Little Petroglyph Canyon contains many petroglyphs of animals which is appropriate I suppose since it was likely a hunting camp in the fall. The canyon was an ideal site since the infrequent rain storms flood the canyon leaving water in concave bedrock pools covered by the loose sand and gravel of the canyon floor. Deer, antelope, and desert or mountain bighorn sheep were hunted with spears, bow and arrows. Rabbit was the most common game. Other small animals such as marmots, ground squirrels, and porcupines were also caught using noose snares and nets. Birds such as grouse, ducks, and other waterfowl were hunted by the Northern Paiute, who also collected duck eggs for eating. The Owens Valley Paiute did not do as much bird hunting. This is a remarkable collection of Native American art, encapsulating centuries of knowledge into simple drawings. Northern Paiute people call those writings on the rock etsatubono, which means, literally, “Coyote writings.” But this suggests not so much that the people believe that Coyote wrote them, as it is reference to their age. In Paiute traditions and legends, the animal people were put into this world before human beings. So the reference to Coyote writings is intended to suggest that those writings and images are ancient, and were made by the first creation. Like all great art, they are approachable in terms of content but each image is intertwined with myths, stories and culture extending back for millennia. There is no simple answer to what they mean, only endless variations on the names and stories.
Wolf Makes Pine Nuts
The “legs” at the bottom of this “Pinyon Pine” are actually an accurate depiction of the exposed roots often seen in their native habitats as seen in the photo below.
Twenty-six species of pocket mice and kangaroo rats occur in California. These are four examples.
“One day Wolf and Coyote were walking along in the mountains, and Wolf would talk to himself. Then he would spit. Wherever Wolf spit, a pine nut tree would grow. After many days Coyote said, “I want to know how to do that.” “No!” exclaimed Wolf. “You don’t need to know how to do this.” The next day as they were walking together again, Coyote asked to learn how Wolf made the pine nut trees grow. Again, Coyote begged, “I want to do that. Let me try it.” But Wolf again said, “No! I don’t want you to do this.” And when Coyote wasn’t looking Wolf would spit, and another pine nut tree would grow! As time went on Coyote continued to beg, “I just want to try it once.” Each time they went for a walk together Wolf would spit, and pine nut trees would grow. But Wolf wouldn’t tell Coyote how to do it, or let him have the seed. Then one day Wolf got tired as they walked, so he lay down. But he was very concerned that if he fell asleep he might swallow the seed. So he took it out of his mouth and decided to keep it in his hand. Soon he fell asleep, and his hand opened and the seed rolled out. Coyote immediately took the seed and put it in his mouth. And he boasted, “I can do anything my big brother can do!” Then Coyote snuck away from the place where his brother was sleeping. He didn’t want his big brother Wolf to know what he was going to do. Soon Coyote spit—and, surprisingly, where he spit a juniper tree grew! Oh … Coyote was mad. He said, “I did something wrong!” So he moved farther away from where his brother was sleeping and spit again—and another juniper tree grew! This happened again and again and again.
Soon Coyote was so mad that he started running around and yelling. He asked himself, “What did I do wrong?” Coyote thought to himself, “Wolf tricked me, I know he tricked me!” “He did this on purpose,” he said angrily. With all the commotion Wolf woke up and looked into his hand, and the seed was gone! Wolf got up and hurried to Coyote. Wolf scolded his little brother, “I told you not to do that. You’re going to ruin everything!” Coyote snapped back, “I don’t want this old seed anyway.” And when he spit the seed out it grew into a big juniper tree. Then Wolf commanded, “From this day on, no more pine nut trees are going to be made with magic. They will only grow where I have placed them.” Today, that’s why Oregon has lots of juniper trees, and Nevada has lots of pine nut trees. The old people used to say, in the time of our people starving, if they could find where there were lots of mice they would be able to find some kind of food, because the mice know where the food is. So that’s how we learned that from the Mouse. Even though Mouse was smaller than the deer and the elk and all the other animals, he saved the animal people.” From the Muse Project
Many types of seeds and berries were gathered. Berries were eaten fresh, or dried and used in soups and stews. Seeds were ground into flour and used to make mush or seed cakes. The seeds of Indian ricegrass, wild rye, and chia were important sources of food. In swampy areas, the roots of the wild hyacinth and other plants were used for food. In the Owens Valley, lowland areas were purposely flooded with water in order to increase the growth of certain plants. This irrigation was done by building a dam across a stream and digging ditches to divert the water to the area where the plants were growing. As a note, Nicotiana obtusifolia/trigonophylla contains nicotine and other alkaloids such as anabasine. These alkaloids can be poisonous in sufficient dosage.
