“L.D. Creel and California Indian Acorn Culture”
Hist 3500 – 04, Fall 2012
October 30, 2012
Most Americans from the past have stereotyped the Native Indians of California as a primitive and unintelligent race. The Anglo-Americans have forced their culture on these Indians, insisting they give up their primitive ways. Historian Richard B. Rice explains, that nearly all thought of them as “one of the most degraded of God’s creatures.” He says, “Such negative stereotypes salved the consciences of the nineteenth-century pioneers as they murdered California’s indigenous peoples, stole their land, destroyed their cultures, enslaved their children, and confined the survivors to barren reservations.” They made do with what little resources they had on the small reservations and managed to function with much of their traditional culture, especially the acorns that were still a very important part of their diets. I have found that even though the goal of the Federal government was to transform the Indians into what they called “a white man” it was not a successful transformation. The Indians held tightly to their old traditions and left little room for the white culture, except that which was forced upon them. Before the first Anglo-American encounter, the regular traditions for the California Indians included hunting and gathering, trading between tribes, hierarchy systems of poor and wealthier people in power, and the practice of medicine. The Indians were very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna that surrounded them. They would even sow wild seeds to bring the plants closer to their homes. They hunted a variety of animals like desert animals, salmon, shellfish, rodents, snakes, and birds. Even with all this food available to them, they had a much more reliable staple, the acorn. The acorn was used as a main staple as early as 5000 BCE. Rice explains, “One tree might provide fifty-five pounds of acorns for one day’s labor.” They could round up a year’s supply of this food in just over a week of labor. They were sophisticated people who had a trade system in place that served their various needs. It offered items to each tribe that were not available to them due to the area they lived it. Trade also supported harmony between the tribes. Another tradition for the Indians was the different levels of classes. It was inevitable into which class an Indian would be placed because class is something that they inherited according to the family they were born into. The class was inevitable by which family you were born into because it is an inherited state. The Indians had people who ranged from slaves to the elites who had slaves, all in which was an inherited status. The Indians in California were very smart and had their own doctors, but called them “Shamans.” They set bones, and experimented with plants to create chemicals that would serve as medicine to heal. This life systems and culture took thousands of years to evolve, but it was a system that worked well for them. Historian Richard B. Rice explains that the Indians were believed to have a, “more dependable standard of living than would have been possible with farming.” All of this proves that the Indians were far from being a stupid race. In 1850, treaties were put in place that would state the land did not belong to the Indians. The Indians were to stay on a very small portion of land segregated from the whites. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created by the government to make sure the treaties were being employed. The BIA had made many efforts to transform the Indians for one main reason. Historian Mary Ann Irwin explains that the Federal Government thought that if they could civilize the Indians or as they branded it “kill the Indian, save the man” then there would not be conflict anymore, the greatest of which was over land. Due to the treaties, the Indians must come to terms with the American...