Yokuts - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of small hunter-gatherer bands in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley dating to at least eight thousand years ago. The aboriginal neighbors of the Yokuts included the Miwok to the north, the Costanoans, Salinans, and Chumash to the west, the Kitanemuk to the south, and the Tubatulabal and Monache to the east. The Southern Valley Yokuts first encountered Europeans in 1772 when Spanish missionaries penetrated the region. Owing to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region, however, both they and the Foothills Yokuts were spared intensive contact until the 1820s when Mexican settlers began to invade the area. The early contact experience of the Northern Valley Yokuts was quite different. Early in the nineteenth century many of the Northern Valley Yokuts were drawn into the Spanish mission system, and large numbers were lost to the combination of disease and cultural breakdown that was characteristic of the Spanish mission experience. Following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, White settlers flooded into the San Joaquin Valley and carried out a ruthless campaign to drive the Yokuts off their land. In 1851 the remaining Yokuts groups ceded their lands to the United States, and after resistance by Californians was overcome, a reservation system was eventually established for them. The demoralizing conditions suffered by the Yokuts gave way in 1870 to widespread but short-lived participation in the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance promised the return of dead relatives, freedom from sickness and death, peace and prosperity, and the disappearance of Whites. By 1875 interest in the Ghost Dance had died after the new world envisioned by the cult failed to materialize. Today the descendants of the Yokuts live on the Tule River Reservation near Porterville, California, established in 1873, and the Santa Rosa Rancheria near Lemoore, California, established in 1921.

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