of a dwelling was a fireplace, a shallow depression. The fire furnished warmth, and light at night. Here some of the cooking was done. Beside the fire was the earth oven, a simple pit a foot or eighteen inches deep by a foot or more across. In it, by means of hot stones, acorn bread, greens, bulbs, corms, meat, and fish, were baked or steamed.

The inmates slept on and under mats or skins (usually deerskins, talka, C) spread upon Digger or Western Yellow Pine needles on the earthen floor. A chief used bear hides for bed and seat. Occasionally a well-to-do man had a sleeping bench (etcī'nnī, P; ya'ņa, N) or bed of willow or other poles, raised fifteen to eighteen inches off the floor. Sometimes a small stump or block of wood served as a stool. Leaves of a species of Cyperus (kistsi, C) were used for a seat outdoors as well as indoors. Pine needles were piled up for a pillow, or sometimes a rolled coyote (aseli, C) skin was used.

In the dwellings of poor people there might be a scarcity of bed covers, so that a person would have to sleep between fires to keep warm. A man might lie facing the main fire with a small fire of oak bark behind him. Oak bark was selected because the coals retained heat for a long time. The man’s back might become purple from the heat.

Only one family occupied a house, though sometimes a newly married son or daughter might reside with the family for a time after marriage. The new relative-in-law did his share in providing for the whole family.

68Krause, map 4.

Next: Earth LodgeContentsPrevious: Shelter

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management