Monday, January 9, 2017

Yosemite Indian Sweat Houses

Late in the summer, or early in the fall, just before holding some of their grand social or sacred festivals, the Indian hunters would make preparation for a big hunt in the mountains, to get a good supply of venison for the feast. One of the first absolute prerequisites was to go through a thorough course of sweating and personal cleansing. This was done by resorting to their sweat houses, which were similar in construction to the -chums, except that the top was rounded and the whole structure was covered thickly with mud and earth to exclude the air. These houses were heated with hot stones and coals of fire, and the hunters would then crawl into them and remain until in a profuse perspiration, when they would come out and plunge into cold water for a wash-off. This was repeated until they thought themselves sufficiently free from all bodily odor so that the deer could not detect their approach by scent, and flee for safety.
After this purification they kept themselves strictly as celibates until the hunt was over, though their women went along to help carry the outfit, keep camp, cook, search for berries and pine nuts, and assist in bringing to camp and taking care of the deer as killed, and in "packing" the meat out to the place of rendezvous appointed for the grand ceremonies and feast.
Their usual manner of cooking fresh meat was by broiling on hot coals, or roasting before the fire or in the embers. Sometimes, however, they made a cavity in the ground, in which they built a fire, which was afterwards cleared away and the cavity lined with very hot stones, on which they placed the meat wrapped in green herbage, and covered it with other hot rocks and earth, to remain until suitably cooked.
When they had a surplus of fresh meat they cut it in strips and hung it in the sun-shine to dry. The dried meat was generally cooked by roasting in hot embers, and then beaten to soften it before being eaten.

A young hunter never ate any of the first deer he killed, as he believed that if he did so he would never succeed in killing another.