Wappo Indians

The Wappo Indians traditional homelands are in Napa Valley, the south shore of Clear Lake, AlexanderValley, Sonoma Valley, and the Russian River valley.

The Napa Valley is one of California’s longest inhabited areas. Archaeological surveys indicate 10,000 years of uninterrupted habitation.

Yukian speakers controlled the north coast ranges as much as 8,000 years ago. Eventually, other Native groups moved into the Napa Valley, reducing the Yukian domain.

Approximately 3,300 years ago, the Miwok gained a foothold in former Yukian territory. Later, Hokan speakers (the Pomo) expanded southward into Sonoma and Napa Counties.

The Wappo re-established control of Napa Valley about 1,500 years ago, and their territory remained roughly the same until the 1800s.

The Wappo are distantly related to the Yuki people, from which they seem to have diverged at least 500 years ago.

The Wappo spoke a unique dialect of the Yukian language (now extinct).

Prior to European colonization, the Wappo lived by hunting and gathering, and lived in small groups without centralized political authority, in homes built from branches, leaves and mud.

The Wappo became known for beautiful fine-work baskets made of sedge with redbud and bulrush decorations. Feathers, clamshell and abalone beads decorated their gift and ceremonial baskets and the weaving was so precise that baskets were watertight.

Women created the finer, more artistic baskets, while men traditionally made rough workbaskets for gathering and fishing from unpeeled willow.

The Wappo used clamshell beads and magnesite cylinders for money and jewelry. They processed obsidian into shafts, spears and arrowheads, which were used for hunting and trade. Acorns, perennial grasses, wild berries, freshwater shellfish, salmon, fowl and game animals made up their diet.

They established large permanent villages with nearby seasonal resource and task-specific camps.

In 1823, a Spanish and Mexican expedition, led by Ensign Jose Sanches, is the initial contact with the Napa Valley natives. Father Altimura, a Jesuit priest, accompanied the expedition to establish a mission. The mission accounted for at least 550 Wappo baptisms.

When the Mexicans arrived to colonize California, Wappo villages existed near the present-day towns of Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Those on the south shore of Clear Lake were completely absorbed and dispersed to the Spanish missions in California.

After the Spanish and Mexican invasion, the tribes were nearly decimated by forced marches and a smallpox epidemic in 1823. They were further reduced by the “Miramonte’s Epidemic” of rapidly spreading smallpox from 1833 to 1835.

When forced to relocate to various missions for religious indoctrination, many fled to friendlier territory. In Alexander Valley, Clear Lake and Sonoma County, Wappos intermarried with other tribes, and blended with the European invaders.

In the mid 1800s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs begins a census process, and because it disregards the tribal names of Mayakmah, Mutistul, Mishewal, and Onasatis, the Wappo were declared nearly extinct.

Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Wappo at 1,000. Sherburne F. Cook raised this estimate to 1,650. By the early 1850s, the surviving Wappo were reported to number between 188 and 800. However population dropped by 1880 to 50, and the 1910 Census showed only 73 Wappo people.

In 1851, the U.S. Cavalry marched 250 Onasatis to Noyo on the north coast of California.

In 1915, the Dry Creek Rancheria was established near Geyserville, forcing the blending of Pomo, Onasatis and Mishewal-Wappo tribes.