The Indian Room


When you visit Sanger Depot Museum’s Indian Room, you’ll find a remarkable collection of basketry from the Yokut Indians who lived in the foothills above Sanger around Squaw Valley, Wonder Valley and Dunlap, California. This collection is reputedly the finest in existence in the United States.

This collection of basketry was started when Oscar Brehler, a pharmacist in Sanger, bought the baskets from local Yokut Indians. As Brehler stated it:

“I had no idea of starting a basket collection when the Indians began coming into my store. I bought the baskets because I felt sorry for them. They needed money and all they had to sell were those baskets.

These baskets were an indispensable part of Yokut Indian life. Basket weaving was a skill that all Yokut women learned at an early age and was passed down from generation to generation. The baskets in this collection reflect the skillful craftsmanship of the Yokut basket weavers through the tightly woven fabric and ornate designs.


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A summary of the Yokut Indians’ BASKETRY DESIGNS

cradle baskets| bottleneck baskets| burden baskets|coiled plaque baskets | personal eating baskets | cooking baskets | rattlesnake baskets| winnower

CRADLE BASKETS: These were the baskets the Yokut Indians carried their babies in. The designs on the back of the cradleboard signified the baby’s gender. Slanted lines denoted a boy while diamonds denoted a girl. As a custom, the baby’s father would hang the cradle board high in a tree after the infant outgrew it to instill similar growth in the child.

BOTTLENECK BASKETS: These baskets used for storing valuables and had some of the finest weaving and stitching of all the baskets attesting to the genius of the Yokut basket weaver. The basket on display was stitched by Minnie Hancock and boasted sixty two stitches to the inch.

BURDEN BASKETS: Approximately 3 feet in length, these sturdy baskets were used by the Yokut women to gather acorns in the late summer and fall. These baskets could hold up to 150 pounds of acorns.

COILED PLAQUE BASKETS: These were flat trays that were used as meal sifters or as dice trays. Yokut women used these trays for gambling. The dice were made of split walnut shells filled with black pitch and bits of broken seashells brought over by Indian tribes from the coast. The women would gamble for hours on end using these baskets.

PERSONAL EATING BASKETS: The basket display at the Sanger Depot Museum shows many personal eating baskets with different sizes and styles. These were used to hold the individual’s meal.

COOKING BASKETS: Yokut women used these baskets for cooking acorn meal. The acorn meal and water would be mixed together and rocks from a fire would be dropped into the mixture thus cooking the acorn meal. The stitching in these baskets were tight enough to keep the water in the baskets.

RATTLESNAKE BASKETS: During the annual Rattlesnake Dance in the springtime, these baskets were filled with rattlesnakes and the tribal witch doctor would dance around it thus protecting the children from rattlesnakes at the height of rattlesnake season.

WINNOWER: The Yokut Indians used this device for tossing grain up in the air repeatedly separating the lighter hull from the heavier grain.

As you can see, for the Yokut Indians of Central California, basket weaving was an essential part of life.