Resources 1984 – C. Historic Indian Occupation of the Crater Lake Vicinity 1. The Klamaths

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

 

I. Formation of the Crater Lake Environment

 

C. Historic Indian Occupation of the Crater Lake Vicinity

   1. The Klamaths

The ancestors of the modern Klamath Indians who ultimately inhabited the area east of Crater Lake and south along the shores of Klamath Lake were probably contemporaries of the early Fort Rock inhabitants. The Klamaths had originally relied mainly on hunting, but the presence nearby of bodies of water teeming with fish, fowl, and plant life encouraged advances in tool technology and food preparation techniques that enabled them to become more diversified wild food gatherers. Ultimately the Klamaths became dependent for their sustenance primarily upon the marshes and the chain of lakes forming the headwaters of the Klamath River. They settled in semi-subterranean earth lodges in small hamlets on the lake shores in the winter months, but during the summer pursued a more migratory course, utilizing mat-covered lodges for shelter and participating in root-, seed-, and berry-gathering activities, fishing, and the hunting of small game.

The environment had much to offer. Marshes teemed with geese and ducks shot with cane arrows or captured by large nets that either engulfed diving birds or were thrown over ones that flew or swam within reach. Mussels lined stream bottoms, while salmon, trout, and whitefish swarmed in the rivers and lakes. Freshwater fishing became a year-round activity; early white explorers and settlers often noted fish being dried on scaffolds and pine saplings. Wokas, or camas lily plants, were probably the most important aspect of their diet, and their gathering became a formalized process. After these wild water-lily plants withered, leaving only a pod with small, shiny, dark seeds, the starchy bulbs were harvested. Great mounds were amassed and stored for winter use, either dried and cooked whole or pounded, and molded into small cakes that were then baked before storage. A full season’s labor was spent in picking pods, drying them, and grinding them into mush. [5]

The gradual acquisition of horses by trading with Plains tribes to the east produced sudden and dramatic changes in the social and political structure of Klamath culture. By the 1840s the Klamaths had so many horses that they were considered notable adversaries in war. In addition to the taking of booty from neighboring peoples, emphasis was laid on the capture of slaves, and several of the Plateau groups found themselves middlemen in a profitable slave-horse trading business. [6] By the time whites began settling in southern Oregon, the Klamaths possessed a well-established lifeway emphasizing a hunting and gathering economy; the local autonomy of isolated hamlets, or villages; a basic material culture with unelaborate ceremonial activities; and a religion centering on Shamanism and mythology. [7]

 

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