Houses of California Native Americans Described
Mr. Stephen Powers, in his recent and instructive work on the "California Tribes," enumerates seven varieties of the lodge constructed by these tribes, adapted to the different climates of the State. One form was adapted to the raw and foggy climate of the California coast, constructed of redwood poles over an excavated pit, another to the snow-belt of the Coast Range and of the Sierras; another to the high ranges of the Sierras; another to the warm coast valleys; another, limited to a small area, constructed of interlaced willow poles, the interstices being open; another to the woodless plains of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, dome-shaped and covered with earth; and another to the hot and nearly rainless region of the Kern and Tulare valleys, made of tule. Four of these varieties are given below, the illustrations being taken from his work. [Footnote: Powell's Geographical Survey, &c., of the Rocky Mountain Region, Contributions to American Ethnology, vol. iii, Powers' Tribes of California, p. 436.]
"In making a wigwam, they excavated about two feet, banked up the earth enough to keep out the water, and threw the remainder on the roof dome-shaped. With the Lolsel the bride often remains in the father's house, and her husband comes to live with her, whereupon half the purchase money is returned. Thus there will be two or three families in one lodge. They are very clannish, especially the mountain tribes, and family influence is all potent." [Footnote: ib., p. 221.]
Elsewhere he remarks upon this form of house as follows: "On the great woodless plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, the savages naturally had recourse to earth for a material. The round, domed-shaped, earth-covered lodge is considered the characteristic one of California; and probably two-thirds of its immense aboriginal population lived in dwellings of this description. The doorway is sometimes directly on top, sometimes on the ground, at one side. I have never been able to ascertain whether the amount of rain-fall of any given locality had any influence in determining the place of the door." [Footnote: ib., p. 437.]
This mode of entrance reappears in the more artistic house of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, where the rooms are entered by means of a trap-door in the roof, the descent being made by a ladder. The "immense aboriginal population" of California, claimed by Mr. Powers, is too strong a statement.
"This wigwam is in the shape of the capital letter L, made up of slats leaning up to a ridge-pole and heavily thatched. All along the middle of it the different families or generations have their fires, while they sleep next the walls, lying on the ground, underneath rabbit-skins and other less elegant robes, and amid a filthy cluster of baskets, dogs, and all the wretched trumpery dear to the aboriginal heart. There are three narrow holes for dens, one at either end and one at the elbow." This is Mr. Powers' fifth variety of the lodge. [Footnote: Powers' Tribes of Cal., p. 284.]
"In the very highest region of Sierra, where the snow falls to such an enormous depth that the fire would be blotted out and the whole open side snowed up, the dwelling retains substantially the same form and materials, but the fire is taken into the middle of it, and one side of it (generally the east one) slopes down more nearly horizontal than the other, and terminates in a curved way about three feet high and twice as long." Half a dozen such houses make an Indian village, with the addition of a "dome-shaped assembly or dance house" in the middle space. "One or more acorn-granaries of wicker-work stand around each lodge, much like hogsheads in shape and size, either on the ground or mounted on posts as high as one's head, full of acorns and capped with thatch." [Footnote: Powers' Tribes of Cal., p. 284.]
In Southern California, where the climate is both dry and hot, the natives constructed a wigwam entirely different from those found in other parts of the State. "In the Yokut nation," Mr. Powers remarks, "there appears to be more political solidarity, more capacity in the petty tribes of being grouped into large and coherent masses than is common in the State. This is particularly true of those living on the plains, who display in their encampments a military precision and regularity which are remarkable. Every village consists of a single row of wigwams, conical or wedge-shaped, generally made of tule, and just enough hollowed out within so that the inmates may sleep with the head higher than the feet, all in perfect alignment, and with a continuous awning of brushwood stretching along in front. In one end-wigwam lives the village captain; on the other the shaman of si-se'-ro. In the mountains there is some approach to this martial array, but it is universal on the plains." [Footnote: Powers' Tribes of Cal., p. 370.]
