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Next: 58. Place Names [Miwok and Mono only]ContentsPrevious: 30. The Miwok

Handbook of Indians of California (1919), by A. L. Kroeber (1919)

Chapter 40.


The Northern Paiute: Nomenclature, 581; the Great Basin culture, 582; the two ghost dance waves, 583; tribal data, 584. The Mono: Designations, 584; eastern and western Mono, 585; western Mono divisions, 585; eastern Mono territory, 586; numbers, 586; culture, 587; totemic grouping, 587; other notes, 588. The Koso or Panamint: Connections, 589; habitat and population, 589; manufactures, 590; subsistence, 591.

The Northern Paiute.


The northeasternmost corner of California is held by a Shoshonean people who popularly are known by the blanket term “Paiute.” People of the same speech and very similar customs occupy the adjacent parts of Nevada, in fact the whole northwestern third of that State; the majority of the eastern half of Oregon; roughly the southern half of Idaho; and they extend southward along the eastern border of California, except for the local interruption of the Washo, for 300 or 400 miles. In Nevada and Oregon they are called Paiutes; in central California sometimes by this term and sometimes Mono; in Idaho they are the Bannock. The form of speech over this vast stretch is, however, virtually identical: minor dialects may be numerous, but intelligibility prevails throughout. Mono-Bannock is perhaps the generic designation least open to confusion. Paviotso is the term of the Shoshoni proper for the Nevada members of the group, but, like Mono and Monachi, is too limited in its application to serve for the entire Mono-Bannock body without producing opportunity for error.

The unqualified term “Paiute” is unfortunate because it refers to two quite different peoples, both indeed Shoshonean, and Plateau Shoshonean at that, but of quite distinct divisions. The other Paiute are in southern Utah, southern Nevada, and southern California. Their affiliations are with the Ute and Chemehuevi, and their speech is divergent enough from that of their northern namesakes to be at first contact mainly unintelligible, at least as connected discourse.

As a matter of fact, the Mono-Bannock and Ute-Chemehuevi divisions seem nowhere to be even in contact, Shoshoni-Comanche tribes intervening from California to Colorado. The distinction between Southern Paiutes and Northern Paiutes will therefore be rigidly adhered to hereafter whenever the term is used at all. For the former term, Chemehuevi is a customary and convenient synonym in southern California. For the latter, “Mono “occupies a similar position in central California. Only the Northern Paiute in northern California have no alternative epithet. Paviotso originated in eastern Nevada, and is locally unknown in California. The northwestern Maidu call the Northern Paiute near them Monozi or Mona, which are evidently forms of Monachi and Mono. This very fact of its being a related name for a related people would make Monozi a desirable designation were it not that Mono has become so definitely identified with the central Californian Shoshoneans of the same division that its extension, even in slightly altered form, to a people several hundred miles distant would be certain to cause confusion. For our northeasterly Californians, then, the unwieldy designation “Northern Paiute” seems to remain as the only safe one.

The only other native ethnic name known for the Northern Paiute is Toloma, applied by the northeastern Maidu.


These people should be described in connection with those of Nevada and Oregon, of whom they constitute a minute peripheral fraction. They can, in fact, not be described here because nothing of any significance is known of them, and little of moment of their main body to the east. Their country was un-Californian. What has been said before of Great Basin tribes that belong to California unnaturally and only through the courtesy of arbitrary political lines is particularly applicable here. The land is one of sagebrush and cedar, as what appears to be really a juniper is currently called. The acorn of California has vanished. The true pine nut takes its place only in a measure. The soil is desert, the mountains rocky, with timber in spots. Lakes are numerous, but they are evaporation pools, swampy sinks, or salt basins. Streams run only in the mountains, and flow nowhere. The outlook is wide of necessity, the population scant, travel and movement almost enforced. The Californian self-chaining to a short compass, with a dim gloom everywhere beyond, is impossible. But, to compensate, subsistence is slender and a constant makeshift. There may be leisure indeed, but it is an intermittent idleness, not the occupied and productive luxury of well-fed time. The imagination has little occasion for flight; or when the opportunity arises, there is but scant stimulus in the concrete basis of life. Customs, therefore, remain rude. They are too flexible to bear any ramifying elaboration. Ritual, symbolism, and art attain little intensity, and monotonous simplicity takes the place of a rich growth. Where an activity specializes, it develops in isolation, and fails to merge or expand into a broad scheme: eagle hunting, shamans’ singing, mourning customs fix the attention, not an assemblage of the gods or a coordinated series of rites.

