The California cultural area does not exactly conform to the state of California’s boundaries, and many California Indians on the eastern border with Nevada are classified as Great Basin tribes and some tribes on the Oregon border are classified as Plateau Indians.

Location: Modern California and Baja Peninsula.

Terrain: Coastal mountain range,Sierra Mountains,Pacific Ocean,Desert,Large rivers. Has a high population density and a great variety of plants and animals.


The California Culture Area includes the Tolowa, Shasta, Karok, Yurok, Hupa, Whilikut, Chilula, Chimarike and Wiyot tribes.

The distinctive northern rainforest environment encouraged these tribes to establish their villages along the many rivers, lagoons and coastal bays.

While this territory was crisscrossed with thousands of trails, the most efficient form of transportation was the dugout canoe.

These Indians used the great coast Redwood trees for the manufacture of their boats and houses. Redwoods were cleverly felled by burning at the base and then split with elkhorn wedges.

Redwood and sometimes cedar planks were used to construct rectangular gabled homes.

Twined baskets in a variety of designs were manufactured. Many of these survived into the twentieth century and this traditional skill has enjoyed a great renaissance in the past twenty years.

The elaborate ritual life of these tribes featured a World Renewal Ceremony held each Fall.

Sponsored by the wealthiest men in the communities, the ceremony’s purpose was to prevent future natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods or failure of acorn crops or a poor salmon run.

This and other traditional rituals continue to be practiced, despite the grinding poverty of many of these groups.

Northwest California tribes were governed by the most wealthy and powerful lineage leaders.

The great emphasis on wealth found in these cultures is reflected in the emphasis on private ownership of food resources such as oak groves and fishing areas. This type of material society was rare in most Indian tribes

Northeastern California Indians

This culture region included the Modoc, Achumawi, and Atsugewi (Pit River) tribes. The western portion of this territory was rich in acorns and Salmon.

Further to the East, the climate changed from mountainous to a high desert type of topography. Here food resources included grass seeds, tubers, and berries, along with rabbit and deer.

North eastern California Indians found tule (cattails) to be a useful source of both food (the rootbulb is consumed) and a convenient material when laced together to form floor mats and structure covering.

Volcanic mountains in the Western portion of their territory supplied the valuable trade commodity obsidian, which was used to make spears, arrows, knives and scraping tools.

The Social-political organization of these peoples was independent but connected to their neighbors by marriage ties.

Following contact, the Achumawi and Atsuguewi suffered a tremendous population decline due to vigilante violence and respiratory diseases.

The Modocs spectacular 1872 resistance to removal to the Oregon territory was the last heroic military defense of native sovereignty in 19th century California Indian History.

Some surviving Northeast tribesmen received public land allotments around the turn of the century.

The XL Rancheria was established for some of these Indians in 1938. Tragically, the surviving Modocs were exiled to either Oregon or Oklahoma.

Northern California Tribes:

Northern California Indians include the Alturas Rancheria, Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria, Big Lagoon Rancheria, Blue Lake Rancheria, Cedarville Rancheria,Elk Valley Rancheria,Fort Bidwell Reservation, Northern California Agency, Pit River Tribal Council, Quartz Valley Reservation, Resighini Rancheria,Susanville Indian Rancheria, and Trinidad Rancheria.


All of the central California Indians relied heavily on the acorn nuts and salmon that could be readily obtained in the waterways north of Monterey Bay. Deer, elk, antelope, and rabbit were also harvested in vast quantities.

Basketry reached the height of greatest variety in the Central California region. The Pomo basket makers created the most elaborate baskets. Both coiled and twined type baskets were produced throughout the region.

Fortunately basket making survived the years of suppression of native arts and culture to once again become one of the most important culturally defining elements for Indians in this region.

The semi-subterranean roundhouse was common in this area. Kuksu dances were held in the past and continue to this day. These rituals assure the renewal of the world’s natural foods, both plant and animal.

Despite differences between tribes, these rituals share similar purposes.

Villages were fiercely independent and governed internally. The abundant food supply allowed for the establishment of villages of up to 1000 individuals. Each family produced all that was necessary for survival.

