Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ants as Native Californian Cuisine

California Indians caught ants by spreading a damp skin or fresh-peeled bark over ant hills, which immediately attracted ants to the surface (Sutton 1988). When the skin or bark was covered with ants, it was carefully removed and shaken into a container where they were confined until dead, and then they were sun-dried and stored (Bodenheimer 1951).

The Nisenan and Achumawi were known to eat ants (Olmsted and Stewart 1978, Wilson and Towne 1978). Mono Lake Paiute ate the larvae of ants (Sutton 1988). Ant eggs, pupae, larvae, and adults are all edible and eaten by many aboriginal cultures worldwide (Bodenheimer 1951), thus it is likely the California Indians ate all these life stages.

Surprise Valley Paiute gathered ants “early in the morning when they were all bunched on the top of the hill” (Sutton 1988). Since ants carry their pupae to the top of the mound in the morning when the sun hits it, this may suggest the Paiute were aware of this activity and exploited it to easily collect the pupae, which are probably the preferred ant food. Alternatively, the gathering of ants was conducted in the early morning since they were less active then. Ants were frequently collected during the frozen winter (Sutton 1988), perhaps for the same reason, or since other food was scarce at the time.

Some Indians dug out ants, larvae, and pupae (the latter two being probably erroneously called eggs), and winnowed them to boil alone or with other foods (Sutton 1988). Ants were sometimes ground into flour for storage (Sutton 1988). Ants were preferred even to grasshoppers by the Northern Paiute since they contained more fat (Sutton 1988). Ants were killed with live coals then eaten dry, or stored to later thicken soups (Sutton 1988).


The larvae and adults of carpenter ants (Camponotus spp) were enjoyed by California Indians, according to John Muir (1972). The heads of the adults were bitten off and spat out and the “tickly acid body” eaten with enjoyment (Muir 1972). Carpenter ants were dug out of their nest early in the morning when it was still cold by the Western Shoshone (Sutton 1988), perhaps allowing gathering with fewer stings. The ants were winnowed from the soil with a basket, killed with hot coals in a parching tray, and boiled into a mush (Sutton 1988). These ants are very large: probably the reason the Indians preferred them. However, their nests harbor fewer individuals than those of smaller ants.

A few weeks ago, I collected a few dozen carpenter ant workers and drones. I broke apart the their wood log nest, and put down wet paper towels over the swarm, which they clung to, biting. I then flicked them off the paper towels into a cooler with a few inches of cold water, where they drowned or were cooled into immobility. I fried them in a pan with a few drops of oil on medium for about a minute, then ate them whole and plain. The workers have a great lime flavor and a nice crunch. The drones don’t have that zingy flavor (lacking formic acid glands and stingers), but taste mild and nutty. Overall, they were a great snack that was easy to collect.

Honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus spp.) are found in the deserts of Southern California, and are known to have been eaten by Southwestern US Indians and Mexican Indians (Bodenheimer 1951, Sutton 1988). Specialized “nurse” or “replete” workers of this ant, living in special chambers of the nest, store “honey,” or a very sweet solution, in their greatly engorged abdomens to regurgitate to other ants in times of famine (Bodenheimer 1951, Sutton 1988). These nurse ants were collected by Indians and eaten or alcohol or medicine (Bodenheimer 1951). I wouldn’t try to go dig up a nest without some serious expertise on their nest structure though. One professional entomologist in Arizona spent 12 hours digging an 8 foot trench in the desert to get just a few handfuls of repletes! If anything, this testifies to the supreme ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers, especially regarding the hymenopterous (bees, wasps, and ants) nesting and reproductive biology.

REFERENCES:

Bodenheimer, F.S. 1951. Insects as human food. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, The Netherlands.

Muir, J. 1972. My first summer in the Sierra. Norman S. Berg, Publisher, Sellanraa, GA.

Olmsted, D.L. and O.C. Stewart. 1978. Achumawi. In Handbook of North American Indians Vol. 8: California, eds. W.C. Sturtevant and R.F. Heizer, p. 228. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Sutton, M.Q. 1988. Insects as food: aboriginal entomophagy in the Great Basin. Ballena Press anthropological papers: no. 33.