The very poverty of Nevadan native civilization endows it with an interest. Its numberless little but crudely effective devices to struggle along under this burden, its occasional short plunges here or there, contain a wealth of significance. But we can only glimpse this cultural story from bits of stray knowledge. Its import and tenor can scarcely be mistaken; but the episodes that make the real tale have never been assembled.

We must leave the Northern Paiute of our northeasterly angle of California to some future historian of the bordering States. That they had much in common with their Maidu and Achomawi neighbors in the detail of their existence can not be doubted. But it is equally certain that in other respects they were true Basin people, members of a substantially homogeneous mass that extended eastward to the crest of the Rockies, and that in some measure, whether to a considerable or a subsidiary extent, was infiltrated with thoughts and practices whose hearth was in the Plains beyond. Several traces of this remote influence have already been detected among the Achomawi.


It was a Northern Paiute, though one of Nevada, Jack Wilson or Wovoka, who in 1889 in his obscurity gave birth to the great ghost-dance movement; and before him his father, or another relative, about 1870, originated a similar wave, whose weaker antecedent stimulus carried it less far and scarcely impressed the American public. In both cases the fringe of Northern Paiute whom we hold under consideration were involved with the main body of their kinsmen to the southeast, and passed the doctrine westward, the first time to the Modoc, the second to the Achomawi. The later and greater agitation stopped there: the California Indian inside the Sierra had long since given up all hope and wish of the old life and adapted himself as best he might to the new civilization that engulfed him. But in the early seventies less than 25 years had passed since the pre-American clays of undisturbed and undiluted native existence. The middle-aged Indian of northern California had spent his early years under its conditions; the idea of its renewal seemed not impossible; and its appeal to his imagination was stirring. From Klamath Lake the tidings were carried to the Shasta; from them they spread to Karok, Yurok, and Athabascan tribes. The doctrine, taking new forms, but keeping something of its kernel, worked its uneasy way about and somewhere was carried across and up the Sacramento Valley, until, among the Porno and southern Wintun, it merged with the old religion, crystallized, and remains to-day a recognizable element in ceremonial.


The band of Northern Paiute of Surprise Valley and on Upper, Middle, and Lower Alkali Lakes, south of Fort Bidwell, were the Kaivanungavidukw. To the north, around Warner Lake in Oregon, but ranging southward toward or to Fort Bidwell, were the Tuziyammo, also known as Ochoho’s band. The Honey Lake group were the Waratika or Wadatika, the “wada-seed eaters.” East of these, over the State line, the Smoke Creek region seems to have belonged to the Kuyui-dika or “sucker-eaters,” the Pyramid Lake people or Winnemucca’s band. (Pl. 37.)

The California limits of the Northern Paiute are not quite certain. The doubts that exist have been aired in the foregoing discussions of Achomawi, Atsugewi, and Maidu. The present population appears to be in the vicinity of 300. It probably never exceeded double this figure.



After the alien Washo have been passed in a southward journey along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada, Mono-Bannock people are again encountered. They can now be named Monos with little fear of misunderstanding.

The word Mono means “monkey” in Spanish, but this signification, some guesses notwithstanding, can be eliminated from consideration of the origin of the term. So can a Yokuts folk etymology, which derives it from monai, monoyi, “flies,” on the ground that the Mono scaled the cliffs of their high mountains as the insect walks up the wall of a house. Monachi is the Yokuts term for the people, corresponding to Miwok Mono-k, and to Maidu Monozi for the Northern Paiute. It is a meaningless name. The subtraction of the tribal suffix chi leaves a stem of which a Spaniard could hardly have made anything but Mono. Whether the Yokuts originated the word, or whether it comes from some Shoshonean or other source, is not known. The Mono call themselves only Nümü, which means no more than “persons.”

