Pomo people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Edward S. Curtis Collection People 100.jpg

Pomo girl; by Edward S. Curtis' from The North American Indian
Total population
1770: 8,000
1851: 3,500-5,000
1910: 777-1,200
1990: 4,900
2010: 10,308
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( California: Mendocino County, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Lake County, Colusa County)
Pomoan languages, English
Kuksu, Messiah Cult, traditional Pomo religion
Jump to: navigation, search
Edward S. Curtis Collection People 100.jpg

Pomo girl; by Edward S. Curtis' from The North American Indian
Total population
1770: 8,000
1851: 3,500-5,000
1910: 777-1,200
1990: 4,900
2010: 10,308
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( California: Mendocino County, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Lake County, Colusa County)
Pomoan languages, English
Kuksu, Messiah Cult, traditional Pomo religion

The Pomo people are an indigenous people of California. The historic Pomo territory in northern California was large, bordered by the Pacific Coast to the west, extending inland to Clear Lake, and mainly between Cleone and Duncans Point. One small group, the Northeastern Pomo of the Stonyford vicinity of Colusa County, was separated from the core Pomo area by lands inhabited by Yuki and Wintuan speakers. The name Pomo derives from a conflation of the Pomo words [pʰoːmoː] and [pʰoʔmaʔ].[1] It originally meant "those who live at red earth hole" and was once the name of a village in southern Potter Valley near the present-day community of Pomo.[2] It may have referred to local deposits of the red mineral magnesite, used for red beads, or to the reddish earth and clay such as hematite mined in the area.[3] In the Northern Pomo dialect, -pomo or -poma was used as a suffix after the names of places, to mean a subgroup of people of the place.[4] By the year 1877 (possibly beginning with Powers), the use of Pomo had been extended in English to mean the entire people known today as the Pomo.[3]


Pomo people's basket

The people called Pomo were originally linked by location, language, and cultural expression. They were not socially or politically linked as one large unified group. Instead, they lived in small groups or bands, linked by geography, lineage and marriage. Traditionally they relied upon fishing, hunting and gathering for their food.


Pomo, also known as Kulanapan, is a language family that includes seven distinct and mutually unintelligible languages, including Northern Pomo, Northeastern Pomo, Eastern Pomo, Southeastern Pomo, Central Pomo, Southern Pomo, and Kashaya. John Wesley Powell classified the language family as Kulanapan in 1891, based on the name first employed by George Gibbs in 1853. He referred to the language by the name of one band from the Clear Lake Pomo.[5]


The Pomo people participated in shamanism; one form this took was the Kuksu religion that was held by people in Central and Northern California. It included elaborate acting and dancing ceremonies in traditional costume, an annual mourning ceremony, puberty rites of passage, shamanic intervention with the spirit world, and an all-male society that met in subterranean dance rooms.[6][7] The Pomo believed in a supernatural being, the Kuksu or Guksu (depending on their dialect), who lived in the south and who came during ceremonies to heal their illnesses. Medicine men dressed up as Kuksu, their god.

A later shamanistic movement was the "Messiah Cult", introduced by the Wintun people. It was practiced through 1900. This cult believed in prophets who had dreams, "waking visions" and revelations from "presiding spirits" and "virtually formed a priesthood." The prophets earned much respect and status among the people.[8]

Traditional narratives[edit]

The record of Pomo myths, legends, tales, and histories is extensive. The body of narratives is classed within the Central California cultural pattern. Influences from the Northwest Coast and, more tenuously, from the Plateau region have also been noted.[6]


The Pomo had a strong mythology of creation and world order. It includes the personification of the Kuksu or Guksu healer spirit, spirits from six cardinal directions, and the Coyote as their ancestor and creator god.[9]


According to some linguistic reconstructions, the Pomo people descend from the Hokan-speaking people in the Sonoma County, California region. This area was where coastal redwood forests met with interior valleys with mixed woodlands. In this hypothesis, about 7000 BCE, a Hokan-speaking people migrated into the valley and mountain regions around Clear Lake, and their language evolved into Proto-Pomo. The lake was rich in resources. About 4000 BCE to 5000 BCE, some of the proto-Pomo migrated into the Russian River Valley and north to present-day Ukiah. Their language diverged into western, southern, central and northern Pomo.

