Baskets

California Quail

California Quail

Yokuts women made beautiful baskets of all shapes and sizes. Baskets were used for gathering and storing food, for carrying babies, and even for hauling water. Some baskets were so tightly woven that not a drop of water would leak from them.

The Yokuts women wove interesting designs into the baskets. The design used most often was the rattlesnake pattern. Sometimes they also wove designs of quail, geese, trees, the sun, the moon, and the stars into baskets. The most often used colors were black, white, tan, and red.

A woman gathers reeds to make another basket

A woman gathers reeds to make another basket

The baskets were made from coiled tule reeds that grew near rivers and lakes. The Yokuts women could only use reeds that were no more than one year old because older reeds would not bend as well. The women began by digging up tule roots with a pointed digging stick. Then they split the roots into three different pieces equal in size and length. Next they scraped the pieces smooth. The shorter lengths were twisted together to start the coil for the basket. Once the coil was long enough, the coiling process continued until the sides were built up as high as needed. Some of the different baskets the Yokuts women made were berry-gathering baskets, burden baskets, and ceremonial baskets.

The berry-gathering basket was a small basket. It was only five inches wide and eight to nine inches deep. It had a buckskin handle to make it easier to carry. It hung around the neck and usually rested on the woman’s back. When it was not berry picking season, the basket hung in the house to hold odds and ends.

Rattlesnake pattern basket

Rattlesnake pattern basket

The burden basket was used for gathering acorns and other materials. It was shaped like a cone and was about three feet long and two feet across the mouth of the basket. This sturdy basket could hold up to 150 pounds of acorns. It attached to the woman’s headband and was carried on her back when it was full.

One of the ceremonial baskets the Yokuts women made was the Rattlesnake basket. These baskets were filled with rattlesnakes and used during the Rattlesnake Dance in the spring.

–Adapted from research by Mary Ann Brensel