Besides Monachi, the Yokuts call the western Mono Nuta'a (plural Nuchawayi), which, however, is only a directional term meaning “uplanders,” and therefore generally easterners. That it is not a true ethnic term is clear from the fact that Garcés, in 1776, used the same name, in the form Noche, for the southern foothill Yokuts themselves. Malda is a specific southern Yokuts term for the Kern River Shoshoneans, and perhaps for all members of the family. The eastern Mono of Owens Valley are called by themselves or their kinsmen Pitanakwat, which probably means “pine-nut-eaters,” after a system of tribal or band nomenclature that prevails over much of Nevada and the surrounding Shoshonean regions. The Kern River Tobatulabal call the eastern Mono, Yiwinanghal; the western Mono, Winanghatal.


The bulk of Mono territory and population is still in the Great Basin; but a branch is established in the high Sierra, at least in its marginal, permanently habitable portion, from which they look down on the foothill and valley Yokuts. The upper San Joaquin, Kings, and Kaweah comprise this domain, in which all the pine forest, and some stretches below it, are Mono. The dialect east and west of the huge crest is not identical, but appears to be remarkably similar considering that the two parts of the people have only their backs in contact—if contact it be with one of the earth’s greatest walls between—and that their outlooks are opposite. The western, cis-Sierra, truly Californian Mono can hardly, therefore, have come into their present seats very long ago, as the historian reckons; and they are certainly newer than their neighbors, the Tübatulabal of Kern River, or the southern Californians of the same family. Both the western and the eastern halves answer to the name Mono, and the Yokuts call them both Monachi.


The western Mono have several distinctive names applied to them by the Yokuts. It is not clear whether the Mono themselves employ these, or equivalents; nor whether, as the names might indicate, the Mono have borrowed the tribal organization of the Yokuts, or the latter merely attribute their own political unity to each Mono group to which its habitat gives a topographic unity.

On the North Fork of the San Joaquin, close to the Chukchansi, Dalinchi, and half-mythical Toltichi, as well as the uppermost of the southern Miwok on Fresno River, was a Mono band that survives in some strength to-day, but for which no “tribal” name is known.

South of the San Joaquin, on Big Sandy Creek, and toward if not on the heads of Little and Big Dry Creeks, were the Posgisa or Poshgisha. Their Yokuts neighbors were the Gashowu.

On a series of confluent streams—of which Big, Burr, and Sycamore Creeks are the most important—entering Kings River above Mill Creek, were the Holkoma. Towincheba has been given as a synonym and Kokoheba as the name of a coordinate neighboring tribe, but both appear to be designations of Holkoma villages.

At the head of Mill Creek, a southern affluent of Kings River, and in the pine ridges to the north, were the Wobonuch. Their Yokuts associates were the Michahai, Chukaimina, and Entimbich. In regard to the latter there is some confusion whether they are Yokuts or Mono.

On Limekiln and Eshom Creeks and the North Fork of Izaweah River were the Waksachi, whose Yokuts contacts were primarily with the Wükchamni.

On the Kaweah itself, especially on its south side, the Balwisha had their home. They, too, associated with the Wukchamni lower down on their own stream, but also with the Yaudanchi on the headwaters of Tule River, the next stream south.

This makes six named western Mono divisions, one each, roughly speaking, on each side of the three great streams that flow through their territory. Their more precise location appears on the Yokuts map (Pl. 47).


The eastern Mono inhabit a long, arid depression that lies along the base of the Sierra. Numerous small streams descend, even on this almost rainless side, from the snowy summits; and through most of the valley there flows one fair-sized longitudinal stream, the Owens River—the Jordan of California—and, like it, lost in a salt sea. The exact southward limits of the Mono have not been recorded, it appears. The line between them and the Koso, the next group beyond, has been drawn between Independence and Owens Lake; but it is possible that the shores of this sheet should have been assigned rather to the Mono.

Eastward and northward the Mono extend indefinitely across the diagonal line that gives the State of Nevada its characteristic contour. There appears to be no consequential change of dialect and no great modification of custom. On Owens River and around Mono Lake the people are sometimes called Mono and sometimes Paiute; in western Nevada they are only Paiutes; as the center of that State is approached, the Shoshoni name Paviotso begins to be applicable. To the Paiute of Pyramid Lake they are all, together with the bands far in Oregon, one people.