Wilson, N.L. and A.H. Towne. 1978. Nisenan. In Handbook of North American Indians Vol. 8: California, eds. W.C. Sturtevant and R.F. Heizer, p. 390. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Deer Hunting Traditions of the Apache

The following notes are from this book:

People called Apache. Mails, Thomas, E. 1974. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Chiricahua women hunted when necessary, but it was a man’s responsibility.

The Apache practiced fasting before hunting deer. They would not eat onions or put on anything aromatic. Such taboos were the norm among American Indians, and worked (including fasting) to greatly reduce the smell of the hunter that the deer may otherwise detect. No baskets brought along for a hunt, since that signaled overconfidence.

The Apache hunted alone or in groups. Mostly they hunted with bow and arrow. Sometimes mounted men or relays of footrunners ran deer till they were exhausted, when the men then roped and strangled them. Running deer negatively affected the taste of the meat, so it was not a preferred method.
Deer head and antelope head masks were used for stalking, but not elk-head masks, since the hunters did not think the latter necessary. Perhaps elk are wiser, or probably just less friendly to strange elk. The deer heads were filled out with grass and the skin was sewn and tied to fit the head and stay on. Clothing or covering the color of the deer was worn, and while stalking, the hunter acted like a grazing deer. Deer were approached from downwind. If they were in the open, the hunters crawled long distances while keeping brush in front of them to hide. The deer were called by making a whistling sound through a leaf held horizontally along the lips. This may be in imitation of the bleating of a fawn, as some California Indians practiced.

Deer were sometimes hunted by the Apache after heavy snows and cold drove deer down into the flatlands.

The Apache cultivated corn, pumpkins, beans, melons, and potatoes, so were well aware that a field of half-grown corn became an excellent hunting ground when deer and other animals were attracted to the produce.

The Mescalero snared deer by hanging a string of head nooses along the deers’ favorite trails.
The kill was skinned and cut up immediately. This was done by traditional rules as where to begin and ceremonial gestures to use. The head and hoofs were brought home to assure future luck in the hunt. These were also valuable parts, the brain being mainly used to tan buckhides, hoofs used for glue and rattles, and both had many other uses. The hides were tanned or left as rawhide, either way with hair on or off, and used for moccasins, robes, blankets, saddlebags, and many other articles. The Chiricahua used thread from sinew along the backbone and leg bones of large animals, preferably deer, but also horses and steers. Sinew from alongside the backbone and hind legs were used by the Apache for bowstrings. The ends of two or three wet pieces were spliced and stuck together to form a long string, which was doubled over and the two parts were twisted  by putting a stick through the looped end. The finished string was placed on the bow and its length was adjusted as necessary. Awls were made from wood and from the sharpened leg bone of a deer. Deer’s blood was mixed with poisonous plants or spit and allowed to rot, then placed on arrowheads as a arrow poison. These are a handful of the dozens of other uses for deer parts.
Meat was jerked (preserved by drying into jerky) by cutting into long thin strips with the grain, then spreading it over bushes such as mesquite to dry. When dry, it was pounded until it was compact and stored in cowhide bags.

One method to cook deer meat was to roast it on a spit hanging over a dry cedar fire. Venison stew was also made.

The Chiricahua made acorns into a kind of pemmican. The acorn meal was mixed with ground dried deer meat and fat, then rolled into little balls that stored all winter and served as high-quality nutrition emergency food for trips.

In 1980 it was estimated that 50% of California was covered by deer, at a density of about 13 per square mile (Hiezer and Elsasser 1980). Just harvesting 1/10th of these deer, or 125,000 out of 1,250,000, would provide about a little more than a pound of venison per person per day (Hiezer and Elsasser 1980). [Ref: Natural World of the California Indians. UC Berkeley Press.]

See other recent posts about deer hunting:

Hunters Take Aim for Conservation

Deer Drive Hunt Method of California Indians

Link

I remember often encountering the sentiment as a young boy that hunters were evil men who just wanted to spill the blood of innocent furry woodland creatures. Now that I’m trying to become a hunter, I realize how utterly silly that idea is, and how ridiculous it makes the believer of such an idea seem.

If someone wanted to kill something just for the sake of it, they’re not going to go through the trouble to take a hunter education course and pass the test, paying for all the fees, research all the laws and regulations, seasons, species, areas, etc., buy an annual license, tags, and stamps, drive out to the wilderness and stake out blinds or stalk animals for days, etc, etc. etc. In short, it is an epic ordeal for a first time hunter to figure it all out. It has taken me a full year from signing up for the first class til now I am comfortable knowing where I can go, to hunt exactly, what, and when.

