Were there bows employed by tribes living in the desert, and if so, what were they made of?

Were there bows employed by tribes living in the desert, and if so, what were they made of?

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For tribes that inhabited desert areas (e.g. Arabian Peninsula, Sahara, etc… ), there seems to have been a problem: a good bow would likely require materials that would be hard to come by in the desert (wood from trees).

  1. Is there an evidence that this was indeed a factor influencing the use of bow and arrows as military technology by tribes living in such conditions?

  2. If that's not the case, what did they use as far as materials to make the bows? The arrows?

I would prefer an answer that references a generic research that shows analysis across cultures, but would be OK with answer that cover a single tribe/culture. However, it must be one that did NOT have easy access to wood for bows (e.g. Levant area doesn't count, obviously, despite having some desert landscape).

Horn would seem the obvious solution to a lack of wood

Actually, people never live in a pure sand sea. In deserts they live in oasises, where there is food and trees. If you live somewhere where trees cannot grow, then there is no food either.

I have a feeling you're not going to find any studies of this nature. Before synthetics, wood was just the only material with the properties needed to make a bow.

If you lived somewhere without trees and you wanted bows, you'd buy wood from somewhere else. The amount of wood needed to supply a tribe with bows would not be particularly expensive or difficult to transport.

On the other hand, imagine a tribe that lives so deep in the desert that not only do they have no trees, they never have contact with people who have trees - how would this tribe come to invent bows on their own? They're not hunting large game, and they don't have the population density to get a war on.

That's my take, anyway.

Horn, cartridge, and bone have all been used to make bows, however, usually in laminate form with wood as another layer. Also, nearly every part of the world has some kind of wood growing nearby.

Native American Weapons

Native Americans used weapons for hunting, fighting against other indigenous tribes, and later the Europeans.

Native Americans once used weapons for hunting and for war. These weapons were created and used for one of five reasons: striking, piercing, cutting, defense, and symbolism. This article takes a look at some of the most common weapons used by Native American tribes.

They live in 140-foot high tree houses

One of the most remarkable engineering feats of the isolated and primitive tribe is their ability to construct great treehouse which sit 140-feet high in the jungles. The treehouse are constructed and placed on stilts, which were designed to protect the members from rival villages. These basic structures are only accessed by wooden ladders, placed up against the stilts to reach the top.

The central pole is made from a Banyan tree, with the bark of sago palm used for the floor and walls. The roof is made from the sago leaves. Fire pits are also created to protect the hut, as the biggest danger would be a fire.

The remarkable Khoi and San people,first known inhabitants of South Africa

Together the Khoi and the San people of South Africa are often called the "Khoisan", a term that has been used to describe their broad similarity in cultural and biological origins. It is derived from the names "Khoi" and "San".

"Khoi" was the original name used by the Hottentots in reference to themselves and "San" was the name the Bushmen used when they referred to themselves.

They are the first known inhabitants of South Africa, believed to have emerged from the same gene pools as the black people, but to have developed separately.

Both the Khoi and the San people of South Africa were resident in the country for thousands of years beforeits written history began with the arrival of the first European seafarers.

The hunter-gatherer "San" people were ranging all over Southern Africa. Up to as recently as 3 000 years ago, all the inhabitants of southern Africa depended on hunting game and gathering wild plant foods for their survival.

Learn more about the original inhabitants of South africa by using the menu below

An 18th century drawing of Khoikhoi worshipping the moon
The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
The more pastoral "Khoi" people were to be found in the more well-watered areas along the western and southern coastal regions. So it was that the first indigenous South Africans to come into contact with Europeans were the “Khoi” people.

By the middle of the 20th century however, the advance of pastoral, agricultural and industrial societies have caused most of the original inhabitants of South Africa to become assimilated into new ways of life, to be wiped out by their enemies in conflictsover land, or to have died from the diseases brought by the new inhabitants. Today only a small group of hunter-gatherer San people have survived.

The San people have left us an invaluable legacy of marvelous paintings on rocks and cave walls as far afield as Namaqualand, the Drakensberg andsouthern Cape
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
The San people (Bushmen).

The hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa have been called by many names: "Bushmen", "San" or "Sonqua", "Soaqua", "Sarwa" or "Basarwa", and "Twa", all basically meaning, "those without domestic livestock". The San are much shorter than members of the Black people. The average height of an adult is approximately 1,5 m and their complexion is yellowish.

They probably originated on the north coast of Africa and were then driven further and further south by stronger nations. When the San reached the southern point of Africa, the Black tribes were primarily still living in the tropical and equatorial parts of central Africa.

The San people hunted with wooden bow and arrow and used clubs and spears if necessary
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
The San were known to be excellent trackers, a skill that helped them to survive for so long on the land. They lived in caves or shelters made of branches built near waterholes, so that drinking water would be near and animals could easily be hunted.

The San people have left us an invaluable legacy of rock art and their paintings, depicting their way of life and their religious beliefs, can still be found all over the country. They give us a glimpse into the lives of these tough little people, capable of such courage and compassion that they could survive on the land for such a long time, without destroying all they touched.

Khoisan family in the Kalahari desert
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
There is a small group of San in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, today, who are trying to live as their predecessors did. It has, however, become increasingly difficult for them and most of them have turned to either agriculture or stockbreeding to make a living.

The Khoikhoi ("men of men") or Khoi, sometimes spelt KhoeKhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group of south-western Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them).

At the time of the arrival of white settlers in 1652 they had lived in southern Africa for about 30,000 years, and practiced extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region.

One of the thousands of rock paintings depicting the San people's way of life and their religious beliefs
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
The Khoi people had adopted a pastoralist lifestyle (a nomadic lifestyle based on herding of cattle) some 2000 years ago and adapted their cultural lives accordingly. Like the San, the Khoi people also had a yellowish complexion but they were bigger in size.

This can be attributed to the fact that their staple diet was protein. Their whole lives revolved around their cattle and they were constantly on the move in search of better grazing for their cattle and sheep.

The Khoi had perfected their nomadic way of life to a fine art. They slept on reed mats in dome shaped huts made from stripped branches which could be taken apart easily to facilitate moving. Their huts were erected in a circle formation so that the animals could sleep in the middle.

A fence of thorny branches was constructed around the circle of huts to keep intruders from entering. In addition to milk and meat, their diet consisted of berries, roots and bulbs. Sometimes, like the San, the Khoi used bows and arrows to hunt.

The San people lived and hunted in total harmony with nature, posing no threat to wildlife and vegetation
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
Some scientists believe that the Khoi people originally came from the great lakes of Africa and only migrated to Southern Africa long after the San. Other scientists, however, are of the opinion that the Khoi shepherds evolved from hunter-gatherer communities in Southern Africa. Language studies have proven that certain languages spoken by the San are remarkably similar to certain Khoi dialects.

Some linguists have even mentioned the possibility that the Khoi language developed out of a San language. This is another reason for combining the words "Khoi" and "San" into "Khoisan". But the word also refers to the deeper connection between the two peoples, which originated when they started to marry into each other's tribes and, in this way, became one people.

With the arrival of the black and later the white people in South Africa, trouble started for the Khoisan. The San regarded the farmers' cattle as game and started hunting them and the Khoi saw the farmers as intruders on their grazing fields. This caused much strife between the different groups. Eventually, the San moved to drier parts such as Namibia and Botswana.

There are small number of San descendents in the Kalahari desert, living the same way as their ancestors did. This is a Bushmen community at Gope, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
copyright © South African tourism - The San People or Bushmen of South Africa, also known as the Khoisan
Once Europeans began to colonise the Cape, the Khoi lifestyle began to change as the colonists began to intrude on their living space and they were eventually reduced to a state of servitude. The population of the Khoi was also severely reduced by warring and epidemics such as smallpox.

Eventually they became detribalised and started mixing with the freed slaves. Because of all these changes, the Khoi people ceased to exist as a nation, although they numbered nearly 100 000 when the Dutch arrived in 1652.