To the northwest, toward the Washo, the Mono boundary is formed by the watershed between Carson and Walker Rivers.


The Mono are to-day the most numerous body of Indians in California. The eastern Mono alone exceed, according to census returns, every group except the Maidu and Pomo; and at that both the latter are composite bodies, each including distinct languages, and are likely to have been more completely enumerated. The returns show 1,388 Mono in California. But as Mono and Inyo Counties, which are wholly eastern Mono except for a few Koso, are credited with nearly 1,200 Indians; and as the western Mono are about half as numerous as their eastern kinsmen, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the total for the combined group is above rather than below 1,500. Part of them have probably been classed under other names, such as Paiute, or reported without tribal designation.

This relatively high standing is, however, of recent date. A century ago the Mono were feeble in numbers compared with many other groups. The very inhospitability of their habitat, which then caused their population to be sparse, has prevented any considerable influx of Americans and has spared them much of the consequent incisive diminution that a full and sudden dose of our civilization always brings the Indian. They may retain in 1916 a full one-half of their numbers in 1816; the proportion among tribes situated as they are is in the vicinity of this fraction. A conservative estimate of their original number is 3,000 to 4,000; 5,000 or 6,000 a very liberal figure.

Much the same result is reached by comparison. If 50 Yokuts tribes totaled 15,000 to 20,000, the 6 western Mono divisions higher in the mountains may have aggregated 2,000 at best; and allowing double for the eastern division, we are still within the range of our estimate.

It is a subject for thought that a body of people that once stood to their neighbors as three or four to one should now be outranked by them one to three, merely because the former were a few miles more accessible to Caucasian contact.


Mono civilization is little known, either as to customs or preserved implements. It is not even certain that they formed a group other than in speech and origin. There may have been a deep cultural cleft between the two halves, the western people being essentially Yokuts in practices and ideas, the eastern little else than Nevada Paviotso. Or they may really have been one people, whose western division had their civilization overlaid with a partial veneer of Yokuts customs. Information is practically lacking, for ethnologists have put little on record concerning either half of the group.


The western Mono, at least those on the San Joaquin and very likely those on other streams also, possessed one important central California institution that had not penetrated to their eastern brothers nor to any trans-Sierra people: the totemic moieties. But these moieties exhibit one feature that is neither Miwok nor Yokuts: they are not exogamous. Marriage is within or without the moiety. Descent is in the male line, and a group of animals is associated as “ pets” or “dogs” with each moiety. These animals, at least the birds among them, were sometimes reared in captivity. When adult they were either despoiled of their feathers or released unharmed. The personal name is of Yokuts rather than Miwok type: it is inherited, and generally meaningless, not of totemic connotation. Chieftainship was dual as among the Yokuts, but the chief of the moiety represented by the eagle had precedence.

Besides being nonexogamous, the Mono moieties are peculiar in being definitely subdivided. The entire scheme is:

Moiety I, corresponding to Miwok “land” and Yokuts “downstream;” Yayanchi.

Subdivisions: Dakats, Kunugechi.

Totem animals: Eagle, crow, chicken hawk.

The name Dakats suggests Kawaiisu adagatsi, “crow,” and Yayanchi the yayu hawk, identified with the opposite moiety.

Moiety II, corresponding to Miwok “water” and Yokuts “upstream:” Pakwihu.

Subdivisions: Tübahinagatu, Puza'ots or Pazo'odz.

Totem animals: Buzzard, coyote, yayu hawk, bald eagle.

Pakwihu is probably from pakwi, “fish”; Tübahinagatu perhaps from tüba, which seems to mean “pine nut” in certain Shoshonean dialects—compare “Tüba-tulabal “; Puza'ots recalls oza'ots, “magpie “—a bird of the opposite moiety among the Miwok—hut the etymology seems more than venturesome. In fact, oza'ots may be nothing but a modified loan ward, the Yokuts ochoch.

The animal associations are the same as among the Miwok and Yokuts. The yayu may prove to be the Yokuts limik, the falcon, and as for the “bald eagle” on the buzzard or coyote side, this may be the “fish hawk” whom the Tachi put in the same division. But the Mono totemism is perhaps looser than that of their neighbors; it is said that a person may change his moiety.