Another people, possibly Yukian speakers, lived first in the Russian River Valley and the Lake Sonoma area. The Pomo slowly displaced them and took over these places.[10] Recently, analysis of archaeological evidence has suggested that the indigenous historical economy observed by the Spanish at their arrival in the Pomo lands of central California may have first developed during the Mostin Culture period (8500-6300 BP) in the Clear Lake Basin. This was an economy that was based on women processing acorns by mortar and pestle.[11]

Tolay Lake site[edit]

Over 1,000 prehistoric charmstones and numerous arrowheads have been unearthed at Tolay Lake, in southern Sonoma County. These are attributed to both Pomo and Coast Miwok people. As a sacred site, the lake was a ceremonial gathering and healing place.[12]

Lake Sonoma sites[edit]

A Pomo Indian in a tule boat, circa 1924.

Both of these Skaggs Phase-sites contained millstones and handstones for grinding seeds. The villages may have been used for hunting or temporary camps. Obsidian was used rarely, and it came from Mt. Konocti in present-day Lake County. There were no petroglyphs. The population lived only along major creeks.[13]

"The Dry Creek Phase" lasted from 500 BCE to 1300 CE. During this phase, the indigenous people settled the lands more extensively and permanently. Archaeologists believe a Pomo group took over the lands from the earlier peoples in this phase. They created 14 additional sites in the Warm Springs and Upper Dry Creek areas. Bowl mortars and pestles appeared in this phase, probably used by women to pound acorns (as opposed to the milling stones used for seeds). The sites were more permanent and lifeways "more complex". Decorative beads and ornaments were made in this phase, and half the artifacts were made of obsidian. Steatite or soapstone objects were found, which must have been imported into the region through trade, as the rock does not exist locally. Relatively soft and easy to carve, soapstone was used to make beads, pendants and mortars. Trade was on a large scale beyond the region.[14]

The next phase, named the "Smith Phase" after the Pomo consultants, lasted from 1300 CE to the mid-19th century. Researchers mapped 30 sites in this era showing a gradual transition and intensification of trends. The bow and arrow appeared as the main technological advancement. Manufacturing of shell beads, with accompanying production of drills to make holes for stringing and sewing, was important. Drills were found in high numbers. Numerous clamshell beads, a major currency among the Indians of Central California, were also found, indicating a vast trade network.[15]

Post contact[edit]

Ras K'Dee, Pomo singer and editor of SNAG Magazine,[16] performing in Point Arena, California

In 1800 there were estimated to be 10,000 to 18,000 Pomo in total among 70 tribes speaking seven Pomo languages.[17] The way of life of the Pomo changed with the arrival of Russians at Fort Ross (1812 to 1841) on the Pacific coastline, and Spanish missionaries and European-American colonists coming in from the south and east. The Pomo native to the coastline and Fort Ross were known as the Kashaya. They interacted and traded with the Russians.

The Spanish missionaries moved many of the southern Pomo from the Santa Rosa Plain north to Mission San Rafael at present-day Healdsburg to between 1821 and 1828. Only a few Pomo speakers moved south to Mission Sonoma, the other Franciscan mission, located on the north side of San Francisco Bay. The Pomo who remained in the present-day Santa Rosa area of Sonoma County were often called Cainameros in regional history books from the time of Spanish and Mexican occupation.

In the Russian River Valley, a missionary baptized the Makahmo Pomo people of the Cloverdale area. Many Pomo left the valley because of this. One such group fled to the Upper Dry Creek Area. The archeology surveyors of the Lake Sonoma region believe that European encroachment was the reason why Pomo villages became more centralized; the people retreated to the remote valley to band together for defense and mutual support.[15]

National Thorn was the first of Grace Hudson's 684 popular portraits of Pomo individuals

The Pomo suffered from infectious diseases brought in by new migrants, including measles and smallpox. They did not have immunity to such diseases and fatalities were high.[17] In 1837 a deadly epidemic of smallpox, originating in settlements at Fort Ross, caused numerous deaths of native people in the Sonoma and Napa regions.[18]

The Russian River Valley was settled in 1850 by the 49ers, and the Lake Sonoma Valley was homesteaded out. The US government forced many Pomo on to reservations so that the new Americans could homestead the former Pomo lands. Some Pomo took jobs as ranch laborers; others lived in refugee villages.

