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Posts Tagged ‘Benton’

Paiute Indian occupation in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley – Pinenut trees prove it

Artist rendering of Tabuce or Maggie “Taboose” Howard, Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute in Yosemite Valley with a wono basket and winnowing tray. These baskets were often used to pick pine nuts and winnow them. The drawing was done by Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute Roger Salas. The picture on the right is of a Pinon tree taken in Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1937. The tree is very large and hundreds of years old.

There has been talk about the original Native Americans of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Some claim Paiutes were never in the valley, but the discovery of Pinon or Pinenut trees shows that Paiutes were in Hetch Hetchy Valley hundreds of years before whites entered the area.

According to Jan. 1937 Yosemite Nature Notes Pinon trees were found right around Hetch Hetchy Valley, where we knew our Paiute families camped and stayed.

Here is an interesting article;

http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/yourict/52313777.html

Early hikers, park officials and Park geologists find Pinon trees in the area of Hetch Hetchy Valley in northern Yosemite and it was documented in early reports. Part of the this story was published in the Yosemite Nature Notes in January 1937. The story was about how a Sierra Club party discovered a Single-leaf or Pinon Pine in Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. Then as more people traveled into the location they discovered more Pinon trees. This tree is found mainly on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and the nut of the tree, or pinenut, is a food staple of the Paiute Native people.

In the article published by Yosemite Nature Notes it discusses finding Pinon trees on the California western slope of the Sierra Nevada around Hetch Hetchy Valley.

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_nature_notes/16/16-1.pdf

Here is excerpts from the story:

“In 1909, Mr. H. W. Gleason, with the Sierra Club party, discovered the first-known occurrence of the Single-leaf or Pinon Pine (Pinus monophylia, Torrey or Fremont) in Yosemite National Park. Jepson in his “Trees of California” issued December 15, 1909, says, “On the west slope of the Sierra Nevada it occurs in a few circumscribed localities, in Piute Canyon, near Pate Valley (Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River), Kings River, along the west wall of the Kern Canyon, and southward into the lower Kern country.” Harvey M. Hall recorded in “A Yosemite Flora,” 1932, that the specimen found by Mr. Gleason was at about 5500 feet altitude in the Piute Creek Gorge. This single tree has been noted several times since by park officers. It is supposed to have been accidentally planted by Paiute Indians enroute from Mono Lake country to Pate Valley, a favorite summer camp.


During the late summer of 1935, Junior Forester Elliott Sawyer found a second lone specimen near the Rancheria Trail on the lower western slope of Rancheria Mountain. This find was recorded by Park Forester Emil Ernst in Yosemite Nature Notes for February, 1936. This tree is also on a possible route of the Paiutes entering Hetch Hetchy Valley. Now a third locality is established in the Park.
On September 14, 1936, while on a field trip with Mr. F. E. Matthes, Senior Geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey, from base camp in Tiltill Valley, I discovered a small Single-leaf Pine tree at 5800 feet altitude, 150 yards south of Tiltill Valley Trail at the point where the up-trail from Hetch Hetchy reaches top of the ridge and makes a slight dip. We were once aware of the presence of a number of trees of this species so made a survey, finding there were between 100 and 200, varying in altitude from 5800 to 6100 feet, spread over an area of some two acres.”

An orchard of Pinon trees where found at that location around Hetch Hetchy. They were old and young and of different heights, some being very large. The trees were found on a series of broad, granite shelves which had a marvelous view-point over looking the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. One of the biggest Pinon trees found in 1936 had a trunk diameter of 28 inches.

The article goes on:

“Where these trees planted by the Indians? Mr. Matthes and I noted a ducked trail out across these natural shelves to “Pinon Point” (which they named after the trees) and on up the ridge. We followed these markers EASTERLY around a high dome, and were led into the upper end of Tiltill Valley. I consulted Mr. Gabriel Sovulewski for many years Supervisor of Road and Trail construction in Yosemite, and he said he had tentatively laid out this route following an old Indian trail, but had later abandoned it for the more direct, present Tiltill Valley Trail location.

