Condors and Indians


    In California condor lore, there are many stories about the interactions between the birds and the Native American inhabitants of the Pacific Coast. Some of them are really good yarns that have been often repeated (and sometimes embellished) over the years. Most of them are untrue. In my 40+ years of research on the condors, I've tried to clarify what really occurred. There are still some good stories, just different ones than you may have heard.


[The following was originally published as a chapter in: "Nine Feet from Tip to Tip: the California Condor through History." (Gresham, Oregon: Symbios Books, 2012). If you would like a free copy (PDF) of the entire book, send me an e-mail.]

    Assessing the relationships between West Coast Indians and California condors – and identifying impacts early humans may have had on the condor population - is not easy to do. Probably three-quarters of the Oregon and California Indians were gone before 1850, victims of disease and murder. Some local groups were eradicated; most southern California Indians were brought under the control of the Spanish Catholic missionaries. Many of the individuals left in Oregon and northern California were herded to reservations, often intermixed with people from other geographical areas with no close kinship ties. Indian communication and documentation were oral, rather than written, and community continuity was required to preserve and  pass on history. Loss of the people meant loss of information on past customs and culture. Reservation life, with its breaking down of traditional relationships, often made it impossible to continue to practice - and, eventually, even to remember - living as it had been done. By the beginning of the 20th century, when scholars began to seriously seek out and write down aboriginal history, there were few Pacific Coast Indians alive who had first- or even second-hand knowledge of what had gone on in the pre-European or early European days [1].

   What is known about aboriginal contact with California condors is spotty geographically, with absolutely no information from some areas and "pretty good" information from others. For every local population, it is almost a certainty that knowledge is incomplete. It was gathered largely by non-Indians who, while struggling with Indian language, endeavored to translate Indian concepts to non-Indian documentation; whose primary interests and mode of questioning might or might not have elicited information on condors; and who often obtained all their local information from one or a few Indian informants. Chances are high that some of the "facts" were misinterpreted or are just plain wrong, and that other equally important knowledge was completely missed.

 Added to the sketchiness of data and the chance of error, one also has to deal with a body of misinformation on condor-Indian interactions that has grown up in popular, and in some cases scientific, literature. Two of the  most repeated stories of Indians and condors are clearly untrue. (I have to share the blame in my own earlier writings for helping - through incomplete research - to keep these "legends" alive.) With these shortcomings in mind, the following gives some idea of the tie between West Coast Indians and the California  condor.


   The only prehistoric record of condors north of California links them to the aboriginal dwellers of the banks of the Columbia River in Wasco County, Oregon. During archeological excavations of Indian middens at Five Mile Rapids (also known as The Dalles Roadcut), more than 9,000 bird bones were unearthed. Included were remains from at least 22 different condors. Considering the extent of the site, it seems likely that additional excavation would yield bones from additional condors. Obviously, even twenty-two dead condors in one location is unlikely to have been a natural event; humans undoubtedly killed them for a purpose. Those particular condors died some 10,000 years ago; all were full-grown, not nestling or early fledgling, birds; and about twenty percent of the condor bones sampled showed signs of the feathers having been purposely removed. It is probably of significance that the sample included a large number of bald eagle bones, also, and that some of the eagle bones show signs of feather stripping [2]. So far, there are no clues as to what that significance might be.

   Two other archaeological finds join condors and Northwest Indians in late Holocene or early recent history. Both consist of individual condor bones found with other aboriginal artifacts: one from Pender Island, British Columbia, Canada (carbon dated at ca 2,900 years B.P.) [3], and the other from a shell mound near Brookings, Curry County, Oregon. The latter, first described as being found with “cultural materialwhich is not very old, though entirely pre-caucasian” [4], appears to be less than 1,100 years old [5].

   Beyond these archaeological associations, the aboriginal story of condors in the Northwest is unclear. Only two words are known that were used to specifically identify condors in the region [6], both in the Sahaptin language of the middle Columbia River area. The terms, canahúu and pachanahú, have been described  as  “nearly  obsolete” [7],  relating to a  bird that “is very imperfectly known today and borders on the legendary” [8]. Both descriptions suggest the words may have had their origin with the prehistoric denizens of the Columbia. Other possible references to condors are speculative; for example, designs on hand-woven baskets of “large figures with out-spread wings” could represent condors, but they “usually are labeled eaglesor butterflies” [9]. “Grandfather Buzzard," possibly meant to identify the condor in a legend attributed to the Kalapuya of the Willamette Valley [10], is also the identity of one of the main characters in the well-known and much repeated Creation story of the Cherokee of the southeastern United States [11]. A story presumably from the far distant past of baby condors being kept in Columbia River camps “to keep the thunder and lightning from striking” [12] is almost certainly a more modern “remembrance” developed from outside information. The probable source of the story was the raising of golden eagles for eventual sacrifice, a widespread practice in the Southwest, which has been erroneously linked to the keeping of condors (see below).

  California condors were present in the Pacific Northwest well into the 19th century, so they were certainly known to the Indians of the Columbia River and Willamette Valley areas. The weakness of the record suggests that there was much less contact there between people and condors than there was in California. However, it might be that the details have not survived. By 1840 – before great numbers of Caucasians had arrived in the region - many Indian bands were near extinction, the result of severe, widespread disease. By the 1870s the majority of survivors had been moved to reservations, sometimes well outside of their historic environment, and pooled with the remnant members of other near-extinct groups. By 1900 there were fewer than 2,000 Indians within the probable historic range of the condor in Oregon [13]. Little information on interactions with wildlife survived the drastic reduction in Indian numbers and the disruption of traditional activities.



