The Sierra Me-Wuk are subdivided into the northern, central, and southern groups. Central groups were located roughly in what is now present day Tuolumne County located between the Stanislaus River and the ridge separating the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers. Southern groups were located in the Yosemite area, with Central groups utilizing the northwest portion of what is now Yosemite National Park. Me-Wuk means “people” or “Indian people.”
The Central Sierra Me-Wuk occupied several permanent villages, located on ridges near small creeks or natural springs. These settlements were located at an elevation of about 2500 feet just below the heavy snow line. During the summer people went into the high country and established seasonal camps where food could be gathered and game was abundant for hunting. The tribes were comprised of 100 to 300 people.
Villages had several types of structures. The basic home unit was a conical bark house built on the ground. It contained a fire pit with a smoke hole in the upper portion. The Chief’s house was much larger because he hosted dinners and other events. Religious and social activities required a larger ceremonial roundhouse. A sweathouse was a small shelter built on the ground with a fire pit and was used for healing and preparation for deer hunting. Acorn granaries were built to store the Me-Wuk’s staple food for several years.
Usually the men did most of the hunting and women gathered plants for food and basket making. Young boys played games similar to soccer as well as hand games. Me-Wuk were respectful of their natural environment and had and continue many ceremonial dances and spiritual activities for the purpose of insuring a proper relationship among the environment, animals, and the people.
Seasons of the year played a key role in the kinds of food gathered and the opportunities for contact with other tribes for trading. Me-Wuk maintained trade relationships with many different groups, including Paiute, Washo, and Mono. Sometimes meeting in the high country, they traded acorns, baskets, and shell beads (gained from trade with coastal groups) for obsidian, pine nuts, and salt.
You can visit the “Shadow of the Miwok Trail,” a small replica of an Indian village, at the Summit Ranger Station on Highway 108 at the turn off to Pinecrest. You can also visit Yosemite National Park’s Indian Village of Ahwahnee located next to the Yosemite Museum and Visitor’s Center. Here you can see a replica of an Indian village and observe basket weavers at work in the museum.
Today the Central Me-Wuk are involved in modern economic ventures.
For more information, order CHISPA, Vol. 5, No. 4, April-June, 1966 and Vol. 6, No. 4, April-June, 1967.