Tabuce (Maggie “Taboose” Howard), an old Paiute resident of Yosemite, told me that as a little girl she had gone several times from Mono Lake to camp for the summer with her family in Hetch Hetchy. She said they first went to Bridgeport, and her description of the route seemed to indicate they entered Tiltill Valley, where there are many mortar holes in granite, indicating villages, and then on to Hetch Hetchy, evidently by this old trail. She said children ate pine nuts as they walked along and “maybe lots of times drop’em.” So perhaps a Paiute child several HUNDREDS YEARS AGO started this “orchard” of Single-leaf Pines. It would take TWO or THREE HUNDRED YEARS for one of these slow-growing pines to reach a diameter of 28 inches.” (See Photo 1 in Gallery of Taboose and a 1937 photo of a Pinon tree around Hetch Hetchy)

So if you are ever hiking around Hetch Hetchy and run into the Single-Leaf Pinon trees remember they were once left there hundreds of years ago by Paiutes who camped in Hetch Hetchy Valley.

The Park now avoids mentioning Paiute presence in Hetch Hetchy, or limiting their presence in the Valley. Yet not once did the early Yosemite Nature Notes mention Miwoks in Hetch Hetchy Valley, only Paiutes.

The Pinon tree only grews on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and is a staple of the Paiute diet. Even Taboose Howard talks about traveling into Hetch Hetchy NOT to trade, but to live. The pinon trees have been there for hundreds of years.


Old photo of Paiute girls cleaning and preparing pine nuts gathered from Pinon trees which are located mainly in the Great Basin.

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Yosemite Valley Native man and his favorite tree


Photo of Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute Bridgeport Tom standing in front of his favorite tree, the big yellow pine that was well known in Yosemite.

Yosemite – Mono Lake Paiute Bridgeport Tom had a favorite tree in Yosemite. It was a famous gigantic old yellow pine. Yosemite Nature Notes published a story of the bond between the two here;

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_nature_notes/31/31-8.pdf

In Yosemite there was a yellow pine that was one of the largest trees that towered over the rest. Many old timers remember the tree which was located a mile west of the Old Village and almost in the shade of Sentinel Rock. Around 1951 snow removal crews found the large yellow pine lying across the path to Yellow Pine Beach, which was named after the tree. The massive tree finally fell and no one was around to see it happen.

But that is not all of the story. In the August 1952 Yosemite Nature Notes story it mentioned how one Paiute man loved that tree and his name was Bridgeport Tom. Here is an excerpt of the tie between him and the old yellow pine:

“But there is more of interest to this tree than its unusual size and length. It is Bridgeport Tom’s tree that has at last fallen, and in this fact alone there is a story to tell which should awaken the memories of the old timers of the valley. A young Paiute Indian surnamed Tom, skilled in breaking and training horses in his early days in the valley when he worked for Coffman and Kenny on a settlement near the present Ahwahnee Hotel. In the off-season periods he operated a horse ranch near Mono Lake, where he raised and trained horses. Bridgeport Tom was famous in his younger days as an enthusiastic horseman who entered many racing events held on holiday occasions in this area. In his later years he is described by his daughter, Lucy Telles, as “not a medicine man” but a man who could “heal through the spirit.” His connection with the great old yellow pine came about when he declared it his favorite tree in the valley and prophesied that he would die when it died.

No one knew the exact age of Bridgeport Tom when death claimed him on November 24, 1935, at Coleville, California. He had been in evidence in Bridgeport and in Yosemite for at least 80 years. As for his favorite tree, it is far more difficult to write a death certificate indicating the moment of death for a tree than for a man, but we do know that the big pine did die fairly close in the time to Old Tom.”

The old yellow pine and Paiute Bridgeport Tom will always be a part of Yosemite National Park’s history. Bridgeport Tom, a Paiute man who loved that old yellow tree, would travel back and forth from Coleville, Mono Lake and Yosemite. Bridgeport Tom never lived around western Mariposa County. He resided in the Paiute areas and traveled the old ancestral Mono Paiute trails that Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahneechees did.

The lives of the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute and the large famous old yellow pine were intertwined and this article is to honor the memory of these two.

Note: Bridgeport Tom was the father of many of the famous Yosemite – Mono Lake California Paiute basket makers. Coleville, Bridgeport and Mono Lake are Paiute areas, like Yosemite Valley.


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