Marilyn Meredith lives in the foothills of the Southern Sierra, about 1000 feet lower than Tempe Crabtree’s Bear Creek, but much resembles the fictional town and surroundings. She has nearly 40 books published, mostly mysteries. Learn more about Marilyn and her books at her website and blog.
The Tule River Indians
My heroine in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series is a Yokut Indian like those who live on the Tule River Indian Reservation. The reservation in my mysteries is the fictional Bear Creek Reservation, but it shares many similarities with the real reservation.
The Tule River Indian Reservation was established in 1873 and covers nearly 85 square miles of rugged foothill lands of the Southern Sierra Nevada. The reservation is located in a remote are approximately 20 miles from the town of Porterville and can be reached by two very winding paved roads that follow the Tule River. It is isolated in a narrow valley.
The Eagle Mountain Casino, though small, has changed the reservation in many good ways, providing jobs and the ability to build a new fire station and other public buildings that serve the community. The tribe also owns 40 acres in the Porterville Airport Industrial Park where they run several businesses. On Highway 190, they own 79 acres in the foothills and have a large gas station and convenience store called Eagle Feather, as well as a large garage where they fix buses. On the way to the coast, they have another gas station/convenience store, Eagle Feather Two.
In the early days, basket weaving was a necessity of daily life for the Tule River Indians. Baskets were used for cooking, gathering, storing and food preservation.
There are four most common types of basket weaving: coiled, plaiting, twining and wicker. Each method used different materials, depending on the flexibility, durability, and what the basket will be used for.
Various materials are used for basket weaving--native grasses, twigs, pine needles, tule, chaparral yucca, willow and red bud.
Deergrass was once a native grass that flourished in the Central Valley. Its use in basket weaving was important because it was flexible, long, and had the ability to become “watertight as the stalks began expanding.” This made it desirable for holding water, and for cooking. Another material commonly used in basket weaving was the tule plant. There are many tule species used in basket weaving. Rhizomes, also called “black root,” are dyed black and used to create designs on the baskets.
Grasses are often combined with sourberry sticks and used to weave water bottles. Yucca leaves are often split and used as a weaving material. The coyote willow was the most common material used in basket weaving. California red bud is used to create beautiful designs woven into the baskets.
Basket weaving nearly died out, but has been revived.
Neither Tempe nor I know how to weave baskets, but I’ve seen many beautiful baskets made by Native women on the reservation.
Not As It Seems
The latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is set far from the Bear Creek/Tule River Reservation when Tempe and her husband go to Morro Bay to attend their son’s wedding. The maid of honor is missing and Tempe sets out to find her, which takes her on a trail that includes spirit visitations from the Salinan and Chumash Indians.