Priority of Pine Nuts As A Food Source
The Washoe, Paiute, and Shoshone all developed cultures centered on pine nuts. Pinyon pine expert, Ronald Lanner notes, “Just as life on the plains was fitted to the habits of the buffalo, life in the Great Basin was fitted to the homely, thin-shelled nut of the singleleaf pinyon.” Pinyons give their nuts freely and harvesting them involves no damage to the trees. In fact, pine nuts are seeds. Animals who collect and gather the seeds – like pinyon jays, rats, mice, and humans – help the trees reproduce. Recent investigations are adding to the sample size in the area and indicate that people using projectile points of the Western Stemmed Tradition were living along strand lines of late Pleistocene / early Holocene lakes or other low-lying areas (Elston 1982) prior to the northward invasion of pinyon pine.
In North America, the species of pine trees which are most commonly used for pine nuts are: Colorado pinyon (pinus edulis), Single-leaf pinyon (pinus monophylla) and Mexican pinyon (pinus cembroides). Pinus monophylla has been studied with regard to prehistoric occurrence based upon fossil needles found in packrat middens and fossil pollen records. All three of these sub-types of single-needled pinyon have maintained distinctive ranges over the last 40,000 years, although the northerly species (Pinus monophylla) expanded greatly throughout Utah and Nevada since the end of the Pleistocene, 11,700 years ago. The southern California variety has been found to occur within Joshua Tree National Park throughout the last 47,000 years. To actually harvest pine nuts you will need to pick them around Labor Day when they are still green and closed. Either heat them over a fire or let them sit in the sun for about three weeks when they will open naturally. Pick out the nuts and note they have a shell. Left in the shell they have a long shelf life and this is how Paiute kept them until needed. Also not all of the nuts will be good. The darker the shell, the more likely the nut is a good one. To separate the good nuts from the empty or bad nuts, put them in water. The bad nuts will rise to the surface and can be discarded. Typically the processing was done in a festival in the fall involving several nearby tribes.
For the native people of the Great Basin, weaving carries both historical and contemporary significance. In their past, the Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe people practiced a way of life based in part on the seasonal harvest of wild plant resources, and weaving provided most of their tools used to harvest, prepare, and store these foods. As Euro-American people moved west into the lands of the Great Basin Indian people, ways of life were forced to change. Although native people adopted many Euro-American goods, weaving baskets endured as a symbol of native identity and artistic expression. The cone-shaped baskets may at first seem impractical but as you can see in the photo above, they are perfect to lay on their side and harvest native seeds. Typically the large basket was placed on the ground and a flat paddle-shaped basket with a handle was used to brush the seeds into the larger basket. A time and labor saving combination that showed great ingenuity, made with local material.
Late Pleistocene Owens Valley
The Tioga was the least severe and last of the three Wisconsin Ice Age Episodes. It began about 30,000 years ago and reached its greatest advance 21,000 years ago. As the Owens Valley glacier melted it left a string of lakes that resulted as one after the other overflowed. The Owens valley was a very different place then. During the full-glacial, Owens Lake was located in a transitional position between the full-glacial single-needle pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Mojave Desert and the Utah juniper-limber pine woodland of the southern Great Basin. Lake levels at Lake Searles (downstream from Lake Owen) were generally high to overflowing between 25,000 and 10,000 years before present (BP). Between ca 21,000 and 15,000 yr BP a continuous highstand is inferred. This means the Owens Valley probably remained forested until at least around 10,000 yr BP. During a lengthy period beginning around 5,000 BCE, an episode of intense climatic warming was responsible for major changes in human settlement patterns and lifeways. The large lakes dried up and their associated resources were gone. Inhabitants were forced to seek living sites near dependable water sources: springs, streams, or small, isolated lakes. Surprisingly, much of this specific information was gleaned from packrat middens, the packrats from a long time ago (think 10,000 years ago) would store things in their cave and then their urine would cement the things together for posterity.