On 15 May 1850, after tensions and raids by a band in the area, the 1st Dragoons US Cavalry attacked a different group of Indians as mistaken punishment. They slaughtered from 60-400 people, mostly women and children of the Clear Lake Pomo and neighboring tribes, on an island in Clear Lake.[19] The event became known as the Bloody Island Massacre.

One ghost town in the Lake Sonoma Valley excavations was identified as Amacha, built for 100 people but hardly used. Elder natives of the region remember their grandfathers hid at Amacha in the mid-1850s, trying to evade the oncoming immigrants. They tell that one day soldiers took all the people in the village to government lands and burned the village houses.[20]

From 1891 to 1935, starting with National Thorn, the artist Grace Hudson painted over 600 portraits, mainly of Pomo individuals living near her in the Ukiah area. Her style was sympathetic and poignant, as she portrayed domestic native scenes that would have been fast disappearing in that time.[21]


In 1770 there were about 8,000 Pomo people; in 1851 population was estimated between 3,500 and 5,000; and in 1880 estimated at 1450.[22] The 1910 Census reported 777 Pomo, but that is probably low. Anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber estimated 1,200 in the same year.[23] According to the 1930 census there were 1,143. In 1990, the census showed 4,900.

There are 10,308 Pomo people in the United States, according to the 2010 United States Census. 8,578 reside in California.[24]

Villages and communities[edit]

Federally recognized tribes[edit]

The United States acknowledges many groups of native people of the United States as "federally recognized tribes", giving them that status of "domestic dependent nations" under the jurisdiction of the federal government but with some autonomy from the state of California. Many other groups are not recognized.

The Pomo groups presently recognized by the United States are based in Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino counties. They include the following tribes:[25]

Historical groups[edit]

The following historical list of Pomo villages and tribes is taken largely from John Wesley Powell, 1891:[5]

  • Balló Kaì Pomo, "Oat Valley People."
  • Batemdikáyi.
  • Búldam Pomo (Rio Grande or Big River).
  • Chawishek.
  • Choam Chadila Pomo (Capello).
  • Chwachamajù.
  • Dápishul Pomo (Redwood Canyon).
  • Eastern People (Clear Lake about Lakeport).
  • Erío (mouth of Russian River).
  • Erússi (Fort Ross).
  • Gallinoméro (Russian River Valley below Cloverdale and in Dry Creek Valley).
  • Grualála (northwest corner of Sonoma County).
  • Kabinapek (western part of Clear Lake basin).
  • Kaimé (above Healdsburg).
  • Kai Pomo (between Eel River and South Fork).
  • Kastel Pomo (between Eel River and South Fork).
  • Kato Pomo, "Lake People." (Clear Lake)
  • Komácho (Anderson and Rancheria Valleys).
  • Kulá Kai Pomo (Sherwood Valley).
  • Kulanapo. (Clear Lake)
  • Láma (Russian River Valley).
  • Misálamag[-u]n or Musakak[-u]n (above Healdsburg).
  • Mitoám Kai Pomo, "Wooded Valley People" (Little Lake).
  • Poam Pomo.
  • Senel (Russian River Valley).
  • Shódo Kaí Pomo (Coyote Valley).
  • Síako (Russian River Valley).
  • Sokóa (Russian River Valley).
  • Yokáya Pomo, "Lower Valley People" (Ukiah City).
  • Yusâl (or Kámalel) Pomo, "Ocean People" (on coast and along Yusal Creek).