   Most of the aboriginal groups on the far northwest coast of California and in the mountains surrounding the upper Sacramento Valley seemed to know, or know of, the California condor. Most at least had a name by which they identified the species [14]. Only among the Indians of Humboldt. Del Norte, and western Trinity counties did the condor seem to have been important culturally.

  Condors figured in myths, tales and religious beliefs handed down by the Yurok, Wiyot, Hupa, and Karok. “Condor” was not always a bird, but sometimes the human ancestor [15]. In Wiyot mythology, the forebear Condor has the role of the Judeo-Christian Noah, he and his sister being the only ones saved when Above Old- Man flooded the world, thereby making them the ancestors of all humans [16]. As a bird, condors in these stories were sometimes endowed with tremendous physical prowess ("so big and powerful he can lift a whale:" Tolowa [17]; "so big that when he flaps his wings he makes the wind:" Wiyot [18]).

  Principally, condors were noted for the potent spiritual strength inherent in them and their feathers. Shamans often gained some of this power by confronting a condor in dreams or mysterious circumstances [19], and condor feathers were used as part of the curing processes of the Indian doctors [20]. None of the Indians of the Northwest coast appear to have had ceremonies or dances directed specifically to condors. However, condor feathers were worn by Yurok, Wiyot, Hupa, Chimariko, and possibly Tolowa, in other rituals, such as the White Deerskin Dance and the Jump Dance [21]. Apparently, the usual practice was to splice condor wing (or tail?) feathers together to make especially long plumes to attach to other head ornaments [22]. In addition to shamans using individual condor wing feathers in their curing ceremonies, Wiyot shamans wore headbands that were decorated with condor body feathers, shells, and other ornaments [23]. For the Hupa Kick Dance (held at the conclusion of a new doctor's training), the shaman had "a bunch" of condor feathers that she held [24].

  I found only one reference to how these northwestern people obtained their condor feathers. One contemporary Yurok informant said that condors were never killed, and that all feathers were picked up where the birds had shed them [25]. Condors regularly used the same roosts and nest sites, so it might have been relatively easy for people with the knowledge of those locations to supply themselves with the few feathers needed each year. I found no indication that condor feathers were discarded after use. (Some central California Indians believed condor feathers could  be "dangerous" if used improperly or for too long. See below.) Therefore, it might not have been necessary to regularly obtain replacements. Even without a strict taboo on killing condors throughout the region, the reverence in which the birds were held would have precluded all but the most necessary taking. The needs of a relatively few dancers and shamans (in a total area population of perhaps as few as 2,500 Indians by the late 1800s) would not have required the sacrifice of many birds.



   As in far northwestern California, most Indian groups in this area knew the California condor by name [26], and many included condors in their mythology (Cahto, Yuki, Maidu, Konkow, Patwin, Nisenan, Pomo, Miwok) [27]. Surprisingly, because this is not generally thought of as "condor country," there are more documented cultural and ceremonial ties between Indians and condors in this region than anywhere else in California. A number of archaeological sites around the lower Sacramento Valley have yielded condor bone artifacts, including whistles and decorated tubes [28]. Also, this is the only area of the state in which Indian involvement led to regular killing of condors.

  Indians that performed dances in which an entire condor skin was worn, or enough feathers that a condor would have to have been killed to acquire them, included the Pomo (all groups?), Northern Maidu, Konkow, Valley Nisenan, River Patwin, Miwok (all but Southern Sierra Miwok?), and perhaps Coast Yuki [29]. Among Indians embracing the Kuksu religion, condor dances were sometimes part of a dance cycle [30], but in general the condor dances seem to have been opportunistic, occurring whenever a condor was killed. The rituals were not deeply spiritual, but were imitations of the condor, or of the gods that the condor represented (Sul or Sulak of the Coast Range Indians, Moluk of the Miwok and Sacramento Valley groups). While performed in a widespread area, the actual dances may have occurred in a relatively few villages. There are reports of condor dancers performing exhibitions for groups that did not have their own dance [31], and of a village that "owned" the rights to the condor dance "selling" the dance to another village [32]. Condor dances were rarely performed after 1900, and even then they were considered ancient, with the details mostly forgotten. Their rarity was inevitable by then, because most Indians and most condors were gone from that area, both victims of the rapid expansion of California’s non-Indian population that began with the Gold Rush (Chapter 7).

  It is impossible to judge the number of California condors that were killed annually in the region. Factors that might have kept the number low were the relatively few Indians in the area (perhaps 50,000 pre-European, as few as 5,000 by 1900); the fact that condor dances were usually not part of a regular cycle and so condor killing was not a scheduled requirement; the difficulty of killing condors with snares or bow and arrows (because Indians were prohibited by White law from using firearms); and the fact that killing condors or handling their feathers was considered "dangerous," believed to sometimes lead to sickness or even death [33]. On the other hand, because condor feathers were "dangerous," they were not preserved from year to year, so new condors had to be killed for each new dance.