Native Americans in Utah

Long before Euro-Americans entered the Great Basin, substantial numbers of people lived within the present boundaries of Utah. Archaeological reconstructions suggest human habitation stretching back some 12,000 years. The earliest known inhabitants were members of what has been termed the Desert Archaic Culture—nomadic hunter-gatherers with developed basketry, flaked-stem stone tools, and implements of wood and bone. They inhabited the region between 10,000 B.C. and A.D. 400. These peoples moved in extended family units, hunting small game and gathering the periodically abundant seeds and roots in a slightly more cool and moist Great Basin environment.

About A.D. 400, the Fremont Culture began to emerge in northern and eastern Utah out of this Desert tradition. The Fremont peoples retained many Desert hunting-gathering characteristics yet also incorporated a maize-bean-squash horticultural component by A.D. 800�. They lived in masonry structures and made sophisticated basketry, pottery, and clay figurines for ceremonial purposes. Intrusive Numic peoples displaced or absorbed the Fremont sometime after A.D. 1000.

Beginning in A.D. 400, the Anasazi, with their Basketmaker Pueblo Culture traditions, moved into southeastern Utah from south of the Colorado River. Like the Fremont to the north the Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning “the ancient ones”) were relatively sedentary peoples who had developed a maize-bean-squash-based agriculture. The Anasazi built rectangular masonry dwellings and large apartment complexes that were tucked into cliff faces or situated on valley floors like the structures at Grand Gulch and Hovenweep National Monument. They constructed pithouse granaries, made coiled and twined basketry, clay figurines, and a fine gray-black pottery. The Anasazi prospered until A.D. 1200� when climactic changes, crop failures, and the intrusion of Numic hunter-gatherers forced a southward migration and reintegration with the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.

In Utah, the Numic- (or Shoshonean) speaking peoples of the Uto-Aztecan language family evolved into four distinct groups in the historic period: the Northern Shoshone, Goshute or Western Shoshone, Southern Paiute, and Ute peoples. The Northern Shoshone, including the Bannock, Fort Hall, and Wind River Shoshone (Nimi), were hunter-gatherers who rapidly adopted many Plains Indian traits through trade. They occupied an area mainly north and east of the state, yet periodically utilized subsistence ranges in Utah. The Goshute (Kusiutta) inhabited the inhospitable western deserts of Utah. Derogatorily labeled “Digger Indians” by early white observers, the Goshute were supremely adaptive hunter-gatherers living in small nomadic family bands. They constructed wickiups or brush shelters, gathered seasonal seeds, grasses, and roots, collected insects, larvae, and small reptiles, and hunted antelope, deer, rabbits and other small mammals. The Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi) lived in southwestern Utah, where they combined their hunting-gathering subsistence system with some flood-plain gardening–an adaptation attributable to Anasazi influences. The Southern Paiute were non-warlike and suffered at the hands of their more aggressive Ute neighbors in the historic period.

The Ute (Nuciu) people can be divided into eastern and western groups. The eastern Utes inhabited the high plateaus and Rocky Mountain parks of Colorado and northern New Mexico, and consisted of the Yamparka and Parianuc (White River Utes), the Taviwac (Uncompahgre Utes), the Wiminuc, Kapota, and Muwac (Southern and Ute Mountain Utes). The western or Utah Utes inhabited the central and eastern two-thirds of the state. Utah Ute bands included the Cumumba or Weber Utes, the Tumpanuwac, Uinta-ats, Pahvant, San Pitch, and Sheberetch (Uintah Utes). The Ute were hunter-gatherers who quickly adopted the horse and buffalo culture of the Plains Indians. They became noted raiders and traded horses between the Spanish Southwest and the northern plains. Utes actively participated in Spanish campaigns against Navajo and Apache raiders, and conducted their own slave trade with the Spanish against the Southern Paiute and Navajo. Utes lived in brush wickiups or skin tepees and traveled in extended family units with seasonal band congregations. There was only a general sense of “tribal” identity with the other Ute bands, based on a common language and shared beliefs.

By the year 1700 Navajos began to move into the San Juan River drainage area of Utah in search of pasture for their herds of Spanish sheep and goats. The Navajo (Dine) were recent immigrants to the Southwest—migrant Athabaskan-speaking peoples from the subarctic who arrived sometime between A.D. 1300 and 1400. The Navajo were highly adaptive hunter-gatherers who incorporated domestic livestock and agriculture into their subsistence system. They lived in dispersed extended family units in northern Arizona, New Mexico, and southeastern Utah, dwelling in hogans. While maintaining fair relations with the Spanish and Pueblo peoples, Navajos came under intense pressure from raiding Utes from the 1720s through the 1740s, forcing many to retreat from Utah.

Numerous explorers and trappers–Rivera, Dominguez and Escalante, Provost, Robidoux, Ashley, Ogden, Smith, Carson, Bridger, and Goodyear—ventured through Utah between 1776 and 1847, making contact and trading with the Native American peoples. They established economic relations but exerted little if any political control over the native peoples of Utah. When the Mormon migration began there were more than 20,000 Indians living in Utah proper.

The Mormons settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847—a neutral or buffer zone between the Shoshone and Ute peoples. Conflict between Mormons and Indians did not really begin until Mormons extended their settlements south into Utah Valley—a major trade crossroads and subsistence area for the Ute people. Brigham Young espoused a moderate Indian policy in line with Mormon theological beliefs that Indians were “Lamanites,” with an ancestry in the tribes of Israel. Young counseled that it was cheaper to feed than to fight the Indians, and he instituted some token missionary efforts among them. Yet, as Mormon settlement expanded north and south along the front range, conflict increased with Indians displaced from traditional subsistence areas. Young countered Ute raiding with an iron fist. The Walker War (1853󈞢) and the Black Hawk War (1863󈞰) revolved around Indian subsistence raiding to avoid starvation.

During this period the Indian Bureau and the Mormon church operated reservation farms for the benefit of Indian peoples, but they either proved inadequate or failed completely. Weakened by disease and starvation, Ute Indians faced annihilation or retreat. In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln set aside the Uintah Valley Indian Reservation for the Utah Ute people. In 1881󈞾 the federal government removed the White River and Uncompahgre Ute from Colorado to the Uintah and Ouray Reservations in eastern Utah. Today these three bands are collectively called the Northern Ute Tribe.

In a series of treaties with the Shoshone, Bannock, and Goshute in 1863 and with the Ute and Southern Paiute in 1865, the federal government moved to extinguish Indian land claims in Utah and to confine all Indians on reservations. The Goshutes refused to leave their lands for either the Fort Hall or Uintah reservations. They lived on in the west desert until granted a reservation in the 1910s. Likewise, the Southern Paiute refused to go to the Uintah Reservation and eventually settled in the uninhabited hills and desert areas of southern Utah. In the early twentieth century the Kaibab, Shivwits, Cedar City, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, and Koosharem groups of Southern Paiutes finally received tracts of reserved land. The small number of Navajo living in Utah increased dramatically following the conquest and imprisonment of the Navajo at the Bosque Redondo in New Mexico between 1862 and 1868. Many moved to the San Juan and Monument Valley regions of Utah, which became part of the Navajo Reservation in 1884.

In 1871 the federal government ended the practice of making treaties and instituted a legislative approach to administering Indian affairs. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes General Allotment (or Severalty) Act, aimed at breaking up Indian reservations into individual farms for tribal members and opening the rest for public sale. Policy makers intended to detribalize native peoples and turn them into yeoman farmers and citizens but the policy was largely a failure. Indians resisted farming and most reservation environments limited agrarian success. Allotment did, however, break up the Indian estate. In 1897 and 1904 the Indian Bureau allotted the Uintah and Ouray reservations. Tribal land holdings fell from nearly four million acres to 360,000 acres, and individual sale of Indian allotments further reduced Northern Ute lands. Nationwide, Indians lost more than eighty percent of their lands by 1930. Poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, and health problems plagued most reservations, and Native Americans became ever more dependent on the federal government.

In 1934, as part of the legislative activity known as the New Deal, Congress passed the Wheeler-Howard, or Indian Reorganization, Act, aimed at promoting Indian self-determination. Most Utah Indian groups accepted the IRA and elected tribal governments or business committees, passed laws, and began planning strategies for reservation economic development. Federal conservation jobs and relief were important factors in seeing Utah Indian groups through the Great Depression era.

