Category Archives: Ethnozoology

Crayfish Catching by California Indians

I like to free dive with snorkel and mask, and often find crayfish, which I’ve caught many times by hand (though I usually let them go). I find crayfish delicious, so I did a little research on the methods the California Indians used to catch and eat them.

Freshwater crayfish were eaten by the Indians of Northwestern California. The Yurok Sometimes caught crayfish by fastening a piece of salmon onto the end of a string tied to a pole. This bait was set in the water and when the crayfish grabbed it, they were pulled in. Instead of salmon, sometimes a ball of grass was attached, to which the claws or legs of the crayfish were entangled as they were pulled out of the water. The Karok used this method but with salmon gills as bait.

The Karok trapped crayfish by tying salmon gills above or in a basket that was set beside or under a rock, then lifting the basket out when the crayfish were feeding on the bait. Another Karok trap was a large, openwork, plate-shaped basket, with a four-foot stick attached to the center to keep the basket horizontal when lowered into a still place in the river. Salmon gills were placed on the basket as bait. Once the crayfish were lured onto the basket, it was lifted out quickly.

Shasta_crayfish

Shasta crayfish (Pacifastacus fortis), the only remaining native crayfish in California, is critically endangered. It’s endemic to Shasta County, where, before widespread environmental damage, it was caught by the Shasta Indians. Most crayfish in CA now are the introduced, invasive, signal crayfish (P. leniusculus).

The Shasta caught crayfish using the same type of trap, except instead of the four-foot stick, several strings were attached to the basket’s edges, and a stone was laid on it with the bait to weigh it down. This trap was used in about four feet of water in the evening. After 10-15 minutes, it was gently pulled to the surface.

Often, crayfish were simply caught by hand by the Yurok and Karok at the water’s edge. The Tolowa caught them by hand under rocks in streams while people were swimming.

The Karok roasted crayfish in ashes or hot coals till they were deep red. The Tolowa cooked them in ashes or in an earth oven. The Shasta boiled them in a basket with hot rocks.

REFERENCE:

Kroeber, A. L. and S. A. Barrett. 1960. Fishing among the Indians of Northwestern California. Anthropological Records 21(1):1-210. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

June Bugs are Edible

It’s already the time of year where June bugs are flying to my porch lights, much to the glee of my cats, who enjoy these fun toys.

June bugs are not known widely as edible, but according to one or two sources, they were food for some California Indians.

Bear River Indians ate June bugs (Nomland 1938:111). They were roasted in a fire and eaten immediately (Nomland 1938:111).

June bugs / June beetles, specifically including the white-striped June beetle
(Scarabaeidae: Polyphylla crinita and P. spp.), were listed by Essig (1931) as insects eaten by the California Indians.

Polyphylla_olivieri_Laporte_de_Castelnau,_1840_(3887609658)

June beetle: Polyphylla sp.

Essig may have determined this based on Nomland’s (1938) ethnography of the Bear River Indians. That is the only other source I have found listing June bugs as food for the California Indians.

Unfortunately, neither source mentions whether the adults or grubs were eaten. Presumably, they refer to the adults since they are commonly encountered, whereas the grubs live underground feeding on roots.

I’m confident the grubs are edible also, as  related grubs in the scarab family, such as the rhinoceros beetle, are edible, and also live underground.

Essig, E.O. 1931. A history of entomology. The Macmillan Company, New York, NY.

Nomland, Gladys Ayer. 1938. Bear River ethnography. Anthropological Records 2(2):90-126. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

The Bear Doctor

BONE CHILLING TRUE ACCOUNT OF EVIL SHAMANS THAT HAUNTED AND KILLED CALIFORNIA INDIANS

The Bear Doctor was a powerful and deadly shaman feared by the Pomo, Yuki, and Miwok tribes of California Indians.

The bear doctors lived to kill for pleasure and would extort villages, forcing chiefs to pay them to leave their people in peace.

The bear doctor wore a suit of grizzly bear skin reinforced inside with a lining of hard wood sticks (snowbell), all over a suit of armor made of shells, making him virtually immune to arrows or other attacks. It contained water baskets inside, whose sloshing mimicked the sound of the viscera of a real bear. A white oak basketry helmet was fitted to the wearer’s head, and the bear’s head skin was secured over this. When worn, the bear doctor appeared, acted, and sounded just like a real grizzly bear. This suit was said to endow him with the supernatural strength and speed of a bear.

pomo bear doctor suit

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He was helped by male and female assistants, the first whom sang the songs or chants necessary to invoke the power of the bear suit as the shaman danced and as the suit was put on by the bear doctor with the help of the female assistant.