The point is, hunters don’t go through all that effort just to “kill something.” There are surely much easier ways to achieve that. Hunters want two main things in my opinion: 1) fresh, cheap, wild meat (way tastier and healthier than  free-range organic); and 2) to fulfill their instinctual impulse to be a hunter. The latter is what makes hunters such awesome conservationists, ethically speaking. They are in-touch with their place in nature, intuitively understand local ecology, and realize the tremendous value of wild lands. Both contribute to making hunters such awesome conservationists, financially and politically speaking. They will pay whatever it takes to keep a place to hunt (wild sustainable habitat) for future generations, and vote and act in such a manner as well.

Overpopulation of deer and other game animals is briefly discussed by this article, and it is yet one more reason hunters are awesome conservationists. Deer, feral pig, and even black bears in some areas have overpopulated from lack of hunting pressure (colonists killed off most the predators in the US), and hunters are the only way of controlling their damage.

To read more about this, check out this great Bay Nature article about how Hunters are the biggest supporters of conservation in the US!

The View From the Blind: Hunters Take Aim for Conservation

By Aleta George

Here are some key quotes from the article, in which the author also discusses her first tries hunting:

“I was surprised to learn how much money hunters and fishers contribute to conservation through the purchase of licenses, stamps, and equipment. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributed $25.3 million to California through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.”

“It’s not just the license fees, but their invaluable political support for preserving habitat, especially wetlands for migratory waterfowl,” says Richard Walker, professor emeritus of geography at UC Berkeley. “The same applies to fishermen and their associations, who support wild rivers, habitat restoration on rivers, and water flows for fish, as in the Delta. Hunters get more bad press among environmentalists than fishermen, but they are quite equivalent, though it’s easier to practice catch-and-release with fish than with deer or boar!”

“Many well-known conservationists honed their appreciation for the natural world with a gun in their hands, including John James Audubon, Theodore Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold.”

“While it may seem logical to assume that scientists or naturalists were the first to advocate hunting regulations in America, it was actually the hunters — or, to put a finer point on it, the “sportsmen” — who did. By the end of the 19th century, sportsmen took care to separate themselves from the market hunters who supplied meat to California’s growing population after the Gold Rush. Hunters and nonhunters alike witnessed the disappearance of large game animals during the second half of the 19th century. In 1856 the Sacramento Daily Union boasted of the limitless opportunities to hunt deer, elk, and antelope and both species of bears, with the “grizzly everywhere to be met with.” By 1874 the same paper reported that the antelopes were gone, as were the elk that roamed San Francisco, Stockton, and Solano and Yolo Counties. “They have all been destroyed by the vandal pot-hunters, who regard neither season nor age, nor sex or condition of the game they slaughter,” the Daily Union lamented.”

“An old-time market hunter interviewed by Anthony Arnold for Suisun Marsh History said that he and his partner killed 100 to 200 ducks a day in 1879, and that their take was only limited by transportation. “Refrigerated railroad cars were critical to the expansion of market hunting,” says Stanford historian Richard White, “and played into why the passenger pigeon went extinct and why waterfowl populations plummeted.” In 1910, 500,000 ducks were sold in San Francisco, and four years later that number had dropped to 28,425 birds. “Past practices of mass slaughter, here and elsewhere, were so offensive than a foul odor still hangs over all hunting,” says Walker. “Recreational hunting gets confused with market hunting, so it’s good to make that distinction.”

“Newspapers and national outdoor sports magazines called for restrictions, and George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Forest and Stream, became the voice of conservation. Grinnell also founded the Audubon Society in response to the slaughter of millions of herons, egrets, and other birds for the use of their plumage on hats. Grinnell helped to establish the “code of the sportsman,” which advocated for the noncommercial use of all game killed, writes John F. Reiger in American Sportsman and the Origins of Conservation. Sportsmen taxed themselves, pushed for state regulations, and formed game reserves, such as the duck clubs in the Suisun Marsh. The code is alive for some hunters, while for others it is enforced only through regulation.”