Notable Pomo people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 379 n.68
  2. ^ Kroeber, Alfred L. (1916), "California place names of Indian origin", University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 12 (2): 31–69 .
  3. ^ a b McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277.
  4. ^ McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277; Handbook of American Indians, 1906.
  5. ^ a b Powell 1891:87-88.
  6. ^ a b Kroeber, Alfred. The Religion of the Indians of California, 1907, Vol. 4 #6, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs".
  7. ^ The Kuksu Cult paraphrased from Kroeber.
  8. ^ Barrett 1917: 398, 440-441.
  9. ^ Barrett 1917:397-441; Curtis, Edward S. The Creation and Coyote Creates Sun and Moon
  10. ^ Stewart 1985:13-15.
  11. ^ White et al 2002:345-351.
  12. ^ Tolay Lake Park: Natural and Cultural History, County of Sonoma Regional Parks Department: Tolay Lake Regional Park, August 20, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Stewart 1985:53-56.
  14. ^ Stewart 1985:56-59.
  15. ^ a b Stewart 1985:59.
  16. ^ "Indigenous Youth SkolaZ from Southern Ute." Poor Magazine. (retrieved 21 Dec 2009)
  17. ^ a b Clear Lake's First People. (pdf file) Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake. (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  18. ^ Silliman 2004.
  19. ^ Larson, Elizabeth and Harold LaBonte. "Bloody Island atrocity remembered at Saturday ceremony", Lake County News. 13 May 2007 (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  20. ^ Stewart 1985:59-60.
  21. ^ Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House
  22. ^ Cook 1976:236-245.
  23. ^ Kroeber
  24. ^ Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 - 2010 Census American Indian and Alaska Native Summary File. U.S. Census Bureau.
  25. ^ California Indians and Their Reservations. San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2009 (retrieved 26 Feb 2009)


  • Pomo Indian Tribe History from Handbook of American Indians, 1906. Available Online by Access Genealogy.
  • Barrett, Samuel A. Ceremonies of the Pomo Indians, Published by University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnicity, July 6, 1917, Vol. 12, No 10., pages 397-441.
  • Cook, Sherburne. The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1976. ISBN 0-520-03143-1.
  • Curtis, Edward S. The Creation and Coyote Creates Sun and Moon, as published in North American Indian, Oral stories of Pomo Indians, 1907-1930s, Volume 14, pages 170-171.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. The Religion of the Indians of California, 1907, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:#6. Berkeley, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs".[1]
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (part online discusses Kuksu [2]).
  • McClendon, Sally and Oswalt, Robert. 1978. Pomo: Introduction, in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California). William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pages 274-288.
  • Powell, John Wesley Powell. Indian Linguistic Families Of America, North Of Mexico, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1891, pages 87–88. [3]
  • Silliman, Stephen (2004). Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-2381-9. 
  • Stewart, Suzanne B. Time before Time: Prehistory and Archaeology in the Lake Sonoma Area. Sacramento, CA: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1985.
  • White, Gregory G., David A. Fredrickson, Lori D. Hager, Jack Meyer, Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, Michael R. Waters, G. James West, and Eric Wohlgemuth. 2002. Cultural Diversity and Culture Change in Prehistoric Clear Lake Basin: Final Report of the Anderson Flat Project. Center for Archaeological Research at Davis Publications No. 13. Department of Anthropology, University of California at Davis. ISBN 1-883019-14-1

Further reading[edit]

  • Pomo:Introduction (Sally McLendon and Robert Oswalt), Western Pomo and Northeastern Pomo (Lowell Bean and Dorothea Theodoratus), and Eastern Pomo and Southeastern Pomo (Sally McLendon and Michael Lowry), articles in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California). William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pages 274-323.
  • Barrett, S. A. The ethno-geography of the Pomo and neighboring Indians. University of California publications in American archaeology and ethnology, v.6, no.1, 1908. Full text online via Calisphere.
  • Economic Development Administration. U.S. Dept of Commerce. California Report. Present-day Pomo tribes and communities, each described. File retrieved May 5, 2007.
  • (Cainameros) LeBaron, Gaye, Within 30 years, the Santa Rosa Indians Were Gone, The Press Democrat, May 2, 1993

External links[edit]