  Did Indian exploitation of the condors hasten their disappearance from the Sacramento Valley and adjacent hills? There is no way to tell, but this is the only part of the California condor range in which it seems possible.



  Yokuts, Monache, and Tubatulabel all recognized condors by name [34], and Condor was a fairly prominent personality in several myths of the Yokuts and Monache (North Fork Mono) [35]. Shamans of all groups in this region were said to have worn ceremonial capes made of condor feathers [36]. Apparently no capes and no details of their use have survived. I found no suggestion that condor feathers were used by other than shamans, or that there were any dances or ceremonies in which the condor was a significant feature. Also, no condor bone artifacts have been recovered from archaeological sites in this region.

  The San Joaquin-southern Sierra area never had a dense aboriginal population, and there were perhaps as few as 25,000 people in the area prior to the European invasion. The San Joaquin Valley Indians were not spared the effects of Spanish mission enslavement (see below), but real disaster arrived in the form of severe disease epidemics spreading through the area in the 1830s and 1840s [37].The Gold Rush followed in the late 1840s and early 1850s, highlighted for the Indians by more disease, murder, and displacement from their homelands, and the native inhabitants all but disappeared. By 1854, there may have been as few as 2,000 Indians in the entire San Joaquin area. If their activities had an adverse effect on the condor population before the European invasion, any impact after 1850 would have been minimal.


   The Indians of California from San Francisco Bay south to the Mexican border, and west of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, were the earliest to be affected by the arrival of Europeans. At the start of the Spanish Catholic mission era (1770), there were an estimated 72,000 Indians in that area. "Enrollment" (mostly forced) of Indians into mission society resulted in virtual slavery, major disruption of community and family ties, and drastic loss of individuals to disease and murder. "By 1830 [a few years before the missions were secularized] there were approximately 10,000 neophytes [Indian "converts"] enrolled at the missionsand few, if any, unconverted heathen left in the territory." In the following years many more Indians were lost to disease, murder, and destruction of their food supplies. By 1900, this vast area probably supported less than 2,500 Indians [38].

  This is the region that one usually thinks of in relation to California condors, the area that certainly supported the greatest numbers of condors for at least the last 150 years of their wild existence. Therefore, it would seem logical that the species would figure prominently in local Indian mythology, ritual or religion. This seems not to have been the case. Most groups had names by which they recognized the condor [39], but condors or condor-like entities show up in myth only among the Chumash ("Holhol," possibly a condor or condor-man) [40], and perhaps Cahuilla ("a bird which is larger than a buzzard") [41]. Use of condor feathers for dance regalia or ceremonial purposes is known only from the Chumash (dancing skirt, feather bands of uncertain use), Luiseño (dancing skirts), and Tipai-Ipai (dancing skirt) [42]. Whistles made from condor bones have been discovered in Costanoan territory at San Francisco Bay [43], and individual unmodified bones of condors have been found in archaeological sites at Avila Beach (San Luis Obispo County) and on San Nicholas Island [44]. There are two Chumash rock paintings that have been suggested as representations of condors; one certainly qualifies, but to see a condor in the other takes a powerful imagination [45].

  During archeological excavations of Costanoan shellmounds around San Francisco Bay, a number of condor bones have been found. Also discovered were two skeletons of condors. One was complete and intact; the other was a disarticulated series of bones, but all the bones seemed to be from one bird. The condition of the skeletons suggested to the researchers "special or ritual sepulture, perhaps mortuary treatment similar to that accorded humans" [46]. If the condors were ritually buried, they are the only ones so far known to have received such treatment.

*  *  *

  Two well known, often-repeated stories of condors ceremonially sacrificed appear to be entirely untrue, those of the "royal eagle" of Pajaro River, and the "Panes," or "Shoshonean condor cult," of coastal southern California.

  The incident giving rise to the "Royal Eagle" story occurred in Costanoan territory. On 8 October 1769 at the Pajaro River crossing near the border of present-day Monterey and San Benito counties, Miguel Costanso, diarist of the Portola Expedition, wrote (English translation of the original Spanish):

"Here we saw a bird that the natives had killed and stuffed with grass; it appeared to be a royal eagle; it was eleven palms from tip to tip of its wings. On account of this find we called the river the Río del Pájaro" [47].

  For centuries, the golden eagle had been known to the Mexican people as the royal eagle (águila royal). The soldiers with Costanso thought the stuffed bird looked like a royal eagle. Its wingspan of "eleven palms" was a little over seven feet, just right for a golden eagle. Neither Costanso's record, nor the similar diary entry of Fr. Juan Crespi [48], provided further details that suggest the bird was a condor. Why is this incident included in almost every story written about the California condor?

  Credit for it becoming a condor story probably belongs to Harry Harris, and his “annals of Gymnogyps" [49]. Harris thought that the Pajaro River incident was an early record of the panespanesfestival practiced by southern California Indians, an event believed at that time to involve the sacrificial killing of condors taken  from their nests (see  below). With  the   in  mind, he surmised that a mere seven-foot wingspread only meant the specimen was a condor not yet full-grown. As further support, he noted that Pedro Fages' narrative of the Portola Expedition included comments about "eagles" with wings measuring "fifteen spans" (eleven feet), and of natives raising young eagles in their villages [50]. Harris failed to acknowledge that these observations were unrelated to the Pajaro River incident; it isn't clear where they occurred, as Fages did not elaborate, and no other diarist with the expedition commented similarly. Also, Fages wrote of seeing "vultures" and "buzzards" (hawks?), suggesting he was able to tell a large vulture (condor) from an eagle. There is no evidence that anyone on the Portola Expedition actually measured a bird with a "fifteen spans" wingspread (or any other wingspan). The literature is full of "eyeball" estimates of condors with wingspreads of 10, 12 and even 14 feet. By the same token, a normal seven feet of eagle wing could easily be estimated as 11 feet.

