One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

The Living Yosemite—The Ahwahnechee

One animal that could be found in all of Yosemite's plant communities was Homo sapiens—aboriginal natives of Yosemite Valley. Calling themselves the Ahwahnechee, these people roamed the Yosemite landscape for food gathering, trade, or tribal interactions. Generally, however, they found most of what they needed right in Yosemite Valley. Annually they burned the vegetation on the Valley's floor, and this was a tradition that had definite benefits. Foremost, it maintained the oak population, and acorns from black oaks alone made up about 60 percent of their diet. Fire also reduced brush and kept the forests open and parklike, thus reducing the chance of ambush. Today Yosemite Valley holds far more Homo sapiens (humans) than its resources could feed. We, however, carry in our own food or buy trucked-in foods. The Indians had to make do with the resources on hand, not only for food, but for all aspects of survival. They made extensive use of the Valley's resources and the resources of other nearby plant communities. The following table, based on work by a former Park naturalist, Will Neely, gives one an idea of just how extensively they utilized the plants. Animals—both vertebrates and invertebrates—were also extensively utilized.

Indian Uses of Yosemite Plants

Food: Acorns and large seeds: black oak, sugar pine, western juniper. When black-oak acorns were scarce, then the following were used: canyon live oak, interior live oak, foothill pine, buckeye, pinyon pine (east of the Sierra crest).

Smaller seeds: Bunchgrass, western buttercup, evening primrose, clarkia (farewell to spring), California coneflower

Bulbs, corms, roots: Mariposa tulip, pretty face (golden brodiaea), common camas, squaw root, Bolander's yampah

Greens: Broad-leaved lupine, common monkey flower, nude buckwheat, California thistle, miner's lettuce, sorrel, clover, umbrella plant, crimson columbine, alum root

Berries and fruits: Strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, thimbleberry, wild grape, gooseberry, currant, blue elderberry, western choke cherry, Sierra plum, greenleaf manzanita

Drinks: Whiteleaf manzanita, western juniper

Medicine: Yerba santa, yarrow, horse mint (giant hyssop), Brewer's angelica, sagebrush, showy milkweed, mountain dogbane, balsamroot, California barberry, fleabane, mint, knotweed, wild rose, meadow goldenrod, mule ears, pearly everlasting, California laurel (bay tree)

Soap: Soap plant, meadow rue

Rope and Twine: Mountain dogbane (Indian hemp), showy milkweed, wild grape, soap plant

Baskets: Redbud, American (creek) dogwood, big-leaf maple, buckbrush, deer brush, bracken fern, willows, California hazelnut

Bows: Incense-cedar, mountain (Pacific) dogwood

Shelter: Incense-cedar


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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