Owens Lake Packrat Middens
The Owens Lake midden site provides evidence for paleoenvironmental change along the shore of Owens Lake spanning the full-glacial Tioga advance. The midden sequence from 23,000 to 17,680 Years ago records a juniper-pinyon woodland with associated xeric upland desert scrub and possible Joshua tree. The presence of Rocky Mountain juniper at 17,680 and 16,010 yr BP suggests a mesophytic association due to the presence of Owens Lake. In apparent contradiction, drier condi- tions are recorded after ca 17,500 yr BP at nearby locations (Death Valley, Wells and Woodcock 1985; Skeleton Hills, Spaulding 1990; Sheep Range, Spaulding 1981), and this is supported at the Owens Lake site as pinyon pine is not recorded after 17,680 yr BP.
The Desert woodrat (Neotoma lepida)—more popularly known as the packrat—is by design not well suited for desert living. Compared to other rodents of the Mojave Desert, such as the kangaroo rat (Dipodomys deserti), they do not tolerate high temperatures well, requiring ample water and succulent food sources to survive within their arid environment. To prosper, these desert denizens must construct elaborate multilayered dens called middens (an archeological term for a domestic trash heap) where they can escape the heat of the day or perhaps a hungry predator looking for a late afternoon snack
Esa, the Wolf, was creator god and hero of several of the Great Basin tribes. One Paiute origin story involves the story of Tabuts, the wise wolf who decided to carve many different people out of sticks. His plan was to scatter them evenly around the earth so that everyone would have a good place to live, but Tabuts had a mischievous younger brother, Shinangway the coyote. Shinangway cut open the sack and people fell out in bunches all over the world. The people were angry at this treatment, and that is why other people always fight. The people left in the sack were the Southern Paiutes. Tabuts blessed them and put them in the very best place.
The word “coyote” was originally a Spanish corruption of the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for the animal, coyotl. In Shoshone coyote is named: izhape’ and in Southern Paiute: yog’ovü. Coyote mythology is one of the most popular among Native American people. Coyote is often said to be a trickster and the younger brother of Wolf (Esa). Coyote is also a benefactor of humans, giving them fire and other tools of civilization. Coyote shares many traits with the mythological figure Raven (kahk’). Coyote also is seen as inspiration to certain tribes. The coyote is typically smaller than the gray wolf, but has longer ears and a relatively larger braincase, as well as a thinner frame, face, and muzzle. Thus the ears in the petroglyph are enlarged and he is drawn with thin lines. This could also be a dog, but it is drawn in isolation and with the enlarged ears I believe it is a depiction of Coyote.
The Raven (kahk’) is a very important figure in many Native American cultures, especially in the Pacific Northwest Coast mythology. Raven is the powerful figure who transforms the world. Stories tell how Raven created the land, released the people from a cockle shell, and brought them fire. Raven stole the light and brought it out to light up the world. Yet Raven is a trickster—often selfish, hungry, and mischievous. He changes the world only by cleverly deceiving others in his never-ending quest for food. As the maker of light, the raven symbolizes the ultimate creator of all things of that which existed before the beginning. As a trickster figure, the raven is seen as a catalyst of mischief and mayhem.
Puebloan peoples, as Charles F. Lummis said in his Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories, tell the story of crows dancing and singing: “Alas, Mama! You are shaking, you are shaking!” while they trick an ancient enemy, the coyote, into ending the life of his own mama.
The Mohave Native People have dance devoted to the Raven. While Raven is said by the Mohave to be sung at celebrations and to refer to war, along with Tumanpa, Vinimulye, and Nyohaiva, it differs from the last two of these—which have just been given—in that these contain actual narratives of fighting as the central theme of the plot; whereas Raven merely sings of war customs in the abstract. There is also no travel in Raven, except mental travel.
