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Bighorn Sheep, Frogs, Sucker fish; Yosemite Indian places

Discussion about Yosemite National Park history, including Native Americans, Euro-American pioneers and settlement, and establishment as a national park.

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Bighorn Sheep, Frogs, Sucker fish; Yosemite Indian places

Postby Yosemite_Indian » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:23 am

Bighorn Sheep Sucker Fish and Frogs disappearing; part of Yosemite Paiute daily life.

Paiutes hunting Bighorn Sheep in the Sierra Nevada; Documented by John Muir

Recently there were stories in the news about Mountain Lions hunting and diminishing the struggling Bighorn Sheep population in eastern Yosemite through out Sierra Nevada.

Both Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Lions have been struggling to survive in a diminishing environment as humans encroach on their ever shrinking territories. Hopefully both species can thrive together and continue to grow and not end up on the growing list of animals that have gone extinct.

During the time when Paiutes and Mono Paiutes roamed the Sierra Nevada the Bighorn Sheep were abundant and we hunted them seasonally. The father of the modern day environmental movement, John Muir, documented Yosemite – Mono Lake Paiutes tracking and hunting Bighorn Sheep around Yosemite. Now the Bighorn Sheep are in danger of disappearing.

It would be a sad day if the Bighorn Sheep disappeared forever. Years ago we Paiutes lived and knew this animal very well. In fact Koip Peak, Koip Pass, and Koip Ridge are named after the Bighorn Sheep. In his book The Discovery of the Yosemite by Lafayette H. Bunnell he wrote about the Ahwahneechees “That nearly all were descendants of the neighboring tribes on both sides of “Kay-o-pha,” or “Skye Mountains;” the “High Sierras.” Tenaya’s band was made up of Paiute, Mono Paiute, and Monache Indians who were outlaws from different Paiute bands. Bunnell’s “Kay-o-pha” is “Koip”.

Bighorn Sheep like in Yosemite's high mountains

The Paiute people used to give places names after animals or plants in the area. Sometimes the place in question looked like the animal, in one case the amphibious frog.

Like the Bighorn Sheep there were other species that Paiutes would encounter in Yosemite, and some of them were amphibian frogs and toads. Just like the Bighorn Sheep, today the Yosemite Toad and the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog are also in danger of extinction. The frogs and toads of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada are disappearing in an alarming rate. Some people believe the frogs are affected by Global Warming or it could be other factors. In Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute a frog is called “Pomog’o” and you can see the influence of frogs and toads in Paiute culture. Frogs were part of Paiute stories and legends. Below is a Paiute beaded basket with a frog motif;

Beaded Paiute basket with "pomog'o" frog motif

In Yosemite there is a place called in English “The Three Brothers” but it is “Pom-pom-pa-sa” or “Frogs jumping over each other” in the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute language. In Mono Paiute some times things that are plural, the first syllable is repeated twice to emphasize that there is more than one. Here is a photo by the famous British photographer Eadweard Muybridge of Pom-pom-pasa and a drawing of frogs playing leap frog in an old famous book about Yosemite;

Drawing of frogs playing leap frog titled "Pom-pom-pa-sa" from on Yosemite book, Photo of Yosemite's Three Brothers by Eadweard Muybridge with Paiute name "Pom-pom-pa-sus"

Native fish in Yosemite are also struggling to survive and there are two fish located around the Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada that are disappearing or struggling. They are the Paiute Trout named after our people, and the Sacramento Sucker fish. At one time the Sacramento Sucker fish was one of the only fish to have lived in the higher elevations of Yosemite. The Sacramento Sucker now lives mainly in lower Yosemite, but the introduction of non-native fish has been disastrous to the native fish.

Yosemite NPS say that Miwoks called Ahwahnee “The place with the wide gaping mouth”, but they never asked Paiutes if there is a similar name in Paiute. We Paiutes do have tales of a place called “Owahnee” in our legends, but what fascinated me was the Park’s definition of Ahwahnee as being “The place with the wide gaping mouth”. There are only a couple of fish that could’ve survived living high up in Yosemite and the upper mountains. Before the introduction of non-native fish only a handful of native fish could survive the cold Yosemite winters and they were Sucker fish. In Paiute we call Sucker Fish “Ah’wa’ago” which means fish with a “WIDE GAPPING MOUTH” as in Ahwahnee. I don’t have a drawing or photo of the Sacramento Sucker but I do have a drawing of a Tahoe Sucker which is another native fish that can survive the cold high regions of the Sierra Nevada, note the name:

Tahoe Sucker fish with Paiute name for Sucker fish which is "Ah'wa'ago" which means "Fish with wide gaping mouth"

So this Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute person is sadden to hear that the Bighorn Sheep are struggling to survive since they played an integral part in the lives of Paiute and Mono Indians, as did the other animals, frogs, snakes, fish, birds and Native plants now also fighting to survive in Yosemite.

As Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes we can relate to these endangered species as the native indigenous people of Yosemite. Like these natives species we are also struggling to survive in the Park as we face eradication and extinction of our people from the history of Yosemite National Park.

Also you can try to write out Paiutes from Yosemite, but you cannot erase the Paiute meanings to many place names in Yosemite.
Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute Colony of Ahwahnee
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