During World War II a number of Utah Indians distinguished themselves in the armed forces and many more learned trades useful on and off their reservations. In 1948 the Indian Bureau began a relocation program to place Indians in off-reservation jobs in urban America. Many Navajos in particular took advantage of the program which, nationally, was only partially successful at best. Ties to family, culture, and land drew many back to underdeveloped reservations.

Indian policy made a radical swing backwards in the 1950s when Utah Senator Arthur V. Watkins, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Subcommittee, promoted passage of an act to terminate all federal responsibility toward Indian tribes. To set an example, Watkins pushed for termination of Utah Indian groups, including the Shivwits, Kanosh, Koorsharem, and Indian Peaks Paiutes, as well as the Skull Valley and Washakie Shoshone. Following termination, these groups rapidly lost control of what little land they had. In 1954, following a long-standing internal dispute, the Northern Ute tribe accepted the termination of mixed-blood Utes who became known as the Affiliated Ute Citizens.

In the late 1950s and 1960s federal Indian policy once again moved back to a more liberal self-determination stance. Native Americans received assistance from the Public Health Service, the Office of Economic Employment, and other federal and state agencies. One major factor in promoting Indian self-determination has been the success of Indian claims against the United States government for violations of treaty agreements. In 1909 the Utes received a settlement of more than $3,500,000. In a 1962 comprehensive claims settlement, the Ute people were awarded nearly $47,700,000, of which the Northern Ute tribe received $30,500,000. In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the tribal right to exercise “legal jurisdiction” over all pre-allotment reservation lands. In the 1970s the Southern Paiutes and Goshutes each won settlements of more than seven million dollars. Other important factors in Utah Indian self-determination have been the development of mineral deposits on reservation lands, utilization of water resources, development of recreation and tourism, and industrial development to provide employment for tribal members.

In 1970 the Indian population of Utah was 11,273—an increase from 6,961 in 1960. In 1980 there were 19,158 Native Americans, who were finally approaching the estimated 20,000 Indians inhabiting the state at the time of Mormon settlement. Navajos are the most populous group in the state, followed by the Northern Ute. Today, a significant proportion of Utah’s Indians live and work in urban centers and represent tribal groups from throughout North America.

See: Beverly Beeton, “Teach Them to Till the Soil: An Experiment with Indian Farms, 1850-1862,” American Indian Quarterly 3 (Winter 1977-78) Pamela Bunte and Robert J. Franklin, From the Sands to the Mountain: A Study of Change and Persistence in a Southern Paiute Community (1986) Howard Christy, “Open Hand and Mailed Fist: Mormon-Indian Relations in Utah, 1847-52,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (Summer 1978) Fred A. Conetah, A History of the Northern Ute People (1982) “Utah Indians,” Utah Historical Quarterly 39 (Spring 1971) Joseph G. Jorgensen, The Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless (1972) Dale L. Morgan, “The Administration of Indian Affairs in Utah, 1851-1858,” Pacific Historical Review 17 (November 1948) Floyd O’Neil and Stanford J. Layton, “Of Pride and Politics: Brigham Young as Indian Superintendent,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (Summer 1978) Helen Z. Papanikolas, ed., The Peoples of Utah (1976) Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (1984) S. Lyman Tyler, “The Earliest Peoples,” and “The Indians of Utah Territory, in Utah’s History, ed. by Richard Poll, et al. (1989) Richard O. Ulibarri, “Utah’s Unassimilated Minorities,” in Utah’s History, Richard Poll, et al. (1989).

Traditional Culture

Peoples and Languages

Southwest peoples spoke languages from several different families. The Hokan-speaking Yuman peoples were the westernmost residents of the region. The so-called River Yumans, including the Yuma (Quechan), Mojave, Cocopa, and Maricopa, lived on the Colorado and Gila rivers. Their cultures combined some traditions of the Southwest culture area with others of the California Indians. The Upland Yumans lived on smaller and seasonal streams in what is now western Arizona south of the Grand Canyon. They included the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Yavapai.

The Tohono O’odham (or Papago) and the closely related Pima spoke Uto-Aztecan languages. They lived in the southwestern part of the culture area, near the border between the present-day states of Arizona (U.S.) and Sonora (Mexico). Scholars believe that these peoples descended from the ancient Hohokam culture.

The Pueblo Indians lived in what are now northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. They spoke Tanoan, Keresan, Kiowa-Tanoan, and Penutian languages. They are thought to be descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo culture. Among the best known Pueblo peoples are the Hopi and the Zuni.

The Navajo and the closely related Apache spoke Athabaskan languages. These peoples were relative latecomers to the region. They migrated from Canada to the Southwest, arriving before ad 1500. The Navajo lived on the Colorado Plateau near the Hopi villages. The Apache traditionally resided in the basin and range systems south of the plateau. The major Apache tribes included the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa Apache.

Most peoples of the Southwest combined farming with hunting and gathering. In the dry environment a tribe’s nearness to water had a strong influence on how much it depended on one strategy or another. Groups who settled along the Colorado River or other major waterways could rely almost entirely on farming for food. For the River Yumans, the Colorado and Gila rivers provided plentiful water despite scant rainfall and the hot desert climate. Overflowing their banks each spring, the rivers left fresh silt for planting several varieties of corn as well as beans, pumpkins, melons, and grasses. Abundant harvests were supplemented with wild fruits and seeds, fish, and small game.

Many of the Upland Yumans, the Pima, and the Tohono O’odham did not have such a reliable water supply. Some farmed with the help of irrigation. Groups who lived near permanent waterways built stone channels to carry water from streams to their fields of corn, beans, and squash. Groups with no permanently flowing water planted crops in the sediment at the mouths of seasonal streams, which flowed only after summer storms. They built low walls called check dams to slow the torrents caused by the brief but intense rains. These groups relied more on wild foods than on agriculture. Some did no farming at all, instead living in a way similar to the Great Basin Indians.

Pueblo peoples were mainly farmers, growing corn, squash, beans, and sunflower seeds in irrigated fields. They also raised turkeys. Later the Spanish brought them new crops, including wheat, onions, watermelons, peaches, and apricots. The Pueblo also hunted deer, antelope, and rabbits and gathered wild plant foods, including prickly pear cactus, pine nuts, and berries.

When they arrived in the Southwest, the Navajo and the Apache were nomadic hunters and gatherers. Gradually the Navajo and some Apache groups adopted some of the cultural traits of the Pueblo, settling into villages and learning to grow corn and other vegetables. After the Spanish introduced sheep, goats, and cattle, the Indians began tending flocks of these animals. The Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache continued to rely mostly on hunting and gathering. The chief food plant of the Mescalero was mescal, a desert plant that provided fruit, juice, and fibers. When food was scarce, both the Navajo and the Apache raided Pueblo villages and later Spanish and American settlements.

Settlements and Housing

The most remarkable dwellings in the Southwest were those of the Pueblo Indians. The Pueblo lived in compact, permanent villages of apartment houses modeled after the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo. They were made from stone and adobe (sun-dried clay). When Spanish explorers saw these huge houses in the 1500s, they called them pueblos, from the Spanish word for village. Pueblo villages were located in river valleys and on high, rocky plateaus called mesas.

Pueblo homes had several stories and many rooms. Each family might have several rooms that they used as people do today, for food preparation, sleeping, or storage. To keep out enemies, the Indians made the ground story without doors or windows. The next story was set back the width of a room, and the roof of the lower story provided a “front yard” for the people of the second story. Higher stories were set back the same way, giving a terraced effect. The residents used ladders to reach their apartments. Special underground rooms called kivas were set aside for religious purposes.

The settlements of the Yumans, the Pima, and the Tohono O’odham differed depending on a tribe’s access to water. Villages near rivers had dome-shaped houses made of log frameworks covered with wattle and daub (woven branches plastered with clay) or thatch. The Indians lived in these villages year-round. Tribes who lived along seasonal waterways divided their time between summer villages and dry-season camps. Summer settlements were near their crops. They consisted of dome-shaped houses built of thatch. During the rest of the year they lived at higher elevations where fresh water and game were more readily available. Their shelters then were lean-tos and windbreaks.