The relationship terms of the San Joaquin Mono are, like those of the eastern Mono, of Great Basin type. Cross cousins are “brothers” or “sisters,” not “parents” or “children” as among the Miwok and central Yokuts. This circumstance, coupled with the absence of exogamic regulations, makes it very probable that none of the Mono practiced cross-cousin marriage, a peculiar custom established among the Miwok.

The western Mono observed rather strictly the taboo between mother-in-law and son-in-law. If speech was necessary, these persons addressed each other in the plural, as if to dull the edge of personal communication by circumlocution. This device has already been noted among more northerly tribes. Some restraint or shame, though of a milder degree, was observed also toward the father-in-law; and—as among the Yana—between brother and sister. The eastern Mono knew nothing of these customs.

The rough Yokuts type of pottery seems to have been made by the western Mono but its precise range among them is unknown. Their basketry agreed with that of the Yokuts in forms, technique, and materials. A diagonally twined cap from the eastern Mono is shown in Plate 55, d.

The southern Yokuts report that the Mono cremated their dead; but it is not clear to what, subdivision this statement refers. The eastern Mono about Bishop buried.

The mourning anniversary of south and central California was probably made by the western Mono. The eastern Mono burned considerable property over the graves of dead chiefs and possibly of other people, too; and saved their remaining belongings in order to destroy them a year later. This is an echo of the standard mourning anniversary.

The ritual number of the eastern Mono was four.

The Koso or Panamint.


With the Koso (also called Kosho, Panamint, Shikaviyam, Sikaium, Shikaich, Kaich, Kwüts, Sosoni, and Shoshone) a new division of the Plateau Shoshoneans is entered—the Shoshoni-Comanche. This group, which keeps apart the Mono-Bannock and the Ute-Chemehuevi (Fig. 52), stretches in a tenuous band—of which the Koso form one end at the base of the Sierra Nevada—through the most desert part of California, across central and northeastern Nevada, thence across the region of the Utah-Idaho boundary into Wyoming, over the Continental Divide of the Rockies to the headwaters of the Platte; and, as if this were insufficient, one part, and the most famous, of the division, the Comanche, had pushed southeastward through Colorado far into Texas.


The territory of the westernmost member of this group, our Koso, who form as it were the head of a serpent that curves across the map for 1,500 miles, is one of the largest of any Californian people. It was also perhaps the most thinly populated, and one of the least defined. If there were boundaries, they are not known. To the west the crest of the Sierra has been assumed as the limit of the Koso toward the Tübatulabal. On the north were the eastern Mono of Owens River. Owens Lake, it seems, should go with the stream that it receives; and perhaps Koso territory only began east or south of the sheet; but the available data make the inhabitants of its shores “ Shoshones “and not “Paiutes.” On the south the Kawaiisu and Chemehuevi ranged over a similarly barren habitat, and there is so little exact knowledge of ethnic relations that the map has had to be made almost at random. The boundaries in this desert were certainly not straight lines, but for the present there is no recourse but to draw them.

The fact is that this region was habitable only in spots, in oases, if we can so call a spring or a short trickle down a rocky canyon. Between these minute patches in or at the foot of mountains were wide stretches of stony ranges, equally barren valleys, and alkaline flats. All through California it is the inhabited sites that are significant in the life of the Indians, rather than the territories; and boundaries are of least consequence of all. In the unchanging desert this condition applies with tenfold force; but ignorance prevents a distributional description that would be adequate.

It is only known that at least four successive ranges, with the intervening valleys, were the portion of this people—the Coso, Argus, Panamint, and Funeral Mountains, with Coso, Panamint, and Death Valleys. Thirty years ago they actually lived at four spots in this area—on Cottonwood Creek, in the northwestern arm of Death Valley; south of Bennett Mills on the eastern side of the Panamint Mountains, in another canyon leading into Death Valley; near Hot Springs, at the mouth of Hall Creek into Panamint Valley; and northwest from these locations, on the west side of Saline Valley, near Hunter Creek at the foot of the Inyo Mountains.

