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California Indian Languages: Penutian Tribes

In 1750 AD speakers of Penutian tongues occupied nearly half of California and were a solid block of about 30 groups in the California Heartland.  Penutian roots are old in California and expanded after Hokan languages were established in the state. To the extent that language and culture may be related, Penutian was the most typically “Californian” of any linguistic root language.   (Moratto, California Archaeology *)


Native Location:  Area along the California central coast

Language:  Penutian

Identified Shelters:  Domed structures thatched with tule, grass, and fern

Food:  Acorn, seeds, nuts, berries, grapes, honey, fish, deer, bear, mountain lion, and small game

Tribal History:

Tribal Websites:   
Esselen Tribe of Monterey County
Muwekma Ohlone                     
Coastanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe
Costanoan Indian Canyon


Native Location:  Eastern drainage area of the Sacramento river near Chico, and in large areas on the east and south side of Lassen Peak.

Language:  Penutian

Identified Shelters:  Unhewn timber-framed structure, cone-shaped, covered with grass, brush, tules, and earth

Food:  Acorn, wild plants, fish, game

Cultural Notes:  They were once nomadic, hunter-gatherers.

Tribal History:

Tribal Websites:
Greenville Rancheria   
Honey Lake Maidu Tribe
Konkow Maidu             
Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria
United Auburn Indian (Miwok and Maidu)
Susanville Indian Rancheria


Native Location:  San Francisco Bay Area to Monterey; there was a tribe of Ahwaneechee Miwoks who lived in the Yosemite area for nearly 4,000 years before a fatal illness caused them to flee the valley.

Language:  Penutian

Identified Shelters:  Semi-subterranean, cone-shaped structures with pole frames, covered with bark, brush, grass, or tule; a fire-pit stood in the center and a hole was left on the top of the dome for air circulation.

Food:  Acorn, pine nuts, buckeyes, berries, seeds, roots fish, deer, elk, bear, small game, waterfowl

Tribal History:

Tribal Websites:
Graton Rancheria  (Coast Miwok/South Pomo) 
United Auburn Indian  (Miwok and Maidu)           
Ione Band of Miwok Indians                      
Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians    
Jackson Rancheria             
California Valley Miwok Tribe          

Wintun (Wintu)

Native Location:  Area south of Redding to the slopes of Mt. Shasta

Language:   Wintun dialect of Penutian

Identified Shelters:  In the north, semi-subterranean, cone-shaped structures with a connecting timber framework, covered with bark;  in the south, a central post with radiating rafters resting on the surrounding edges of an earth pit, covered by various material.

Food:   Deer, small game, bear, salmon, trout, acorns, seeds, nuts, berries

Tribal History:

Tribal Websites:
Redding Rancheria
Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians


Native Location:  Western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the San Joaquin Valley foothills

Language: Penutian

Identified Shelters: Semi-subterranean, cone-shaped structures with a connecting pole framework, covered with tule, tarweed, and pine needles.

Food:  Pinenuts, manzanita berries, acorns, salmon, deer, rabbit, geese

Cultural Notes: They were once a nomadic hunter/gatherer tribe which used tools made of bedrock, spears, bows & arrows, and knives. They pierced their ears and nose for decoration and the women often wore tattoos.

Information Website:  Yokuts Basketry, Buena Vista Museum of Natural History

Tribal History:

Tribal Websites: 
Tachi Yokut Tribe (Santa Rosa Rancheria)
Tule River Tribe                     
Kechayi Band of Yokuts Indians

Other Penutian Tribes:  Konkow - Modoc - Nisenan - Nomiaki - Patwin

* Moratto, Michael, California Archaeology, Academic Press, Inc., 1984