Manataka American Indian Council

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The Food Gathering

Wintu Legend

The people gathered here at Junction and said, "The blackberries, elderberries, and hazelnuts must be ripe. Let's go to the mountains!"


They went camping at Barker Mountain. "Let's camp in the gap where there is water close by," the decided. "Let's gather blackberries and hunt! Let's look for water and eat together with the newcomers," they said.


Then they built several fires and got ready to cure deer meat and dry blackberries. Let's get ready to pound and dry hazel nuts and everything," They said.


They brought wood and bark, shaving it to clean it off. They scraped it clean so that they would only have to pour the berries on top. To dry deer meat, they would cut in into strips and hang it on wood racks they had already made for that purpose.

They killed and slaughtered deer. They ate some and fried the rest. They picked blackberries, brought them back in the evening, and spread them to dry. They picked and dried elderberries. They gathered all the hazel nuts they saw and returned with full bags. They emptied them into a hole and pounded them with a piece of wood. They removed the hulls, then dried the hazel nuts for two days and sacked them.

Deer meat does not dry very quickly. With a rock they made a small smoking fire so that the flies and yellow jackets would not eat it. They brought wood to burn. When they had finished all that, they gathered hazel nuts and picked up sugar pine nuts that had fallen. Then, by evening, the wild plums and chokecherries were ripe, and they picked those. They gathered chinkapin nuts and pounded them. They pushed the hulls aside. They picked up hazel nuts.

When they returned to their camp in the evening, they dried those things. The chinkapin nuts dried fast. They sacked the hazelnuts. For two days they dried things. "Let's go home now,' they said. They came home and put all the food away. "Now then, let's get ready to go out again and spear salmon! Let's go camp south of Forest Glen where there are plenty of salmon!" They speared salmon.

They burned the ground to level it out and prepared to spear salmon. They brought back many salmon, cut them up, and dried them. They fished for trout and ate it, but put the salmon away. They saved the trout heads and poked out the eyeballs. They dried only the heads, sacked them, and took good care of them. They skinned the salmon and dried the skins. They put the skins away and placed the meat into big baskets. They hollowed out the salmon bones and boiled them. When they were cooked, they took them out of the water. They took out all the bones, put them away, and rubbed only the meat to powder. In this manner they made salmon flour which took several days.

They used to drink the good cooking water, called "salmon soup." They never threw anything away. And when all the salmon flour was boiled they took out the bones and rubbed them to powder. For five days they were busy making salmon flour. They dried it.

They also killed the suckerfish. They ate those right away because they were not plentiful. Some they put away to save with the salmon meat; they did not eat much of the salmon. Heads and all, they cured and dried them, hanging them up for smoking.

When it rained a little, they killed many salmon. When the salmon were going to spawn, they said, "The salmon are coming to spawn. Let's stop now!" They gathered everything and brought their catch home. They put all the salmon away and dried the plums and chokeberries. They would be dry by winter. Then they said, "Let's drive trout into our nets!" They placed many nets which they had woven into the water. They were going to catch salmon, suckers, trout, everything. They brought a large pole to the big creek, cut much willow brush, wove it tightly, and wrapped it around the pole. They rolled it, chasing the trout out from under rocks, brush, and underwater banks. As they rolled the pole, the trout all went downstream. Many went down the river and wer4e caught. The tightly woven nets were full. They had been made to last and the water could not overturn them. They filled them with very many trout.

When they took the roller out of the water, the nets were filled with very many trout and suckerfish. All the people who were present divided the trout, suckers, and everything among themselves and went home happy. They took the fish home and dried it. After they had dried and sacked everything they got ready again and went to another water hole. Again they placed that big pole into the water after fastening the nets. They chased the trout out with the roller and drove them ahead. Then they placed the roller in yet another water hole and chased many trout into the nets, filling them. They took the roller out and the women gathered up all the trout and suckers.  They took them to the fire they had made and divided them evenly among all.

Sometimes they caught the big steelheads, called "Fall salmon," which come before the small salmon. They said, "We have killed enough trout now. If we eat all this, we'll be able to make it until spring comes." They divided the catch among everyone and went home. After they had dried the trout heads and some trout and put everything away, they said, "Let's gather crayfish now!"  They gathered many crayfish. They ate the feet, dried the tails, and threw the middle part away. "Let's stop now!" they said. "Be sure to be ready in two days to gather acorns! Put all the food away carefully and then we will gather white oak, black oak, and live oak acorns. Be ready in two days to gather them all!"

After two days they got together. Someone said, "There is a place where many black oak acorns have fallen. Let's Go!" "Okay," said the others and they all went to gather acorns. For two days they gathered acorns. Some they left, and some they took. They brought them home and left again quickly.  Then they went back and gathered some more of those they had left and took them home, too. "Let's fix a good little place to dry these," they said.  They brought home bark and placed the acorns on it in loosely woven baskets so they would dry well. They stored and dried the black oak acorns. Then, in the winter when there was nothing to do, they would hull them.

When autumn came and it became cold and rainy, they stayed at home. They dried the white oak acorns they had gathered and soaked them in water until spring. They dried the black oak and live oak acorns.

Their houses were now filled with all the food they had gathered and they said, "We have gathered enough. Let's hunt some now so we can eat! We will not use what we have gathered right away because we still have things to eat for a while. We will eat gray squirrels, ground squirrels, mountain chipmunks, rabbits, and that sort of thing. We won't eat what we gathered until winter." "Okay," they said. "We have enough."

They all went home

Source:    In My Own Words. Stories, songs and memories of Grace Mckibbin, Wintu [1884-1987]. by Alice Shepherd, 1997.
               From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.