As the Navajo and some Apache groups gave up their nomadic lifestyle, they settled into villages and learned to farm. The Navajo made round houses, called hogans, of stone, logs, and earth. The Apache remained mostly nomadic. They built brush-covered wickiups and skin tepees for shelter.


Rare among the North American Indians, the Pueblo wove most of their clothing from cotton they grew themselves. They began raising cotton and making cloth by the ad 700s. The woman’s dress was a long strip of cloth that wrapped across the body and fastened on the right shoulder. A colorful, fringed belt held the garment at the waist. The man wore a breechcloth of white cotton cloth or a short woven kilt with a colorful border. Both men and women wore soft shoes or sandals.

The Navajo and the Apache traditionally wore clothing made of animal skins and plant fibers. After the Europeans came, the Navajo began to make clothes with cloth bought from traders.

Technology and Arts

During their centuries of living together in villages the Pueblo Indians developed ways to bring art to everyday life. Pueblo women made beautiful, strong pottery. Each village, and sometimes each family, had its own styles, colors, and designs. The women had been skilled at basketry since early times. They wove twigs, grass, and fibers from yucca and other tough desert plants into baskets, trays, mats, cradleboards, and sandals.

The men were the weavers among the Pueblo. They also did the work of tanning and making shoes and other leather goods. They made bows and arrows, stone knives, and tools. They drilled and polished turquoise and other stones to make beads. After the Mexicans taught them silverwork, they created silver jewelry set with these stones.

The Navajo were good at learning the skills of their neighbors and adding improvements and individual touches. They learned weaving from the Pueblo Indians, and their blankets and rugs became more valuable than the Pueblo products. The women did all the work—from shearing the sheep to the final weaving. Navajo men learned silverwork from Mexican artists. They adapted designs from many sources, especially the patterns stamped on Spanish bridles and saddles.


The Yumans, the Pima, and the Tohono O’odham were similar in their social organization. The most important social unit among these groups was the extended family, a group of related people who lived and worked together. Groups of families living in a given place formed bands. Typically the male head of each family participated in an informal band council that settled disputes (often over land ownership, among the farming groups) and made decisions regarding community problems. Band leaders were chosen based on skills in activities such as farming, hunting, and consensus-building. A number of bands made up the tribe. Tribes were usually organized quite loosely—the Pima were the only group with a formally elected tribal chief. Among the Yumans the tribe provided the people with a strong ethnic identity, though in other cases most people identified more strongly with the family or band.

The Pueblo were organized into 70 or more villages before the Spanish arrived. The villages, like the people themselves and their distinctive houses, are known as pueblos. Each pueblo was politically independent, governed by a council made up of the heads of religious societies. These societies were centered in the underground kivas, which also served as private clubs and lounging rooms for men. The Pueblo also established secret societies with specific themes, such as religion, war, policing, hunting, and healing.

Within the villages, kinship played a key role in Pueblo social life. Extended-family households of three generations were typical. Related families formed a lineage, a group that shared a common ancestor. Among the western Pueblo and the eastern Keresan-speaking peoples, several lineages were combined to form a clan. Many villages had dozens of clans. Other Pueblo Indians grouped lineages into two larger units called moieties. Many eastern Pueblo organized themselves into paired groups such as the “Squash People” and “Turquoise People” or the “Summer People” and “Winter People.”

Clans and moieties were responsible for sponsoring certain rituals and for organizing many aspects of community life. They were also important in achieving harmony in other ways. Membership in these groups was symbolically extended to certain animals, plants, and other classes of natural and supernatural phenomena. This linked all aspects of the social, natural, and spiritual worlds together for a tribe. In addition, marriage between members of different clans or moieties smoothed social relations among the groups.

The Navajo and the Apache tended to live in scattered extended-family groups that acted independently of one another. Among the Apache, the most important social group in daily life was the band—a kin-based group of about 20–30 individuals who lived and worked together. Among the Navajo, similarly sized “outfits,” or neighboring extended families, cooperated in resolving issues such as water use. Bands and outfits were organized under the direction of a leader chosen for his wisdom and previous success. They acted on the basis of consensus, or general agreement. People could, and often did, move to another group if they were uncomfortable with their current situation. A tribe was made up of a group of bands that shared bonds of tradition, language, and culture.


Although Southwest peoples shared an emphasis on the extended family, they varied in their approach to tracing family ties. Among the Yumans, the Pima, and the Tohono O’odham, kin relations were usually traced through both the father’s and mother’s sides of the family. In the groups that raised crops, the male line was somewhat favored because fields were commonly passed from father to son. Kinship among the western Pueblo and the eastern Keresan-speaking groups was traced through the mother. The rest of the eastern Pueblo traced ancestry through the father or through both parents. The Navajo and the Western Apache had clans based on the female line, but the rest of the Apache traced kinship through both sides of the family and had little use for clans.

Like many other Indians, Southwest peoples divided household labor between women and men. Among the Yumans, the Pima, and the Tohono O’odham, women generally were responsible for most domestic tasks, such as food preparation and child-rearing. Men’s tasks included the clearing of fields and hunting. Among the Pueblo, the women cared for young children, cultivated gardens, produced baskets and pottery, and preserved, stored, and cooked food. They also cared for certain clan fetishes—sacred objects carved of stone. The men wove cloth, herded sheep, and raised corn, squash, beans, and cotton. Navajo and Apache women were typically responsible for raising children gathering and processing seeds and other wild plants collecting firewood and water producing buckskin clothing, baskets, and pottery and building the home. The Navajo were an exception to the last rule, as they viewed home construction as men’s work. Navajo and Apache men hunted, fought, and raided. Among the more settled groups, women tended gardens, men tended fields, and both took part in shepherding and weaving.

All Southwest tribes viewed the raising of children as a serious adult responsibility. Most felt that each child had to be “made into” a member of the tribe and that adults had to engage in frequent self-reflection and redirection to remain a tribe member. In other words, ethnic identity was something that had to be achieved rather than taken for granted.

Children were treated warmly and patiently. From birth, they were treated as an integral part of the family. Among the Navajo, for example, the cradleboard was hung on a wall or pillar so that the child would be at eye level with others seated in the family circle. From the beginning of childhood there was training in gender roles. Little girls began to learn food processing and childcare, and little boys were given chores such as collecting firewood or tending animals. Above all, however, they were taught that individuals must always pull their own weight according to their gender, strength, and talents.

When they were between five and seven years old, boys began to spend almost all their time with the men of their households. From then on the men directed their education into masculine tasks and lore. At about the same age, girls began to take on increasing responsibility for household tasks. As boys grew older, the Apache and other nomadic groups stressed the strength and skill needed for battle. Training in warfare intensified as a youth grew to young manhood. Even among the more peaceful Pueblo, however, boys learned agility, endurance, and speed in running. Racing was important to the Pueblo because it was considered to have magical power in helping plants, animals, and people to grow.


Like most Indian religions, those of the Southwest Indians were generally characterized by animism and shamanism. Animists believe that spirit-beings animate the sun, moon, rain, thunder, animals, plants, and many other natural phenomena. Shamans were men and women who achieved supernatural knowledge or power to treat physical and spiritual ailments. Shamans had to be very aware of the community’s goings-on or risk the consequences. For example, a number of accounts from the 1800s report the execution of Pima shamans who were believed to have caused people to sicken and die.

The spectacular Pueblo ceremonies for rain and growth reflected a conception of the universe in which every person, animal, plant, and supernatural being was considered significant. Without the active participation of every individual in the group, it was believed that the life-giving sun would not return from his “winter house” after the solstice, the rain would not fall, and the crops would not grow. In fact, Pueblo groups generally believed that the cosmic order was always in danger of breaking down and that an annual cycle of ceremonies was crucial to the continued existence of the world.

According to the Pueblo, humans affected the world through their actions, emotions, and attitudes. Communities that encouraged harmony were visited by spirit-beings called kachinas each year. In ceremonies men in elaborate regalia impersonated the kachinas to call forth the spirits. The kachina religion was most common among the western Pueblos and was less important to the east.

