PERIOD (POST 150 BP)
life in the Eastern Sierra ended soon after the arrival of
Anglo settlers in 1860. Land was taken for ranches and
farms, wild seed crops destroyed by livestock, and many game
animals hunted to the brink of extinction. With the
traditional economy destroyed, native people turned to wage
labor to survive. Some historic changes can be seen in the
archaeological record, but others survive in early accounts
written by anthropologists and historians. One of the
most important anthropologists in the Eastern Sierra was a
HOUSES AND SETTLEMENTS:
things changed when
Anglo settlers arrived, Indian people
continued to live in traditional houses until the 1920s.
These were of similar size and construction to late
prehistoric houses, with some new additions. The traditional
pole framework was often covered with canvas
before the house was thatched with reeds. This made it
warmer, dryer, and would have prevented the thatching from
catching fire. Another historic addition to houses were
that were more secure, easy to close, and reduced drafts. A
final change to many historic houses was the addition of a
This kept houses warmer, allowed people to cook inside, and
reduced the amount of firewood needed.
stayed the same, their grouping into large villages was
something new. Late Prehistoric houses are found by
themselves, or in small groups of about two to six houses.
This is nothing like the 200 person villages that Steward
described, which would have had around 30 houses.
difference in the size of historic and prehistoric
settlements indicates major changes in social
When the traditional economy collapsed, Indian people
started to work as ranch hands and laborers. Nearly every
ranch and town had a separate Indian community on its
outskirts, where laborers and their families lived.
These were larger and more permanent settlements than the
small, seasonal camps of prehistoric families, who moved
frequently in search of food. What Steward wrote was an
accurate description of early historic Indian life that was
in many ways different from that before Anglo settlers.
changed or disappeared in Historic Times. Some of this
reflects economic and other changes in traditional life and
some of it reflects new ideas, materials, and technology
that arrived with Anglo settlers. What is interesting is how
quickly technology changed for all but a few things like
grinding stones, baskets, and houses that were made and used
long after most stone age tools were replaced or abandoned.
artifacts like arrowheads, stone knives, and scrapers
disappeared in just a few years. Bows and arrows were
quickly replaced by more efficient firearms, ammunition for
which is found in early historic Indian sites.
Stone knives and choppers were replaced by steel knives and
axes that were more reliable and lasted longer. Obsidian
scrapers that were used for many tasks were either abandoned
or replaced by artifacts made of more available bottle glass.
One of the few
traditional artifacts that remained in use were grinding
stones. These continued to be used to shell pine nuts and
grind seeds. Nothing can really replace a milling stone and
hand stone for preparing these traditional foods. In fact,
the Paiute names for these artifacts (Tu-Su and See Vee) are
remembered today as street names in the town of Bishop,
tools and ornaments were never abandoned, but replaced with
new materials or something else. Traditional pottery was
quickly replaced by lighter, easy to obtain, and less
breakable metal pots, pans, basins, and recycled cans.
Bone awls for basketry weaving were replaced with
These were thinner, worked somewhat better, and rarely
snapped the way that bone awls do. Basket weaving changed
little, however, with beautiful historic period baskets from
the region displayed in museums around the world.
Long pinyon poles
and chuckawalla hooks
for collecting pine nuts and lizards were improved with the
addition of metal wire that made them sturdier and more
efficient to use. And finally, traditional shell, stone, and
bone beads were gradually replaced by glass trade beads.
traditional food sources were destroyed or abandoned in
Historic Times, others are still eaten today. As with most
of us, decisions about what to eat depended on the cost of
different foods. As many wild foods became harder to find,
they were replaced by store-bought food.
This was purchased with money from ranch, mining, and other
that replaced hunting and gathering as traditional work
became less economical.
Many seed crops
were abandoned when they were destroyed by cattle and became
harder to exploit. These were replaced by store-bought flour
that was more economical than the effort needed to gather
and prepare wild seeds. An important exception was the
These survived destruction in much of the Eastern Sierra,
where mining was limited and few of the pinyon forests
As in Late Prehistoric times, historic families traveled to
pine nuts groves in
the fall to gather nuts. Some people
would even leave their jobs for the pine nut harvest. This
preserved some of the pre-Anglo life, and had other economic
benefits. Pine nuts could be sold to local stores for more
than Indian people earned at ranch and other jobs. This
meant that an hour collecting pine nuts in the “old way”
could buy more at the store than an hour working at ranch or
other Anglo jobs.
were never abundant
in the Eastern Sierra, and meat a
limited part of the diet. Men
to hunt with guns
bows in Historic Times, but it put
little meat on the table.
Most historic period sites have
the bones of domestic livestock, not
wild game. Cattle and
other farm animals were raised or purchased for slaughter
and meat occasionally bought at the store. But
from the late 1800s indicate that bacon, lard, and canned
fish were the most common meat products purchased by Native
historic period people lived in large villages or
communities, the traditional family (mom, dad, and the kids)
remained the basic social unit.
Family households were responsible for themselves, and did
not expect to give or receive much help from others. Store
records show that individuals or families managed their own
affairs, with their friends, neighbors, and relatives doing
the same. This was similar to the way that
and the way that most of us organize our lives today. This
made it easier for Native American people of the Eastern
Sierra to adapt to the new Anglo world.
living in permanent settlements and buying many of their
supplies at the local store, families had little reason to
move around the countryside. Seasonal trips were made to the
pine nut groves and elsewhere and to visit friends and
relatives in surrounding areas. Travel on these trips was
often faster and easier with the help of horses, wagons, and
that connected various towns and ranches. United States
Census and other historic and archaeological records also
show that many families relocated to different parts of the
example, many people living near the California/Nevada
border moved to agricultural and mining
centers in places
like Owens Valley, Benton, and Bodie, where there were more
paying jobs. This increased the size of local settlements
and populations and explains why some of
descriptions of Indian life are so different from the
era people spent most of their time
close to home, trips
were made to pine nut camps in the mountains,
annual celebrations in different parts of the area,
and periodic funeral services for those
had died in the
Longer trips to places like San Francisco
were made by
individuals, when the need or
Times progressed and economic
Eastern California residence left the area, though many
families still have
members living in the area.