“When a raven is on the ground, he hops twice before rising in flight. That is why I shake my gourd rattle downward twice before raising it to sing; and why the women who are to dance hop twice before I start my song. Then, when I shake it upward, they just walk past me; until, a few beats before the end of the song (8 or 10 bars), I make a long downward sweep of the rattle, nearly to the ground. This is the signal for the women to begin to dance. When we do like this, in the daytime, it is outdoors, and I walk slowly back and forth, and the women dance forward and backward, following me. When I sing indoors, there is no dancing, and I stay seated in one place near the middle of the house all night, except sometimes I rise to my knees.”
The earliest fossils of the Wolf (Canis lupus) were found in what was once eastern Beringia (in Siberia, Bearing Straits and Alaska) at Old Crow, Yukon, Canada and at Cripple Creek Sump, Fairbanks, Alaska. The age is not agreed but could to date one million years ago. The dog was the first species and the only large carnivore to have been domesticated. The genetic divergence between dogs and wolves occurred between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, just before or during the Last Glacial Maximum (20,000–27,000 years ago). The questions of when and where dogs were first domesticated have taxed geneticists and archaeologists for decades. The most widely accepted, earliest dog remains date back 15,000 years ago to the Bonn-Oberkassel dog. Earlier remains dating back to 30,000 years ago have been described as Paleolithic dogs, however their status as dogs or wolves remains debated. American dogs are thought to have originated in Siberia,although no one really knows what they looked like. Evidence of dogs is found from Peru to Alaska with the first humans. In 2020, the nuclear genome was generated of a 33,000 YBP Pleistocene wolf from an archaeological site on the Yana River, arctic northeastern Siberia. There was evidence of gene flow between the Yana-Taimyr wolves and the Pre-Columbian, Zhokhov, and modern sled dogs. In North America, the earliest dog remains were found in Illinois and radiocarbon dating indicates 9,900 years ago. Coyotes have occasionally mated with domestic dogs, sometimes producing crosses colloquially known as “coydogs”. The Panamint Shoshone use pŭn’-go (Merriam 1979), pungku (pet, domestic animal, horse, dog (archaic); vehicle as a metaphor), oyoontü isapungku (all dogs) and pitsattsi (bitch dog) all by Daley 1989.
Dogs were the only beast of burden utilized by Native Americans before the Spaniards introduced the horse in the mid–1500s and were an integral part of village life. Dogs would pull a travois carrying the family’s belongings, hunt and fish, and were “babysitters” for the children and elderly when the women were gathering berries and herbs. Historical documents authored by missionaries, trappers, explorers and entrepreneurs recorded what life was like for the “Natives” and their dogs and many included drawings, paintings and photographs.
For anyone who has seen a hunting dog, you know that the dog needs to be trained to flush out prey. Flushers are designed to locate birds and put them in the air, while pointing dogs are designed to locate the bird and hold point while the hunters gain position and flush. Flushing ground prey like rabbits or squirrels is similar, often asking the dog to drive prey toward the hunter. This diagram shows a sophisticated understanding of the pre-columbian domesticated dog abilities and hunting techniques.
As hunter-gatherers, the Native Americans in the Great Basin and Southwest needed expert tracking skills. The petroglyph above shows an undefined canine with round feet, immediately drawing attention to the feet and I believe tracking. Tracking wolves and coyotes could sometimes lead to game since they were hunting for food as well. While I will never know for sure, I can imagine that this figure was the site of instruction for hundreds of young men stretching back centuries. The elder would draw the prints expected from dogs, coyotes and wolves and each time these young men saw this petroglyph again, they would remember that lesson.
Sheep, antelope elk and deer have entirely different footprints since they have cloven hooves. As you can see in the pictures above, bighorn sheep have larger rear hooves then fore hooves, a distinctive tracking sign. Also the hooves differ in size; bighorn sheep are 3 1/2“, pronghorn front 3 1/4” hind 2 3/4”, elk are 3–5”, deer are 2–3.5”. Bighorn sheep have an elongated hooves that are easily confused with those from a deer. In general, the bighorn sheep prints have straighter edges and are less pointed than a deer. They are more blocky and less shaped like a heart. Bighorn sheep are very nimble on rocky, steep terrain because they have specially adapted hooves. Their hooves are concave and have hard edges with a soft, rubber like pad that allows them to cling to as little as a two inch ledge.