The Apache believed that the universe was inhabited by a great variety of powerful beings, including animals, plants, witches (evil shamans), superhuman beings, rocks, and mountains. All could affect the world for good or ill. The Apache talked to, sung to, scolded, or praised each one. Ceremonies appealed to these powerful beings for aid in curing disease and for success in hunting and warfare.

Navajo ceremonies were based on a similar view of the universe. The Navajo believed that power resided in a great many beings that were dangerous and unpredictable. These belonged to two classes: Earth Surface People (human beings, ghosts, and witches) and Holy People (supernaturals who could aid Earth Surface People or harm them by sending sickness). As they turned away from hunting and raiding in favor of farming and herding, the Navajo focused their attention on elaborate rituals or “sings.” These aimed to cure sickness and bring an individual into harmony with his family group, nature, and the spirit world.

In contrast to the animistic religions of other Southwest tribes, the River Yumans believed in a supreme being that was the source of all supernatural power. Dreams were the only way to acquire the supernatural protection, guidance, and power that were considered necessary for success in life. Traditional myths seen in dreams were turned into songs and acted out in ceremonies. The spiritual quest sometimes caused an individual religious or war leader to abandon all other activities—farming, food collecting, and even hunting.

The religion of the Tohono O’odham shared features with those of both the River Yumans and the Pueblo. Like the River Yumans, they “sang for power” and went on individual vision quests. Like the Pueblo, they also held communal ceremonies to keep the world in order.

Making a Bow

Most Native Americans used locally available materials for their bows that was easy to work and would hold up to frequent use. Bows were made of various types of wood able to repeatedly flex when pulled, without becoming brittle or cracking. Some of the most frequently used woods were Osage orange, ash and juniper. A piece of wood, commonly around 1 yard long, was shaped to have a thickened grip in the middle, with thinner, more flexible limbs and notches at the ends to hold the string in place. The shaping was done with stone, bone or, later, metal knives.

Untold History: The Survival of California's Indians

If you grew up in California, you probably learned most of what you know about the history of California Indians while you were in fourth grade. All that several generations of Californians learned of the state’s Native peoples can be summed up thusly:

California was originally populated by people who did not farm but made very nice baskets. The Spanish padrés arrived, and California Indians moved to the Missions to learn farm labor. Some of them died there, mainly because their immune systems weren’t sophisticated enough to handle modern diseases. By the time Americans arrived Native Californians had mainly vanished somehow. The Gold Rush happened and California became a modern society with factories and lending institutions. Finally, in 1911, Ishi, the last wild California Indian, wandered out of the mountains so he could live a comfortable life in a museum basement.

That fourth grade curriculum has improved somewhat in recent years, and kids these days will learn more about the involuntary nature of California Indians’ association with the missions. In schools that follow the Common Core curriculum, kids will learn that California Indians used fire to manage the landscape for food, fiber, and game.

Yet California Indians still vanish from mention in the newer fourth-grade curricula by the time of the Gold Rush. They’re relegated to the past tense, as witness one test question in the Common Core curriculum: “Choose one legend told by California Indians a long time ago and tell what parts of the natural region are in the story.” “All California Indian cultures made: a) deerskin b) pine nuts c) baskets d) kutsavi.”

California Indian history didn’t end with the Gold Rush. It’s still in progress. California Indians make baskets and manage landscapes with fire -- and drive pickup trucks and earn doctorates -- in the present tense, planning for a future seven generations distant. In that sense, the thread of California Native history extends farther into the future than that of mainstream society, focused on the next fiscal year at most.

It’s probably no accident that the fourth grade curriculum stops mentioning the Native peoples of California at around the time of the Gold Rush. The Gold Rush was a period in which white settlers' treatment of California Indians might well be too horrible for us to share with children. Even for adult Californians, looking closely at historic harms visited on Native Californians is an unsettling experience.

That sorry history makes it all the more remarkable and fortunate that California Indians are still here, still working to shape the state and its landscape, still working to heal the rift between their non-native neighbors and the landscape we all depend on.

It’s a matter of rough consensus these days that California’s Native people numbered from 100,000 to 300,000 before Spanish and Russian explorers first visited the state. The precise population is a matter that spurs some disagreement among scholars. For some time, historians assumed that California’s indigenous people were spared the worst of the first few waves of epidemics the Europeans brought with them to the Americas. Before Spanish settlement in 1769, the thinking went, the state’s relative isolation on the far side of tall mountains and impassable deserts likely protected California Indians from the plagues that had ravaged the rest of the continent since the early 1500s. If California was indeed isolated from those epidemics, then its pre-contact population would have been not too far different from the numbers the Spanish found.

Recently, researchers have pointed out what Native Californians themselves knew all along: the mountains and deserts weren’t obstacles to Native travel. Far from it: people lived throughout the hottest deserts and the coldest mountain ranges, traveling regularly for trade and other reasons. Once European diseases got a foothold in the Southwest and Mexico, they likely crossed into California. Besides which, it’s likely that Manila galleons traveling from the Philippines to Acapulco stopped off along the California coast on regular, if unrecorded, occasions. And if diseases had ravaged the diverse societies of California well before the Spanish came, then Native populations before the epidemics would obviously have been considerably higher.

Some scholars contend that California may have been home to a third of North America’s population before 1492. Regardless of the total count, uncolonized California was well-populated. Along the shores of Tulare Lake in the San Joaquin Valley, as many as 70,000 people, mainly Yokuts, may have gathered at least seasonally. The Chumash and Tongva regions of coastal Southern California were dotted with thriving villages, many just a short walk from their neighbors. The Bay Area, with its immensely productive wetland ecosystem, was populated by tens of thousands of Ohlone, Coast Miwok and Sierra Miwok, Patwin, and Wappo people. Around 300 dialects of 100 distinct languages were spoken in California, one of the highest concentrations of cultural diversity in the world.

The diverse cultures in California were intimately interwoven with the landscapes they called home. From the Tolowa of the northernmost California coast to the Quechan still living in and around Yuma, California Indians shaped the landscapes they lived in significant ways, using fire, hand tools, and millennia of familiarity with local ecosystems. They did this so successfully that across much of what would become the state of California, the tended landscape provided all the food, fiber and medicine the people needed without any need for agriculture as the rest of the world practiced it.

That intimate, interwoven relationship with the landscape was the California Indians’ strength, but it also proved to be an ironic vulnerability. In 1769, acting in part out of concern that the British would lay claim to the area, the Kingdom of Spain began to establish what would become a chain of missions and forts stretching from San Diego to Sonoma.

Two aspects of the burgeoning Mission system would end up doing serious harm to California Indian peoples, and to their landscape-based cultures. The first was that the Spanish brought few civilian settlers with them. That was a response to Indian resistance to Spanish colonialism elsewhere in the Southwest, such as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in what is now New Mexico, in which 400 colonists were killed and another 2,000 forced to flee. In Alta California, the Spanish would do things differently. Each of what was eventually 21 missions would be staffed by just two Franciscan priests, with a defense complement of half a dozen soldiers.

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Alta California was considered one of the farthest-flung, least important parts of the Spanish Empire, and the effort to colonize received very little in the way of material support from the crown. Each Mission was expected to become a self-sufficient agricultural settlement as quickly as possible. Without civilian colonists to cultivate crops and tend livestock, the priests chose to harness California Indians to do the actual labor of farming, animal husbandry, building construction, and domestic work.

The Spanish attitude toward California Indians was nuanced, and at times internally inconsistent. Officially, Indians were considered gente sin razon, literally “people without reason,” but colloquially meaning something closer to “uncivilized people.” The Franciscans saw nothing wrong with enticing Indians to stay at the Missions, baptizing them in a ceremony many of the Indians probably considered of little personal importance, and then holding them as captive labor for the rest of their lives. From the Spanish point of view, baptized Indians became part of the Christian flock and were thereafter obligated to follow the instructions of their shepherds. Baptized Indians who left without permission were hunted down as “runaways,” and often punished severely on recapture. Punishments like whippings were also handed out for various infractions, or randomly at the whims of bored and resentful soldiers.

