In the San Joaquin Valley, the Yokuts built different types of shelters. The permanent pole house was very common. Some were built for just one family. Others were made for up to 10 families. To make a pole house, the Yokuts started by digging a circular hole into the ground for a floor. The circle for a single family was usually 12 to 15 feet across and was dug about two feet into the ground. The framework for the house was made out of poles about two inches thick. The poles were set into the ground around the inside edge of the hole. Then other poles were tied to the standing poles. The tips of the standing poles were pulled together at the top and bent down and tied to poles opposite them. The houses had a circular opening at the top to allow smoke to escape from a fire inside. Each house had a low rectangular door that faced south.

One kind of Yokuts shelter

Mats of tules were laid over the pole frame. Water was added to some of the loose dirt that had been dug out to form the floor. Then it was thrown on top of the tule mats and beaten down with sticks. When the mud dried, it formed a tight, strong covering over the tule mats and poles. Over time, wild grasses grew on the houses’ mud covering, and they blended into their surroundings. It seemed to early travelers in the San Joaquin Valley that Yokuts came running out of the ground like rabbits from burrows.

The Yokuts also built other types of shelters. The long tule mat-covered community house was the largest. It was sometimes 300 feet long and from the outside looked like a long tent.

Many families might live in the community house. Sometimes the people of an entire village would live together in such a house. The house had a steep roof and straight sides made of poles. Small cut-off branches were left on the poles so they could be used as hooks. Strings of dried meat, acorns, fish, personal belongings, camping equipment, and bows and arrows were hung from them. The north wall of the house was completely covered with several layers of tule mats. The doorways were along the south side. There were no walls inside the house to make rooms, but each family had its own space, its own door, and its own fire circle.

On the Upper Tule River, some Yokuts built their winter houses with poles tied together at the top and covered with tule mats. A hole was left at the top so that smoke could escape. The houses were placed in very straight rows and looked like the teepees of the Plains Indians.

When the Yokuts were traveling or in temporary camps, they built smaller and less permanent houses or shelters. Some were just windbreaks made of brush or tules.

Shade roofs were built in the areas where the women cooked food to provide shelter the weather. They were not permanent shelters but often were used as a sleeping place for families at food-gathering camps. These shelters had domed roofs made of brush and had no walls.

Bedrock mortars

A larger shelter, a grinding booth, was built over large bedrock mortars. The mortars were too heavy and big to move, so the women went there to grind their acorns into meal. The shelter made everyday grinding possible even if there was bad weather.

The Yokuts believed that it was good to wash their bodies. They swam often and bathed in the river, and they built sweat lodges in each village. Only men and boys of the tribe were allowed to go into the sweat lodges. Most sweat lodges were small, so fires quickly heated up the inside. Yokuts tribes who lived in the foothills had sweat lodges that were dome-shaped. Sweat lodges were about 18 feet across and about 8 feet tall in the center. There was no smoke hole, so the smoke left the lodge through the door that was left uncovered. Men and boys sometimes slept in the sweat lodges if their own homes were too crowded.

–Adapted from research by Mary Ann Brensel

One kind of Yokuts shelter

Bedrock Mortars