Wintu / Wintun Indians

The traditional location of the Wintun Indians (aka Wetu or Wintu) was in the Greater Sacramento Valley in California.

The tribe consisted of three divisions — the Northern Division, or Wintu; the Central Division, or Nomelaki; and the Southern Division, or Patwin.

Their range is from approximately present-day Lake Shasta to San Francisco Bay, along the western side of the Sacramento River to the Coast Range.

Each of these tribes speak one of the Wintuan languages.

Linguistic and archaeological evidence suggests that the Wintun people probably entered the California area around 500 AD from what is now southern Oregon, introducing bow and arrow technology to the region (Golla 2011: 205).

Their name derives from ‘wintuh’, meaning person, which the people called themselves.

They lived in domed-shape tule mat grass houses or huts.
The Wintun men first created a circular willow framework. The size was about 7 – 10 feet in diameter and about 7 feet high.

The women harvested the long green stems of tule or other reeds that were dried over several weeks. After the grass had dried, the  women weaved and sewed the rushes into rectangular mats about 2 feet wide.

The mats were sewn together with dogbane (Indian hemp) and tied to the willow frame. An opening in the roof created a smoke hole. The doors of the Wintun grass houses always faced towards the east and were built in sight of water.

The clothes worn by the Wintun men varied according to the seasons. During the hot summer months the men wore a breech cloth or simply went naked.

In the winter months warm clothing was needed and their winter clothes were made from the hides of animals such as deer (buckskin), elk, squirrel, rabbit and wildcats.

The Wintun clothing and garments included fur robes and cloaks, shirts, wrap-around kilts, mitts and leggings that were often decorated with fringes.

They wore one-piece moccasins with a front seam whilst hunting or traveling, but went barefoot in the warmer weather.

The clothes worn by the Wintun women included blouses and front and back aprons made of shredded willow bark.

Their dress fell to calf length and were belted and fringed. Special clothes were strung with ornaments, tassels and porcupine quills.

Twined tule sandals or moccasins covered their feet in the winter and they wore fur robes to keep out the cold.

They were neighbors to the Yana tribe, with whom they frequently traded.

The Wintun fished for salmon along the McCloud and Sacramento rivers. They also fished for Steelhead trout along the upper Trinity River. They utilized broad dugout canoes for fishing.

They Wintun hunted animals such as deer, elk, chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, quail, mountain sheep and bear, and also ate insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and dried locusts.

The weapons made by the Wintun included the use of Obsidian that was abundant throughout the Wintun territory and was used to make arrowheads, spear points, knives, and various tools and scrapers.

The Wintun used a form of body armor made from hard elk hide and slender sticks wrapped together and worn by the warriors.

Acorns were a primary staple of their diet, which they ground and cooked into a mush or used as a flour to make bread, and they also gathered buckeye nuts, hazel nuts, bulbs, seeds, roots and grasses for food.

The enemies of the Wintun were the Shasta, Klamath and Modoc tribes.

The opening of the California trail brought wagon trains of white settlers who invaded the Wintun lands. The discovery of gold in California increased the number interlopes and gold rush settlers inundated their Wintun homeland.

The Wintun were fierce defenders of their diminishing lands but the numbers of their people swiftly diminished as they succumbed to European diseases such as measles, malaria, smallpox and influenza.

The white settlers encroached their lands using forests to build fences and settlements. They also brought herds of cattle that ruined the land.

Oak trees were cut down and acorns, a staple food of the Wintun, became very difficult to obtain.

Conflicts arose between the gold rush settlers and the Wintun Native Indians which resulted in several massacres of Wintun people which culminated in the Wintoon War.

Wintun Tribes Today:

Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community of the Colusa Rancheria
Cortina Indian Rancheria of Wintun Indians of California

Other California Tribes

Wintun Timeline