On paper, the Spanish considered the Indians gente, or people, though they were considered minors according to Spanish law. That’s an incredibly low bar by which to assess the degree of human rights accorded to the Indians in the Mission Era, and it’s notable only because the Americans would later lower that bar to the ground.

As many as ten percent of Indians living at missions became runaways. One reason that percentage wasn’t significantly higher, given the mistreatment at the missions, was due to the other serious ill effect Spanish colonization had on Native culture. The Spanish came to a landscape where generations of Indians had depended on grass and herb seeds carefully wild-tended for at least 8,000 years, and set loose cattle and horses on the Indians’ food supply. As free-ranging Spanish livestock was fruitful and multiplied, Native peoples’ food supplies were converted to livestock pastures. At their height, the missions collectively owned more than 150,000 cattle, which made short work each spring of native grasses and herbs, and introduced invasive weeds besides. Staying at the missions was often a realistic alternative to starvation.

Still, California Indians often resisted being “missionized.” There were rebellions against the missions across California almost as soon as the missions were founded. In 1771, when the mission system was just two years old, a group of Tongva made what was likely the first attack on a mission, raiding the Mission San Gabriel in response to Spanish soldiers’ rape of a Tongva woman. Similar attacks, often in response to mistreatment of resident Indians, happened across California for the next 60-odd years.

Some of the Indians’ campaigns against the missions were substantially successful. Kumeyaay warriors burned down the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in 1775. The next year, a group of Chumash people set fire to the roofs of several buildings at the Mission San Luis Obispo. The Franciscans rebuilt the destroyed buildings using adobe and tile roofs, giving birth to a signature California architectural style.

In 1785, the 24-year-old Tongva linguist, shaman, and orator Toypurina organized men from several villages to storm the Mission San Gabriel with the intent of killing all the Spaniards there. She specifically cited both mistreatment of women -- her mother had been raped by Spanish soldiers -- and cattle’s devastation of Tongva food sources as reasons for the attack. A soldier overheard two of the participants talking about the planned raid and warned the priests the attack was thwarted and the male participants flogged. Despite the collapse of the attack, Toypurina became a figure of legend and a symbol of opposition to Spanish rule.

In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain. In 1824, a new Mexican federal constitution granted full citizenship to its Native people, including Native Californians. In practice, the difference in California Indians’ lives was often negligible. Mistreatment at the missions continued, in part out of soldiers’ anger over the Mexican government’s budget cuts imposed on the missions. In 1824, a savage beating of a Chumash worker at the Mission Santa Ynez sparked a bitter revolt there and at the nearby La Purisima Mission, known as the Chumash Revolt of 1824. While the revolt at Mission Santa Ynez was put down relatively quickly, more than 2,000 Chumash warriors captured La Purisima, repelled an attack by Mexican soldiers, held the mission for four months, then looted the mission of its supplies and valuables and headed for the hills.

Just three years later, Estanislao, a Yokuts resident of Mission San Jose who had risen to a position of some prominence in the mission’s hierarchy, left the mission with about 400 followers. With an army eventually numbering more than 4,000 escapees from the missions in San Jose, Santa Cruz, and San Juan Bautista, Estanislao led a series of daring raids, using tactics he’d learned from the mission soldiers, that often resulted in no loss of life. Legend has it that Estanislao left his mark at raid sites by carving the letter “S” with his sword, which may have provided inspiration for the fictional character Zorro.

In 1829, the Mexican Army routed Estanislao’s army from a camp on what was then called the Rio Laquisimas. Estanislao escaped, sought pardon from Mexican authorities, then spent the next few years in the Sierra foothills raiding Mexican settlements with a newly growing army. In 1833, a malaria epidemic introduced to the Central Valley by fur trappers killed at least 20,000 California Indians, decimating Estanislao’s band. He returned to Mission San Jose, where he taught the Yokuts language until his death in 1838.

Aside from providing a model for other legends, Estanislao ended up lending his name to the Rio Laquisimas — now called the Stanislaus River — and to the county that shares the same name.

All in all, the impact of the missions on California native life were severe. In the 65 years between establishment of the missions in 1769 and their secularization by the Mexican government in 1834, more than 37,000 California Indians died at the missions — more than lived in the missions in any single year. Around 15,000 of those deaths were due to epidemics aided by the missions’ crowded conditions, while a significant number of the rest succumbed to starvation, overwork, or mistreatment.

The Mexican-American War, which resulted in the conquest of California by the United States, was very bad news for Californian Indians. As brutal and cavalier as Spanish and Mexican rule had been for Native Californians, it was the onset of American rule that brought with it the worst period in the entire known history of California’s indigenous people.

The barbarism and racial hatred toward indigenous people American settlers brought with them to California can hardly be overstated. Over the 27 years from 1846 — when American settlers started making themselves at home in Mexican California — and 1873, when the last California Indian War ended with the defeat of the Modocs at their Tule Lake stronghold, California’s Native population declined by at least 80 percent, from around 150,000 to perhaps 30,000. Or perhaps far fewer. The 1870 federal census tallied 7,241 remaining California Indians. Given the state of the federal census in 1870, some Indians may have been missed.

Many of the deaths were due to starvation and disease, as Native bands of refugees hid in some of the new state’s most inaccessible, inhospitable places to avoid what must have seemed certain doom at the hands of Americans.

But a very distressing number of those deaths came as the result of what American settlers often expressly referred to as a campaign of extermination.

In April 1846, Army Captain John C. Frémont, who would later become the first Republican Presidential candidate, led his men on an expedition northward along the Sacramento River to a site near the present-day site of Redding. There they encountered a large group of California Indians, probably Wintu, gathered on a peninsula surrounded by the river. The group included older people, women, and children, likely there to harvest some of the spring salmon run. Frémont’s men, a heavily armed company of 76 men, confronted them at the neck of the peninsula. Some of the Wintu warriors attempted to defend the elders, women and children, but to little avail. Many of the Wintu were killed where they stood, first with rifle fire, then — when the attackers’ guns overheated — with bayonets, and finally with butcher knives. Those who tried to escape were chased down on horseback and killed. No American soldiers were seriously injured.

One eyewitness, whose unpublished account was cited in UCLA historian Benjamin Madley’s recent book An American Genocide, estimated the toll of Wintu in the Sacramento River Massacre at upwards of 600 or 700, with perhaps another 300 dying while trying to flee across the swollen Sacramento River.

Frémont’s massacre is historically notable in part for its possible death toll, but mainly because it was the first such act of extermination in a three-decade campaign against California Indians. Many such massacres were conducted not by the U.S. military, but by groups of vigilantes spurred by a combination of race hatred and desire for the remaining land occupied by Indians. Many California Indians were attacked by emigrants from the Oregon Territory seeking revenge for the killings of missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in Walla Walla in November 1847, though there was no known link between any California Indian and the Cayuse who actually killed the Whitmans. Such “Oregon men,” and others of their ilk, would incite mob violence against any Native Californian for minor offenses, or illusory ones. In one typical incident in May 1850, a group of ten armed white men furious over the loss of some cattle attacked a nearby Nisenan/Southern Maidu village, assuming the Indians were responsible for the theft, and killed at least two people. The cattle were found alive the next day.

There were distressingly many more large massacres between 60 and 100 Pomo at Bloody Island in 1850, more than 150 Wintu at Hayfork in 1852, perhaps 450 Tolowa people at Yontocket in 1853, 42 Winnemen Wintu people at Kaibai Creek in 1854: the list continues. More California Indians likely died in random, near-daily attacks on small groups. Whites were able to murder Indians with impunity, both legal and social. Very few settlers spoke up for the rights of California Indians except in the most abstract sense.

When Native people attempted to defend themselves, or to redress wrongs through violent means, or even to feed themselves by helping themselves to livestock, seemingly random extrajudicial executions were common responses by white Californians. Little effort was made to ascertain the Native targets’ guilt or innocence, or even to make formal charges: the idea was that prominent killings would “teach Indians a lesson.”

In Shasta City, officials in 1851 offered a bounty of five dollars for every California Indian head turned in. Several unsuccessful miners suddenly found a more lucrative living in murdering Indians, bringing in horses laden with as many as a dozen Native people’s severed heads. Marysville and Honey Lake paid similar bounties on scalps. In places where no bounty was offered, freelance Indian killers often sought and received payment for services rendered from the state government.