  At the Pajaro River, the Spaniards may have witnessed part of an eagle- killing ceremony similar to that practiced by the southern California Gabrieliños, Luiseños, Serranos, Cahuillas, and Tipai-Ipais. The rite, often associated with the toloache (jimson weed) cult and the worship of the god Chingichnish ("Chinigchinich"), was early believed to involve condor sacrifice. This was shown to be erroneous in 1908, but the story continues to be regularly repeated in popular books and articles on the condor, and also in ornithological and ethnological papers.

*  *  *

  In the early 1800s, at Mission San Juan Capistrano, the Catholic priest Geronimo Boscana observed an Indian ceremony in which a large bird was sacrificed. His description, first published in English by Alfred Robinson in 1846 [51], read as follows:

"The most celebrated of their [San Juan Capistrano Indians] feasts, and which was observed yearly, was the one called the 'Panes,' signifying a bird feast. Particular adoration was observed by them, for a bird resembling much in appearance the common buzzard, or vulture, but of larger dimensions."

  In 1811, the Spanish government in Mexico asked the Catholic priests in California to answer various questions about life at the missions. Portions of the reply, translated in 1908 by A. L. Kroeber and J. T. Clark [52], contained similar descriptions of a bird sacrifice (perhaps some of the information prepared by Boscana, himself):

  "They [Indians at Mission San Diego] have a great desire to assembleat a ceremony regarding a bird called vulture (gavilan)... they kill it, and for its funeral they burn it... In the following year they search for another vulture, and do the same with it."

  "We know that they [Indians at Mission San Juan Capistrano] adorea large bird similar to a kite, which they raise with the greatest care from the time it is young, and they hold to many errors regarding it".

  "We have not observed any other idolatry among these Indians [at Mission San Luis Rey] than that connected with certain birds which they call azuts, which really are a kind of very large vulture... they very slowly kill the birds... They skin the birds and throw their flesh on the fire... They keep the feathers of the birds [and] make a sort of skirt of them... Wemade the most careful efforts to ascertain the purpose of this ritual, but we have never been able to extract anything else than that thus their ancestors made it".

  Even as he translated, Kroeber noted that a "gavilan" was not a vulture, but more likely an eagle "which the word gavilan properlyindicates." He also noted that "azuts are not reallyvultures, that is, condors, but eagles. Ashwut is Luiseño for  eagle,  yungavaiwot  for condor."  Kroeber's  Indian informants "always mentioned the eagle as the bird connected with this ceremony." Nevertheless, Boscana "describes the bird as much resembling the common buzzard, but larger, which clearly makes it a condor." Kroeber's conclusion was that probably both eagles and condors were used in the ceremony.

  Shortly after Kroeber published his comments on the Panes story, another famous ethnologist, C. Hart Merriam, offered objections and corrections. "As a matter of fact, the word gavilan means neither eagle nor vulture, but among Spanish and Spanish-Mexican people is the ordinary common every-day word for hawk... There is no doubt, however, that several of the early Mission Padres failed to distinguish the eagle from the large hawks, and used the name gavilan indiscriminately for both; hence Dr. Kroeber is entirely right in assuming  that  the  ceremonial  bird  of  the  Mission  Indians  of  Southern California is the eagle. It is the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)".

  "In another place in the same article... Dr. Kroeber states: 'Boscana, however, describes the bird as much resembling the common buzzard, but larger, which clearly makes it a condor.' This seemingly natural inference is entirely erroneous. Buzzards are large hawks - not vultures - and the bird we in America call 'turkey-buzzard' is not a buzzard at all, but a vulture. Boscana's 'common buzzard' is a large hawk closely related to our red-tail, and the bird he described as 'much resembling the common buzzard, but larger,' was of course the golden eagle. Had he meant the turkey-buzzard he would have used the Spanish-Mexican word aura (pronounced  ow'-rah), which is the name by which the turkey-buzzard is known among the Spanish- speaking people of California" [53].

  In 1934, John P. Harrington provided a new translation of Boscana, one that showed the entire discussion of buzzard, vulture, and condor to be irrelevant. The pertinent passage reads:

  "Among all the feasts which they celebrated every year, among the principal and most solemn ones is one which they called the feast of the Pames, which means the feast of the bird, for they gave a kind of worship and veneration to a bird which has the same form and size as a kite, although somewhat larger. It is a kind of carnivorous hawk, but very sluggish and stupid" [54].

  A look at the Spanish of Boscana's original manuscript shows that the Harrington translation is correct. Boscana spoke of the ritual only as a bird festival (fiesta del Pajaro) involving an adored and venerated species of bird of prey (una especia de adoracion, y veneracion á un pajaro...una especie de gavilan carnisero), similar to but larger than a kite (que tiene la misma forma y grandeza, aunque algo mas, de un Milano). "Kite" (signifying a hawk of the genus Milvus) is a better translation of "Milano" than "buzzard (a Buteo hawk). Either could be described as a small eagle, but neither looks anything like a vulture. Robinson's use of the term "vulture" was not actually part of the translation, but his own erroneous attempt to further define "buzzard" [55].

