A Sierra Miwok cedar bark umuucha cabin reproduction in Yosemite Valley. The material came from lumbering operations of 19th century miners. Previously the Miwok lived in rounded huts made of brush and mud.
The Plains and Sierra Miwok lived by hunting and gathering, and lived in small local tribes, without centralized political authority. They are skilled at basketry and continue the traditions today.
The original Plains and Sierra Miwok people world view included Shamanism. One form this took was the Kuksu religion that was evident in Central and Northern California, which included elaborate acting and dancing ceremonies in traditional costume, an annual morning ceremony, puberty rites of passage, shamanic intervention with the spirit world, and an all-male society that met in subterranean dance rooms. Kuksu was shared with other indigenous ethnic groups of Central California, such as the Pomo, Maidu, Ohlone, Esselen, and northernmost Yokuts. However, Kroeber observed less "specialized cosmogony" in the Miwok, which he termed one of the "southern Kuksu-dancing groups", in comparison to the Maidu and other northern California tribes.
The record of myths, legends, tales, and histories from the Plains and Sierra Miwok is one of the most extensive in the state. These groups participate in the general cultural pattern of Central California.
Miwok mythology is similar to other natives of Central and Northern California. The Plains and Sierra Miwok believe in animal and human spirits, and see the animal spirits as their ancestors. Coyote is seen as their ancestor and creator god.
Map of the territory and villages (not exhaustive) of the Plains and Sierra Miwok (after Kroeber 1925).
There were four definite regional and linguistic sub-divisions: Plains Miwok, Northern Sierra Miwok, Central Sierra Miwok, and Southern Sierra Miwok.
Classical anthropologists recorded a number of specific Plains Miwok villages, but it remained for work by Bennyhoff in the 1950s and 1960s to recognize multi-village territorial local tribes as the signature land-use organization of the Plains Miwok. The published specific village locations were:
On the Cosumnes River: Chuyumkatat, Lulimal, Mayeman, Mokos-unni, Sukididi, Supu, Tukui, Yomit
Near the Cosumnes River: Umucha, Yumhui; on the Mokelumne River: Lel-amni, Mokel(-unni), Sakayak-unni; on the east bank of Sacramento River below Sacramento: Hulpu-mni; on Jackson Creek: Ochech-ak
Among the important landholding local tribes at the time of Spanish colonization in California were:
Anizumne at Rio Vista on the west side of the Sacramento River
Chilamne at Bellota on the Calaveras River
Chucumne at Liberty Island on the west side of the Sacramento River
Gualacomne at Freeport on both sides of the Sacramento River
Guaypemne at Terminous on the Mokelumne River delta
Lelamne at Clements on the Mokelumne River
Muquelemne at Ione on the Mokelumne River
Musupum at Andrus Island at the confluence of the Mokelumne and San Joaquin rivers
Ochejamne at Courtland on the east side of the Sacramento River
Quenemsia at Grand Island among the distributary channels of the Sacramento River
Seuamne at Jenny Lind on the Calaveras River (intermediate to Northern Sierra Miwok)
Sonolomne probably on Dry and Laguna creeks east of Galt
Unizumne at Thornton at the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers
Ilamne at Yolano on the west side of the Sacramento River (northwest of Freeport)
The majority of the members of the Plains Miwok local tribes moved to colonial Franciscan Mission San José, in some cases through attraction and in other cases through intimidation, between 1812 and 1833. By 1815 they represented 14% of the Indian people at that mission, and by 1830 they had reached 42% of the mission's population. In 1834 and 1835, hundreds of Plains Miwok survivors of the Central Valley's 1833 malaria epidemic were baptized at Mission San José. By the end of 1835, Plains Miwok was the native language of 60% of the Indian people at the mission.
Between 1834 and 1838 the Alta California missions were secularized (closed as religious and agricultural communes). Many Plains Miwoks moved back to their home areas, where between 1839 and 1841 John Sutter played the local groups off against one another in order to gain control of the lower Sacramento Valley. Other Plains Miwok families remained in the San Francisco Bay area, intermarried with Ohlone, Patwin, and Yokuts peoples, and found work on local Mexican ranchos.
The authenticated Northern Sierra Miwok villages are:
At present-day San Andreas: Huta-sil
At present-day Jackson: Tukupe-su
Near present-day Jackson: Pola-su
On the Calaveras River Headwaters: Kechenti, Kaitimii, Mona-sti
Between Calaveras River and Mokelumne Rivers: Apautawilti, Heina, Ketina
On the Cosumnes River: Noma (South Fork), Omo (South Fork), Yule (south of river)
On the Mokelumne River. Ktiniisti, Uptistini, Penken-sii (inland south of river), Sopochi (towards Jackson Creek)
On Jackson Creek: Chakane-sii?, Seweu-sii, Tumuti (on the headwaters), Yuloni, on Jackson Creek
Central Sierra Miwok
The Central Sierra Miwok inhabited the upper watersheds of the Stanislaus River and the Tuolumne River. They spoke Central Sierra Miwok, a language in the Utian linguistic group.
