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Modoc

Subsistence

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The Modoc were hunter and gatherers (foragers), who hunted mammals, fished, and collected a variety of plant materials for food, building and basketry making. Traditionally, men did the hunting and fishing while women gathered plant foods. Although the ancestral Modoc occupied a harsh high desert territory, they were fortunate in that the Pacific Flyway provided them with over 40 different species of migratory waterfowl. They also collected the eggs from geese and ducks that used the area as nesting grounds (Howe 37-39). Analyses of the faunal remains excavated a village site known as Nightfire and historic ETHNOGRAPHIES revealed that the people living there were utilizing a wide variety of plants and animals.

Modoc Subsistence Animals

Birds
Mammals
Fish
Reptiles
Coots
Ducks
Geese
Swan
Pelican
Grebe
Heron
Cormorant
Loon
Plover
Gull
Merganser
Rabbits
Ground Squirrels
Marmots
Beaver
Otter
Bison (before 3,000 B.C.)
Grizzly Bear
Wolf
Dog
Coyote
Elk
Pronghorn Antelope
Big Horn Sheep
Mule Deer
Salmon
Tui chubs
Trout
Suckers
Eels
Mussels
Turtles
(Composite of Howe 36-96, 142-165 and Stern 448-450)

Howe reports that by the historic period (after European contact), the Modoc no longer consumed dogs or coyotes, as they were considered taboo (82).

Hunting was preceded by rituals consisting of "praying to earth, mountain, and rocks" and sweating, as means of purification (Stern 449). Hunting strategies included the use of BOLAS for taking birds (Howe 45). Women dressed the birds and hung them to dry (Howe 50). Rabbits were hunted by driving them into outstretched nets (Howe 95). Hunters used deerhead disguises to stalk their prey; however, the use of dogs to drive deer into close range, where hunters with bows and arrows shot them, was a more popular method of hunting. They also stalked antelope and mountain sheep then driving them, with fires, to hilltops or into a brush enclosure (Stern 449).

Small mammals cooked by stone boiling in baskets; heated stones (basalt or lava) were placed in baskets with water and food (Howe 64-67). Larger game animals were roasted in roasting pits/ovens (Howe 64).

Fish hook by Alfred Kroeber
Fish Hooks
From Alfred Kroeber

Fishing was done by driving fish into weirs then spearing them (Howe 146). Chub were caught in canoe shaped baskets, using dried fish eggs as bait. The chub were then dried over fires and stored for winter use (Howe 148).

Plants Utilized as Food

Common Name
Modoc Name
Part of Plant Eaten
Tule mai white tips
Camas   bulbs
Ipo   tubers
Yellow Pond Lily wokas seeds
Arrow Leaf Root tchua root
Onions koipiluyeah seeds
Wild Plum   fruit
Chokecherry   seeds
Sugar Pine   nuts
Serviceberries   fruit
Currants   fruit
Elderberries   fruit
Huckleberries   fruit
Rye grass   seed
Desert Parsley   root
Black cherries   fruit
Prunes   fruit
Blackberries   fruit
Tree lichen    
Compilation of Howe 97-118 and Stern 448-450

Wokas or yellow pond lilys, a Modoc staple food, were harvested in summer, after the "first-fruits rite" was held. All members of the community participated in the harvest. The pods were gathered from dugout canoes, and put in tule bags to transport them back to the village where they were put in pits to decompose. The seeds were then separated from the decomposed plants, parched, hulled, winnowed and stored in sacks (Stern 449).

 

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