  [An aside: The festival known as "Panes" was actually called "Pames." Robinson spelled the word correctly the first time he used it in his translation, but it was misspelled the rest of the time. This is clearly shown in the original Spanish.]

  Even before Kroeber's translation of the Mission Indian report, one author had used Boscana's description to link the Pames to a "Shoshonean condor cult" [56]. Among ethnologists, Kroeber's and Merriam's explanations put an end to discussions of a southern California condor-based religion, but a number of researchers (myself included) continued to entertain the possibility that condors might occasionally have been used in lieu of eagles. A close look at the history of the ceremony shows that to be unlikely.

  A Luiseño myth tells of Ouiot (pronounced wee-ote), the first person ever to die. The people held a ceremony at Ouiot's death, and were told that they should continue to have "fiestas for the dead" every year, with a sacrificial offering. They selected Ash-wut the Eagle-Man, "a big man and a very great captain," to be the one killed. Ash-wut objected. "To escape his fate, he went north, south, east, and west; but there was death for him everywhere, and he came back and gave himself up" [57].

  The Cahuilla believed that the eagle "symbolized the constant life of [their] lineage. The eagle is said to live forever, and yet, from the 'beginning' allowed himself to be 'killed' so the people were assured of life after death. As lineage members died each year but the lineage continued in perpetuity, so it is with the eagle" [58].

  Descriptions of the bird-killing ceremony from the Cupeño, Serrano, Luiseno, Tipai-Ipai (Diegueno), Desert Cahuilla, Pass Cahuilla, and Mountain Cahuilla all include the same elements [59]: eaglets were obtained from eyries owned by the chiefs; they were reared in the villages, then at annual mourning ceremonies for the dead were sacrificed by suffocation. The eagle feathers were saved for ceremonial costumes, and to become part of the village's "sacred bundle" of religious items. From legend to conclusion of the ceremony, it is all about eagles. There could be no justification for substituting a condor or any other bird. It was not like having a ham instead of a turkey at Thanksgiving; the eagle was the revered bird.

  Southern  California  Indians  did  kill  condors  on occasion.  Examples  of Luiseño dance skirts made of condor feathers are preserved in several museums [60], and there are feather bands (of uncertain use) originating with the Chumash or Tatavium people [61]. Condors are seldom mentioned in southern California Indian lore, and there is no indication that condor killing was based on anything more than occasional need for feathers. Indian culture in this region  was disrupted so  early in the European  invasion that it is impossible to know how accurate is that assessment.

*  *  *

 So, what can be said about the effects of Indian activities on the California condor? Excepting only the inhabitants of the lower Sacramento Valley and nearby Coast Ranges, it appears that most California and Oregon Indians had little reason to kill condors, and they didn't. Some apparently had taboos against killing them. Even when permitted, killing was constrained by group rules concerning what individuals were allowed to do the taking, and by spiritual beliefs that it could be physically dangerous to handle condor feathers. Firearms of any kind were rare on the Pacific Coast prior to the Gold Rush, and early European settlers quickly passed laws barring Indians from owning or using guns. Indians had to shoot condors with bow and arrow, or snare them at baited sites [62]. Both were achievable, certainly, but - in contrast to what could be accomplished with firearms - constraints of talent and time clearly imposed limits on the amount of mayhem that could be caused.

  There were limits on condor killing imposed by the habits and numbers of Indians in condor habitat, as well. Contrary to popular belief, Indians did not belong to big "tribes" occupying large areas of land. They lived in discrete communities, and seldom strayed far out of their local environment. Some trading was done for materials not found at home (including at least one case of importing condor feathers [63]), but in general Indians made use of what was available locally. A condor could only be killed if it was found nearby.

  Indian population densities in most areas were low, even before European settlement. Condors had much of the countryside to themselves most of the time, with little likelihood of meeting up with Indians who wanted to kill them. By the mid-19th century, Indians had been nearly eradicated from much of California and Oregon. After that, it would have been rare for an Indian to kill a condor.

  The reasoning outlined above may not apply to that region of California occupied by the Miwok, Pomo, and neighboring groups. Among these Indians, there was a steady demand for condor skins to wear in dances, with the need recurring because old "dangerous" skins and feathers needed to be replaced. The fragmentary record suggests that condor dances occurred only at scattered locations, and that villages hosting condor dances did not have them every year. Still, it looks to me like Indians killed enough condors in that region to have caused long-term reductions in condor numbers there.

   The authors of one recent book on California condors opined that California Indians killed 700 condors each year [64]. They presented no basis for this opinion. It is clearly far from the truth. From the information available, a pre- European loss of condors to Indians might not have exceeded a dozen or so annually, with almost all that mortality occurring north of the San Francisco Bay area. Indians cannot be exonerated from contributing to the decline of California condors, but their impact was minor except in highly localized situations.


 1. I reviewed a large number of sources of Pacific Coast Indian populations over time, and the reasons for reductions in numbers. Some of the ones I found particularly pertinent were:

   Coan, C. F. 1921. The first stage of the federal Indian policy in the Pacific Northwest. Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 22(1):46-86.

