Klamath - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Aboriginally, the Klamath were fishers, gatherers, and hunters. Fish and pond lily seeds ( wokas ), which were ground into flour, were the dietary staples. Fruit, berries, and roots were gathered and deer, antelope, and waterfowl hunted. A surplus was obtained and stored in communal pits or in the earthlodges for consumption in the winter months. Once on the reservation and under agency control, the economy changed markedly. Although fishing, gathering, and hunting continued, the Klamath entered the regional cash economy as their economic base diversified. Stock raising became an important activity, with cattle raised for beef and for sale, and horses, mules, and pigs also raised. Attempts to introduce farming were less than successful and eventually focused on growing hay to feed the livestock. Rich in timberlands, the Klamath early on entered the logging industry and cut and hauled timber for their own use and for sale to Whites. Since federal rules forbade the cutting of live trees on the reservation, the Klamath and their customers developed schemes to circumvent this restriction. Hauling of freight, day labor, and work in the service sector also provided income during the reservation period. As more and more Klamath moved off the reservation, day labor, particularly as farm workers, became more important.

Industrial Arts. The Klamath made use of the variety of raw materials in their relatively rich environment. Woodworking was relatively unimportant, with the dugout canoes fashioned largely through burning. Mats from tule and swamp grass were used for inner and outer earthlodge covers and as bedding. Basketry was highly developed and was the source of most household utensils. Clothing, especially for the wealthy, was sewn from hides. The bow and arrow was used for hunting, supplemented by clubs, spears, and body armor for warfare.

Trade. After contact in 1826 the Klamath were active participants in the trade network with other Indian groups and Whites. They traded slaves taken from California groups and wokas for horses, blankets, buffalo skins, and dried salmon mainly with groups from the Northwest Coast and Plateau. After settlement on the reservation, trade gave way to involvement in the regional cash economy.

Division of Labor. Aboriginally, men hunted, women gathered, and both participated in fishing. Under the agency system, much of the new work went to men, leaving mostly domestic chores and traditional activities to the women.

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