The Rock and The People

Image of grinding rocksChaw’se is the Miwok word for grinding rock – a slab of stone on which the Miwok people ground acorns and other seeds into meal, slowly forming the cup shaped depressions in the stone that can still be seen today. Along with the mortar holes, the main grinding rock within the park also features a number of decorative carvings: circles, spoked wheels, animal and human tracks, wavy lines, etc. Some of these carvings are thought to as much as two or even three thousand years old and are now becoming difficult to see. This association of rock art and bedrock mortar pits is unique in California. Except for one other small site, Chaw’se has the only known occurrence of mortars intentionally decorated with petroglyphs.

The marble grinding rock is fragile and very susceptible to weathering and chipping. The natural elements are claiming many of the petroglyphs and visitors are asked to stay off the rock and to respect this irreplaceable reminder of a vanished way of life.

Village and Roundhouse
A typical Miwok village has been reconstructed that provides present-day descendents of the Miwok and opportunity to preserve their heritage and traditions and share them with present and future generations of Californians. Bark houses, a ceremonial roundhouse, acorn granaries, shade ramadas, an Indian game field, and demonstrations of old arts, crafts and games all combine to illustrate the past for present day visitors. There is an ongoing commitment by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to cooperate with the local Native Americans in the development of the park.

In the old days, the roundhouse, or hun’ge, was the setting for a variety of social gatherings and ceremonial events. Ceremonies were held, for example, to pray, to mourn the dead or to observe special occasions through music and dance. In a typical village, this semi-subterranean community center was the largest building in the village and tended to be twenty to fifty feet in diameter. The Chaw’se hun’ge is sixty feet across and is one of the largest in California. Four large beams and center poles support the roof. A large hole in the center of the roof allows smoke from the fire pit to escape and also permits observation of the stars.

Miwok homes ranged from eight to fifteen feet in diameter and were built of cedar poles interwoven with grapevines or willow and covered with cedar bark. A hole was left at the top for smoke from cooking or heating fires. Bark houses u’macha’ can be seen near the grinding rock and also at the reconstructed village west of the roundhouse.

A game field, poscoi a we’a, has also been reconstructed near the roundhouse. The game played by the Miwok was very similar to soccer. On a field about 110 yards long, players tried to kick or carry a ball to the opposing team’s goal. Both men and women played, though the rules were different for each. Men could only kick the ball, while women could handle the ball in any manner. If a woman held the ball however, a man could pick her up and run for the goal.

Please Remember
Like the grinding rock itself, the meadow at Chaw’se is fragile. Please stay on the trails and do not pick the wildflowers.

State law prohibits gathering or removing artifacts. Leave objects you discover where you found them and please notify the park staff.

It was the Indians’ way to pass through a country without disturbing anything; to pass and leave no trace, like a fish through the water or birds through the air. Willa Cather

We hope your visit to Chaw’se will be in this spirit, and you will grow in understanding and respect for the Native Americans of the Sierra Nevada.