As a rule these houses were occupied by more families than one, as is shown by the same author. In the northern part of the State "the Tatu wigwams do not differ essentially from those of the vicinal tribes. They are constructed of stout willow wicker-work, dome-shaped, and thatched with grass. Sometimes they are very large and oblong, with sleeping-room for thirty or forty persons." [Footnote: ib., p. 139.]
The Yo-kai'-a inhabit a section of the north-west part of the State. "Their style of lodge is the same which prevails generally along Russian River, a huge frame-work of willow poles covered with thatch, and resembling a large flattish haystack. Though still preserving the same style and materials, since they have adopted from the Americans the use of boards they have learned to construct all around the wall of the wigwam a series of little state rooms, if I may so call them, which are snugly boarded up and furnished with bunks inside. This enables every family in these immense patriarchal lodges to disrobe and retire with some regard to decency, which could not be done in the one common room of the old style wigwam." [Footnote: ib., p. 163.]
Again: "The Se-nel, together with three other petty tribes, mere villages, occupy that broad expanse of Russian River Valley on one side of which now stands the American village of Senel. Among them we find unmistakably developed that patriarchal system which appears to prevail all along Russian River. They construct immense dome-shaped or oblong lodges of willow poles an inch or two in diameter, woven in square lattice-work, securely lashed and thatched. In each one of these live several families, sometimes twenty or thirty persons, including all who are blood relations. Each wigwam, therefore, is a pueblo, a law unto itself; and yet these lodges are grouped in villages, some of which formerly contained hundreds of inhabitants." [Footnote: ib., p. 168.]
I cannot find that Mr. Powers mentions the practice of communism in these households, but the fact seems probable. Their usages in the matter of hospitality are much the same as in the other tribes. Their principal food was salmon, acorn-flour bread, game, kamas, and berries. They were, without pottery, cooked in ground ovens, and also in water-tight baskets by means of heated stones.
A brief reference may be made to the skin lodge of the Kutchin or
Louchoux of the Yukon and Peel Rivers.
Louchoux of the Yukon and Peel Rivers.
[Illustration: Fig. 5.—Kutchin Lodge.]
This simple structure, the ground plan and elevation of which were taken from the Smithsonian Report, is thus described by Mr. Strachan Jones: [Footnote: Report for 1866, p. 321.] "Deer-skins are dressed with the hair on, and sewed together, forming two large rolls, which are stretched over a frame of bent poles. The lodge is nearly elliptical, about twelve or thirteen feet in diameter and six feet high, very similar to a tea-cup turned over. The door is about four feet high, and is simply a deer-skin fastened above and hanging down. The hole to allow the smoke to escape is about four feet in diameter. Snow is heaped up outside the edges of the lodge and pine brush spread on the ground inside, the snow having been previously shoveled off with snow-shoes. The fire is made in the middle of the lodge, and one or more families, as the case may be, live on each side of the fire, every one having his or her particular place." [Footnote: ib., p. 322.] He further remarks that "they have no pottery," and that they boil water "by means of stones heated red hot and thrown into the kettle." [Footnote: ib., p. 321.]
The principal fact to be noticed is that the lodge is comparted into stalls open on the central space, in the midst of which is the fire-pit, evidently for the accommodation of more families than one. This arrangement of the interior will reappear in numerous other cases. The Kutchin must be classed as savages, although near the close of that condition.
The tribes of the valley of the Columbia lived more or less in villages, but, like the tribes of California, were without horticulture and without pottery. But they found an abundant subsistence in the shell-fish of the coast, and in the myriads of fish in the Columbia and its tributaries. They also subsisted upon kamash and other bread roots of the prairies, which they cooked in ground ovens, and upon berries and game. They were expert boatmen and fishermen, manufactured water-tight baskets, implements of wood, stone, and bone, and used the bow and arrow. As another quite remarkable fact, they used plank in their houses, made by splitting logs with stone and elk-horn chisels. Like the Kutchin, they were in the Upper Status of savagery.