Pomo Indians

The Pomo Indians are a linguistic branch of Native American people of Northern California.

Their historic territory was on the Pacific Coast between Cleone and Duncans Point, and inland to Clear Lake. Two middens on the Headlands portion of the Fort Bragg Botanical Gardens attest to their local presence.

The people called Pomo were originally linked by location, language, and other elements of culture. They were not socially or politically linked as a large unified “tribe.”

Instead, they lived in small groups (“bands”), linked by geography, lineage and marriage, and relied upon fishing, hunting and gathering for their food.

They were few in number – 8,000 being the estimate of the highest number and that was in the late 1700’s. Currently there are thought to be around 4,500 Pomo.

Small tribes or family groups of Pomo Indians were clustered from the Noyo River in Fort Bragg to south of Mendocino. Their territory was divided into Northern, Central, Southern and Southwestern Pomos.

At the mouth of the Noyo River there was a small Pomo Indian Village called “Kadiu” in Pomo. The Pomo called the Noyo “Ol-hepech-kem” which means “tree foggy”.

The Coast Yuki Indians lived in an area from the Noyo north to Ten Mile River and further north.

The Pomo and the Coast Yuki were friendly with all of the neighboring tribes, the Huchnom inland from the coast, the Cahto, who were north and east of the Coast Yuki and more inland; and the Sinkyone, who were around the north and west of the Sinkyone range of hills. 

The Pomo were a peaceful people. Their small family groups or bands were well fed and adapted to the temperate climate.

Their dress was simple. Women wore a fringed skirt or apron made of buckskin and if the weather demanded it a deer cape or blanket over their shoulders.

Young men wrapped a fur around their hips and the old men were generally naked. In cold weather a deerskin served as a blanket.
The Pomo lived in circular homes made of wooden poles, mud, and reeds called wickiups.

Though the Pomo Indians were migratory, they often stayed for extended periods wherever they dwelled. Here they would build elliptical shelters from indigenous materials that were in abundance, such as redwood branches and brushes and mud over a rough frame.

The Pomo speared salmon with two-pronged harpoons as the salmon went upstream to spawn. They would catch salmon heading out to sea with a scoop net. Surf fish or smelt were netted in the receding ocean surf.

Eels were caught on a bone gaff at night.

Snares were set for deer and elk.
Acorns, a staple of the Pomo, were not plentiful near the Noyo but there were edible seeds.

They also gathered and ate wild greens, gnats, sap of the white pine, mushrooms, grasshoppers, and small animals such as rabbits, rats, and squirrels. The women were the gatherers and the men were the hunters and fishermen.

Deer, elk, bear and birds furnished bones, hides and meat as well as ornaments of teeth, claws and feathers for clothing and tools.

The Pomo were makers of baskets of every size and shape for many uses. Their baskets’ beauty and craftsmanship make them highly prized today.

The baskets designed for holding water were so tightly woven that their very large ones were used as boats, pushed by men, to carry women across rivers.

According to archeologists who have studied the layers of shell mounds left by the Indians, very little changed in the Indians food supply, way of living, their tools or migratory habits for at least 3,000 years before the white men came.

The Pomo had a religion, a spoken language and lived in small bands governed by a chief. Their villages coexisted peacefully, with families and bands owning specific areas of land that were well marked.

Only when property rights were violated did the Pomo take up arms against each other.

When Russian fur traders established a colony in Pomo territory in 1811, a good relationship was formed between the two. As more settlers entered Pomo lands, they were raided by Mexicans seeking slaves and endured epidemics of smallpox and cholera.

With the Gold Rush, the Pomo territory became even more sought after by settlers, and the U.S. government forced the tribe onto a reservation in 1857.

Pomo Tribes Today

Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of the Big Valley Rancheria (F)
Dry Creek Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians of the Sulphur Bank Rancheria (F)
Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (F) (Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo)
Guidiville Rancheria of California (F)
Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake (F)
Hopland Band of Pomo Indians of the Hopland Rancheria (F)
Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria (F)
Lytton Rancheria of California (F)
Manchester Band of Pomo Indians of the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria (F)
Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians of California (F) (formerly the Pinoleville Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California )
Pinoleville Pomo Nation, (F) (formerly the Pinoleville Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California)
Potter Valley Tribe (F)
Redwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation (F) (Yuki, Concow, Little Lake and other Pomo, Nomlaki, Cahto, Wailaki, and Pit River peoples)
Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians of California (F)
Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California (F)

Other California Tribes


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Bill to take land into trust for Lytton Rancheria

Rep. Jared Huffman introduced a bill this week to take land near Windsor into federal trust for housing and other purposes — but not a casino — as part of the Lytton Rancheria reservation.


