The Tubatulabal traditionally inhabit the lush Kern River Valley/Lake Isabella region of California, in the southern Sierra Nevada near Mount Whitney. They initially lived in three self-sufficient bands--the Pahkanapil, Palagewan, and Bankalachi (or Toloim)--and were one of over 100 tribes of Shoshonean-speaking people. Their main staple foods were acorns and pine nuts, and they hunted deer and antelope, caught fish in the rivers, and collected local vegetables. Currently there are about 400 Tubatulabal people living in the Kern River Valley, with estimates of about 500 more living outside the area, including some on the Tule River Reservation. The Tubatulabal moved into the area as early as 1,000 B.C.
The word tubatulabal means "a people that go to the forest to gather tubat (piñon nuts)." This was the name for the tribe as well as for its language. Though their language is a subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language family it is very different from neighboring languages of this type. According to author Bob Powers, they were known as "happy talkers"
because their language was so lilting and full of laughter.
The Tubatulabal were a peaceful tribe that moved around quite a bit in search of food, but they made semi-permanent camps in the foothills of the mountains.
Their villages were always located by fresh water and sometimes a spring and, since they lived by hunting game and gathering native plants and seeds, their practices were intimately entwined around the harvest of their foodstuffs.
Traditionally, they lived in dome-shaped willow and tule huts about 20 feet in diameter, with a two foot hole at the top to allow light into the dwelling and to let smoke escape. The doorway faced east to catch the rising morning sun. The frame was made of willow poles ten feet tall placed around the 20 foot diameter circle and horizontal, two-inch thick willow bands. Brush was piled on the frame and then covered with mud. A layer of tules six to eight inches thick finished off the outside of the house. A tule mat was hung over the door. Tule mats were also used to sleep on with rabbit-skin blankets.
The mid 1850's brought the white man in search for gold and permanently ended the traditional Tubatulabal way of life; they chose to live peacefully and are subsequently the only tribe in the area to survive the encroachment and
perpetual occupation of the white man. Modern Tubatulabal commonly work in the region's logging and cattle industry; they are a very private people and
only a handful speak the old language.
(portions were paraphrased from Walter S. Nicholas's "A Short History of Johnsondale")