This is not a basket

Woven Caps of Northern California

What's in the name?

Called Xoji Qosta:n (ho ji kos than), the woven caps made by the indigenous people of Northern California resemble acorn tops, and reflect the importance of the acorn as a staple food in the region. The name is difficult to translate into English: ta:n refers to trees, qos means "from the neck up," and xoji means "with spirit" or "truthfulness" or "traditions."

Woman's Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

Museums Make Mistakes

This is a cap. It's an example of woven headwear often made and worn by women of the Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes of Northern California. But the museum that acquired it mistook it for a basket. How do we know?

Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

See the spots of white paint at the top?

That's called Acryloid B-72, and that's how a museum puts identification numbers onto objects in its collection. Ideally, this ID is put in a discreet place. Whoever labeled this hat thought it was a basket, and thought he was labeling it on the bottom.

Woman's Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

"I can tell right away by what is termed 'the lifeline' near the bottom of the basket, as well as the materials that were used to make the entire thing. Bowls would be made using spruce root, which these caps do not have. "

Hoopa Tribal Museum

1849: Gold rush

Some of these caps were possibly collected when non-natives arrived in California during the 1849 gold rush. Oftentimes an object was collected without a complete understanding of its intended purpose.

Woman's Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

"Choosing to weave a cap brings up a whole host of emotions: fear, anxiety, wonder, awe, excitement, hope, and gratitude, to name a few." 

Denise McKenzie


A cap like this one might take a year to make, including gathering materials, and would be worn on ceremonial occasions.

Woman's Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

"None of these materials are found in stores. Only after you have gathered them can you delicately tuck root and fern behind stick, row after row in different designs, all the while putting good intentions and prayers into your creation." 

Kayla Carpenter

The materials and techniques used to make caps today are very similar to the ones used hundreds of years ago.

Caps are made from natural or dyed grasses woven over a structure of alder twigs

Black is often made from adiantum, a type of maidenhair fern.

Red was made from woodwardia fern dyed with alder (Krober 109).

Woman's Cap (1880/1920)Wyoming State Museum

"I wear it for ceremony, I wear it for presentations, I wear it when I am working on my dissertation, and I most certainly wore it on my wedding day."

Vanessa Esquivido

Caps like this are still made today, and are sold, given as gifts and passed down through generations. They are worn during the traditional Flower Dance ceremony at other important events like weddings and graduations.

My cap reminds me to be patient and deliberate about the things I do.
Stephanie Lumsden

Credits: Story

Information regarding the construction and preservation of basket hats from Jesse Dutton-Kenny, Preserving Ethnographic Basketry Collections, presented at CWAM 2016 in Casper, Wyoming and Alfred L. Kroeber, Basket Designs of the Indians of Northwestern California, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 2, No. 4, 1905.

Thanks also to the collections department at the Oakland Museum of California, the California department of parks and recreation, and the National Parks Service Conserve O Gram. Special thanks to the Hoopa Valley Tribal Museum.

All other quotations from the Regailia Stories blog at

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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