The bill, introduced Thursday, would allow the Pomo tribe to return to a communal homeland about 10 miles from their original reservation north of Healdsburg. No gaming will be conducted on the lands to be taken into trust by the federal government, according to Huffman’s office.

In an interview Friday, he said the legislation will give the tribe, the county, and the town of Windsor a measure of certainty over what can be built and how the housing impacts will be offset. He said it also provides a guarantee that a casino will not be developed on the property, an outcome that would not be certain if the tribe sought the alternate route of getting the land into trust through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“An Act of Congress has advantages. It gives everyone control over the outcome,” Huffman said.

The Lytton Rancheria lost its homeland north of Healdsburg in 1958 when it was terminated by the federal government. That termination was later found to be unlawful, and in 1991 the tribe was restored to federally recognized status.

A decade later, through legislation sponsored by former East Bay Congressman George Miller, the Lyttons took over an old cardroom and began operating the San Pablo Casino, generating profits that allowed the tribe to buy up land around Windsor for an intended homeland for its 270 members.

The Lyttons want to build 147 homes on 124 acres south of Windsor River Road, along with a community center, roundhouse and retreat.

Initial strong opposition from the county and Windsor officials, along with skepticism that the tribe might be pursuing another casino, eventually softened with a consensus that the tribe was likely to get approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A number of neighboring residents who objected vociferously to the project ended up selling their land to the tribe at premium prices and moving away.

The application with the BIA has been stalled for years, however, leading some Windsor residents to doubt the assumption that the Lyttons eventually would get their new homeland. They question Huffman’s willingness to make it Indian land, removing it from local land use and zoning restrictions.

“He’s handing it to them on a silver platter,” said Windsor resident Eric Wee, a former journalist and Web entrepreneur who maintains there is still plenty of serious opposition in Windsor against the Lytton project.

“That Huffman has gone ahead and put this legislation forward without further consulting the people of Windsor — we really feel that he is basically not listening to our concerns and going over our head,” said Wee, who met with the congressman recently to voice his objections.

Wee noted that more than 1,500 trees, mostly blue oaks, will be removed to clear the way for the Lytton project.

But he also asserted that most Windsor residents “don’t want a huge slice of land made into a foreign state — a sovereign nation they have no control over.”

Margie Mejia, chairwoman of the Lytton Rancheria, praised Huffman’s bill.

“This is an important day for the tribe. It has been over 60 years since our land was lost to us and this bill represents the light at the end of the tunnel towards the day when we will finally, and forever, have a communal homeland from which our children will grow and prosper,” Mejia said in a statement issued by Huffman’s office.

Huffman said his bill is supported by the Lytton Rancheria, the County of Sonoma and the town of Windsor.

He said an important condition for introducing his bill was that the tribe negotiate an agreement with its government neighbors to address their potential concerns, including the strong opposition to new casinos in Sonoma County.

The negotiated deal is a model for functional, respectful, productive relationships between local governments and tribes, according to Huffman.

Windsor Mayor Bruce Okrepkie on Friday said the town is finalizing an agreement with the tribe over a long-sought municipal aquatic center the tribe would build in exchange for getting water and sewer service to its housing project.

“We felt it would be best to work with them and that’s what the council has been doing,” he said.

But the extension of city utilities outside the urban boundary is something Windsor voters will need to approve.

The tribe said even if it doesn’t get town utilities, it can drill wells, and if necessary build its own waste treatment facility.

The county and Lytton Rancheria signed a memorandum of agreement on March 10 that details the development and management of the land. It calls for the tribe to pay the county $6.1 million for one-time impacts, such as to county roads, parks and woodlands.

Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said Huffman’s legislation will protect the agreement.

“This legislation strikes a key balance in reestablishing a tribal homeland for the Lytton Rancheria, ensuring that the off-reservation impacts of tribal development are mitigated, and guaranteeing that the land will never be used for gaming,” Gorin said in a statement. “Absent this action, the county would have no ability to manage offsite impacts, or preclude gambling.”

Huffman serves as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees tribal policies and lands. He introduced the bipartisan bill with Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.

About the Author:

You can reach Press Democrat Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

How did the Lytton Indians get their name?


Why are the Lytton Indians named as such? I am a Lytton and I am curious why these Indians were named after a very British surname.

–Submitted by James L.