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


Grasshoppers, ko'djo (P, N), auto (C), ko'tco (C, S), were much esteemed as food and were taken in systematic drives, usually in June. An entire village, or several villages, assembled in an open grassy area, where the insects were abundant. A grassy area, surrounded by a strip of bare ground, was preferred. Each family dug one or more holes, a foot in diameter and three feet deep. These were the focal point of the drive. Quantities of dry grass were piled on the ground among these holes, to be used as a smudge. If available, pine branches were set up for the insects to alight on.

The people then formed a large circle, the diameter depending on the number participating, and drove the grasshoppers toward these pits. Men, women, and children swung bunches of grass back and forth like brooms. The narrowness of the pits contributed greatly to the capture of the insects, making it difficult for them to jump out. When the insects had been corralled in the pits and in the area immediately surrounding them, the dry grass was lighted. This singed the wings of those that tried to fly and smothered most of the remainder. The grasshoppers were in part immediately eaten and in part dried for winter use. In either case they were cooked further. When all was ready the chief of the group would say: “Let us eat and have a good time.”

There were two methods of cooking grasshoppers, parching in an openwork basket, and cooking in the earth oven. This oven was circular, twelve to eighteen inches deep, six feet in diameter. A layer of hot stones was put in it. These were covered with green tule (puya, N), then grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were in turn covered with green tule. Hot stones were put on the pile above the tule covering. The cooking took less than half a day. Several families cooked in the same oven. The grasshoppers belonging to each were segregated by layers or partitions of tule. Women made and tended the oven, although sometimes old men dug the pit.

A Northern Miwok informant participated in an unusual drive at Jackson, Amador county. A vineyardist invited the Indians to rid his vines of grasshoppers, paying them in flour, sugar, and other commodities. In the very early morning the old women (grandmothers) beat the vines, so that the grasshoppers fell into burden baskets (dlma, N) held below. Seed-beaters (tcama, N), of second-growth chaparral, were used to knock the insects off. With dew on the leaves the grasshoppers did not fly. The grasshoppers were transferred to acorn-soup baskets (wilka, N), covered with basket plaques (ulita, N). After scalding, the grasshoppers were spread on basket plaques to dry.

Cocoons from a hairy caterpillar, perhaps the Army Worm, were called lū'lūmai. They were found on hushes, and being brown in color were hard to see. The collectors called the syllable lul, which is said to cause them to shake so that they can be seen. Apparently, the vibration of the voice affects them. The chrysalids were steamed in the earth oven, or boiled, and eaten with salt. If the quantity was great, the surplus was sun-dried and stored in twined storage baskets (hupulu, C). When used later they were soaked in hot water two or three minutes to soften them, then eaten with acorn mush.

Chrysalids of the Pandora Moth, Coloradia pandora, (tikku, C), found high in the mountains, were parched.63

Five-inch green “worms” (okō'med, C), found on certain plants yielding edible seeds, were squeezed out, braided in a long rope, and wound around the arm. Later they were steamed. Both men and women gathered them.

The larvae of the yellowjacket, called me'layu (C), were also eaten. The finding of the yellowjacket nest involved following a yellowjacket to it. A grasshopper leg was used as bait and a dry pod of Holcus lanatus (hesnila, C) was attached to the grasshopper leg. As the yellowjacket flew off with the marked grasshopper leg, it was possible to follow its flight because of the easy visibility of the dry pod.

The raspberry gall (woaiko, C) on the leaves of Quercus douglasii is caused by the insect Dryophanta echina. Oak galls contain much tannic or gallic acid. These are among our best known styptics and are much used in eye washes.64 The Central Miwok, at least, used a decoction made from the raspberry gall as a medicine for inflamed eyes (patcaku, C).

63Cf. Gifford, 1932, 23.
64We are indebted to Dr. E. C. Van Dyke for this information.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management