They established their villages alongside the rivers and streams of the Sierra Nevada from the Cosumnes River on the north to the Calaveras River on the south. Other Miwok groups lived to the west and south in California’s great central valley as far west as Mount Diablo and south as far as Yosemite National Park.
Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total.
Miwok people didn’t wear much clothing. Miwok men generally went naked, and Miwok women wore only short grass skirts. In mountain villages, though, women sometimes wore buckskin dresses instead and the men wore leggings and deerskin shirts.
They ate plants, seeds, berries, fish and animal meats. They usually crushed acorns. They made acorn bread, acorn soup, and acorn flour. They used acorn flour to make bread and sometimes, they just ate acorn flour.
The Miwok people were decimated by the diseases brought by the invaders and subjected to atrocities. Following the short-lived Mariposa Indian War (1850) those who survived were forced on to various reservations.
The Miwok community lived in dome and conical shaped homes. Theses structures were then covered with redwood boards (called ‘kotcha’) or grass or tule (called ‘kaawul kotcha’). The grass houses had a willow frame covered with bundled grass and a tule mat or animal hide was used for the flap door leading into the house.
Their traditional houses, called “kotcha”, were constructed with slabs of tule grass or redwood bark in a cone-shaped form. Miwok people are skilled at basketry.
All Miwok twined baskets, other than cradles, in the University’s collection, have reinforcing willow hoops sewed to their rims. There are no delicate and beautiful twined baskets.
Traditionally, the groups near and on the coast—the Coast, Lake, and Bay Miwok —gathered acorns, fished, and hunted deer and other game with bow and arrow. They lived in semisubterranean pole- and earth-covered lodges and produced watertight basketry ornamented with beads or feathers.
Among other things, they were in charge of planning for various festivals that the Miwoks had. Dancing was very important to the Miwoks, both socially and also as part of their religion. Each tribe had its own “dance house”. The Miwoks often danced while wearing costumes made from animal skin.
They traded fish and shells for hides. The Coast Miwok wanted mined rocks and minerals they made into body paints for religious ceremonies. When they had no items to trade they used strings of shells called dentalium for money. These shells were of great value.
While their most important food crop was acorns, their diet also consisted of mushrooms, insects, berries, roots, bulbs and greens. For hunting and fishing, the men had a range of tools. They used bows and arrows, spears, nets, clubs, snares, and baskets for fish and small animals.