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Oaks and California Indians

California Indians were much more than hunters and gatherers. They were land managers who tended the land in sustainable ways. Before 1850, the valleys and plains along rivers of central coastal and interior California were covered with natural forests of oaks. These forests played a vital role in the daily lives and spiritual beliefs of the people living in them.

The main tribes located in and around the Sacramento area, the Maidu Indian People, valued oak trees for a diet staple-the acorn. Some oaks produced hundreds of pounds of acorns on a single tree. Acorns were harvested and used to make soup, bread, cakes, flour, and more.

The whole village would gather the acorns in the fall. The acorns would be dried in the sun and then stored in baskets and granaries. The nuts were ground into meal on grinding rocks (many examples of these rocks still exist in the area). After grinding, the meal was sifted then leached by pouring water over it several times to remove the tannin, which made the meal bitter. The finished meal would then be used to make cereal and bread. Some meal was rolled into hard balls for food on a journey.

The Maidu Indian People would celebrate the acorn harvest with a tribal gathering every year. This gathering was called a Big Time, and is still celebrated today at several locations in the valley.