  Cook, S. F. 1955. The epidemic of 1830-1833 in California and Oregon. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 43(3):303-326.

  Cook, S. F. 1971. The aboriginal population of upper California. Pages 66-72 in: R. F.  Heizer  and  M.  A.  Whipple.  The  California  Indians,  a  source  book.  Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

  Cook, S. F. 1978. Historical demography. Pages 91-98 in: R. F. Heizer (editor), Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 8, California. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution.

  Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Population. Pages 880-891 in: Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D. C.: Bureau of American Ethnology.

  Thornton, R. 1980. Recent estimates of the prehistoric California Indian population. Current Anthropology 21(5):702-704.

2. Findings at The Dalles Road Cut are described in:

   Cressman, L. S., D. L. Cole, W. A. Davis, T. M. Newman and D. J. Scheans. 1960. Cultural sequences at The Dalles, Oregon: a contribution to Pacific Northwest prehistory. Transactions of the AmericanPhilosophical Society 50(10):1-108.

   Miller, L. H. 1957. Bird remains from an Oregon kitchen midden. Condor 59(1):59- 63.

   Hansel-Kuehn, V. J. 2003. The Dalles Roadcut (Fivemile Rapids) avifauna: evidence for a cultural origin. Master of Arts thesis. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University.

 3. Specimen  at  the  Royal  British  Columbia  Museum,  Victoria,  British  Columbia, Canada.

 4. Miller, A. H. 1942. A California condor bone from the coast of southern Oregon. Murrelet 23(3):77.

 5. Madonna L. Moss (University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon) wrote 27 October 2011: “Jon Erlandson and Idated the Lone Ranch site in the 1990s as part of our [carbon] Oregon Coast project, We obtained one historic date (280+/60 RYBP) and a pre- contact date of 1010 +/ 80 RYBP from Lone Ranch. No telling which is a better age estimate of the condor bone.”

 6. The term ach’ig chiq has been used in some recent reports, but is a Wasco word for the mythical Thunderbird, and has no known association with actual condors. [Page xviii in: Aguilar, G. W. Sr. 2005. When the river ran wild! Indian traditions on the mid- Columbia and Warm Springs Reservation. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press.] Similarly, omaxsapítau, the name of a giant bird of Blackfoot legend, has occasionally been suggested as referring to the condor [Schaeffer, C. E. 1951. Was the California condor known to the Blackfoot Indians? Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41(6):181-191].

 7. Hunn, E. S. 2000. Review of linguistic information. Chapter 4, Kennewick Man, cultural affiliation report. National Park Service.

 8. Hunn, E. S. 1991. Sahaptin bird classification. Pages 137-147 in: Pawley, A. (editor), Man and a half, essays in Pacific anthropology and ethnobiology in honour of Ralph Bulmer. Aukland, New Zealand: The Polynesian Society.

 9. Pages 65-66 in: Schlick, M. D. 1994. Columbia River basketry: gifts of the ancestors, gifts of the earth. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press.

 10. Moen, D.B. 2008. Condors in the Oregon Country: exploring the past to prepare for the future. Masters degree project, Portland State University (Portland, Oregon).

 11. For example, see: Pijoan, T. 1992. White Wolf woman: Native American transformation myths. Little Rock, Arkansas: August House. 167 pages.

 12. Schlick 1994 op. cit.

 13. Estimates of the aboriginal population of the Pacific Northwest vary widely. Thirty- two thousand Indians along the Columbia River and in the Willamette Valley originally seems a well-researched figure. That number was reduced to 2,100 by the late 1830s: Boyd, R. L. 1975. Another look at the “fever and ague” of western Oregon. Ethnohistory 22(2):135-154.

Indians were not enumerated in early federal censuses unless they paid taxes, which reservation Indians did not do. However, an 1894 government report included less than 5,000 in the state of Oregon, less than 1,000 of those in the Willamette Valley. Less than 500 were estimated for the Washington side of the Columbia River: Pages 559- 571 and 603-616 in: Anonymous. 1894. Report on Indians taxed and Indians not taxed in the United States, 1890. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior.

  Interesting sources of information on the decline of the Pacific Northwest Indians are: Cook, S. F. 1955. The epidemic of 1830-1833 in California and Oregon. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 43(3): 303-326.

  Spores, R. 1993. Too small a place: the removal of the Willamette Valley Indians, 1850-1856. American Indian Quarterly 17(2):171-191.

 14. Between 1900 and 1930, C. Hart Merriam gathered names of plants and animals from Indian groups throughout California. His notes are at the Bancroft Library (Berkeley, California): C. Hart Merriam Papers, Collection Number BANC MSS 80/18c.

  Merriam listed about 20 names for condors from northwestern California, chiefly variations of one of the following (phonetically rendered): Ke-yow'-min-nah'-ho-lan; Kin'-te-ah; Che-osh'-cho; Shah-tah'-ish.

 15. Among the California Indians, “Condor” – whether bird or human forebear – was always clearly identified. In contrast, in the Pacific Northwest some thought that the condor was the real species that gave rise to mythical creatures like the Thunderbird, but there was never a definite linkage. This suggests to me a more distant knowledge of the species among the more northern Indians than that had by the California people.

 16. Page 83 in: E. W. Gifford and G. H. Block. 1930. California Indian nights entertainments. Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Company.