One last track I saw in the canyon was this set of wavy lines which are usually interpreted as snake tracks. The top of the rock may have broken off. Snake Indians is a collective name given to the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone Native American tribes, basically all the Numic language tribes. The term was used as early as 1739 by French trader and explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye when he described hearing of the Gens du Serpent (“Snake people”) from the Mandans. This is probably the first written mention of the Shoshone people. The term “Snakes” is also used to refer the Shoshone by British explorers David Thompson and Anthony Henday. I have looked for an explanation or myth associated with this name and I have nothing to report. Apparently however, snakes were an important part of the identity of these native American People. Northern Paiute people refer to themselves as Numu, human being or the People.
Cougar or Mountain Lion
Often called “the cat of many names,” it’s referred to as the puma, panther, mountain cat, mountain lion, mountain screamer, painter and catamount, just to name a few. In fact, the cougar has more monikers than almost any other living mammal, around 40 in English alone. The Cougar (Puma concolor), also known as the Puma or Mountain Lion, is a large, solitary cat found in the Americas. The puma is found in most American Indian mythology. The cat’s cunning, ability and strength are respected and admired by many tribes. The cougar is looked at as a protector or source of power to ward off disease or to excel as a hunter. Some tribes viewed the cougar as an omen of disaster. The Panamint Shoshone used too-koo’-muts (Merriam 1979), toyatukkupittsi (Dayley 1989) or tukkummüüntsi (Dayley 1989). Note the exaggerated artistic interpretation of the long tail and the enlarged size relative to the hunting party indicating danger.
Bobcats are sometimes confused with other cat species. Once you know what to look for, it is easy to identify them. Bobcats are only one quarter to less than one half the size of mountain lion.
Bobcats are generally two or three times as large as a domestic house cat and more muscular and full in the body. The bobcat’s tail is “bobbed” in appearance (4 to 6”) and much shorter than the tail of mountain lion and most domestic cats. With an increased road network, bobcats face the danger of getting hit by vehicles while trying to move between patches of habitat. Also, as the distance between natural and urban areas decreases, the transmission of diseases from domesticated animals to wild animal populations may become a problem. In addition, exposure to rodenticide poisons appears to be a growing problem as homeowners try to control rodent populations, and inadvertently expose bobcats to the poison. The Panamint Shoshone used the term tukkupittsi (bobcat, wild cat) or tupoontukkupittsi (desert bobcat) both from Daley 1989. The Ely Shoshone in Nevada used dukubichi (Graham 2008). Note the artistic depiction of a shorter tail in comparison to the cougar petroglyph above.
Bighorn sheep are descendants of Siberian Snow Sheep that crossed the Bering land bridge to northern Alaska a little more than one million years ago during the Pleistocene Era. The native distribution of bighorn sheep prior to the appearance of Europeans was in the some of more rugged terrain of western North America from the Canadian Rockies south to northern Mexico, including Baja California. This species has diverged into three distinct subspecies: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis), Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelson), and Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae). The bighorn sheep that are often encountered in the White Mountains, just north of the Inyo Mountains, are of the Desert Bighorn subspecies. Aside from the obvious difference in range location one clear visual difference between the two is the shape of the horn. The horn of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn differs from the classic rounded shape of the Desert Bighorn by being significantly wider. The horn has a less pronounced curl and flares outward at the ends. As usual the names varied among tribes, the Panamint Shoshone used naka or wasüppin (Daley 1989), the Eli Shoshone used wasipe (Graham 2008) and early Shoshone used “to coot sey” (Huntington 1872).
In 2020, for the first time in roughly a hundred years, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada will have a flock of bighorn sheep on tribal land that was once a part of the sheep’s historic habitat. The endangered cui-ui, from which the tribe gets its name (Cui ui Ticutta, meaning “Cui-ui Eaters”), began to decline in the 1930s due to unrestricted water diversion and drought. Today, however, the population is increasing, thanks to tribal management and water regulation.
