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Next: Chapter 23 The Mi'-wok.

"Miwok," "Yosemite," and "Pai-u'-ti" Chapters from Tribes of California by Stephen Powers (1877)


Stephen Powers had a unique way of learning about the Native Americans of California. Instead of talking to translators, early European settlers, or just reading other people’s writings, he talked directly to Native Americans tribes in California. Mr. Powers seemed to have a real knack to relate to the Indian people that others could not. Mr. Powers has been criticized in his time as an “amateur,” but his research is first-rate, even if some of his conclusions are suspect (such as the high population estimates before European settlement). Still, he has done first-rate original research, rather than repeat or distort inaccurate “facts” second-hand.

The information presented here is just two chapters from Mr. Powers’ book, Tribes of California—the chapters pertaining to the Miwok people in Yosemite. The information was gathered in 1871 and 1972 and 1875 and 1876. The book was printed as a report under the authority of the U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, then under the command of Major J. W. Powell, who had an interest in collecting information about American Indians.

Anthropologist Alfred L. Krober, in Handbook of the Indians of California (1925), said this of Mr. Powers’ Tribes of California:

[It is] one of the most remarkable documents ever printed by any government. Powers was a journalist by profession, and it is true that his enthology is often the crudest . . . . He possessed . . . an astoundingly quick and vivid sympathy, a power of observation as keen as it was untrained, and an invariably spirited gift of portrayal that rises at times into the realm of the sheerly fascinating. Anthropologically his great service lies in the fact that with all the looseness of his data and method he was able to a greater degree than anyone before or after him to seize and fix the salient qualities of the mentality of the people he described.

Table of Contents



Chapter XXXIII.


A dense aboriginal population—A common language, but no nationality—Greeting—Characteristics—Tribal geography—The Walli—Houses—Food—Shell-money—Chieftainship—Old Sam—Tai-pok'-si—Honeymoons—Kill one of twins—Medicine—Dancers—Annual mourning—A legend of the Tu-ol-um-ne—Creation of man—Numerals.

Chapter XXXIV.


Meaning of names—Origin of the word—Interpreters—Old Jim—List of names—Translations—Villages in the valley—Legend of Tu-tok-a-nu'-la—Legend of Tis-sé-yak—Other legends.

Chapter XXXVI.


On Kern RiverLodges and canoes of tuleChicoAn aboriginal philosopherA number of quaint. and curious conceitsPokoh'The sun and the coyote— The Tilli— The Pohalli-Tilli— The MonosPersonal appearanceMore warlike than CaliforniansThe black eagleThe big treesBears in council.

Chapter XXXVII.


Fate of California Indians—A shy race—The reservations—A failure for lack of management—Terror of the reservation—Moral abdication—Physically considered—Superior to Chinese—Height and weight—Fine teeth—Fondness for bathing—Half-breed girls—War and women—Not a warlike race—Contests with the Spaniards—Women not so low as among the Algoukins—Absence of bloody rites—Lack of breadth of character—Very imitative—Indifference to defeat in gamine Lack of poetry in character—Quickness of their self-adaptation to civilization—Native humor—Naturally thievish—Northern tribes avaricious—Rule of the gift-givers—Feuds, murder, and revenge—A licentious race—But outwardly modest—No aboriginal idea of a Supreme Being—Spirits and devils—Rev. J. G. Wood’s theory of savage vices combated—The Californians were prosperous and happy—Dense populations—A healthy race—Romance of savage life a delusion.

Appendix: Linguistics.



Bibliographical Information

Stephen Powers 1840-1904 Tribes of California in Contributions to North American Ethnology, Volume III, Department of the Interior, U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, J. W. Powell, in charge (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877). Reprinted 1976 by University of California Press with an introduction and annotations by Dr. Robert F. Heizer (1915-1979). The reprint omits a foldout map and the Appendix with word lists for various California Indian dialects.

The chapters on the Mi'-wok and Yosemite were first published in serial form, with less detail, in “The California Indians: No. VII—The Meewocs,” Overland Monthly 10(4);322-333 (April 1873).

Digitized by Dan Anderson, June 2004 and August 2007. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice is left intact.
    —Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us

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Next: Chapter 23 The Mi'-wok.

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