  Also, pages 111-112 in: D. A. Leeming and J. Page. 1998. The mythology of native North America. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

 17. Page 187 in: C. H. Merriam and R. F. Heizer. 1967. Ethnographic notes on California Indian tribes. Reports of the Universityof California Archeological Survey. Berkeley, California: Department of Anthropology, University of California.

 18. Merriam and Heizer op.cit., page 180.

 19. Pages 149-150 in: A. L. Kroeber. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D. C.: Bureau of American Ethnology.

  Driver,  H.  E.  1939.  Culture  element  distributions:  X.  Northwest  California. University of California Anthropological Records 1(6):297-433.

  Pages 238-250 in: E. Sapir and V. Golla. 2001. Hupa texts, with notes and lexicon. The collected works of Edward Sapir, Volume 14. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

 20. Page 85 in: Curtis, E. S. 1924. The North American Indian. Volume 13. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Norwood Press.

  Kroeber 1925 op. cit., pages 117-118.

  Simons, D. D. 1983. Interactions between California condors and humans in prehistoric far western North America. Pages 470-494 in: S. R. Wilbur and J. A. Jackson, Vulture biology and management. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

 21, Kroeber 1925 op. cit., pages 55-56. Also: Waters, H. 2009. Fixing the world. North Coast Journal (Eureka, California) 16 July 2009.

 22. Driver 1939 op. cit.;op.Kroeber 1925 cit., pages 55-56.

 23. Such a headband is preserved in the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley (Catalogue number 1-11618); pictured in: C. D. Bates, J. A. Hamber and M. J. Lee. 1993. The California condor and the California Indians. American Indian Art Magazine19(1):40-47.

 24. Sapir and Golla op.cit., pages 223-229, 260-267.

 25. Barnard, J. 2009. Yurok Tribe works for return of condor to Northwest to help fix world gone wrong. The Los Angeles (California) Times, 18 August 2009: quoting Tiana Williams of the Yurok.

 26. Some of the more common names for condors in this area, as gathered by Merriam (see Note 14, above): sool’, e-soon, mol’-luk, mol’-luk-ko.

 27. Some of the references reviewed were:

  Barrett, S. A. 1906. A composite myth of the Pomo Indians. Journal of American Folklore 19(72):37-51. 

  Dixon, R. B. 1902. Maidu myths. Bulletin of the American Museumof Natural History 17(2):33-118 (condor, pages 98, 265, 302).

  Goddard, P. E. 1909. Kato texts. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 5(3):65-238 (condor on pages 71-77, 122-133).

  Kroeber, A. L. 1929. The Valley Nisenan. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 24(4):253-290 (condor, page 276).

  Kroeber, A. L. 1932. The Patwin and their neighbors. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology  29(4):253-423 (condor,  page 306).

  Merriam, C. H. 1910. The dawn of the world, myths and tales of the Miwok Indians of California. Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur Clark Company.

  Ortiz, B. 1989. Mount Diablo as myth and reality: an Indian history convoluted. American Indian Quarterly 13(4):457-470.

 28. Simons 1983 op. cit.

 29. Some of the references reviewed were:

  Gifford, E. W. 1926. Miwok cults. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 18(3):391-408.

  Gifford, E. W. 1955. Central Miwok ceremonies. University of California Anthropological Records 14(4):261-318.

  Gifford, E. W. 1965. The Coast Yuki. Publication No. 2, Sacramento (California) Anthropological Society.

  Gifford, E. W., and A. L. Kroeber. 1937. Culture element distributions: IV, Pomo. University of California  Publications in  American  Archeology and Ethnology 37(4):117-254.

  Kroeber 1932, op. cit., pages 339-342.

  Loeb. E. M. 1926. Pomo folkways. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 19(2):149-405 (condor dance, pages 384-385).

 30. Loeb, E. M. The Eastern Kuksu Cult. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 33(2):139-232.

 31. Gifford 1965 op. cit.,op.pages 84-85; Loeb 1926 cit., pages 384-385; Bates, Hamber and Lee op. cit.,page 43.

 32. Kroeber 1929 op. cit., page 269.

 33. DuBois, C. 1935. Wintu ethnography. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 36(1):1-147 (danger of condor feathers, page 91- 93).

  Kroeber 1932 op. cit., pages 341-342; Merriam and Heizer op. cit., page 280; Bates, Hamber and Lee op. cit.,page 44.

 34. In the northern San Joaquin area, the usual name for the condor was mol’-luk or mol’-luk-ko; in the southern regions, most groups recognized the condor as we’-its or weets (Merriam, Note 14, above).

 35. Gayton, A. H., and  S. S. Newman. 1940. Yokuts  and  Western  Mono myths. University of California Anthropological Records 5(1):1-110.

  Gifford,  E.  W.  1923.  Western  Mono  myths.  Journal  of  American  Folklore 36(142):301-367

  Gifford and Block op.cit., pages 91-94.

  Kroeber, A. L. 1906-1907. Indian myths of south central California. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 4(4):167-250 (condor myths, pages 205-231).

 36. Aginsky, B. W. 1943. Culture element distributions: XXIV Central Sierra. University of California Anthropological Records 8(4):393-468 (condor regalia, page 447).

  Driver, P. 1937. Culture element distributions. VI Southern Sierra. University of California Anthropological Records 1(2):53-154 (condor regalia, pages 105 and 144).

