A Visit From Susan Marlow

The People of the Tule

Can you guess which state is the home of this lake? Here are the clues:

1. Once the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi.

2. The terminus (ending point) for the Chinook salmon that spawned up river.

3. In 1888, during a three-month period, 73,500 pounds of fish were pulled from the lake.

4. During the west season, it spread out over 790 square miles.

5. It supported vast populations of deer, elk, antelope, grizzly bear, migratory birds, and aquatic life.

6. The Native Americans lived “high off the hog” around this source of plentiful food.

7. The basin of this now-dry lake resides in the western state that is plagued with desperate water shortages.


It seems a little ironic when you think about it. California, the Golden State, is the home of Tulare Lake, which is no more. The people who lived on its shores, fished in its waters, and made their homes out of the reeds (called “tules”) that grew along its banks are gone.

While researching for my Old West children’s chapter book, Andi’s Indian Summer, I discovered a delightful people: the Yokuts. These Native Americans lived in peace and harmony with nature and with each other until the Gold Rush of 1849. With no competition for food, there was very little reason to go to war with other tribes. The Valley Yokuts enjoyed life at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley near Tulare Lake; the Foothills Yokuts had the same high standard of living up in the foothills, along the rivers.

When the Yokuts first saw the white men cutting down trees, splitting them, and making troughs for gold, they had no idea what it meant. They found out the hard way. Soon, more white men came. They built a fort at Millerton. Actually, they forced the peaceful Yokuts to build the fort.

Life would never be the same . . .

But let’s not dwell on that for now. Instead, let’s go back and live a day in the life of the Yokut people . . .

“When we want meat, the chief sends two, three men who are good shots with bow and arrow . . . They hide in the rocks by river, wait. Antelope, elk come. Men shoot six, eightnice fat ones. They let rest run away. We have all the meat we want,” says Kuyu Illik, born in 1828.

Meanwhile, the women are pounding acorns into acorn meal. The foothills of the Sierras are covered with oak trees, and acorns are the Yokuts’ main food supply. But these nuts can’t be eaten like a pecan or a hazelnut. Acorns hold bitter, poisonous tannic acid that must be leached out. The women pound the acorns into a fine meal. After pounding, the acorn meal is laid on grape leaves in shallow holes of a sandy hill and water is poured through it. Now it’s ready to cook!

The Yokut people made beautiful, intricately woven baskets. They used these baskets for baby cradles, acorn gathering, various games, and even cooking. The baskets were constructed so well that not a drop of water leaked out. The Yokuts heated water (or acorn mush) by plopping hot rocks in and stirring them around.

The day passes peacefully. It’s warm, so little clothing is needed. A grass or deer-hide skirt, a head band to hold back long, black, hair, a necklace made of shells, seeds, and beads, and no shoes. The grass around Tulare Lake is as soft as a fine carpet.

Later in the afternoon, the children grab an oak burl and get involved in a rousing game of “shinny,” a rough form of field hockey. The women sit around and chat as they weave baskets from tule grass in designs of the sun, moon, animals, and especially the rattlesnake design they love so much. That evening, single families slip into their homes, also made of the abundant reeds. Mud has been slapped against the sides and roof, and more grass has grown on top. When the Yokuts go in and out of their homes, they look like they are disappearing underground. Up in the hills, other Yokuts enjoy a community pole house, with the entire tribe under one roof.

Paradise did not last long for the Yokuts. Once the white man came, the Yokuts’ days were numbered, like so many other native peoples. There were once nearly 70,000 Yokuts, but by 1875 their number had dwindled to 700. The $5.00 bounty placed on the head of every Yokut Indian in California probably contributed to their near extinction. Today, about 3,000 Yokuts remain.

Andi’s Indian Summer is not a rip-roaring Old West love story, but young readers will enjoy it and also book one: Andi’s Pony Trouble. They make great Christmas gifts. And there are free coloring pages to download at www.andiandtaffy.com. We’re giving away the set to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment and share what you imagine might have been the best part of being a peaceful Yokut on the banks of Tulare Lake.

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19 thoughts on “A Visit From Susan Marlow”

  1. Best thing: Happiness and contentment at being able to live in harmony with Mother Earth, living off the land, living with your loved one’s in a beautiful, peaceful environment.

    Why was there a bounty? Did they want the land for gold searches near the water? Lack of communication? fear?

    Your Andi and Taffy book’s sound cute and look sweet! Congrats! I’d love to win them for my nieces, Lydia and Anna!

  2. aw, i wanna live with the yokuts! before the bounty anyhow
    what a beautiful way to live

    i love that you write children’s stories–i hope my girls love to read as much as i do

  3. Hi Susan! What a terrific setting for a book! I used to live in the Frazier Park / Pine Mountain area, near the top of the Grapevine. Tulare Lake was a bit north, but you brought back all sorts of memories for me. We’d drive through the Carrizo Plain to get to the beach, and I’ll never forget a morning trip to Bakersfield where I got caught in the tulle fog. That stuff is THICK. The Chumash Indians lived in the mountains where we had our home, and so did California condors. The view from the top of Mt. Abel is awesome!