The weapons of the bear doctor were elk horn daggers, obsidian knives, and stone pestles. Sometimes he used a miniature bow that shot tiny “invisible” poisoned arrows. One common poison for arrows was rattlesnake venom, which caused even a tiny wound to rot away and masses of flesh to slough off, usually resulting in death.

Before attacking, the bear doctor stood unconcernedly near the path of his victim, with his back toward him until he was near, whereupon he suddenly whirled around and attacked. This was the method of attack of a real bear.

The bear doctors formed a league together, training apprentices and sometimes working in concert to attack and kill.

For more info see “Pomo Bear Doctors” by S.A. Barrett, 1917.

Methods to Gather Wasps and Bees to Eat

Apidae and Vespidae – bees and wasps

Larvae (and pupae) of wild bees (Andrena spp.), yellow jackets (Dolichovespula spp. And Vespula spp.), hornets, and other wasps (Polistes spp.) were eaten by many tribes, often raw, and considered delicacies (Powers 1877, Essig 1931, Heizer and Elsasser 1980). First, nests were smoked to stupify the adults (Essig 1931).

To locate a yellowjacket nest, the Sierra Miwok would set out (presumably in an open sunny place) a grasshopper leg with a (magenta-colored) dry seed pod of a grass (Holcus lanatus) or a white flower attached (Barrett and Gifford 1933, Lightfoot and Parrish). They waited for a yellowjacket to seize the bait, then followed it to the nest by keeping an eye on the easily-visible seed pod or flower (Barrett and Gifford 1933).

In one method for gathering ground-nesting yellowjackets, a nest was located, then early in the morning before the yellowjackets began flying, a fire was built close to the hole and smoke from pine needles forced down the hole with a fan (Heizer and Elsasser 1980, Lightfoot and Parrish 2009), which the Costanoans made with hawk feathers (Levy 1978). Once the yellowjackets were stupefied, the nest was dug out and carried to a prepared bed of coals (Heizer and Elsasser 1980). The nest was roasted, the dead larvae shaken out into a tray, mashed, then boiled with hot stones (Heizer and Elsasser 1980). This was served with manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) berries or acorn meal (Heizer and Elsasser 1980).

The northeastern Yavapai ate yellowjacket nests (i.e. probably the larvae and pupae along with nest material) (Gifford 1936). The Northern Maidu eagerly sought yellowjacket larvae (probably also the pupae, see Taylor 1975) to eat (Dixon 1905), as did many other tribes.

The European honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) was only introduced in the mid-1800’s (Essig 1934) and its honey was collected by the Wiyot and other tribes who also ate the larvae, sometimes smoking out the adult bees with a damp tule smudge (Lightfoot and Parrish 2009). The small quantities of honey which could be found only in the nests of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and other native wild bees were eaten by the Foothill Yokuts and probably other tribes (Heizer and Elsasser 1980, Jacknis 2004).

Vespidae

Vespula lewisi larvae, pupae, and adults.

Japanese wasp collection method: kill a frog and leave in open, attach a small piece of its meat with a small piece of floss silk. When the wasp arrives and cuts a piece of meat from the frog, people replace this piece with the one having floss-silk attached. When it flies back to the nest the run after by following the floss-silk. The underground nest is smoked with firecrackers and the stunned wasps are collected (FIN 1988 1:2; 2) (FIN 8(3):2).

To find wasp nests, traditional wasp hunters in Japan tie a long silk thread to the waist of a captured adult wasp. Then they follow the silk thread and wasp as it flies back to its nest. Smoke is used to drive the wasp adults from their nests and the larvae are then gathered. (Gordon 1998)

In Java, wasp colonies are cut from branches, enclosed in bag and immersed in hot water to kill adults, larvae and pupae then removed and steamed or fried (Food Insect Newsletter 11(3):3).

Social ground nesting wasps in Japan are colected by placing a small charge of gunpowder into the nest entrance with a long stick and light the fuse. The explosion stuns the wasp and can be collected without stinging. Another method is removing all clothes, quietly approaching the nest, tear it up and remove the larvae. Beekeepers in Sudan are usually naked but for a loincloth and simply flick off bees that land on them. The presence of clothes is said to annoy the bees.

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.”