by Mary Ann Brensel
The Yokuts Indians lived in the
part of California that we now call the Central Valley. Some
of the early settlers called it the Valle de los Tulares,
which means the Valley of the Tules. The valley was
given this name because of the tules that grow on the shores of rivers and lakes.
The Yokuts lived in
tribes. Each tribe had several villages with about 500
people in each group. Each tribe had a name, a language, and a
territory where the people lived. The River Yokuts lived in
Tulare County. They had lived in this area for hundreds of
years. Tribal government
was the same among all the
tribes. Each tribe’s language was a little different, but
tribes could communicate. The Yokuts visited,
and married among the different villages.
All tribes lived
near water. Streams and rivers were important, especially for hunting and fishing. Animals came to drink water, and
that meant more food for the tribe to eat.
transportation by boat was often easier than walking long distances.
Yokuts villages and hunting
grounds had boundaries, but no fences. Mountains, rivers, and
other landmarks usually marked the tribe’s boundaries. The
size of a tribe’s territory had to be large enough to supply
food to every person in the tribe.
Most of the Yokuts were
friendly and peaceful. They were tall and strong with straight
black hair and brown skin. The Yokuts lived a simple life and
depended on the land for food,
Yokuts homes were
one room like a tent. They were usually made of
grew in the swampy areas around Tulare Lake. There was no
furniture. People sat and slept on mats on the floor. The
kitchen was outside.
Tribal life was
similar in each Yokuts village. The men hunted and fished, and
the women took care of the children, gathered nuts and seeds,
and prepared the food. During their early childhood, the
children stayed close to their mothers. When they were older,
the boys were taught to hunt by their fathers. The mothers
taught their daughters basketry
and cooking. Children and adults also enjoyed playing games.
There was so much food available that the people could live
easily without working too hard.
The old people in the Yokuts
tribe told stories to teach the children the tribe’s
values and beliefs.
Music and dance
were an important
part of all their celebrations and special occasions. The
Lonewis ceremony honored those who had died each year.
Yokuts played games to
The Yokuts used
beads as money to
trade with other California
Indian tribes. They also traded animal skins and baskets.
They traveled by foot, raft, or boat to reach these other
became a state in 1850, settlers from other states moved into
the area. Settlers from the countries of Germany, Scotland,
and Ireland moved here, too. Growth happened so fast that the
River Yokuts had no time to prepare.
At first the Yokuts
asked the settlers in the Central Valley to leave, but
they wouldn’t. Some Yokuts fought the settlers, but they still
did not leave. Soon the settlers had houses made of wood and
bricks. Settlers needed cows and horses for food and
transportation. Cows and horses ate up much of the native
grasses. Wild animals had less to eat. The Yokuts had less to
Settlers put up
fences for their cows and horses. Coyotes, foxes, deer, and
other wild animals were no longer free to roam. Sometimes
settlers killed the wild animals for no reason and wasted the
The Yokuts lost
their land and their food supply. The United States
government created the Tule River Indian Reservation for the
Yokuts to live on. They could no longer hunt or gather acorns
anywhere they liked.
Today there are
cities and villages where Yokuts hunting grounds once were.
Dams stop the rivers that used to flow into
There are few large wild animals outside the mountains.
people now live in Tulare County. Most of them speak English, and
many speak Spanish. Some people speak both languages. Sadly, only
78 people in all of California speak the Yokuts language now.