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Tribes of California by Stephen Powers (1877)


I have above intimated that there is a large infusion of Paiuti elements in the lower end of the great California basin, arising from early invasions. Among these tribes are the Pal-li-ga-wo-nap' (from pal-up', “stream”, and e-ke'-wan, “large”) on Kern River; the Ti-pa-to-la'-pa on the South Fork of the Kern; and the Wi-nan-gik' on the North Fork. Another name for the Tipatolapa was the Ku-chi-bich-i-wa-nap' Pal-up' (little stream). At Bakersfield was a tribe called by the Yokuts, Pal-e'-um-mi. In the famous Tahichapah Pass was a tribe called by themselves Ta-hi-cha-pa-han'-na; by the Kern River Indians, Ta-hichp'; and by the Yokuts, K-wi'-a-suh. They are now extinct. The Kern River Indians were called by the Yokuts of Fort Tejon, Pi-tan'-ni-suh; and the Indians at Kern Lake, Pal-wu'-nuh (which denotes “down below”). On Kern River Slough are the Po-e'-lo; at Kern River Falls, the To-mo'-la; on Posa Creek, the Be'-ku. On White River there are no Indians, neither have there been any for many years, owing to the prevalence of malaria; but there are indications that the lands along this stream were once inhabited.


As above stated, these Indians lived on Kern River; this one tribe may stand for all on the branches of this stream, and also for those formerly occupying Posa Creek and White River. All the lower waters of the Kern and of these other streams flow through a low malarious region which is very unhealthy. It is related by the Indians that all the aborigines living about Kern Lake perished in one year with the scourge of chills and fever. The dwellers on Posa Creek and White River often suffered terribly from the same disease, and finally, within the American period, or very soon before it, they all removed to a place called Whisky Flat, in the more salubrious region of the foot-hills, from which they went down to their old home only once a year, in the spring, to gather food-seeds.

The Palligawonap have the Paiuti custom of burying the dead. They have no sweat-houses, but there are ruins of old ones in various places in their domain, which were doubtless made there by the California Indians proper, whom they expelled.

They live in wigwams made of tule, woven and matted into various fashions. Tule is also the material from which they construct a rude watercraft. This is only about six feet in length, with the bow very long and sharp-rounded, and the stern cut nearly square across; sides perpendicular; a small tule keel running along the middle, dividing the bottom into two sides. It will carry only one man, and he has to be very careful when standing up to keep his feet one on each side of the keel, or the bobbing thing will capsize. It is used principally in fishing, for which purpose they employ a three-pronged gig pointed with bone. They show much more skill in balancing themselves in the boat than they do in making it.

I saw only one of the tribe, named Chico, on the Tule River Reservation, and he presented the traditional physique of the Californian—very dark-skinned, pudgy in stature, large cheek-bones, nose depressed at the root, brachycephalic head, etc. He was a singular Indian, a real philosopher; had traveled much over Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, broadening the range of his intellectual vision; spoke English and Spanish fluently, besides several Indian tongues; and was as full of curious, quaint, barbaric superstitions, poetical conceits, common sense, and inflated egotism as an egg is of meat, though these various knowledges and fancies were wofully mingled in his brain. I will attempt to give only a few of his ideas.

Po-koh', the Old Man, created the world. He was a being of a capacious head, full of many and great thoughts, and in his voluminous blankets he found room to carry about enough gifts for all men. He created every separate tribe out of soil taken from the place where they now live; hence it is that the Indian’s desire is so strong to live and die in his native place. Pokoh intended that men should not wander and travel, but should be content in their birthplace. In the folds of Ins great blankets he carried around an immense number of gifts, with which he endowed every man according to his will, and every tribe according to his pleasure, with which gifts every one ought to be content.

Long ago the sun was a man, and was bad, but the moon was good. The sun’s rays are arrows, and he has a quiver full of them. These arrows are deadly, for the sun wishes to kill all things. IIe gave an arrow to every animal according to his power; to the lion the greatest; to the grizzly bear the next, and so on, though no animal received an arrow that would kill a man. The man is lord of all.

The sun has two daughters (Venus and Mercury), and twenty men kill them; but after fifty days they return to life again.

The rainbow is the sister of Pokoh, and her breast is covered with flowers. Other Indians say, whenever they see a rainbow, that at that very hour some maiden has reached that first mysterious and momentous event which marks her transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Lightning strikes the ground and fills the flints with fire, which is the source of fire. A “California diamond” will be found wherever it strikes the ground. Some say the beaver brought fire from the east, hauling it on his broad, flat tail, and that is the reason why it has no hair on it to this day.

The carved stone mortars found in many parts of California were made by a race of men that lived long ago. There is one book for the father, and another for the son. Men pass away, and others come in their places.

There are many worlds, some that have passed, and some that are to come. In one world the Indians all creep, in another they all walk, in another they all fly, etc. They may even begin by swimming in the water like fish; in the next, they may walk on four legs; in the next, on two, etc. Other men may walk in this world, and in another crawl like a snake or swim like a fish. These are bad men.