 37. Cook 1955 op. cit.

 38. This section is summarized from information in the literature cited under Chapter Note 1. The quote is from Cook 1978 op. cit.

 39. Names applied to the condor in west-central and southern California (after Merriam, Note 14, above): Titch’, wah’-sak and Wah-sak-kah (central coast); Yung- ah’-ve-wit and pah’-ke-ut (southern California).

 40. Page 84 in: Hudson, T., and E. Underhay. 1978. Crystals in the sky: an intellectual odyssey involving Chumash astronomy, cosmology and rock art. Santa Barbara, California: Ballena Press.

 41. Page 376 in: Hooper, L. 1920. The Cahuilla Indians. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 16(6):315-380.

 42. Bates, Hamber and Lee op. cit.;photos of Luiseño dance skirts, pages 42-43.

   Page 147 in: Blackburn, T. 1963. A manuscript account of the Ventureno Chumash. Archeological SurveyAnnual Report 5:139-158. University of California, Los Angeles.

 43. Morejohn, G. V., and J. P. Galloway. 1983. Identification of avian and mammalian species used in the manufacture of bone whistles from a San Francisco Bay archeological site.Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 5(1-2):87-97.

 44. Simons 1983 op. cit.

 45. Lee, G. 1979. The San Emigdio rock art site. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 1(2):295-305.

  Lee, G., and S. Horne. 1978. The Painted Rock site (SBa-502 and SBa-526): Sapaksi, the House of the Sun. Journal of California Anthropology 5(2):216-224.

 46. Howard, H. 1929. The avifauna of the Emeryville shellmound. University of California Publications in Zoology 32(2):301-394.

  Wallace, W. J., and D. W. Lathrap. 1959. Ceremonial bird burials in San Francisco Bay shellmounds. American Antiquity 25(2):262-264.

 47. Teggart, F. J. 1911. The Portola Expedition of 1769-1770. Diary of Miguel Costanso. Publications of the Academyof Pacific Coast History 2(4):1-167.

 48. Page 210 in: H. E. Bolton. 1927. Fray Juan Crespi, missionary explorer of the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

 49. Pages 6-7 in: Harris, H. 1941. The annals of Gymnogyps to 1900. Condor 43(1):

 50. Pages 12 and 77 in: Priestly, H. I. (translator). 1972. A historical, political, and natural description of California by Pedro Fages, soldier of Spain, dutifully made for the Viceroy in the year 1775. Ramona, California: Ballena Press.

 51. Page 291 in: "An American" [Alfred Robinson]. 1846. Life in California: during a residence of several years in that territory. New York, New York: Wiley & Putnam.

 52. Pages 4, 7 and 11 in: Kroeber, A. L. 1908. A mission record of the California Indians. University of California Publications in American Archeologyand Ethnology 8(1):1-27.

 53. Merriam, C. H. 1908. Meaning of the Spanish word gavilan. Science 28(709), New Series, page 147.

 54. Page 39 in: Harrington, J. P. 1934. A new original version of Boscana's historical account of the San Juan Capistrano Indians of southern California. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 92(4):1-62.

 55. Reichlen, H., and P. Reichlen. 1971. Le manuscrit Boscana de la Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris. Journal de la Societedes Americanistes 60(1):233-273.

   A "revised and annotated version" of Alfred Robinson's translation of Chinigchinich was published in 1978 by the Malki Museum (Banning, California). Curiously, that version reverts to Robinson's original error of equating "buzzard" with "vulture." The extensive annotations by J. P. Harrington add to the confusion by giving lengthy comments supporting Robinson's original errors in bird identification.

 56. Pages 397-399 in: Hodge, F. W. (editor). 1907. Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico. Washington, D. C.: Bureau of American Ethnology.

 57. DuBois, C. 1906. Mythology of the Mission Indians. Journalof American Folklore 19(72):52-60.

 58. Pages 138-140 in: Bean, L. J. 1974. Mukat's people: the Cahuilla Indians of southern California. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

 59. Principal references to the southern California eagle-killing ceremony: Bean op. cit., pages 138-140

  Pages 182-183 in: DuBois, C. G. 1908. The religion  of the Luiseño Indians of southern California. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 8(3):69-186.

  Strong, W. D. 1929. Aboriginal society in southern California. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 26:1-358 (eagle-killing ceremony on pages 32-34, 83-84, 119-120, 177-179, 261-262, and 307-309).

  Pages 314-320 in: Waterman, T. T. 1910. the religious practices of the Diegueno Indians. University of California Publications in American Archeologyand Ethnology 8(6):271-358.

 60. Bates, Hamber and Lee, op. cit.

 61. Elsasser, A., and R. F. Heizer. 1963. The archeology of Bowers Cave, Los Angeles County, California. University of California Archeological Survey Reports 59:1-45.

 62. Pages 101 and 133 in: Barrett, S. A. 1952. Material aspects of Pomo culture. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 20(1). Gifford 1926 op.cit., page 395.

   Kroeber op. cit., page 279.

 63. Gifford and Kroeber 1937 op. cit.,pages 169-170.

 64. Pages 43-44 in: Snyder, N. F. R., and H. Snyder. 2000. The California condor: a saga of natural history and conservation. San Diego, California: Academic Press.


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