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Achumawi

Subsistence

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The Achumawi had an intimate knowledge of the plants and animals located within their ecosystem. Their subsistence strategies revolved around hunting, fishing and the gathering of wild plants, which they did in seasonal rounds. During the summer months, they traveled throughout their territory in a preset pattern, setting up temporary camps in order to acquire and store sufficient provisions for the upcoming winter (Angulo, Achumawi Sketches 82). It is important to be aware that the various tribelets lived in different ecological zones, and as a result, had differing access to resources. The following is a compilation of subsistence practices, and is not intended to suggest that all Achumawi groups utilized exactly the same resources. The Achumawi consumed a wide variety of birds, fish, mammals and insects.

Animals Used as Food

Birds Fish Mammals Insects Reptiles
Ducks
Geese
Swans
Coot
Cranes
Grebe
Blackbirds
Eagles
Magpies
Crows
Hawks
Meadowlarks
Grouses
Pelicans
Cranes
Salmon
Bass
Suckers
Minnows
Lamprey
Pike
Catfish
Trout
Crawfish
Mussels
Deer
Elk
Antelope
Bear
Mountain Sheep
Badgers
Beavers
Foxes
Wolf
Coyote
Chipmunk
Gopher
Mink
Mole
Mountain Lion
Otter
Porcupine
Raccoon
Skunk
Rats
Squirrel
Wildcat
Weasel
Grasshoppers
Caterpillars
Crickets
Angleworms
Wasp larvae
Hornet larvae
Ant larvae
Bee larvae
Snakes
Turtles
(Olmstead and Stewart 225-228)

Hunting required an in-depth knowledge of animal behavior, patience and persistence:

You have to study a herd of deer for longer than a week. You hide behind a bush. You watch them from far away. You take note that in the afternoons they leave the woods by such-and-such a path, that a certain doe is in the habit of going off to the right and hurrying towards an open place...It is there that you will have to go tomorrow to lie in wait-and the next day the herd does not appear! ...while he lies with his stomach ...lying in wait for hours, the Indian sees thousands and thousands of occurrences of the life of the woods. (Angulo, Achumawi Life-Force 63)

Hunting strategies included bow and arrows (tipped with rattlesnake venom), clubbing molting birds, fire to drive rodents and insects, nets and basket traps, snares, and dead-fall pits. Dead-fall pits, an important method of hunting deer, were placed along deer trails leading to their watering places. The pits were dug ten to twelve feet deep using only fire hardened sticks to excavate the hole. Dirt removed from the pits was carried away in baskets. Powers described how the pits were concealed; the Indians placed:

thin layers of brushwood and grass, sprinkle earth over all, scatter dead leaves and twigs on the earth, restore the trail across it, and even print tracks in it with a deer's hoof; then back out and conceal their own tracks. (269)

The many pits the Indians dug in the area resulted in the naming of the Pit River. The arrival of White settlers ended the use of dead-fall pits. Many of the settlers and their cattle fell into the pits prompting them to force the Indians to stop the practice (Powers 269). The dead-fall pits, as well as eagle's nests and otter slides were privately owned, and ownerships were passed from fathers to sons (Kniffen 309).

California Sucker by John W. Foster, California State Parks
California Sucker
Photograph by John W. Foster, California State Parks

Fishing was also a very important occupation: "The real Achomawi were River Indians; they stayed around the river, fished; every man had a canoe and belonged to the river. They went out (hunting) for a little while, then returned to the river" (quoted in Foster). While the Achumawi took a wide variety of fish from the lakes, rivers, and streams within their territory, Foster pointed out that the Sacramento sucker (Catostomus occidentalis) was of "paramount importance to the native Pit River Ajumawi (their preferred spelling). Fishing was accomplished using nets, basket weirs, spears and the Sacramento sucker was caught in stone traps" (Foster). Foster states that ten stone traps have been discovered within the Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park in Shasta County. The stone traps consist of:

A massive outer wall in deeper water ... typically form[ing] an impoundment, connecting two points of land. Water depth may be 50-150cm and the stone wall is built up to the lake level using three courses of lava stones or more. A central opening measuring 20-50 cm is designed to allow suckers to enter. It can be closed with a keystone... or a log, dip net or canoe prow. The outer wall and opening serve to concentrate the spring outflow as it enters the lake, making a strong attraction flow to the spawning suckers (Foster).

Achumawi stone fish traps by John W. Foster, California State Parks
Stone Fish Traps
Photograph by John W. Foster, California State Parks

The traps are stone labyrinths consisting of interior channels and pools, which direct the fish into shallow pools where they are then speared (Foster).

Gathering of plant materials was also an essential activity; the Achumawi made use of an assortment of plant materials for food and medicines.

Plants Used as Food

Swamps

Grasslands

Forests & Sage Brush

Tule Sprouts

Camas bulbs
Brodiaea bulbs
Tiger-lily bulbs
Wild onions
Sunflower seeds
Piņon pine nuts
Sugar pine nuts
Acorns
Wild berries
Oregon grape
Plum
(Olmstead and Stewart 227-230)

The Achomawi people used a wide variety of plants for medicinal purposes. Some of these plants included tiger and water lily, oak, chokecherry, hazel bark, wild parsley, manzanita berries, bear berries, juniper berries, Oregon grape, angelica root, and pine sap (Olmstead and Stewart 230).


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