The mule deer’s most telling feature is its large ears, which gave them their name. These long ears, which resemble a mule’s ears, help muleys dissipate heat and detect far-off dangers. The Inyo Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus inyoensis) occurs only in California, ranging east of the Sierra Nevada in Mono and Inyo counties. Like the Rocky Mountain subspecies, it is migratory, with low-elevation Great Basin winter ranges and higher-elevation summer ranges, often on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Although a bit smaller it closely resembles the Rocky Mountain mule deer. Most wildlife biologists believe the Inyo mule deer is simply a southern form of the Rocky Mountain mule deer. In the petroglyph, note the many footprints around the deer and the fact that the hunter (male with a penis between his legs) killed the deer with a spear. One deer hunting technique involved driving the deer with men and dogs to a strategic location where the hunter was waiting. Both deer and antelope were sometimes captured at night by the use of dead-falls. These were constructed at strategic points on trails running from one range to another and were provided with long wings on each side of the trail, the wings forming a sort of chute leading to the dead-fall. The animal would be finished off with spears.
Whitetail are the oldest living species of deer at 3.5 million years old, found east of the Rocky Mountains. The blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus) split off from the whitetail at some time in the past, thought to be a million years ago or more and are found in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The blacktail and the whitetail are different species. The blacktail deer then split off a subspecies, the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus), which is the youngest living deer species, arising 10,000 years ago. So the blacktail and mule deer are the same species, but the Mule Deer is a subspecies of the blacktail, and they are both close cousins to the whitetail.
Both White-Tail and Black-Tail fawns are born scent-free and have white camouflage spots which protect them from predators. The doe continues to keep her babies scent free by consuming her fawns urine and droppings. This is yet another reason why humans should never touch a fawn. Leaving human scent on their body will attract predators to the fawn. In this petroglyph the deer has spots with horns and while there are European and Asian deer that have spots there are none in the New World. Most likely the artist is depicting a fawn, note the long legs and small body, and just added the antlers to make sure we know it is a deer.
This petroglyph shows another large and small deer, both with horns. Perhaps the horns were an artistic device to denote deer.
Pronghorn and Elk
The long legs (faster) and straight up horns of this petroglyph (bottom-left) look like a match to the Pronghorn.
The Pronghorn is a unique North American mammal. Its Latin name, Antilocapra americana, means “American goat-antelope,” but it is not a member of the goat or the antelope family and it is not related to the antelopes found in Africa. The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, being built for maximum predator evasion through running. The top speed is dependent upon the length of time over which it is measured. It can run 35 mph for 4 mi (56 km/h for 6 km), 42 mph for 1 mi (67 km/h for 1.6 km), and 55 mph for 0.5 mi (88.5 km/h for 0.8 km). Over 100 prehistoric corral and fence structures have been identified in the Great Basin which were used to drive Pronghorn and other big game into a trap where they could be killed (Arkush). The Panamint Shoshone call them wań-zee (Merriam 1979).
Tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes), a subspecies of North American elk, is found only in California. The tule is the smallest of North American elk, but elk are still the second largest member of the deer family after the moose. Totaling nearly 4000 head strong, this elk can be seen in several places in Central California. The Panamint Shoshone call them patühüya (Dayley 1989).
The North American porcupine migrated from South America, where all New World porcupines or hystricomorphs evolved. Erethizon appeared in North America shortly after the two continents joined together in the later Tertiary period. Other hystricomorphs also migrated, but Erethizon was the only one to survive north of Mexico. Porcupines exhibit a distinct habitat and diet shift with season. In winter they inhabit wooded areas, where they consume tree bark; a variety of habitats and foods are used in summer. During the summer they may range up to 13,500 ft (4,115 m), where they forage on flowers and leaves of alpine forbs. The spines of these slow-moving rodents are actually modified hairs that are loosely attached to the body. When under attack by a Mountain Lion, Bobcat, or Coyote, a slap of the tail is enough to drive the quills into the predator.