The authenticated Central Sierra Miwok villages are:
At present-day Sonora: Akankau-nchi (1), Kuluti. Also in this vicinity: Hunga, Kapanina, Chakachi-no, Akankau-nchi (2), Kesa, Kotoplana, Olaw_ye, Pokto-no, Pota, Siksike-no, Sopka-su, Suchumumu, Sukanola, Sukwela, Telese-no, Tel'ula, Tunuk-chi, Waka-che.
"On the Calaveras River: Humata, Katuka, Newichu (between Stanislaus River and a head branch)
On the Stanislaus River: Akutanuka (northwest), Hangwite (South Fork), Kawinucha (North Fork), Kewe-no, Loyowisa (near the junction of Middle and South Forks), Oloikoto, Sutamasina (South Fork), Takema (Middle Fork), Tipotoya, Tulana-chi, Tulsuna (between the South and Middle Forks), Tuyiwu-nu, Wokachet (South Fork), Wolanga-su (south of the junction between the South and Middle Forks), Wtiyu Yungakatok (near the junction of the North and Middle Forks)
On the Tuolumne River: Akawila (between a branch of Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers), Hechhechi (at headwaters), Hochhochmeti, Kulamu, Pangasema-nu (northern), Pasi-nu (southeast of Sonora), Pigliku (southern), Singawu-nu, Sala
Near present-day San Andreas: Alakani (east), Kosoimuno-nu (towards Stanislaus River), Sasamu (almost due east), Shulaputi (southeast)
Southern Sierra Miwok
Miwok-Paiute ceremony in 1872 at current site of Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite Valley
The Mono tribe people (considered Northern Paiute) occupied the higher eastern Sierras and the Mono Lake Basin, and entered Yosemite from the east. The Mono name for the Southern Miwok was qohsoo?moho. Miwoks occupied the lower western foothills of the Sierras and entered from the west. Disputes between the two tribes were violent, and the residents of the valley, in defense of their territory, were considered to be among the most aggressive of any tribes in the area.
When encountered by immigrants of European descent, the neighboring Southern Sierra Miwok tribe referred to the Yosemite Valley residents as "killers". It is from this reference and a confusion over the word for "grizzly bear" that Bunnell named the valley Yosemite. The native residents called the valley awahni. Today, there is some debate about the original meaning of the word, since the Southern Miwok language is virtually extinct, but recent Southern Miwok speakers defined it as "place like a gaping mouth." Those living in awahni were known as the Awahnichi (also spelled Ahwahnechee and similar variants), meaning "people who live in awahni". The naming of the Ahwahnee Hotel was derived from the Miwok word.
The authenticated Southern Sierra Miwok villages are:
Near present-day Mariposa: Kasumati, Nochu-chi
On the Chowchilla Rive headwaters: Nowach, Olwia
On the Fresno River: Wasema, Wehilto
On the Merced River: Alaula-chi, Angisawepa, Awal, Hikena, Kakahula-chi, Kitiwana, Kuyuka-chi, Owelinhatihu, Palachan, Sayangasi, Siso-chi, Sope-nchi, Sotpok, WilitoYawoka-chi
After Euro-Americans entered Yosemite Valley and the adjacent Sierras, and established Yosemite National Park, the residents were of both Paiute-Mono and Miwok origin. They had either fought to a stalemate or agreed to peaceful coexistence and had intermixed to a limited extent.
Alfred L. Kroeber estimated there to be 9,000 Plains and Sierra Miwok combined in 1770, but this is an arguably low estimate. Richard Levy estimated there were 17,800. In 1848 their population was estimated at 6,000, in 1852 at 4,500, in 1880 at 100, and in 1910 the population was estimated at 670.
^Kroeber, 1925, page 445. "A less specialized type of cosmogony is therefore indicated for the southern Kuksu-dancing groups. [1. If, as seems probable, the southerly Kuksu tribes (the Miwok, Costanoans, Esselen, and northernmost Yokuts) had no real society in connection with their Kuksu ceremonies, the distinctness of their mythology appears less surprising.]".
Callaghan, Catherine A. 1984. Plains Miwok Dictionary. University of California Publications in Linguistics, Volume 105.
Cook, Sherburne. The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1976. ISBN0-520-03143-1.
Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. The Religion of the Indians of California, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:#6. Berkeley, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs"; available at Sacred Texts Online
Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (Chapter 30, The Miwok); available at Yosemite Online Library.
Levy, Richard. 1978. Eastern Miwok, in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California). William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pp. 398–413.
Milliken, Randall. 2008. Native Americans at Mission San Jose. Banning, CA: Malki-Ballena Press. ISBN978-0-87919-147-4
Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. University Press, Cambridge.