One of the unsolved riddles handed down by Kaweah Country native people to present-day occupants are the prehistoric rock basins. Their distribution is confined to Tulare County and, in fact, they are only located in a small section of the Sierra Nevada in and adjacent to Sequoia National Park.
In this region there exist numerous smoothly rounded basins artistically chiseled out of solid granite. These are the work of an ancient people whom the present-day Native Americans know nothing about — either who made the basins or how.
Commonly called “Indian Bathtubs,” these cavities are located in granite slabs, measure four to five feet in diameter, and are two or more feet in depth. They are shaped like huge wash bowls with smooth curved sides and bottoms.
Initially, they were thought to be worn by the action of running water. But some are found in locations where there is no historical evidence of creeks or rivers.
The basins are found in groups at elevations from 4,000 to 9,000 feet, scattered over an area about 35 miles long. They are only found in the southeast part of the Sierra Nevada in Tulare County, which is drained by the Kaweah and Tule Rivers.
In 1925, George W. Stewart was camped at Redwood Meadow in Sequoia National Park, where he inspected some of these mysterious basins in the company of Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service.
Known as the “Father of Sequoia National Park” for his role in the creation of the park in 1890, Stewart was the editor and publisher of the Visalia Delta newspaper. He is remembered for his efforts to preserve the Big Trees. Before his death in 1931, he wrote extensively on national parks including an article on the rock basins that was published in the American Anthropologist in 1929.
In this article, Stewart described the basins near Redwood Meadow. These specimens had been excavated in the tops of small granite knob-like outcrops scattered among the giant sequoias, pines, and firs adjoining the meadow.
“The knobs consist essentially of unfractured, massive granite and measure from five to fifteen feet in height and from twenty to thirty feet in major diameter” he described. “The basins are almost perfectly circular in outline and smoothly concave. In a general way, they resemble the well known mortar holes in which the Indians grind acorns and seeds, but they are many times larger and more smoothly finished.”
Nearly a century later, there is still no definitive research to explain these curious basins. One conclusion in the Stewart article was that the basins are of artificial, not natural origin. Who made this curious rockwork and how they were used remains one of the great mysteries of the Sequoia region of Tulare County.
Disclaimer: These rock basins are archaeological sites and may contain information helpful to researchers in deciphering their origin. It is illegal to excavate, disturb, or remove any forest materials from those vicinities.