“Anderson says hunting gives him entree to social groups that he couldn’t reach as a conservationist; reduces the population of animals that don’t belong here; and provides local, organic, free-range meat for his family. “The final reason I hunt relates back to Leopold,” he says. “Hunting gives me an opportunity to be part of the ecosystem in a way that I’m not when I’m walking along with a clipboard and my agency colleagues and a landowner. It’s an enormous stress reducer to be out before dawn, huddled against a giant redwood tree calling in a turkey that might be dinner; to hear the owls hooting; and to watch the planets burning bright in the sky. We might have a better understanding of what it is to be humans on land, to be managers of both wild land and working landscapes, if we’re more part of that ecosystem.”

“People find it hard to understand that being a hunter is not only consistent with being a conservationist, but in some ways is part of being a conservationist,” says Steven McCormick, who recently stepped down as president and CEO of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and who before that worked for the Nature Conservancy for 30 years, including seven as president of the large national environmental group. “I am a conservationist and a hunter as one thing, not as two separate interests or passions.”

My colored pencil drawing of a deer fawn standing in water.

Deer Drive Hunt Method of California Indians

It’s open deer season for about another month here in California, and many hunters are afield trying to shoot a buck. I just spent 5 days stillhunting for deer (plus squirrels and mountain quail) with my bow and arrows. I only saw a few does, so plan on an ambush-style hunt next time. Common modern methods include sitting in a blind at an area deer are known to visit, stillhunting/stalking, luring with calls, decoys, and scents, and perhaps most effective of all, group drive hunts.

The California Indians employed all this methods, and had many more elaborate and clever ways of capturing deer. They often disguised themselves as deer, taxidermied head with antlers and all, imitating a grazing deer while approaching, getting as close as inside the herd if necessary before shooting several before they could all escape. Such a method is risky now since other hunters are liable to see and shoot you. The Indians usually knew everyone in the area and when and where they were hunting, and were also probably more able to distinguish a imitator from a real deer. The Indians also used snares to catch deer, sometimes made from the fine edges of the leaves of Iris douglasiana.

Group drive hunts of many varieties were the norm among California Indians, and such hunts probably served to provide the majority of the deer meat and other products throughout the year for most tribes. Modern hunters do group drive hunts; they post half the hunters in a line at a good shooting spot, then the other half walks spread out in a line, driving deer toward the posted line. The Indians often did this with the posted line on the opposite side of a creek, shooting the deer as they crossed the water and were in the open and vulnerable while swimming. Shooting animals near watering areas is illegal in California now, but other natural or artificial formations can assist in a drive hunt. The Indians in the Mendocino County area of California used a long fence of maple bark to form a trap line to direct deer to a central spot to be killed by hidden hunters there.

The inner bark of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) was used to make a deer trap, being cut into bands about an inch wide, and fastened together for over a mile long into a continuous roll, which was then carried to the appropriate spot, and the band strung on stakes about four feet high to create a very long V-shaped fence, with the apex extending into a valley and the ends terminating at the mouth of two adjacent canyons (Chesnut 1902). This location was chosen for its excellent browse with deer known to feed there (Chesnut 1902). When the fence was strung taut, and deer were feeding inside the V, Indians disguised like animals, and each carrying brittle sticks, a piece of smoldering oak, and a bone dagger were stationed at the end of the lines and in the middle, and some then stealthily approached the deer from the open part of the V (Chesnut 1902). If deer came near the band of maple, one of the Indians would shake the band, frightening the deer back, and if deer attempted to pass an approaching man he would break a stick, or expose the glowing oak bark (Chesnut 1902). In this manner, the deer were corralled into the apex of the V, where the Indians would suddenly jump up and kill the deer with bone daggers (Chesnut 1902).

A maple band seems easily replaced with metal or plastic banding that similarly made an alarming noise when rattled. Since making a long band of inner bark of maple is the most time-consuming part of this method, modern hunters might profitably mimic this method to legally hunt deer. Of course the bone daggers would need to be replaced with bow or firearms legal for taking deer.

The deer provided a principal meat source for California Indians, and provided bones, antlers, hide, sinew, brains, and hoofs to make dozens of essential daily tools of the Indians. Colonists stove to extirpate all predators they encountered, so in current times, deer overpopulation is a major problem throughout California and the US. Hunters, especially deer hunters, are the number one group of (financial) supporters of conservation in the US. So do your job to help conserve more public lands such as our National Forests and BLM lands and keep the deer populations at healthy numbers for them and the ecosystem by buying a hunting license and deer tags and feeding your family the healthiest and cheapest meat in the world!