    I love California, always will!

  4. It is sad to the extreme that whites were able to get away with putting a bounty on the life of innocent people. Men, women, and children were blatantly and legally murdered for the land and its resources.
    With abundant natural resources and moderate weather, the Yokut had an ideal environment to live a peaceful life. Food was readily available and not over collected. Children could probably spend their time being children. They learned about their world and how to live off the land, but with nature providing most of what they needed, they didn’t have to spend as much time ‘working’ as many other children did tending fields and animals. It left time for family to spend time together as family.

    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas Season.

  5. the best part would probably have been the easy- go-lucky lifestyle surrounded by friends and all working together.
    Your books look so cute for a child’s bookshelf; the grandkids who live on an acreage would love these. They have animals around and their Mom is a teacher and loves book for the kids.

    Merry Christmas.

  6. Hi Susan…..welcome back to the Junction. We’re thrilled to have you. And what an interesting subject to blog about. Before today I’d never heard of this tribe. I always enjoy learning something new. How sad that most of the tribe was killed off. I’m really embarrassed by what some of our ancestors did. It was beyond horrible.

    Have a great day and Merry Christmas!

  7. Laurie,
    In answer to your question of “Why a bounty?” the answer is painfully simple: because they were nothing but Indians and if they’re gone, then what was there’s could be “ours.” It makes me sad and sick to realize how “savage” our people were toward a peaceful group of people, who under other circumstance would probably have been more than willing to share and return kindness for kindness. It is doubly tragic that these were not Indian “raiders” who attacked the settlers like some of the Eastern tribes, but just normal people living their lives.

    But then, the history of the world is full of such tales, be they Indian or Roman or Christian or Muslim. People are always ready to fight and hurt and take what they want from the weak an unsuspecting.

    Oops. I waxed a bit philosophical here, didn’t I?

  8. Thanks for sharing the story of this group of Native Americans. I don’t remember ever hearing about them before. What a shame that the government at that time thought we should just wipe out those that they never really bothered to understand.
    Your books sound wonderful and I shall have to introduce my granddaughter to them.

  9. A beautiful and happy world with simplicity, contentment and the most important ingredients which make life worth living. Fresh air, clean lakes, land to appreciate, and beauty surrounding all the time.

  10. That’s a tribe I don’t think I’ve ever heard of but I live in the East. I always wonder how anyone figures out how to make a poisonous food edible! I bet the baskets were a lot better made than what we have now lol. Frankly, as a people, I don’t think we’ve learned very much!

  11. That was a great life. My husband is MONO and grew up in Yosemite Valley in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. He also had an idealic life. The boys even played with small bears. (Until Momma bear decided it was enough!) And I have eaten acorn mush and it is equivilant to poi or grits! It is eaten like a mush (cereal), or an aside. My Mother in law would add jerkied meat to it for a stew like meal. My husband is in his 80’s now and still cannot abide eating it. I guess he ate too much when he was a kid. But he still loves the jerkied meat. I make it every year. Your books sound great. Like to see that you have made pains to be as accurate as you are. (I know quite a few Yokuts.)

  12. Your books are special and would bring my daughter enjoyment. I learned a great deal from your post today. What a world that we should remember and cherish.

  13. I’m not familiar with Yokut’s, but it’s a fascinating story. I would think the innocent play of the children would have been a wonderful thing to watch. Living off the land and being one with the earth, great things to strive for.

  14. Mary,
    How great to read the “real” story of the MONO and Yokuts. Yes, I came across the Monos and Yosemite during my research. What fun to have lived in such a world . . . when the earth was still “young.” Is there any place like that left, one wonders?
    I’ve heard from another source that acorn mush is not all that great-tasting. You gave an excellent description. I took a little literary license in the book and have the two kids, Andi and Riley, actually liking the acorn mush. 🙂
    I figure that to a couple of frontier kids, oatmeal must not taste any better, and acorn mush to a hungry child really WOULD taste good.
    Thanks for commenting!

  15. A simple life, gathering food and clothing from nature.

    I knew what state you were talking about, but didn’t know about the Yokut Indians.

  16. What a great post. I have never heard of this tribe. I love childrens books and would love to have this set for my niece but also want to read them myself. Thanks for sharing with us today.

  17. This is a great post but of course I love it so because it is about the Ameican Indian and that is all I write about.

    I have a children’s book but I have not submitted it to anyone. It is Native American and it is titled, “Gentle Tear’s Courage”

    I hope to get it published someday but Susan your books are a must read

    Walk in harmony,

  18. This is the first I’ve heard about the Yokut’s. Such a sad story.

    Your books sound great. I’ve been trying to get my grandchildren to read more when they come over my house. I have a book from the American Girl series about Josephinia, a little girl who lives in 1830’s New Mexico. My granddaughter loves that book, and always drags it off the bookshelf when she visits. I know she’d enjoy reading about Andi, too.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed learning bout the Yokut’s.


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