20 May 2008

Duck Decoys Use by Native Peoples For Two Thousand Years

The use of duck decoys by native peoples in the southwest was established by the excavation of material at Lovelock Cave in the Humboldt Valley. The decoys had bodies made of tules and rushes, and were dated to ca. 2160 years before present. An additional use of duck decoys was recently located in the narrative of an historic exploration in 1852. The author was the commissioner for the U.S. boundary survey, which originated in Texas. The author was in central California when the following was written in his journal.

Caption: Interior of Indian huts, California. Note: the decoys are prominently shown on the right.

March 21st (1852)

An Indian village stood a few hundred yards from the house; and at my request Mr. Knight went out and brought me three of the most intelligent among them, from whom I obtained a full vocabulary of their language. Like many other tribes of the country, and of this region in particular, they appeared to have no name for themselves as a people. By the white people, these and all other Indians between the Sacramento and the coast, and thence through the central parts of the State, are called "Diggers," or "Digger Indians," from the fact that they live chiefly on roots, which they collect by digging. I therefore set them down as Indians of Napa Valley. We had met with several small bands, and passed a few villages on our way up; but from none could I learn that they had any name for their tribe. This fact will account for the great diversity in the names of the California Indians as given by travellers. In examining the various books on this country and articles in scientific journals, I find tribes mentioned by names which are not elsewhere to be found; and in my own inquiries I have found tribes who called themselves by names which I never heard of before. This has induced me to believe that the small tribes or bands, which abound here more than in any other part of North America, when asked to what tribe they belong, give the name of their chief, which is misunderstood by the inquirer to be that of the tribe itself.

Summer huts of California Indians.

Their houses are circular, and from twelve to thirty feet in diameter, the interior usually excavated about three feet below the surface of the ground. Within this circle posts are planted, forked at the top, upon which rest poles reaching from one to the other. The spaces between the posts are filled in with sticks or tules, against which the earth is firmly banked up outside. The roofs are dome-shaped, and, in the smaller houses, supported by a single post in the centre, on the forked top of which rest two main rafters, with their outer ends planted in the ground. From these are stretched stout poles, about a foot apart and thatched with sticks and tules, or rushes closely interwoven, and covered with a solidly pressed layer of earth about a foot thick, making a roof completely water proof in the heaviest rains. In some villages the houses have but one aperture, which is on the top of the roof, and serves for both door and chimney. This is entered by a sort of rude ladder, or by notches cut in the centre-post. Others have an opening at the side, so small as not to be entered except by crawling on the hands and knees. Around the sides of the interior are wide shelves, formed of poles and rushes resting on forked posts, which serve for beds.

In the view of the interior of one of their dwellings is seen a number of decoy ducks which they use to good advantage. Although the California tribes exhibit much skill in fishing and in trapping game, and the erection of their dwellings, they show little ingenuity in the arts of design. ...
John Russell Bartlett. Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua 1850-1853.

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