Location: Northwestern California coast (Mendocino County)
Language: Yukian family
1770 estimate: 500
1910 Census: 15
The Coast Yuki shared a name and a similar language
with the Yuki (who lived inland), but the two groups were not friendly with
each other. The inland Yuki did not visit the coast. The territory of the
Cahto separated the Yuki from the Coast Yuki.
The Coast Yuki were friends with the Cahto; they used each other's territory freely. The Coast Yuki were also friends with all of their other neighbors (the Sinkyone, the Pomo, the Huchnom). Sometimes they got involved in the wars that their neighbors had with other groups, but they were not known as a warlike people.
The Coast Yuki lived along a 50-mile stretch of the ocean, on what is known as the Mendocino Coast. This is a rocky coast with cliffs. During the summer the Coast Yuki camped along the windy beaches, but their more permanent villages were a bit inland, where the land was covered with redwood forests. The largest stream that ran through their territory was Ten Mile River, which emptied into the ocean.
There were eleven Coast Yuki groups, each made up of several villages. Each group of villages had a headman who was elected by the people. Each occupied land that included a strip of ocean coast and extended eastward into the forests.
The name by which these people called themselves was Ukoht-ontilka, meaning ocean people, or people beside the big water.
The houses in which the Coast Yuki lived during the winter were cone-shaped, made in a style similar to the Yuki buildings but somewhat smaller, without the center pole used by the Yuki. The side poles that met at the top to form the cone shape were covered with slabs of bark from the redwood trees. The Coast Yuki did not dig down inside the house to make the floor lower, as many of the northern groups did. They dug only a small pit for the fireplace.
When the Coast Yuki moved closer to the ocean in the summer, they built brush huts as shelters. These shelters were rebuilt each summer.
The dance houses of the Coast Yuki were larger than their dwelling houses. They had a large center post and a pitched roof. The dance house had a roof entrance as well as a ground-level door. The doors both had coverings which were closed when the dance house was used as a sweathouse.
Living along the ocean meant that the Coast Yuki had more access to sea food, and depended less on deer and elk than did groups that lived inland. Salmon was one of their main foods. They used harpoons to catch the salmon as they swam upstream. As the salmon came downstream, they were caught in scoop nets. Another type of net which hung from a pole was used to catch surf fish. The fish ran into the net when the tide was going out. The men did the fishing and hunting, and the women gathered nuts and seeds.
Along the beach, both men and women collected mussels. These shellfish added to the food supply, and their shells were used as tools. Abalone were found on the rocks along the coast. The rocks also provided salt, which formed when ocean spray evaporated. Sea lions and seals were hunted from the shore, as the Coast Yuki did not have canoes.
Although acorns were not as plentiful here as in many parts of California, they still formed an important part of the food supply for the Coast Yuki. Grass seeds were in good supply, and were collected for food on the hills above the rocky cliffs.
Deer and elk were sometimes caught in snares, though these were not as important in the food supply of the Coast Yuki as the sea food. Although this group kept dogs as domesticated animals, they did not eat dog meat.
The climate along the coast was mild, and the Coast Yuki did not feel the need of many clothes. Strips of deerskin were used to make simple apron-type skirts. Men wore a piece of deerskin wrapped about their hips. Elk and bear skins, though there were fewer of them, were used as blankets and robes. They rarely wore any kind of covering on their feet.
Coast Yuki women had tattoos on their faces. There were a variety of tattooing patterns, each showing to which group the woman belonged.
The Coast Yuki used bows and arrows for hunting and in warfare. They made the bow of yew wood, smoothed with flint and wrapped in sinew (tough tendons from deer or elk). In addition, they got bows made of hazel wood from the Cahto. The Coast Yuki also made harpoons and clubs from wood. A special wooden spatula was invented to pry abalone off the rocks.
Mussel shells made good scoops and spoons. The Coast Yuki also used the mussel shell like an extension of their thumb nail, to help in separating the fibers of the iris plant when they were making rope and cord. This rope and cord was used to make nets, which were used for catching fish and in snares used to catch small animals.
The baskets made by the Coast Yuki were most often done by the method called twining, where slender branches were interwoven with pieces of root and other plant fibers. Because of their contact with the Pomo, to the south, the Coast Yuki were familiar with coiled baskets, and probably made some of that type as well. Coiled baskets took longer to make.
Baskets were used for gathering, storing, and cooking food. Closely woven baskets were water-tight, and the contents could be heated by dropping in stones that had been heated in a fire. The technique of basketmaking was also used to make flat mats used as door coverings.
Pieces of clamshell were used as money by the Coast Yuki, as well as by their neighbors to the south and east. Clamshells were easy to find along the sea coast to the south, where the Pomo lived. The shells were broken into pieces that were shaped and smoothed into disks. When a hole was punched in the disks, they could be strung like beads on a string.
The Coast Yuki were active traders. They got clamshell disks and magnesite (a type of stone) beads from the Pomo. At yearly trading sessions with the Cahto, they got acorns, grasses, and seeds. From other inland groups they got flint, obsidian (volcanic glass), and tobacco. In turn, they traded mussels, fish, and other ocean products.
Unlike the northwestern groups, the Coast Yuki did not place definite money values on many things. There was no purchase price for a wife, nor death price to be paid for a person killed in an argument.
The Coast Yuki held a dance each fall to celebrate the acorn harvest, called the Shok-hamp. Men, women, and children all took part. Other dances were called feather dances, and were held more for fun than for any religious purpose. Feather dances were held outdoors, and the dancers wore fancy feather capes and headbands of yellowhammer (a type of woodpecker) quills. Rattles and a foot drum were used in some ceremonies.