There were subtler acts of genocide committed against California Indians soon after the Americans took over. Even before the state’s admission to the Union in September 1850, California’s Legislature passed a bill — ironically called the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians — which codified the Spanish practice of forcing California Indians into slavery, though it set a few token restrictions on the practice. As many as 10,000 California Indians, especially children, were kidnapped and sold into slavery before Emancipation in 1863. Many of them were worked to death. Another clause in the Act forbade cultural burning of grasslands. A vagrancy clause made it illegal simply to be a Native Californian in public unless said Native could prove he or she was employed by a white person. Another provided that no white man could be convicted based on testimony of a California Indian.

Meanwhile, a attempt to designate eight million acres of California as Indian reservations died in the U.S. Senate, but that decision was kept secret. The Indians didn’t regain title to the lands they ceded during treaty negotiations.

All the while, Americans were making it harder for Native Californians to make their traditional livings. While Spanish and Mexican cattle had been problematic in a broad swath of the coastal mountains, Americans brought their livestock into the Central Valley, the mountains, and even the deserts. Mining, which exploded in extent during the Gold Rush, poisoned and silted up salmon streams in the Sierra Nevada, the Klamath Mountains, and the Transverse Ranges. Native people seeking refuge in the few places in California that whites had not yet decided to conquer often suffered severe privation, even starvation.

The killing went on for years, though people doing the killing were more often wearing military uniforms as the decades passed. Native eyewitness accounts of attacks are rare: it was mainly whites doing the reporting. One exception comes from the 1850s, when white settlers along what’s now called the Lost Coast targeted a group of Sinkyone Indians for killing. Sally Bell, a Sinkyone girl who was ten years old at the time, survived by hiding in terror. She later reported:

Indian schools and termination

By the mid-1870s, white Californians had largely lost interest in exterminating the remaining California Indians on a systematic basis. “Pacification” of the tribes had been in the hands of the Army for some years, and many Californians seemed to be willing to take a more expansive view of how to rid the nation of Indians: by turning them white, or as close to it as possible.

An unusually blunt expression of this view came from The U.S. Army’s Richard Henry Pratt. In a speech in 1892, Pratt said:

Pratt’s idea had prompted him to found a school for Indian youth in Pennsylvania, where students were forced to conform to American culture. Their hair was cut. English was the only language allowed in the school. Contact with family and Native friends was restricted. The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs adopted Pratt’s model, and set up schools across Indian Country beginning in the 1890s.

California’s first off-reservation boarding school, the Sherman Indian School, was founded in Perris, California in 1892. It moved to Riverside a decade later. Children from tribes across southern California and the desert regions of adjoining states were sent to the Sherman Indian School for decades. Students ranged in age from 5 to 20. No visits home were allowed for several years at a time. A cemetery on the campus holds the remains of youth who died while in the school’s custody.

Sherman Indian School wasn’t unique in having its students die on occasion. Disease was rife at Indian Schools across the country. Student were forced to work long hours and subject to corporal punishment. A report based on a study conducted by the Brookings Institution in 1928 lambasted the Bureau for the conditions found in the schools, on the grounds both of student safety and of the damage the schools were wreaking on Native cultures. By removing children from their elders, and thus preventing the passing down of cultural knowledge, the schools were threatening to end many aspects of Native culture as living traditions.

Despite the report’s recommendations, Indian boarding schools remained a main educational tool in the BIA’s toolbox. Enrollment in the schools peaked in the 1970s a few, such as Sherman, are still in operation today.

By the 1940s, the United States Congress had grown tired of waiting for boarding schools to slowly assimilate Native children into mainstream society, and decided to forcibly assimilate Native peoples by speedier methods. The solution Congress came up with was called “termination.” Termination was intended to strip Native tribes of any sovereignty they still enjoyed, starting with depriving tribes of the right to handle their own criminal cases. In California, the first Native tribe to be affected was the Agua Caliente Cahuilla, whose lands in the Palm Springs area were declared subject to state civil and criminal law in 1949.

In 1953, House Concurrent Resolution 108 made termination the official federal policy toward Native nations. The language of the resolution specifically targeted California Indians, declaring that all recognized tribes in California — along with New York, Florida and Texas — were terminated. Termination meant an immediate end to federal funding, social services, legal and law enforcement protection, and to recognition of the tribes’ rights to reservations even if guaranteed by treaty.

In the same year, Congress passed Public Law 280, which (among other things) declared that all tribal criminal and civil cases in California would be under state rather than tribal jurisdiction.

From 1956 through 1958, Congress passed three laws specifically targeting 41 California Indian Rancherias for termination. The laws required that the Rancheria lands be divided up among tribe members and made their personal property. The idea was that by becoming property owners and taxpayers, Native people would assimilate into American society more quickly.

Some Native people accepted the idea of termination, in part because the Federal government offered assurances of greater education funding and infrastructure improvements to native communities in return. Those promises went largely unfulfilled. Opposition to termination grew among both Natives and non-Natives. The issue gained enough prominence that both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon publicly called for a repeal of termination policies.

Renaissance and Restoration

The attempts to forcibly assimilate Native peoples into American society had two unintended consequences that played a big role in California Indian history. Boarding schools, by creating bonds between children of different tribes, often made it more likely that Native activists would adopt pan-Indian approaches to organizing, rather than working on a tribe by tribe basis. And one termination-era law, the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, encouraged Native people to leave the reservation and look for jobs in cities. As a result, many Native people from tribes outside California emigrated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, providing ideal organizing circumstances for those pan-Indian activists.

In November, 1969, a group with the expressly pan-Indian name "Indians of All Nations" occupied the decommissioned federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The occupation, which made world headlines, lasted for nearly two years, and raised the visibility of both the Native cause and Native organizing. Though the visible leadership of the occupation was largely made up of members of tribes from outside California, California Indians were nonetheless well-represented among the initial wave of occupiers.

The occupation bore fruit. A chastened Congress responded to the unfavorable press by passing reforms of Indian health and education policies and bills returning lands to the Yakima Indians and Taos Pueblo. President Nixon did his part by rescinding Termination during the occupation as well.

The lessons of Alcatraz — a reminder that activism could be both effective and a source of pride — had an immeasurable effect on Native peoples across the United States. California was no exception. California Indians had never stayed silent about the injustices done them, but the 1970s saw a renewed surge of activism both political and cultural. In 1979, Tillie Hardwick, a Pomo woman who grew up on the terminated Pinoleville Rancheria, sued the federal government to restore recognition to Pinoleville, arguing that the roads, sewers, and water mains the federal government had promised in return for termination were never delivered. Hardwick prevailed. In 1983, a U.S. District Court ruled on Tillie Hardwick v. United States by reversing terminations of 17 small Rancherias throughout the state. Other tribe members, noting Hardwick’s success, launched their own suits. To date, more than 30 California rancherias, bands, and reservations have had their terminations rescinded.

Tribes in California began to generate revenue by holding bingo games in the late 1970s. Predictable tension between the tribes and the state over gambling regulation ensued. The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians sued California over state attempts to shut down a card club on the Band’s reservation near Palm Springs. The case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that states have no authority to regulate gaming on Indian lands. In 1988, the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act amended Public Law 280 to make that SCOTUS decision formal, and establish a federal regulatory framework for Indian gaming. Indian gaming took off nationwide as a result. An attempt in 1998 by then-governor Pete Wilson to drastically limit the scope of Indian gaming in California briefly raised ire, but after a series of court battles and a pro-Indian gaming proposition on the 1998 ballot, 58 gaming tribes reached an amicable agreement with Wilson’s successor Gray Davis in 1999. The casino operated by the Cabazon Band is now the tallest building between Los Angeles and Phoenix.