Central California Tribes:
Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria
Benton Paiute Reservation
Berry Creek Rancheria
Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley
Big Sandy Rancheria
Big Valley Rancheria
Bishop Paiute Tribe
Bridgeport Indian Colony
Buena Vista Rancheria
Cahto Tribal Executive Committee
California Valley Miwok Tribe
Chicken Ranch Rancheria
Cloverdale Rancheria
Cold Springs Rancheria
Colusa Rancheria
Cortina Rancheria
Coyote Valley Reservation
Dry Creek Rancheria
Elem Indian Colony
Enterprise Rancheria
Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
Fort Independence Reservation
Greenville Rancheria
Grindstone Rancheria
Guidiville Rancheria
Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake
Hopland Reservation
Ione Band of Miwok Indians
Jackson Rancheria
Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Reservation
Lower Lake Rancheria
Lytton Rancheria
Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians
Mechoopda Indian Tribe of the Chico Rancheria
Middletown Rancheria
Mooretown Rancheria
North Fork Rancheria
Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians
Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians
Pinoleville Reservation
Potter Valley Tribe
Redwood Valley Reservation
Robinson Rancheria
Round Valley Reservation
Rumsey Yocha Dehe Winton Nation
Santa Rosa Rancheria
Scotts Valley Rancheria
Sherwood Valley Rancheria
Shingle Springs Rancheria
Stewarts Point Rancheria
Table Mountain Rancheria
Tejon Indian Tribe
Timbi-Sha Shoshone Tribe
Tule River Reservation
Tuolumne Rancheria
United Auburn Indian Community


The Southern California Cultural Area is a varied and somewhat unique region of the state.

Beginning in the north, tribes found in this area are the Chumash, Alliklik, Kitanemuk, Serrano, Gabrielino Luiseno Cahuilla, and the Kumeyaay.

The landmass and climate varied considerably from the windswept offshore channel Islands that were principally inhabited by Chumash speaking peoples.

Communication with their mainland neighbors was by large and graceful planked canoes powered by double paddle ores. These vessels were called “Tomols” and manufactured by a secretive guild of craftsmen.

They could carry hundreds of pounds of trade goods and up to a dozen passengers.

Like their northern neighbors, the Tactic speaking peoples of San Nicholas and Santa Catalina Islands built planked canoes and actively traded rich marine resources with mainland villages and tribes.

Shoreline communities enjoyed the rich animal and faunal life of the ocean, bays and wetland environments.

Interior tribes like the Serrano, Luiseno, Cahuilla, and Kumeyaay shared an environment rich in Sonoran life such as vast quantities of rabbit, deer and an abundance of acorn, seeds and native grasses. At the higher elevations Desert Bighorn sheep were hunted.

Villages varied in size from poor desert communities with villages of as little as 100 people to the teaming Chumash villages with over a thousand inhabitants.

Conical homes of arroweed, tule or croton were common, while whale bone structures could be found on the coast and nearby Channel Islands.

Interior groups manufactured clay storage vessels sometimes decorated with paint. Baskets were everywhere, manufactured with unique designs.

Catalina Island possessed a soapstone or steatite quarry. This unique stone was soft and could easily be carved with cutting tools and shaped into vessels, pipes and cooking slabs.

Each tribe and community had a chieftain, sometimes females, whose duty it was to organize community events and settle conflicts among their followers.

This leader was usually assisted by a crier or assistant. Shamans or Indian doctors were known everywhere and greatly respected.

The ritual use of the hallucinogen jimsonweed (Datura meteloides) was primarily used in male puberty rituals. Young boys reaching puberty sometimes died from an overdose of the drink.

Like other California Indian communities, society was divided into three classes, the elite, a middle class and finally a less successful lower class.

These robust peoples were among the first to encounter the strangers who would change their world forever.

Southern California Tribes:
Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians

Barona Band of Mission Indians

Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians

Campo Band of Mission Indians

Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians

Inaja-Cosmit Reservation

Jamul Indian Village

La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians

La Posta Band of Mission Indians

Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians

Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians

Morongo Band of Mission Indians

Pala Band of Mission Indians

Pauma/Yuima Band of Mission Indians

Pechanga Band of Mission Indians

Ramona Band of Mission Indians

Rincon Band of Mission Indians

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

San Pasqual Band of Diegueno Indians

Santa Rosa Band of Mission Indians

Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians

Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians

Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians

Southern California Agency

Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians

Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians

All California Tribes

  • Achomawi, Achumawi, Pit River tribe, northeastern California
  • Atsugewi, northeastern California
  • Cahuilla, southern California
  • Chumash, coastal southern California
    • Barbareño
    • Cruzeño, Island Chumash
    • Inezeño, Ineseño
    • Obispeño, Northern Chumash
    • Purisimeño
    • Ventureño
  • Chilula, northwestern California
  • Chimariko, extinct, northwestern California
  • Cupeño, southern California
  • Eel River Athapaskan peoples
    • Lassik, northwestern California
    • Mattole (Bear River), northwestern California
    • Nongatl, northwestern California
    • Sinkyone, northwestern California
    • Wailaki, Wai-lakki, northwestern California
  • Esselen, west-central California
  • Hupa, northwestern California
    • Tsnungwe
  • Juaneño, Acjachemem, southwestern California
  • Karok, northwestern California
  • Kato, Cahto, northwestern California
  • Kitanemuk, south-central California
  • Konkow, northern-central California
  • Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumiai
    • Ipai, southwestern California
      • Jamul, southwestern California
    • Tipai, southwestern California and northwestern Mexico
  • La Jolla Complex, southern California, c. 6050–1000 BCE
  • Luiseño, southwestern California
  • Maidu, northeastern California
    • Konkow, northern California
    • Mechoopda, northern California
    • Nisenan, Southern Maidu, northern California
  • Miwok, Me-wuk, central California
    • Coast Miwok, west-central California
    • Lake Miwok, west-central California
    • Valley and Sierra Miwok
  • Monache, Western Mono, central California
  • Nisenan, eastern-central California
  • Nomlaki, northwestern California
  • Ohlone, Costanoan, west-central California
    • Awaswas
    • Chalon
    • Chochenyo
    • Karkin
    • Mutsun
    • Ramaytush
    • Rumsen
    • Tamyen
    • Yelamu
  • Patwin, central California
    • Suisun, Southern Patwin, central California
  • Pauma Complex, southern California, c. 6050 — 1000 BCE
  • Pomo, northwestern and central-western California
  • Salinan, coastal central California
    • Antoniaño
    • Migueleño
  • Serrano, southern California
  • Shasta northwestern California
    • Konomihu, northwestern California
    • Okwanuchu, northwestern California
  • Tataviam, Allilik (Fernandeño), southern California
  • Tolowa, northwestern California
  • Tongva, Gabrieleño, Fernandeño, San Clemente tribe, coastal southern California
  • Tubatulabal, south-central California
  • Wappo, north-central California
  • Whilkut, northwestern California
  • Wintu, northwestern California
  • Wiyot, northwestern California
  • Yana, northern-central California
    • Yahi
  • Yokuts, central and southern California
    • Chukchansi, Foothill Yokuts, central California
    • Northern Valley Yokuts, central California
    • Tachi tribe, Southern Valley Yokuts, south-central California
  • Yuki, Ukomno’m, northwestern California
    • Huchnom, northwestern California
  • Yurok, northwestern California

Achomawi (Pit River Indians)
Antoniaño (See Salinan)
(Pit River Indians)
Bear River
Cahuilla (Also see Mission Indians)
Campo Band of Diegueno Mission Indians
Chumash (Dialects: Roseño, Purisimeño, Barbareño, Inezeño, Ventureño, Obispeño, Santa Paula, Cruzeño, Emigdiano Allilik)
Chilula (See Hoopa)
Coast Miwok (See Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
Costanoan (Dialects: Ramaytush, San Jose, Juichen, Chocheño, Tamyen, Awaswas, Chalon, Mutsun, Rumsen)- See Ohlone
Diegueño – see Kumeyaay
Fernandeño: see Tataviam
Gabrieliño: see Tongva
Ipai – see Kumeyaay
Konkow – see Maidu
Kumeyaay (Diegueño)
Lake Miwok
Mesa Grande
Mission Indians
Miwok (Me-wuk)
Paipai (Akwa’ala)
Paiute (Northern, Southern)
Pit River / Achomawi
San Clemente
San Nicolas
Santa Catalina
Shasta tribe
Sierra Miwok
Tachi tribe
Tataviam (Fernandeño)
Tongva (Gabrieliño)
Valley Miwok
Wiyot (Also see California Rancherias)
Yocha Dehe
Yuki (Ukomno’m)
Coast Yuki

Also see: Great Basin Indians

ArcticCaliforniaNortheastGreat BasinGreat Plains
NW CoastPlateauSoutheastSouthwestSub Arctic



Article Index:

California Indian Wars

Because of the small U.S. Army garrison west of the Rockies, and the economic and political effects of the California Gold Rush, most of the early conflicts with the mostly unwarlike California Indians involved local parties of miners or settlers.


