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Wintu

Subsistence

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The Wintu were sedentary foragers who hunted, fished and gathered wild plants. Hunting and fishing were the primary responsibility of the men while women gathered wild plant foods and basket making materials (Chase-Dunn, Clewett, and Sundahl). Although deer and acorns were the primary food sources, a wide variety of other plant and animal resources were also utilized.

Deer hunting was done both by individual hunters and communal hunts. Hunters used bows and arrows, snares, dogs, and drives for deer hunting. A popular method was to drive deer over cliffs. Men butchered their kills while women were responsible for distributing the meat to other families. Venison was prepared by cutting the meat into strips and roasting them over hot coals. Occasionally, meat was steamed by putting hot rocks into baskets containing water. Other important subsistence animals were: brown bear, rabbits, gophers, wood rats, ground squirrels, and other small rodents. Grizzly bears were considered taboo and never eaten (Lapena 337). Moratto mentioned that waterfowl and quail were taken using nets, snares and traps (172).

Spring and fall salmon runs were important fishing times for the Wintu. Chinook salmon were obtained from both the McCloud and Sacramento rivers, while Steelhead were caught in the upper Trinity River. Although considered inferior to salmon, the Wintu fished for suckers "which were found in all streams and creeks" (Lapena 338). Salmon fishing was done with dip nets and spears, suckers were driven into fish weirs, and fishhooks were used to catch trout and whitefish. Fish poisons were utilized in small streams. Salmon was sun dried and stored in baskets for winter use (Lapena 338).

Wintu women courtesy of Masson-Gomez family
Wintu Women
Photograph courtesy of the Masson-Gomez family

Women did the gathering of vegetal foods. Acorns were a staple of Wintu diet as it was with most of California's Indian population. Men assisted with the acorn harvest by shaking the acorns from the branches while the women collected the fallen nuts. Acorns from black oak and valley oak were preferred. Acorns were dried, pounded into acorn meal, leeched in sand pits, and made into soup or baked into bread. Other important plant foods included: buckeyes, manzanita berries, "clover, miner's lettuce, skunkbush berries, hazel nuts, pine nuts, wild grapes, and sunflower and cotton flower seeds" (Lapena 338-339).

 

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