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Native Californians

Big Sur, Image (c) 2001 J.B. Hare, All Rights Reserved

General  Northern  Southern  Missions  Nevada

There were hundreds of small tribes of Native Californians, with diverse cultures and languages. Most Native Californian tribes were decimated by disease and the stress of their virtual enslavement by the Spanish Missionaries. Later the Americans hunted down and exterminated many of the remaining tribes without mercy. Some were completely wiped out with little trace, such as the Esselen of Big Sur. Others survived adversity and remain active today, particularly some of the tribes in the Northwest coast, and some of the Southern desert bands.

However, a great volume of detailed and accurate information on their culture, mythology and religion is available. This is thanks to pioneering anthropologists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Many of these scholars were affiliated with the University of California.

Abbreviations: UCPAAE: University of California Publications in American Ethnography and Ethnology; JAFL: The Journal of American Folk-Lore; BAEB: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin.


 Religion of the Indians of California
by A. L. KroeberUCPAAE Vol. 4, No. 6, pp. 319-356. [1907]
Kroeber, who taught at the University of California at Berkeley, is best known for his study of Ishi, described as ‘the last wild Indian’ (see Yana Texts). He was also the father of the science fiction writer Ursula LeGuin.

 A Mission Record of the California Indians
by A. L. KroeberUCPAAE 8, No. 1, pp. 1-27 [1908]
One of the few mission-era accounts of the Native Californians.

 Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest
Compiled and edited by Katherine Berry Judson. [1912]
Native American lore from the West.

Northern California

 Indian Myths of South Central California.
By A. L. Kroeber UCPAAE Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 167-250. [1907].
This covers the mythology of the Costanoans, today known as the Ohlone, who lived in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay area; and the Yokuts, who lived in the San Joaquin Valley.

 Miwok Myths
By Edward Winslow GiffordUCPAAE Vol. 12, No. 8, pp. 283-338. [1917]
The Miwok lived in the area which is today Yosemite National Park.

 The Dawn of the World
Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan [Miwok] Indians of California, by C. Hart Merriam [1910]

 Indians of the Yosemite Valley and Vicinity
by Galen Clark [1904].
A book by one of the pioneers of Yosemite Valley about the native residents, with much information of historical interest.

 The Lore and the Lure of The Yosemite
by Herbert Earl Wilson [1922].
Some of the known legends and ethnographic information about the Native Americans of the Yosemite Valley.

 Creation Myths of Primitive America
by Jeremiah Curtin [1898]
An excellent set of Wintu and Yana animal tales.

 Maidu Texts
by Roland B. DixonPublications of the American Ethnological Society, vol. IV [1912]
The Maidu inhabited the central Sierra Nevada.

 Hupa Texts
by Pliny Earle GoddardUCPAAE Vol. 1 No. 2 [1904]
The Hupa lived in Northwestern California, Humboldt County, on the Trinity River.

 Yana Texts
by Edward SapirUCPAAE Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 1-235. [1910]
The Yana lived in the north-east Sacramento Valley. The most famous Yana was Ishi, ‘the last wild Indian’. He is the subject of an excellent book by Theodora Kroeber, wife of Alfred Krober, Ishi in Two Worlds.

 Achomawi and Atsugewi Tales and Achomawi Myths
by Roland B. DixonJAFL Vol. 22, no. 81, pp. 159-77 [1908] and JAFL Vol. 23, no. 85, pp. 283-7 [1909].
The Achomawi and Atsugewi lived in north-eastern California.

 Pomo Bear Doctors
by S. B. BarrettUCPAAE 12:11, pp. 443-465. [1917]
Pomo bear impersonator berserker shamans.

Southern California

by Friar Geronimo Boscana; tr. by Alfred Robinson; [1846]
This is one of the few ethographic accounts of Native Californian religion from the Mission era. This describes the Juaneños of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

 The Mythology of the Diegueños
by Constance Goddard Du BoisJAFL Vol. XIV, No. 54, pp. 181-5 [1901]

 A Saboba Origin-Myth
by George Wharton JamesJAFL Vol. XV, No. 61, pp. 36-9 [1902]

 The Legend of Tauquitch and Algoot
by George Wharton JamesJAFL Vol. XVI, No. 62, pp. 153-9 [1903]

 The Story of the Chaup; A Myth of the Diegueños
by Constance Goddard Du BoisJAFL Vol. XVII, No. 67 pp. 217-42 [1904]
This is an article about the mythology of the Diegueño people, who lived in the vicinity of San Diego.

 Mythology of the Mission Indians
by Constance Goddard Du BoisJAFL Vol. XVII, No. 66. pp. 185-8 [1904]; Vol. XIX. No. 72 pp. 52-60 and 73. pp. 145-64. [1906].
This is an article about the mythology of the Luiseño people, who lived to the north of San Diego.

 Two Myths of the Mission Indians
by A. L. KroeberJAFL Vol. XIX, No. 75 pp. 309-21 [1906]

 Ceremonies and Traditions of the Diegueño Indians
by Constance Goddard Du BoisJAFL XXI, No. 82 pp. 228-36 [1908].

 The Religion of the Luiseño Indians of Southern California
by Constance Goddard Du Bois UCPAAE Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 69-186 [1908]
A primary source on the religion of the original residents of Orange County, CA.

 The Culture of the Luiseño Indians
by Philip Stedman Sparkman UCPAAE Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 187-234. [1908]
Luiseño material culture, ethnobotany and ceremonies.

 Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians
by A. L. KroeberUCPAAE 8, No. 2, pp. 29-68. [1908]
A short ethnography of the original dwellers in the Southern Californian desert

 Notes on the Shoshonean Dialects of Southern California
by A. L. KroeberUCPAAE 8, No. 5, pp. 235-269 [1909]
Salvage linguistics for the last bits of the Southern Californian languages.

 Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians
by T. T. WatermanUCPAAE 8, No. 6, pp. 271-358 [1910]
The ceremonies, songs, and rituals of the original residents of San Diego.


 Mission Memories
by John Steven McGroarty, illustrated by Frederick V. Carpenter [1929].
A guide to California’s missions.


 Some Western Shoshoni Myths
by Julian H. StewardBAEB 136; pp. 249-299 [1943].