California Native Americans

Bering Land Bridge (10,000 -12,000 or earlier)

Tribes divided by 6 major language families

Map2CA. Language Map
Map N.A. Language Map
  1. Algonkian of N.W.; centered on Klamath River & coast
    - Yurok of the redwoods

  2. Athabascan were neighbors with Algonkian
    - Tolowa extreme north, Huba (Hoopa of the lower Trinity River)

  3. Penutian of central CA including Sac. Valley and S.F. Bay
    - Wintun (26,000) east bank of Sacramento River
    - Miwok west of Sacramento River & gold country (Sierra)
    - Coast Miwok such as in Pt Reyes and Sonoma County
    Paiute- Lake Miwok of Clear Lake
    - Maidu of foothills and high Sierras including Chico

    - Nisenan (Folsom, Auburn, Foresthill, Placerville, Grass Valley)

  4. Hokan widely distributed: Mt. Shasta, Pit River & Modoc Plateau
    - Ishi, last of the Yahi people (1911); Ishi Setting (Black Rock)
    - also existed in southern California such as San Diego Mission

  5. Uto-Aztekan of the arid lands and Great Basin
    - Paiute of Warner Mountains and Susanville (steppe climate)
    - Hopi tribes of Arizona and even Aztecs of Mexico

  6. Yukian language found exclusively in California (true natives)
    - short-statured, long-headed people of Mendocino

Adapting their modes of living to ecosystems

Comparison of culture areas

  • Environment = Economic base
  • Economic base = productivity of land
    • population density, material culture & settlement (permanent vs. nomadic)
    • material culture came from land
      • (tools, shelter, dress, etc.)


Northwestern California culture area (Tolowa, Yurok, Hupa..)

Central California culture area (Maidu, Miwok, Wintun...)

California Index