Research Manuscript Series


Joanna M. Blume

Document Type


Publication Date



Santa Clara, Calif. : Santa Clara University, Department of Anthropology and Sociology


A significant part of the ecological makeup of Central California is composed of grasslands. The vegetation that grew within this environment provided important food and material resources for the Native Americans of the area, particularly the Ohlone and the Yokuts. Grasslands, although a secondary resource, were an extremely important food source both directly and indirectly. The Native Americans possessed an intimate knowledge of nature, living in harmony with the earth and learning a great deal regarding the behavior of animals, and the properties, characteristics, and uses of plants. Applying this knowledge, they modified these resources to enhance their productivity.·

The Native Americans were not the only ones who saw the richness of the grasslands, however. The Spanish initiated great changes in California during the Mission Period which would continue with the groups of people that followed them during the Rancho Period and the Gold Rush. They introduced new plants, domesticated animals and technology into California, instigating the drastic alteration of its landscape and the Native American way of life. Today, the majority of grasses in California are composed of Old World strains introduced after the arrival of the Europeans. The Rancho Period, economically based on cattle, also invited great changes and devastation to the already deteriorating .Native American population and the grasslands. Following this period came the Gold Rush, which began an era of intensive American agriculture (see Czosek 1994 this series) causing even more profound hardships for Native Americans and changes in the grasslands.

Each group that came to California had a different view of the environment. Each had their own culture, their own ways of adapting to and manipulating their surroundings. 1 Thus, the Native American uses of the grasslands, as well as the changes initiated by the Spanish and carried through by each successive group, will be the focus of this paper. It is hoped that in view of the rapid transition from the Native American interest in long-term sustainability to our disregard of nature's limitations that we may learn to take measures to help secure our natural world for future generations.

This research is based on the use of many library resources. Journals and other written works of people representing their times, such as Fray Juan Crespi and La Perouse from the Spanish mission period were consulted. These contributed not only first hand accounts of the contact-era grasslands but their significance to the Spanish. Anthropological, ethnographic and archaeological, as well as historical, botanical and environmental materials were used to get an overall picture of the uses and changes brought about by each group. Although I have concentrated primarily on the Ohlone because the San Joaquin valley was predominantly grasslands and because analogies could therefore be drawn concerning the use of the grassland environment, I also studied works on the Yokuts who lived in the area. The Ohlone are also known as the Costanoans. I have chosen to use the former term, Ohlone, as it is the term predominantly used in' the literature today.

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Research Manuscript Series; 1


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