Repost from the old site. One of the more thrilling passages I have ever read was an account of the first Spanish contacts with the Indians of the California Delta. In expeditions around 1800-1810, Spanish ships sailed into the Delta and first contacted these tribes, who have since vanished with almost no trace left except for their names and a handful of word lists. There were around 5-10 tribes in the Delta, all Yokuts. Yokuts is just a White word for a group of about 60 tribes who all spoke related languages. Yokuts just means “man” in the Yokuts languages so we stuck that name on them as a way to characterize them. The Yokuts came to California along with the ancestors of the Ohlone (Costanoan) and Miwok around 4000-5000 years ago. The Ohlone then took off towards the San Fransisco Bay Area, the Miwok towards the Central Sierra Nevada and the Yokuts to the Delta, San Joaquin Valley and Central and Southern Sierra Nevada. Prior to migrating to the Delta, this conglomeration of groups (Yok-Utian) were located in southeastern Oregon, now a desert but at that time a series of marshlands. They moved down the spine of the California-Oregon border and settled in the Delta. The Yok-Utians are surely related linguistically to some other Penutian language groups, in particular Klamath, Sahaptian and Wintu. The Klamath are in northeastern California, the Wintu around Shasta Lake, and the Sahaptians towards northeastern Oregon and Idaho. Penutian studies by Scott Delancey available on the net make this connection quite clear to me. The Delta Yokuts were part of a group called Northern Valley Yokuts. They had only come to the Delta continuously fleeing the missions, so there was a continuous need to repopulate them with new Indians. With demissionization, Indians dispersed from the missions and formed haphazard groupings other demissionized Indians of varying linguistic and cultural backgrounds, enhancing the linguistic and cultural genocidal processes described above. Many others married Spaniards, mestizos or Californios and adopted those cultures, losing their own. That this should happen to such a loving and warm people is especially poignant. Some of the best records we have of these tribes is recorded in the notes of these early Spanish explorers. Some Delta Yokuts (or Far Northern Valley Yokuts – sample words here) languages still had speakers until the early 1900s’s. One language for which decent records exist is called Chalostaca. Other languages are Yachikumne (Chulamni), Cholvons [drawing of nearly naked Cholvons warriors here], Lower San Joaquin, Lakisamni and Tawalimni. The Lakisamni were a warlike tribe along the Stanislaus River who waged a number of famous battles against Mexican forces during 1828-1829. Their leader in these struggles, Estanislao, also waged continuous horse and cattle-stealing raids against local ranchos. He died of smallpox in 1839. The last known Indian who recalled ancestry linking him to the Delta Yokuts was a Tawalimni Yokuts Indian named Gomez who was living in Jamestown, California when interviewed by the famous S.A. Barrett in 1906. He was apparently the last surviving member (or at least the last who knew of his ancestry) of the Delta Yokuts, hammered first by missionization, massacres and epidemics, until the Gold Rush delivered the finishing touch. History Detective resolves the controversy over which tribes inhabited the California Delta and makes clear the entire Delta was inhabited exclusively by Yokuts and not by Miwok Indians. Much of this material is from the superb Handbook of the Yokuts Indians by Frank Latta (1949). It’s been out of print for many years and only 7,000 copies were published, but the book has recently been reissued by Coyote Press in a limited run. If you are interested in the Yokuts, you may want to snap it up. Latta was an amateur anthropologist and linguist from Bakersfield who spent years studying the Yokuts and interviewing some of the last surviving members who still remembered aboriginal ways and spoke the languages fluently.
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