And all the while, California Indian activists were working — and are still working — to preserve both their cultures and the landscape that fed and feeds them. California Indian basketweavers work to ensure state and federal agencies take care not to spray their traditional basketry plants with herbicides, especially important as basketweavers often hold plant materials for baskets in their teeth. Native peoples in the northernmost part of the state have been instrumental in reaching an agreement to dismantle four salmon-killing dams on the Klamath, and others are working to restore forests and to protect the last remaining Winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River. Native peoples in the desert are advocating that solar developers pay proper heed to traditional cultural uses of the landscape the developers want to convert to industrial zones. And after more than a decade of campaigning, ten North Coast tribes are entering their third decade of jointly managing and restoring 3,845 acres of redwood forest in the Lost Coast area. Declared the Sinkyone Intertribal Wilderness in 1996, the parcel is adjacent to the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, where a huge grove of old-growth redwoods, saved from the chainsaws in the 1980s, is named for Sally Bell. Perhaps some day her baby sister’s heart will be at rest.

Co-produced by KCETLink and the Autry Museum of the American West, the Tending the Wild series is presented in association with the Autry's groundbreaking California Continued exhibition.

Banner photo: Clear Lake Pomo man in tule boat, Edward S. Curtis photo

Inside the mysterious world of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes where thousands still live in total isolation unaware of modern life

THE Brazilian Amazon is home to mysterious uncontacted tribes, who live isolated lives deep in the jungle, unaware of modern life.

Experts believe there are still hundreds of mysterious undiscovered tribes living in the Amazon region. This picture was released in 2008 by the Brazilian Indian Protection Foundation (FUNAI) to prove existence of the tribes. Source:AFP

IN THE heart of the Amazon there are still hundreds of mysterious uncontacted tribes living their lives completely oblivious to the modern world.

In one recent example of their sheer isolation, the last surviving member of one tribe was filmed after more than two decades of living completely alone in the jungle.

He is the only survivor of an uncontacted tribe whose six other members were killed by land grabbers and farmers.

The uncontacted tribes live in extreme isolation in the forest and are rarely filmed.

Over the years their fear of the encroaching world has led to them to develop a fear of contact with outsiders.

They often fire their bows and arrows at helicopters or planes that make contact with them.

A 2008 photo showing members of a recently discovered indigenous tribe, with their bodies painted in bright red staring at the aircraft from which the pictures were taken, in the Amazon region in the Brazilian-Peruvian border. Picture: Brazilian Indian Protection Foundation Source:AFP


Uncontacted tribes are people who have no contact with anyone in mainstream society and are made up of entire tribes or smaller groups of tribes.

They have developed ways of lives that are entirely self-sufficient.

Some are nomadic hunter-gatherers constantly on the move who are able to build a home within hours and abandon it days later, says Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of indigenous people.

Others are more settled, living in communal houses and planting crops in forest clearings as well as hunting and fishing.


There are at least 100 uncontacted tribes living in Brazil alone and experts believe they number up to 3000.

Other groups of uncontacted tribes also can be found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Paraguay.

In the Brazilian state of Acre there could be as many as 600 tribespeople, belonging to four different groups, who live in relative tranquillity.

Others such as the Kawahiva, whose land is under threat from loggers, teeter on the edge of extinction with no more than a handful left.

Images offering insight into the lives of the Huaorani people in the Ecuadorian Amazon have been revealed showing how they use traditional methods to hunt monkeys for food. Picture: Pete Oxford Source:australscope

In this 2011 video frame released by Brazil's National Indian Foundation, an uncontacted indigenous man is seen amid the forest, in Rondonia, Brazil. He appeared to have lived alone in Brazil's Amazon for 22 years. Source:AP


Amazonian tribes have belief system sees the rainforest as the home of spiritual life, with every flower, plant and animal containing its own spirits.

Many perform rituals using hallucinogenic drugs prepared from the bark of the virola tree to see the spirits.


Despite being described as uncontacted people, such groups do in fact all have a history of contact, whether from past exploitation or simply seeing a plane or helicopter flying overhead.

Many simply wish to be left alone while others have fled into hiding many years ago after violent encounters with the outside world.

Their way of life has been threatened by incursions on to their land from mining, logging, cattle ranching, cocaine trafficking and missionary activity.

Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, has interviewed tribespeople who have come out of isolation.

He says they are interested in making contact but fear drives their decision to lead isolated ways of life.

“People have this romanticised view that isolated tribes have chosen to keep away from the modern, evil world,” he told the BBC.

Uncontacted Yanomami yano (communal house) in the Brazilian Amazon. Picture: Guilherme Gnipper Trevisan Source:Supplied


According to Survival International “time and time again, contact has resulted in disaster for Brazil’s uncontacted tribes”.

Given their isolation they are not able to build up immunity to diseases common elsewhere.

It is not unusual for half of a tribe to be wiped out within a year of first contact by diseases such as measles and influenza.

The Matis tribe population fell by half following contact, when both young and old died from introduced diseases.

As well as disease, coming into contact with the outside often results in violence.

For example 10 members of a remote Amazonian tribe were hacked to death by ruthless gold miners out to seize their land last year, reported Sun Online.

Prosecutors alleged the killers went into a bar and bragged about what they had done.


Up until the 1980s the Brazilian government tried to establish peaceful contact with uncontacted tribes.

The aim was often to assimilate them into mainstream society and metal tools were often used as a means of luring them from their areas.

But this often led to violence and disease outbreaks among the tribespeople.

Undetected tribes living in Brazil do so under the protection of a government agency, FUNAI.

FUNAI avoids contact with the tribes in a bid to ensure disease is not spread so they able to continue with their life without fear.

But Robert Walker, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, argues non-contact is untenable.

𠇎verywhere you look, there are these pressures from mining, logging, narcotrafficking and other external threats,” he said.

“My worry is that if we have this ‘leave-them-alone’ strategy, at the end of the day the external threats will win. People will just go extinct.”


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Bedouin, also spelled Beduin, Arabic Badawi and plural Badw, Arabic-speaking nomadic peoples of the Middle Eastern deserts, especially of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.

Most Bedouins are animal herders who migrate into the desert during the rainy winter season and move back toward the cultivated land in the dry summer months. Bedouin tribes have traditionally been classified according to the animal species that are the basis of their livelihood. Camel nomads occupy huge territories and are organized into large tribes in the Sahara, Syrian, and Arabian deserts. Sheep and goat nomads have smaller ranges, staying mainly near the cultivated regions of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. Cattle nomads are found chiefly in South Arabia and in Sudan, where they are called Baqqārah (Baggara). Historically many Bedouin groups also raided trade caravans and villages at the margins of settled areas or extracted payments from settled areas in return for protection.

Bedouin society is tribal and patriarchal, typically composed of extended families that are patrilineal, endogamous, and polygynous. The head of the family, as well as of each successively larger social unit making up the tribal structure, is called sheikh the sheikh is assisted by an informal tribal council of male elders.

In addition to the “noble” tribes who trace their ancestry to either Qaysi (northern Arabian) or Yamani (southern Arabian) origin, traditional Bedouin society comprises scattered “ancestor-less” groups who shelter under the protection of the large noble tribes and make a living by serving them as blacksmiths, tinkers, artisans, entertainers, and other workers.

The growth of modern states in the Middle East and the extension of their authority into previous ungovernable regions greatly impinged upon Bedouins’ traditional ways of life. Following World War I, Bedouin tribes had to submit to the control of the governments of the countries in which their wandering areas lay. This also meant that the Bedouins’ internal feuding and the raiding of outlying villages had to be given up, to be replaced by more peaceful commercial relations. In several instances Bedouins were incorporated into military and police forces, taking advantage of their mobility and habituation to austere environments, while others found employment in construction and the petroleum industry.

In the second half of the 20th century, Bedouins faced new pressures to abandon nomadism. Middle Eastern governments nationalized Bedouin rangelands, imposing new limits on Bedouins’ movements and grazing, and many also implemented settlement programs that compelled Bedouin communities to adopt sedentary or semisedentary lifestyles. Some other Bedouin groups settled voluntarily in response to changing political and economic conditions. Advancing technology also left its mark as many of the remaining nomadic groups exchanged their traditional modes of animal transportation for motor vehicles.

Because Bedouin populations are represented inconsistently—or not at all—in official statistics, the number of nomadic Bedouins living in the Middle East today is difficult to ascertain. But it is generally understood that they constitute only a small fraction of the total population in the countries where they are present.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

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