"In the beginning Wahno-no-pem, the Great Spirit, made all things. Before he came, everything on the earth and in the skies was hidden in darkness and in gloom, but where he appeared he was the light. From his essence, out of his breath, he made the sun, the moon, and the countless stars, and pinned them in the blue vault of the heavens."
Since the time of remembering the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians have occupied the Konkow Valley of California. There are many theories as to when people started inhabiting the western area of the United States and in the Martis Complex culture evidence points out to groups of Indians living on both eastern and western sides of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range from 2000 BCE to 500CE. The Meadow Lake Petroglyphs, the Grouse lakes area of Nevada County, along with, the Truckee Meadows area have shown that these early groups influenced the next stage of development as a hunter-gathering economic system, from the Carson River and Reno, Nevada areas in the east to the Auburn, California and Oroville, California areas in the west.
In the river drainages of the North Fork of the Feather River live the descendants of these first people, referring to themselves today as the Konkow Maidu Indians of Konkow Valley. Though, there was no tribal name in which to identify themselves, the villages from which a person came from gave reference to their location Konka"u (Valley Place). It was the early historians, traders, and treaty negotiators who began the practice of identifying these groups. Names such as "Digger Indians" came from the early gold miners who watched the Maidu Indians carry "digging sticks" in which to gather the edible roots. Other reference names came from the village locations, thus "foothill" Indians. "Maidu" is a reference to a "penutian-maiduan" language word for "people". As the villages began to disappear so did the references of location. These foothill Konkow Maidu Indians occupied these lands at the time of first contact with Euromericans, and they have continued this residence in their traditional homelands into modern times.
Organized into village communities a larger, major village was marked by a large, semi-subterranean assembly and ceremonial lodge which was owned by the Chief (Yeponi) of the community. This ceremonial house (k'akkinimkumi) is referred today as a "roundhouse". The larger village provided the central ceremonial and political focus for several nearby affiliated satellite villages (Kroeber 1925; Riddell 1978). The Chiefs were known for their ability to lead, as well as their "wealth", and generosity. The leadership role may have required selection by their "shaman-doctor", or, by the representation of a particular line of descent.
Affiliated villages acted together in ceremonial performances as well as other practices. These Tribal communities involved from three to five villages with a total population of about 200 with a well-defined territory. Villages consisted of households, many of which were composed of extended families. Marriages might be arranged by parents, or, the young man would take gifts to the family of a girl of his choice; she did have the right to refuse the offer. The only social rule preventing a marriage was kinship, so that persons known to be related could not marry. The general rule was for a young couple to live initially with the bride"s family but later moved to the husband"s home village. Thus, a community would tend to be inter-related through male ties.
Like other California Indian peoples, the Konkow Maidu practiced a mixed gathering, fishing and hunting economy. Vegetal resources were gathered in an annual cycle in which target resources were procured as they ripened. The Konkow Maidu had detailed and intimate knowledge about the distribution and usefulness of the plants in their territory. Moving to strategic locations the families harvested these desired foods which included various greens, tubers and roots, seeds, nuts and berries (Duncan 1963; Powers 1976:419-431). Pine nuts from both the sugar pine and grey pine were highly valued, but the most important of these foods were acorns from the oak, of which several species are available in the Konkow Valley. When gathered these acorns were then dried and stored in granaries for winter use. Additionally, many other vegetal foods were dried and stored for later use. Thus, the Konkow Maidu were able to provide themselves with ample food stores during seasons when fresh harvests were not available. With these storages the Konkow Valley Maidu Indians could plan and provide generous ceremonial meals for the families or invited villages.
Like many other California Indian peoples, the Konkow Valley Maidu managed their environment by the use of fire to enhance favorable Eco zones and encourage harvests from desired plants (Hankins, D.L. 2008 Native Californian Use of Fire in Weed Management). This practice discouraged the overgrowth of brush and supports the growth of native grasses and other seed producing plants as well as the oaks.
The north fork of the Feather River offered a wealth of fish resources, particularly in the seasonal anadromous fish (salmon) runs that provided a reliable and abundant source of food. Salmon was captured by spear, and could be eaten fresh, or dried and then pounded into a powder for storage (Dixon 1905:185; Riddell 1978:374). Lamprey eel were another favored food. The hunting of deer, elk, rabbits and squirrels was also an important source of food for the tribe. Often, the deer were taken in large drives in which a number of men cooperated to run the deer over a cliff or into a runway where concealed hunters could shoot them (Dixon 1905:192-193; Kroeber 1925:410; Riddell 1978:375). Birds, such as quail, pigeons, ducks and geese also contributed to the Maidu diet. While many local needs were met by the resources within the territory of the village community, other desired supplies could be obtained through trade with neighboring tribes. The Konkow Maidu traded arrows, bows, deer hides, salmon, grey pine nuts, acorns and other foods in exchange for beads, obsidian, and green dye pigment. Receiving abalone shell and clam shell disc beads from the coastal tribes was extensive and provided not only for the ceremonial needs but also in the economics of wealth.
Men and women made the tools and utensils that they used in their daily work. Women made a variety of baskets, large and small, that were used to gather, process, and cook, as well as store foods in all stages of preparation. Women were intimately familiar with the plants in their environment and knew which ones would produce superior baskets, when to gather the many shoots and roots, and how to prepare each type of material. Basket weavers were highly skilled and much admired by their community for their capabilities. Men produced the tools such as the snares, fish traps along with bows and arrows for their hunting activities.
The Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians were as significant an influence to the environment, as were the seeds of the grasses. Everything, as well as everyone, benefitted from their existence. With the advent of California's "gold rush", the Konkow Valley Maidu Indian's way of life was to change, and, in its darkest hour, has almost been forgotten.
Note that this article pertains as well to some extent to our "brother" tribes of the Maidu people.