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Pestilence and Persistence

Yosemite Indian Demography and Culture in Colonial California

Kathleen L. Hull


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This innovative examination of the Yosemite Indian experience in California poses broad challenges to our understanding of the complex, destructive encounters that took place between colonists and native peoples across North America. Looking closely at archaeological data, native oral tradition, and historical accounts, Kathleen Hull focuses in particular on the timing, magnitude, and consequences of the introduction of lethal infectious diseases to Native communities. The Yosemite Indian case suggests that epidemic disease penetrated small-scale hunting and gathering groups of the interior of North America prior to face-to-face encounters with colonists. It also suggests, however, that even the catastrophic depopulation that resulted from these diseases was insufficient to undermine the culture and identity of many Native groups. Instead, engagement in colonial economic ventures often proved more destructive to traditional indigenous lifeways. Hull provides further context for these central issues by examining ten additional cases of colonial-era population decline in groups ranging from Iroquoian speakers of the Northeast to complex chiefdoms of the Southeast and Puebloan peoples of the Southwest.

Praise For Pestilence and Persistence: Yosemite Indian Demography and Culture in Colonial California

“This book is much more than a case study of a small California tribe. It is a major contribution to our understanding of European contact with Native America and all its consequences.”

— Mark Michel

“Kathleen L. Hull’s analysis of the Yosemite Indians provides a valuable addition to this literature. . . . Scholars of Indian history and of colonialism more broadly will learn much from Hull’s work.”

— American Historical Review

“Exhaustively researched and impressive ethnohistory of Yosemite Indian demography. . . . offers a valuable case study that separates the biological from the social aspects of colonialism and provides a welcome contribution to scholarship on the California Indian experience, disease, Indian demography, and native/nonnative encounters.”

— Ethnohistory

“An important addition to the scholarship on Indigenous-European contact,colonialism and California Indian studies. . . . This book should become an important addition to colonial, early America, colonial and California Indian studies.”

— Journal Of Colonialism And Colonial History

“This book marks a watershed in the colonial archaeology of the hinterland communities, and it should be read by historical archaeologists everywhere.”

— Journal Of Cal & Great Basin Anth

“Readers are likely to find Pestilence and Persistence. . . useful.”

— Journal Of Interdisciplinary History

“Hull effectively redirects our attention . . . to a better appreciation of the resiliency and creativity of Native peoples.”

— Western Historical Qtly

“A valuable contribution to the growing literature on the complexity of encounters between Europeans and Indians.”

— David S. Jones

“Hull has accomplished a major and important methodological feat , and although sometimes dense, the work is generally clear, engaging, and provocative.”

— Journal Of Archaeological Rsrch

University of California Press, 9780520258471, 392pp.

Publication Date: October 5, 2009

About the Author

Kathleen L. Hull is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Merced.