A long time ago the coyote wanted to go to the sun. IIe asked Pokoh the road, and he showed him. He went straight out on this road, and traveled in it all day, but the sun went round, so that the coyote came back at night to the place where he started in the morning. The next morning he asked Pokoh the road, and he showed him, but he traveled all day, and came back at night to the same place again. But the third day he started early, and went right out to the edge of the world and sat down on the hole where the sun came up. While waiting for the sun he pointed with his bow and arrow toward various places, as if he were about to shoot, and pretended not to see the sun. When the sun came up he told the coyote to get out of his way. But the coyote told him to go round, that it was his road, and he would not get out of the way. But the sun came up under him, and he had to hitch forward a little. After the sun came up a little way it began to get hot on the coyote’s shoulder, and he spit on his paw and rubbed his shoulder. Then he wanted to ride up with the sun. The sun tried to persuade him not to do it, but he would go. So he got on, and the sun started up a path in the sky which was marked off into steps like a ladder, and as he went up he counted “one, two, three “, etc. Presently the coyote got very thirsty, and he asked the sun for a drink of water. He gave him an acorn-cup full, and the coyote asked him why he had no more. Toward noon he got impatient. It was very hot, and the sun told him to close his eyes. He did so, but opened them again, and so kept opening and shutting them all the afternoon. At night, when the sun came down, the coyote took hold of a tree, clambered off, and got down to the ground.

In this pathway of the sun, with steps like a ladder, there is undoubtedly a trace of an ancient zodiac myth. Some persons insist that the Indians must have learned this from the Mexicans or the early Jesuits. The story is sufficiently poor, certainly, but such as it is it must be the invention of the Indians in everything except the one little particular of the graded pathway, at any rate, for no civilized person would have conceived such a fable. These critics, then, would leave the Indians everything but this item; but this they would take away from them because it has a faint suspicion of civilization about it! Such reasoning is contemptible.


In their own language these Indians call themselves Nūt'-ha. Why the Spaniards named them Mono (monkeys) is not very clear. Although rather an undersized race, they by no means justify the appellation, either in appearance or in character, for they are a manly, warlike people, and were anciently a great terror to the Yokuts. They are several shades lighter than the latter; and with their raven-black hair worn quite down to the shoulders, their smallish features, and their quick, suspicious eyes glancing out from under their great Spanish sombreros, they present a rather singular appearance. They still retain many of the simple virtues of a race of hardy, honest mountaineers, and are mostly free from those brutish practices which disgrace the lowlanders. For years they resisted the inroads of whisky, the great leveler which laid low their valley neighbors. They are a healthy people, and are said to be increasing even now. They do not bathe the entire person daily, like the lowland tribes, but they sometimes take sweat-baths, then run and plunge into cold water. Probably owing largely to their isolated position they are exclusive, and refuse to intermarry with other tribes.

The Mono are an offshoot of the Nevada Indians, and should be properly classified with them, but they have been so long on the western slope of the Sierra, and acquired so many California habits and usages, that they may be included here. Many years ago—it is impossible to ascertain how long ago—they came over from Owen’s River Valley, and conquered for themselves a territory on the upper reaches of the San Joaquin and King’s River, the lower boundaries of which were indicated in the previous chapter.

They are not such a joyous race as the Californians, and have no annual merry-makings, though they sometimes celebrate a good harvest of acorns; and they think that a certain great being in the east, who is nameless to them, must be propitiated at times with a grand hunt and a feast following it, else there will be disease and bad luck in their camps. Their business is with war, and fighting, and hunting; hence they have more taciturnity, more stern immobility of feature, than the Californians. It was they who introduced among the Yokuts, in recent years, the red paint, the terrible emblem of war and bloodshed, which appears to have been unused by the latter before that. They pursue and slay the grizzly bear in single-handed combat, or in companies, with bows and arrows, but the Yokuts hold that animal in mortal terror, and refuse even to partake of its flesh when slain.

The black eagle is sacred to them, and they never kill one, but they pluck out the feathers of those that die, and wear them on their heads as one of their most valuable ornaments. When they succeed in capturing a young one, after two weeks they have a great dance and jubilation around it, then sell it to another village, that they may do likewise.

The California big tree is also in a manner sacred to them, and they call it woh-woh'-nau, a word formed in imitation of the hoot of the owl, which is the guardian spirit and deity of this great monarch of the forest. It is productive of bad luck to fell this tree, or to mock or shoot the owl, or even to shoot in his presence. Bethel states that they have often, in earlier years, tried to persuade him not to cut them down—pity they could not have succeeded!—and that when they see a teamster going along the road with a wagon-load of lumber made from these trees, they will cry out after him, and tell him the owl will visit him with evil luck.

The hunter who penetrates into the great forests of the high Sierra sometimes notices a tree which looks scratched about the base. The Mono account for this appearance in the following manner : Once in awhile the grizzly bears assemble in a council, great and small together, and sit down in a circle in the forest with some huge Old Ephraim occupying the post of honor as chairman. There they sit a long time, bolt upright on their tails, in a silence as profound as that of a Quaker meeting. After awhile the old chairman drops down on all-fours and goes to the tree, rears up and hugs it with his fore-paws, and dances around it. After him the next largest one takes his turn, then the next, and so on, down to the cubs. When a Mono hunter sees them in a council thus, or perceives by the indications that they have recently held one, he hastens home and notifies his companions of the circumstance. They consider that the bears hold these councils for the purpose of making war on them, and for a certain number of days after the discovery is made they carefully refrain from hunting the animals, or even from firing off a gun where they would be likely to hear it, lest they should enrage them. The younger Indians laugh at this story.

Subjoined are the numerals of some of those tribes, taken at the localities indicated. As the Tahichapahannah are extinct, I was obliged to procure their numerals from the Kern River Indians.


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