Native American Photographs by Edward S. Curtis

Maidu Indians

Maidu Indian Photos by Edward S. Curtis

Tribal Summary

Dress

Men, elderly women, and children ordinarily had no clothing whatsoever. Younger women wore as an apron a thick switch of shredded bark. Fur robes for cold weather were either entire skins sewn together or woven ropes of fur with hemp twining. In the valley section blankets of the latter type were commonly made of the skins of waterfowl. In the mountains moccasins and leggings were used. Women used Rat-topped basketry caps with a deerskin band at the front. In some sections the hair of women and children was kept short by means of a glowing ember of oak-bark. Men had the hair long, and doubled it up on the crown, sometimes with a long, sharp stick passing through it just above the forehead. The beard and the pubic hair were burned off. Women had several perpendicular lines tattooed on the chin, a line from each corner of the mouth to the cheek-bone, and sometimes marks across the chest. Men had rows of dots across the chest and on the arms, rarely lines on the chin. On special occasions both sexes wore shell ear-pendants or bone or wooden cylinders in holes in the lobe of the ear. A commoner type of ear-ornament was a ten-inch wing-bone of a swan or a crane with incised designs.

Dwelling

The visible part of a Maidu house was approximately a low-angle cone. The dwelling was partially underground, the frame consisted of unhewn timbers, the roof was covered with grass, brush, tules, and earth. The smoke-vent back of the central post served also as the entrance, and ventilation was assured by an opening at the floor level leading through an inclined tunnel to the open air. Smaller, conical lodges of poles imperfectly covered with brush, bark, and slabs were used by the less fortunate. The village assembly house resembled the earth-covered dwelling, but was very much larger. Sudatories were not used. Beds were low platforms of willow poles supported partly by the walls of the house and partly by stakes driven into the floor. A pole lashed at the edge of the platform served as a head-rest. Fine willow twigs or pine-needles covered with tule mats formed the mattress. At night the earth-covered house was so nearly air-tight and was occupied by so many sleepers that covering was rarely required.

Food

As elsewhere in northern California acorn mush and the parched and pulverized seeds of various grasses and other plants were staple foods. Pine-nuts, bulbs, clover, pea-vines, and dried fruits were important. All fish except sturgeon were dried, crushed in mortars, and stored in tall, twined willow baskets. Nearly every available form of animal life was food for the Maidu, from elk, deer, and antelope, to reptiles, worms, and
insects.

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