Occasionally companies of the California Militia were involved whose actions were dignified with the name of an “Expedition” or a “War”. The first of these, the Gila Expedition, nearly bankrupted the state.Later, during the American Civil War, California State volunteers replaced Federal troops and won the ongoing Bald Hills War and the Owens Valley Indian War and engaged in minor actions against hostiles in Northern California.

California and Oregon State volunteer garrisons in Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and the Arizona Territories also engaged conflicts with the Apache, Cheyenne, Goshute, Navaho, Paiute, Shoshone, Sioux and Ute Indians from 1862 to 1866.

Following the Civil War, California was mostly pacified, but federal troops replaced the volunteers and again took up the struggle against Native Americans in the remote regions of the Mojave Desert, and in the northeast of the state against the Snakes and Modoc during the next decade.

California Indian Wars, Battles, Skirmishes, and Events

  • Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, April 22, 1850. Passed by the legislature of California, it allowed settlers to continue to the Californio practice of capturing and using Native people as forced workers. It also provided the basis for the enslavement and trafficking in Native American Native labor, particularly that of young women and children, which was carried on as a legal business enterprise. Raids on villages were made to supply the demand, the young women and children were carried off to be sold, the men and remaining people often being killed. This practice did much to destroy Native tribes during the California Gold Rush.
  • Gila Expedition April to September 13, 1850. A costly failure by California Militia to punish the Yuma for the Glanton Massacre, that nearly bankrupted the state.
  • First Pitt River Expedition, April 28, to September 13, 1850. U. S. Army Expedition to establish relations with the Achomawi (Pit River), Atsugewi (Hat Creek) and Modoc.
  • Bloody Island Massacre, May 15, 1850, 200 Pomo people killed by a U. S. Army detachment under Nathaniel Lyon, on an island in Clear Lake near Upper Lake, California. This was in retaliation for the killing of two Clear Lake settlers who had been enslaving and murdering the Pomo.
  • El Dorado Indian War 1850–1851, California State Militia against the Native Americans in El Dorado County.
  • Mariposa War 1850–1851, California State Militia against the Yosemites and Chowchillas.
  • Land Claims Act of 1851
  • Garra Revolt 1851, by Cahuilla and Cupeño near Warner’s Ranch, led by Antonio Garra tried to unite all of the tribes of Southern California to drive out the Americans. It was put down in a campaign by Major Samuel P. Heintzelman, leading a detachment of U. S. Army soldiers and State Militia and by the capture of Garra by the Cahuilla leader Juan Antonio.
  • Three commissioners negotiated eighteen treaties with California native peoples at various ranches and army posts, mainly in southern and central California. (March 1851 – January 1852)
  • Yuma War 1851–1852, triggered by the Glanton Gang’s abuse of the Yuma on the lower Colorado River. After the failure of California’s 1850 Gila Expedition to quell the rising, Major Samuel P. Heintzelman, led Federal troops against the Yuma in the Yuma Expedition, establishing Fort Yuma and making a peace with the Yuma in October 1852.
  • Bridge Gulch Massacre April 23, 1852, more than 150 Wintu people were killed by about 70 American men led by William H. Dixon, the Trinity County sheriff. The massacre of this band was in response to the killing of Colonel John Anderson by another band of Wintu.
  • Indian Appropriation Act of March 3, 1852. The Act authorized five Federal military reservations to be made from up to 25,000 acres of Public Domain lands. Sebastian Indian Reservation was established by the first superintendent Edward F. Beale. Col. Thomas J. Henley, the second superintendent, in 1854, established the Nome Lakee Indian Reservation; Nome Cult Farm; Fresno Indian Farm; and Kings River Indian Farm. In the following years the U.S. military, or California Militia volunteer companies of citizens, began rounding up the Indians, driving them to the reservations and keeping them there by force. A Superintendent of Indian Affairs was appointed for California to oversee them.
  • U.S. Senate rejected the 18 treaties negotiated with California native peoples on July 7, 1852 in a secret vote. For the next 50 years the documents remained classified.
