Before the California Gold Rush, a flourishing trade had been established for centuries among the native American tribes of the Sierra Nevada. The Monos of the eastern Sierra included among their trade goods salt, obsidian, pinon pine nuts, and kutsavi. I describe kutsavi in my historical novel, New Garden:
Prologue, p. vi.
The Yokuts of the western Sierra had given the Paiutes east of the mountains the name “Monachi,” meaning “the fly people.” The whites understood the name as “Mono,” and used that name for the people and the lake where they lived, an ancient terminal saltwater lake on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The lake is populated by algae, brine shrimp, and alkali flies. A small migratory tribe with no more than two hundred members, the Mono women harvest the alkali fly pupae each summer. They dry the pupae in the sun and then rub off their shells, leaving a yellow kernel the size of a grain of rice. Each pupa, which the Monos call kutsavi, is rich in fat and protein, providing fifteen calories of nourishment. The kutsavi store easily, critical to surviving a long winter. For hundreds of years, the Monos had used the kutsavi as a major product for trade with the tribes of the western Sierra Nevada.
It is important to understand that the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada did not loiter, waiting for European Americans to “rescue” them from “primitive” practices by removing them from the land two hundred generations had called home and herding them onto land the European Americans could not use. The native Americans had established food gathering and hunting practices that allowed them to thrive in the world’s most abundant garden, only requiring them to harvest nature’s bounty. They varied their diet by trading food and other products with other tribes.
You can learn more information about the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada from the following sources:
Indian Life of the Yosemite Region, Miwok Material Culture, by Samuel A. Barrett and Edward W. Gifford, Bulletin of Milwaukee Public Museum, Vol. 2, No. 4, March, 1933 (republished by Yosemite National Park, California, Yosemite Association)
Taxonomic Inventory, Insects as Food, by Gene DeFoliart
Kutzakika’a People, by Thomas C. Fletcher
Flies of Fancy: Alkali Flies, by David Carle, Park Ranger, Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve