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Madera County, California GenWeb
Gateway to Yosemite
Exact Center of California

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Round House Indian Cemetery
1943-1997
(Private - Open to the public)
Burials on private property require the owner's permission to visit!
Cemetery is accessible with admission to the Park

Most graves unmarked or illegible.

Wassama Round House State Historical Park
Road 628
Ahwahnee

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Find a Grave - Complete listing with photos, double-click HERE.


Name

Birth

Death

Notes

Graham, Banjo

1888, Sept 1

1963, Aug 11

PVT 13 Co. 20 Engineers, WWI

James, Chief Fremont

*

1943, may 24

*Age 51 years.

Jeff, Jerry

1976, Oct 18

1997, Mar 13

 

Roan, Jessie G.

1900

1979

 

Rohan, Charles J.

1879

1964

 

            Surveyed by Ken Doig on November 8, 1999

 

Miwoks - A Remaining Bit of An Earlier Culture

Madera County has the unique distinction of having within its boundaries the last Miwok Indian Round House (hangi), which is also variously called semi-subterranean assembly, dance, or ceremonial house. There is no assurance that the county will continue to enjoy this distinction as the wooden building stands in a field of dry grass on private property which is for sale. It is located about a half-mile north of the Ahwahnee post office in the Wasuma Valley.

The Round House was built in 1903 to replace one which was burned in 1893. It differs from the historic specifications for such houses in some details. The following is a description of the traditional house as told in Barret and Gifford’s Miwok Material Culture:

"The assembly house was for social and ceremonial gatherings. It was the place where gambling and dancing were conducted. It was never used as a dwelling or even as a sleeping quarters for the men, except sometimes when a ceremony was being held in the village.

"A large pit, forty or fifty feet in diameter, was dug to a depth of three or four feet. Over this was erected a roof in the form of a low cone, supported by heavy beams. These in turn were supported by means of four center posts and eight side posts. The edges of the cone rested on the edge of the pit. This cone was covered with thatch and earth, which made the roof air and water tight.

"A thatch of brush, topped with Digger or Western Yellow Pine needles, never Sugar Pine needles, was put on. This was followed by the final covering of earth. Altogether the roof was a foot and a half or two feet thick. The opening in the top of the conical roof served as the smoke hole, the fire being built directly under it. The entrance was on any side." (Some other authorities say the entrance was always on the east.)

A pit was not dug for the Ahwahnee house. Five-foot upright walls served the purpose of the pit and supported the cone. Lumber and nails were used and the roof was covered with shakes.

The house that was burned in 1893 has been described as a work of art and efficiency put together with great aboriginal skill. The poles were bound together with rawhide thongs, and the sides and roof were strenthened with bark and hides which was an improvement over those reported in other areas.

The house was burned, in accordance with tribal custom, upon the death of the chief and last Captain that reigned during that era. An estimated 1,500 Miwoks came from all points for many miles around to join in the ritual. Their chant and the jarring rhythm of their dance could be heard throughout the valley.

At 3:00 A.M. the torch was put to the Round House and a nearby elaborate wigwam about one-fifth the size of the house. It is said that this hour was chosen to escape the prying eyes of unfriendly white people. Upon word from the new chief, mourning ceased and a gay, friendly meeting of the tribe followed.

The tribe was inactive for nine years until Captain John Coe Chitta, arbitrator and peacemaker, beloved to all Indians, rallied support for construction of a new Round House. Construction started in mid-summer of 1903, and was completed before Christmas for its first roaring fandango or dance.

The 1903 Round House is 40 feet in diameter. It was constructed of poles cut and hauled from Captain Jim Rohan’s 80-acre allotment three miles to the north. Rohan and Johnny Jacobs hauled all the material and directed the building. Other Indians who worked on it included Chief Peter Westfall, his sons Johnny and Eff, Jim and Sam Johnson, Charles Rohan, Frank Tex, Johnny Gibbs and Ben Jacobs. There were many more but their names are forgotten.

Many of the details of the early Miwok culture have been lost due to the high death rate during the early days of the white man. Those who survived the disease and wrath of the invader were not always well informed on tribal customs, or for other reasons failed to carry on the rituals and customs of their forefathers.

There is an Indian cemetery near the Round House. It also is on private property. The marble headstones mark the graves of:

Charles J. Rohan,1879-1964,
Banjo Graham, 1884-1963,
Chief Fremont James, 1892

Miwok Culture From: MADERA COUNTY DIAMOND JUBILEE COMMITTEE AND MADERA COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, by Charles W. Clough

 

Note: R. Dandridge points out an error in Clough's article: "The Indians buried in the cemetery plot were Casson and Chuckchansi Yokuts and NOT Miwoks."

 

Last update: April 23, 2013
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