  • Yontoket Massacre, 1853 massacre of Tolowa people at the village of Yontocket by company of citizens from Crescent City in Klamath County (now Del Norte County, California).
  • Achulet Massacre, in 1854 massacre of more than 65 Tolowa people by settlers of Klamath County, California.
  • Kaibai Creek Massacre, August 17, 1854. 42 Winnemem Wintu men, women and children are killed by a party of white settlers at a village at Kabyai Creek, on the McCloud River.
  • Klamath and Salmon River Indian War, Klamath War or Red Cap War of 1855, against Yuroks and Karuks.
    • Klamath River Massacres (January 22, 1855). Whites in Klamath County, California, commenced a “war of extermination against the Indians”, in retaliation for the murder of six settlers and the theft of some cattle.
    • Klamath River Reservation established November 16, 1855, “a strip of territory commencing at the Pacific Ocean and extending one mile in width on each side of the Klamath River, for a distance of 20 miles.”
  • Mendocino Indian Reservation established in 1856. It was closed in 1866, its inhabitants moved to Round Valley Reservation.
  • Tule River War of 1856.State Militia fought against the Yokut in the southern San Joaquin Valley.
    • Tule River Farm established in 1858.
  • Second Pitt River Expedition 1857
  • Northeast California Indian Wars (1858–71):Local settler parties or Militia companies fought against the Yanaand Achomawi people.
    • Spring, 1859 Local settlers raise an expedition for two months against the Yahi.
    • California’s Pitt River Expedition 1859 Yana attacked, rounded up and removed from their homeland by a state militia expedition.
    • August 5, 1861. Skirmish in the Upper Pit River Valley with the Achomawi.
    • August 15–22, 1861. Expedition from Fort Crook to the Pit River
      • August 19. Skirmish near Kellogg’s Lake, Cal.
    • 1865 Mill Creek Fight, 40 Yahi killed by settler posse following the Workman Massacre.
    • 1865 Silva Massacre, 30 Yahi killed by settler posse.
    • 1866 Three Knolls Massacre, 40 Yahi killed by settler posse., including Ishi’s father
    • 1867 Camp Seco Massacre, 45 Yahi killed by settler posse.
    • 1871 Kingsley Cave Massacre, 30 Yahi killed by settler posse.
  • Bald Hills War (1858–1864)Involving first California Milita, then settler Volunteers, then U. S. Army forces, and finally California Volunteers against the Chilula, Lassik, Hupa, Mattole, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Tsnungwe, Wailaki, Whilkut and Wiyot Native American peoples.
    • Wintoon War 1858-1859
    • Federal Peacekeeping fails, State inaction, Settler militia campaigns1859-1861
      • 1860 Wiyot Massacre
    • 1st California Volunteer Campaign1862
      • Smith River Reservation (1862-1868), acted as a replacement for the flooded Klamath River Reservation and as a POW camp for the natives captured in the Bald Hills War.
    • Two Years War 1863-1864
  • Mendocino War 1859-1860 against the Yuki.
  • Bitter Spring Expedition 1860 Major James Henry Carleton, with reinforced First Regiment of Dragoons, Company K, attacked suspected Paiute raiders along the Mojave Road.
  • August 3–12, 1861. Scout from Fort Crook to Round Valley, in Mendocino County
  • Owens Valley Indian War (1862–1865) War against the Owens Valley Paiutes or Numaand their allies.
    • Lt. Colonel Evans Campaigns
    • Keyesville Massacre (April 19, 1863)
    • Captain McLaughlin’s Campaign (April 24 – July 31, 1863)
    • Owens Lake Massacre (January 6, 1865)
  • Mohave Desert Indian Campaign 1866 – 1870Chemehuevi raids on miners and ranchers in the San Bernardino Mountains and Mohave Desert during 1866 provoked retaliation by a San Bernardino County posse.
    • Skirmish of Rabbit Springs 1867 Defeat of Chemehuevi at Rabbit Springs by a county posse.
    • Federal Cavalry patrol Mohave Desert from Camp Cady and posts along the Mohave Road 1868-1870
  • Skirmish at Rainy Springs Canyon March 12, 1867 U.S. Cavalry from Fort Independence pursue and defeat Panamint Shoshone raiders after their raid on the Spanish mines.
  • Modoc War, or Modoc Campaign (1872–1873): 53 Modoc warriors under Captain Jack held off 675 men of the U.S. Army for 13 months. Major General Edward Canby was killed during a peace conference.
  • Calloway Affair of 1880 War between the U. S. Army and the Chemehuevi was averted following the murder of Oliver P. Calloway near what is now Blythe, California.

Wiyot Indians

Wiyot is the name of one of three culturally and linguistically related groups on the Eel River Delta in California during the early nineteenth century. They were culturally similar to the Yurok.