It is not clear whether the terms “Coso “and “Panamint “were first used geographically or ethnically. The latter is the most common American designation of the group, and would be preferable to Koso except that, in the form Vanyume, it has also been applied to a Serrano group.

Koso population was of the meagerest. It is exceedingly doubtful whether the country would have supported as many as 500 souls; and there may have been fewer. In 1883 an estimate was 150; in 1891, less than 100; a recent one, between 100 and 150. The Koso are not sufficiently differentiated from adjoining groups in the popular American mind to make ordinary census figures worth much.


The Koso must have lived a very different life from the San Joaquin Valley tribes; but they share many implements with the Yokuts, through intercourse of both with the Tübatulabal; and it can not be doubted that ideas and practices were also carried back and forth. The ceremonial skirt of strings of eagle down is one such evidence. Whether this traveled from west. to east or the reverse, it is almost certain to have transported with it some religious associations. (Pl. 42.)

Flat feather bands are of the type of the yellow-hammer ornaments so characteristic of the whole cis-Sierra region, but their detailed form, as revealed in total length, inaccuracy of stringing, and proportion of feather to quill, allies them more particularly to the corresponding article of the Luiseño and other southern Californians. (Pl.58.)

Baskets, again, are of Yokuts rather than southern affinities. The plate or shallow bowl, it is true, is coiled; but there is a conical carrying basket, and it is twined. The pitched water basket is indispensable to a potless desert people. The carrying cap was worn by women. It was coiled. The foundation for coiled ware is a bundle of Epicampes grass stems containing a single woody rod; the sewing is strands of willow, and black patterns are made with the horns of Mart ynia pods, or Scirpus bulrush roots soaked in ashes. For red, tree yucca root is used. Twined vessels are of strands of willow or sumac on shoots of the same. The patterns are also in Martynia, or if red, of tree yucca root.

The carrying net is of southern California type (Fig. 53), but without tilt convenient loops of the Cahuilla form (Fig. 59).

Earth-covered sweat houses were used regularly, at least by some men. They were large enough to stand up in. The soil was heaped over a layer of “arrowweed,” Pluchea sericea. (Pl. 56.)

The bow is of juniper, short, and sinew-backed. The string is sinew, or Apocynum, wild hemp, the usual cordage material. The arrow is of willow, or of Phragmites cane; the latter has a long point of greasewood. The cane arrow is heated in the groove of a stone straightener of Yokuts-Cahuilla type, then seized in the teeth and the ends bent.


The most important food in the oakless country was the Nevada pine nut, from Pinus monophylla. Seeds were gathered by beating as by the more favored Californian tribes. Oryzopsis, the desert sand grass, perhaps furnished the most abundant supply. Seeds of evening primroses, of Ephedra, and of the devil’s pincushion cactus, were also available. Most of these were ground and then parched with coals in a shallow basket. The mesquite bean, Prosopis, was pounded in wooden mortars; the stalks of the common reed, Phragmites, were treated similarly and cakes of the flour toasted.

The “mescal” of the Southwest and southernmost California hardly penetrates the Koso country, but the tree yucca bud affords a substitute, which has the advantage of being edible after roasting on an open fire, whereas the agave butt or stalk requires prolonged steam cooking in an earth-covered pit.

Prickly pear joints, however, are treated by the Koso in this manner, and can then be kept indefinitely, or are sun dried and boiled when wanted. The thorns are first rubbed off.

The leaves and shoots of several varieties of crucifers are eaten.

In the fertile parts of California clover and other greens are mostly eaten raw, but the desert vegetation requires repeated boiling, washing, and squeezing to remove the bitter and perhaps deleterious salts.

Animal food is only occasionally obtainable. Rabbits, jack rabbits, rats, and lizards, with some birds, furnish the bulk. Mountain sheep take the place of deer as the chief big game. On the shores of Owens Lake countless grubs of a fly were scooped out of the shallow water and dried for food.

Plate 47: The Southern and Central Yokuts (map)
Plate 55: a Head net for dancing, Northwestern Valley Maidu. Baskets: b, Mohave; c, Kitanemuk; d, Eastern Mono; e, Kawaiisu; f, Washo

Next: 58. Place Names [Miwok and Mono only]ContentsPrevious: 30. The Miwok

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