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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.

Banana slug (Ariolomax sp.) from Albion, CA.

Slugs as food

I’ve been really sluggish to post this summer, so I’m posting about slugs!

Did you know there is (or at least was) an annual banana slug festival including a cookoff competition in California? It was held at Russian River.

The banana slug is the mascot of UC Santa Cruz! It is a quite large yellow slug, found in the redwood forest and surrounding coastal areas of California and Oregon. This was probably the species eaten by the below-mentioned California Indian tribes.

Lolangkok Sinkyone ate slugs. First, a slender stick was thrust through the head to hold the slug. Then, it’s belly was slit open lengthwise to remove the dark insides. It was then dried. Before it was eaten, it was roasted in hot ashes (Baumhoff 1958:195).

SlugsĀ found in the woods were eaten by the Pomo, usually in the rainy season. They were pierced with a hazel twig, being strung on a row and spit-roasted over a fire (Gifford 1987:20).

The banana slug (Ariolimax) was eaten as a starvation food by the Yurok and Karok (Lightfoot and Parrish 2009).

The Yuki, neighbors to the above-mentioned tribes, and living in areas where the banana slug was common, did not eat slugs at all (Foster 1944:167).

REFERENCES:

Baumhoff, Martin A. 1958. California Athabascan groups. Anthropological Records 16 (5):162-230. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Foster, George M. 1944. A summary of Yuki culture. Anthropological Records 5 (3):155-244. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Gifford, E. W. 1967. Ethnographic notes on the Southwestern Pomo. Anthropological Records 25. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Lightfoot, K.G. and O. Parrish. 2009. California Indians and their environment: an introduction. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Foraging Class at Strawberry Canyon

I just finished teaching another foraging class, the third one so far. I host them in the SF Bay Area (usually the East Bay Hills) through meetup.com (Bay Area Foragers). This one was at Strawberry Canyon by UC Berkeley. If you’re in the Bay Area, please join us next time!

Leading the Bay Area Foragers class at Strawberry Canyon

Leading the Bay Area Foragers class at Strawberry Canyon

Here is the list of species (common / scientific names) we saw and discussed uses for on today’s walk. It’s just from memory so I may have forgotten a few things.

Plants:

hazelnut / Corylus cornuta
California bay laurel / Umbellularia californica
buckeye / Aesculus californica
horsetail / Equisetum sp.
storksbill / Epilobium sp.
yellow curly dock / Rumex crispus
madrone / Arbutus menzeisii
blackberry / Rubus ursinus, R. armeniacus
thimbleberry / Rubus parviflorus
toyon / Heteromeles arbutifolia
mustards / Brassica sp.
thistle / Cirsium sp.
coast live oak / Quercus agrifolia
teasel / Dipsacus sp.
cherry plum / Prunus cerasifera
stream orchid / Epipactis gigantea
bracken fern / Pteridium aquilinum
sword fern / Polystichum munitum
incense cedar / Calocedrus decurrens
stinging nettle / Urtica dioica
redwood / Sequioa sempervirens
blue elderberry / Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea
grasses / Poaceae
mugwort / Artemesia douglasiana
monkeyflower / Mimulus auranticus
cleavers / Galium sp.
ocean spray / Holodiscus discolor
Willow / Salix sp.
Coffeeberry / Rhamnus californica
Plantain / Plantago sp.
Poison oak / Toxicodendron diversilobium

Animals:
Honeydew
European honeybee (and native bees)
Sphinx moth caterpillar

The Make and Use of Redwood Canoes by the Yurok Tribe

Fallen redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) logs were hollowed with fire to form canoes by Pacific coast Indians of northwestern California (e.g. Yurok) that were sold to other tribes (Powers 1877, Chesnut 1902). Redwood trunks for canoes were gathered by the Yurok from the bar across the mouth of the Lower Klamath, or all along the coast where redwoods grow (Powers 1877). Redwood (and it’s relatives such as bald cypress) is known for having insect-repellant wood. It is also quite soft and easy to carve.

They were burned by the Yurok to suitable lengths, (one made in 1968 was 18 ft long x 3.5 ft wide x 1.5 ft deep) and the ends kept blunt rather than pointed (Powers 1877). To burn them into shape, pitch was spread on the area of wood to be burned, and when it was burned sufficiently deep, a piece of raw bark was clapped upon the burning area to extinguish it (Powers 1877). By this method, and with scraping and polishing with stones, the sides and ends were reduced to be very thin and smooth, with appreciable symmetry and elegance (Powers 1877). At the stern, a small, neat bracket was burned and polished out to serve as a seat (Powers 1877). Before metal tools, this work was completed by two Indians in five or six months (Powers 1877).

Yurok man paddling traditional redwood canoe. Photo credit: http://www.firstpeople.us/canoe/yurok-in-the-shadow.html

Yurok man paddling traditional redwood canoe. Photo credit: http://www.firstpeople.us/canoe/yurok-in-the-shadow.html

Such a canoe could carry five tons (Powers 1877). They were used for shooting dangerous rapids and surf, in sea during stormy weather, and regularly traveling the 44 mile round-trip from the Yurok village to Crescent City to bring back merchandise (Powers 1877). For collecting shellfish, they were used to go to small offshore islands a mile distant, upon which they jumped from their canoes despite dangerous rocks and surf (Powers 1877).

 

 

To keep the canoes from cracking in the sun, when not in use, they were turned upside down on the sandy beach and their bottoms were cleared of adhering barnacles, seaweed, and other matter by singing with burning reeds or bundles of sticks to loosen the pitch and scrape off the matter, i.e., they were breamed (Powers 1877). Or they were hauled into damp and shady coves, or thickly covered with leaves and brushwood (Powers 1877). If they become cracked, holes were bored through the wood on both sides next to the crack with a deer antler, and withes were passed through these holes, being tightened by twisting them with sticks (like a tourniquet), closing the cracks better than caulking (Powers 1877).

They are still made by the Yurok in our age, mainly for ceremonial use and display, but sometimes for regular use. One is on display at the Thomas H. Kuchel visitor center at Redwood National Park. See this Redwood National Park handout for a little more info: http://www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/upload/yurok%20canoe.pdf

Modern Yurok making traditional redwood canoe. Photo credit: http://www.sfgate.com/magazine/article/Battling-Upstream-3288175.php#photo-2436580

Modern Yurok making traditional redwood canoe. Photo credit: http://www.sfgate.com/magazine/article/Battling-Upstream-3288175.php#photo-2436580

REFERENCES

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Powers, S. 1877. Tribes of California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.