The Konkow Maidu consisted of multiple tribes inhabiting the Sierra Nevada region and adjacent northern California valleys. Like other Native American tribes, the Maidu suffered devastating losses as white settlers along the California Trail invaded their territories, destroying their food sources and spreading disease.
Maidu Culture & History
In this brief introduction to the Maidu Konkow, we will look at five interesting aspects of their culture and history, past and present.
- They called themselves Meadow People.
- They were semi-nomadic.
- They were master basketry weavers.
- The period of 1830-1863 nearly destroyed the tribes.
- The Maidu today.
1) Meadow People
In their Penutian language, “Maidu” simply means “People.” The term “Konkow” is an anglicized version of the word for “meadowlands.” The Maidu Konkow groups lived in what is now known as Plumas and southern Lassen counties in Northeastern California, occupying the mountains and valleys, especially near lakes and rivers.
2) Semi-Nomadic Hunters & Gatherers
Warm Season Travelers
During the warm season, the Konkow Maidu lived in temporary cedar bark wickiup or teepee-like structures that they could carry with them. They roamed between the mountains and valleys, gathering food such as acorns, pine nuts, manzanita, insects, and various roots.
The men also hunted deer, elk, antelope, and bear. They did not eat the bear meat but used the hides. Aside from bear meat, many other types of meat were also taboo, including coyotes, wolves, dogs, snakes, and buzzards.
Permanent Structures For The Cold Season
In the wintertime, the Maidu lived in permanent semi-subterranean dwellings. These pit homes could be built as far as 15 feet into the ground with a central fire pit to provide warmth. They were accessed from rooftop ladders and had openings to let in light and air and allow smoke to escape.
3) Master Basketry Weavers
The Maidu women were famous for weaving beautiful and intricate baskets. They used materials such as roots, bark, stems, and leaves from many different plants to create highly detailed products in a wide range of sizes.
Baskets were woven for various purposes, including water storage, food storage, seed beating, traps, hats, and even baby cradles. Today, their basket artifacts sell for thousands of dollars.
4) Thirty Devastating Years
Before 1830, the Maidu did not have contact with white people. When the Oregon and California trails opened, the Maidu, like other native tribes, saw a rapid decline in population as settlers killed off the wildlife, plants, and trees that the Maidu relied on for food and as diseases like smallpox, malaria, influenza, and measles spread.
In 1863, after being falsely accused of the murders of two white settler children, the remaining tribe members were forced to move to the Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino County. To learn more about the Nome Cult Trail and the Konkow or California Trail of Tears, see this article on our website.
5) The Maidu Tribe Today
Once one of the largest groups of California tribes, the Konkow Maidu have lost much of their language and culture due to population decline coupled with forced assimilation policies.
Today, they own several rancherias, the equivalent of reservations in Butte, Plumas, Tehama, and El Dorado counties. Various Maidu groups have fought hard for federal tribal recognition, although several groups are still not recognized.
Despite facing the same problems as many native tribes, including high rates of unemployment and illnesses such as diabetes, the Maidu have formed numerous associations aimed at revitalizing their traditions and preserving their language and culture.
Visit The California Trail Interpretive Center
If you want to learn more about California Native people and the history of the early American West, visit the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, NV. Contact us today for more information and to learn about upcoming exhibits and events.