Fall Chapter Program

October 2, 2010

What’s Cooking in the Foothills 600 Years Ago?
Native Americans and Our Local Native Plants

Presented by Mary Gorden*

Starts at 2 pm at the Three Rivers Arts Center.
Turn left on North Fork Drive, from Hwy 198.
Arts Center is first building on the left.

Have you ever wondered if you could survive without all the comforts you now enjoy? It is hard to imagine what life was like many years ago. Six hundred years ago the people in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills lived a comfortable life. Historic evidence indicates that hunter-gatherers did about everything that farmers do. They probably didn’t work as hard.

At this time the locals were tribes who each spoke a dialect of the Yokuts language and lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Their neighbors, the Monache, who lived higher in the mountains, were a cultural mix of Shoshone-Piute and Yokuts speakers. We will take a brief glimpse at their technology and lifestyle as recorded by ethnographers at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Their technology was sophisticated and complex. The women’s skillful weaving ranks them among the best basket makers in the world. Their knowledge of plants was extensive and is useful to us today because native plants are better suited to our environment.

In 1918 C. H. Merriam, a biologist, stated that everyone should be eating acorn because of its high nutritive value. John Muir often carried acorn bread on his tramps through the mountains because it was the most compact and nutritious food he had ever eaten. Besides acorns, the natives ate a wide variety of plant foods. We will look at how women prepared and stored plant foods and medicines.

In addition, we will calculate the amount of plant material it would take to make a house, baby cradles and other items. While we cannot return to a hunter-gather way of life, we can appreciate the knowledge, ingenuity and technical skill that the Native Americans in the foothills and mountains displayed.

*Speaker, Mary Gorden is a retired teacher who taught elementary and high school, in addition to college classes for teachers in history and archaeology. The class on Native Plants and Their Uses was the product of her research of early ethnographers in the San Joaquin Valley who recorded the culture of the Native Americans. Mary also worked as an archaeological assistant for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. She is particularly interested in San Joaquin Valley Yokuts’ cultures and the conservation of historic and prehistoric sites in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills. One project was the restoration of one of Shorty Lovelace’s cabins in the Sierra National Forest.

Mary has been active in volunteer site monitoring and recording in conjunction with the South Sierra Archaeology Society. She has served three terms on the Bureau of Land Management Regional Resource Advisory Committee as the representative for historical and archaeological interests.  She is a recipient of the President’s award for volunteer contributions to the Bureau of Land Management. She is active in the Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth.


This program is held in conjunction with the Green Faire, part of the Three Rivers Environmental Weekend.

Interesting Native American sites:
The National American Indian Museum is part of the Smithsonian, also on facebook.

Deborah Small’s ethnobotany blog.

Grinding rose petals and rose hips to make a tea, from article about Native Plants for Food and Medicine Class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s