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The Ellen Boysen collection of baskets and bead work.
Click to enlarge

The Ellen Boysen collection of baskets and bead work.

Photograph by Boysen.


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Chapter Six


The Yosemites and other kindred or adjacent tribes have been branded as "Diggers," and are generally thought to be the lowest class of Indians in America, but in some lines of artistic work they excelled all other tribes. For example, their basketry work, for domestic or sacred purposes, and their bows and arrows, were of very superior workmanship and fine finish.


Many years ago the chief industry of the Indian women, aside from their other domestic duties, was the making of baskets. They made a great variety of shapes and sizes for their common use, and also many of a more artistic design and finer finish for the sacred purpose of being burned or buried with their bodies, or that of some relative or dear friend, after death. The baskets devoted to this special purpose are the finest made, but are very seldom seen by any white person, and are not for sale at any

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For the mythical origin of basket-making in the Yosemite see ''Legend of To-tau-kon-nu'-la and Tis-sa'-ack.''
Click to enlarge

For the mythical origin of basket-making in the Yosemite see ''Legend of To-tau-kon-nu'-la and Tis-sa'-ack.''

Photograph by Fiske.


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price. This finest style of work seems to have been made a specialty by certain of the most artistic workers in each tribe.

At the present time, in their more modern style of living, they do not require so many baskets, and the industry of making them is fast on the decline. Some of the old women, however, still continue to make such as are required for their own use, and a few others for sale.

Most of the ornamental figures and designs worked into the finest basketry are symbolical in character, and of so ancient an origin that Indians of the present day do not know what many of them are intended to represent. They have simply been copied from time immemorial, with the idea that they were necessary for the complete finish and beauty of the article made.

In recent years they sometimes make use of more modern styles of ornamentation, which they see in print.

Many of the young women are now giving their attention to making fancy bead work, in the form of ornamental belts and hat-bands, but this is an industry of very modern origin. Some of them are employed

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Mrs. George Fiske's collection of Yosemite and Pi-ute' bead work.
Click to enlarge

Mrs. George Fiske's collection of Yosemite and Pi-ute' bead work.

Photograph by Fiske.


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by white people to do laundry and other work, and any labor of this kind pays them better than making baskets for sale. Forty years ago a finely made basket could have been bought for less than ten dollars. At present, if the time spent in getting and preparing the necessary materials, and in working them into the basket, were paid for at the same rate per day that a young woman receives for doing washing in the hotel laundry, or for private families, it would amount to over one hundred dollars.

Most of the baskets made for domestic use are so closely woven that they are practically water-tight, and are used for cooking and similar purposes. Over on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near the dry, desert country, the Indians make some of their baskets in the form of jugs of various sizes. These are smeared over with a pitch composition, which renders them perfectly water-tight, and they are used for carrying water when traveling over those desolate, sandy wastes.


The Indian men showed no less ingenuity and artistic skill in their special lines of

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work than the women, especially in the manufacture of their bows and arrows, in the making of fish lines and coarser twine out of the soft, flexible bark of the milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and in making other useful implements and utensils with the very limited means at their disposal.

Their bows were made of a branch of the incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), or of the California nutmeg (Tumion Californicum [Torreya] ), made flat on the outer side, and rounded smooth on the inner or concave side when the bow is strung for use. The flat, outer side was covered with sinew, usually that from the leg of a deer,. steeped in hot water until it became soft and glutinous, and then laid evenly and smoothly over the wood, and so shaped at the ends as to hold the string in place. When thoroughly dry the sinew contracted, so that the bow when not strung was concave on the outer side.

When not in use the bow was always left unstrung. To string it for use, it was necessary in cold weather to warm it, thus making it more elastic and easily bent. The best

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She is weaving a burden basket. The one to the left is for cooking, and a baby basket stands against the tent.
Click to enlarge

She is weaving a burden basket. The one to the left is for cooking, and a baby basket stands against the tent.

Photograph by Boysen.


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strings were also made of sinew, or of paxwax cartilage, for their finest bows.

The arrows were made of reeds and various kinds of wood, including the syringa (Philadelphus Lewisii) and a small shrub or tree which the Indians called Le-ham'-i-tee, or arrow-wood, and which grew quite plentifully in what is now known as Indian Canyon, near the Yosemite Falls.

The finest arrows were furnished with points made of obsidian, or volcanic glass, which was obtained in the vicinity of Mono Lake on the eastern side of the Sierras. It required great care and delicate skill to work this brittle material into the fine sharp points, and the making of them seemed to be a special business or trade with some of the old men. Arrows furnished with these points were only used in hunting large game, or in hostile combat with enemies; for common use, in hunting small game, the hard wooden arrow was merely sharpened to a point.

The butt, or end used on the string, was furnished with three or four short strips of feathers taken from a hawk's wing, and fastened on lengthwise. These strips of

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feathers are supposed to aid in the more accurate flight of the arrow when shot from the bow.

When out on a hunt the Indian carried his bow strung ready for use, and his bundle of assorted arrows in a quiver made of the skin of a small fox, wild-cat or fisher, hung conveniently over his shoulder.

These primitive weapons, which were in universal use by the Yosemite Indians fifty years ago, are now never seen except in some collection of Indian relics and curios.

Other articles manufactured by these tribes were stone hammers, and also others made from the points of deer horns mounted on wooden handles which they used in delicately chipping the brittle obsidian in forming arrowheads., Rude musical instruments, principally drums and flageolets, were also made.

Next: Chapter Seven: Myths and Legends