Tokowa: Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) left: Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) right
Rattlesnakes tend to be viewed negatively in Native American cultures, frequently associated with violence and revenge. In some tribes rattlesnakes were viewed as both powerful and dangerous, and were associated with witchcraft. In other tribes they enforce taboos, and children are warned not to break rules or customs because rattlesnakes may bite them. In legends, rattlesnakes sometimes appear as divine punishment to wreak vengeance on sinful people or their families, or as agents of an angry witch. In the mythology of some southwestern tribes, Rattlesnake was the first creature to bring death into the world by means of its poison, although usually the snake was described as either defending itself from attacks or avenging itself for past abuse. According to (Gilmore 1952) rattlesnake venom was used on the arrowheads of Nevada Paiute people to increase the lethality of their arrows during hunting. The Mojave rattlesnake, opposite page, is rated among the world’s deadliest snakes. Its venom is an exceptionally viscous brew of proteins that disrupt the nervous system. The two petroglyphs differ in that one is inverted and one is upright. An inverted image indicates death, probably by the rock in the upper portion of the petroglyph. Also note the wavey tracks and halo or sunrays of the bottom rattlesnake petroglyph indicating divinity. The Panamint Shoshone called rattlesnakes tokowa (Dayley 1989).
The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), is native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It is distributed in western Arizona, southeastern California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah. Desert tortoises can live in areas with ground temperatures exceeding 140 °F (60 °C) because of their ability to dig burrows and escape the heat. At least 95% of their lives are spent in burrows. There, they are also protected from freezing winter weather while dormant, from November through February or March. Within their burrows, these tortoises create a subterranean environment that can be beneficial to other reptiles, mammals, birds, and invertebrates. Desert tortoise populations in some areas have declined by as much as 90% since the 1980s, and the Mojave population is listed as threatened. It is unlawful to touch, harm, harass, or collect wild desert tortoises. “Many Gopherus agassizii fossils have been discovered in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The first Gopherus fossils are 35–33 million years old.” (McCord 2002) (Reynoso et al 2004). The Panamint Shoshone called them ainna(ttsi) ~ enna(ttsi) (Dayley 1989).
Fifty-nine species and subspecies of scorpions are known from California. The Big Smokey Valley Shoshone used “ynn-cci” to denote a small dangerous animal like a spider or scorpion (Crapo 1976). The Panamint Shoshone called them wüwümpatsa (Dayley 1989).
The true honey bee was not native to the Americas. Prior to Columbus, people in Central and South America collected honey from bees known as “stingless bees.” Although stingless bees do actually lack a stinger, they are not completely defenseless. They can inflict painful bites with their mandibles. They also do not produce honey in the same quantity as Apis mellifera. I have included photos of In the early part of the 16th century, the Spanish brought over the first honey bee colonies. English colonists did the same and soon honey bees had escaped into the wild and were buzzing all over North America. In some cases, the honey bees travelled in advance of the European settlers and came in contact with local native desert bees above. Native American tribes, who dubbed them “white man’s flies.” By the time the frontier had been settled, late in the 19th century, honey bees were regarded as a natural part of the insect world in North America. Bumblebees were called “too’no’-tah” by the Shoshone of Idaho (Merriam 1979), honey was called “tai’bo pai ya” by the Goshute Shoshone (Chamberlin 1908) and bees were called “pihnaawitün ~ pihnaawinnuwitün” by the Panamint Shoshone (Dayley 1989).
The butterfly is known as Tsoapu by the Paiute, Waayapputunkih by the Shoshone and Kaalogi (k’aalogii) by the Navajo. Kaalogi is also a southern constellation in the night sky. It is adjacent to the First Big One, Átse’ Etsoh, a part of the Greek constellation Scorpius. It is considered a summer constellation. It is visible during the time when butterflies are migrating through the Navajo Nation. Navajos, like other southwestern tribes, respect the butterfly as a symbol of the process of change, growth and regeneration. As is often the case, this butterfly has rays around the head indicating divinity. I thought I would include a few desert butterflies that would have been in the area.
The Queen Butterfly belongs to a family (Danaidae) that is common to both New and Old Worlds, specifically found throughout the tropics and into the temperate regions of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. In the US, it is usually confined to the southern portion of the country, in peninsular Florida and southern Georgia, as well as in the southern portions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. As an adult, the queen has two cousins to which it bears a striking resemblance: the more common Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and the Soldier (Danaus eresimus).
The Yuma Skipper is a very distinctive, large, lightly-marked skipper found disjunctly in the southern Great Basin and southwest deserts and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh. There are two broods during the year, June and September.
As always I hope you enjoyed the post, comments are always welcome.