California's Native Peoples

California had a thriving population long before the Spanish explorers and the gold miners came to the State. Below is a partial listing of some of the Native American tribes who have lived in California for centuries. Look for more information about other tribes in the future.

Adapted from California Indians by Linda Spizzirri. (Spizzirri Publishing)


The Tipai-Ipai spoke Yuman division of Hokan and lived in Southern California and Northern Baja California. Depending upon the location and season, they would live in dome-shaped structures made from poles covered with thatch, brush or palm leaves. They would also live in caves. Primary foods included acorns, cactus, clover, cherries, plums, berries, prickly pear, and small game.


The Luiseno spoke Takic, a division of the Uto-Aztecan language. They lived along the Southern California coast in cone-shaped structures thatched with reeds, brush, or bark. Primary foods included acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, small game, deer, fish, and waterfowl.


The Cahuilla also spoke Takic. They lived in southern California, southwest of the San Bernardino Mountains. They lived in domed brush shelters or rectangular thatched houses. Their primary food sources were fish, small game, acorns, pine nuts, roots, berries, seed, corn, squash, and beans.


The Gabrielino tribe spoke Takic. This tribe lived in southern California, around what is now Los Angeles. They lived in in large, multi-family structures covered with tule mats. Their diet consisted of acorns, pine nuts, fish, sea lions, deer, and small game.


The Chumash spoke Hokan and lived in southern California, around the modern-day Santa Barbara area. The Chumash lived in large circular domed houses covered with woven grass. Reed mats were used to make partitions between families and to cover the floor. They ate acorns, pine nuts, cherries, seeds, berries, deer, small game, fish, and waterfowl.


The Costanoans (which means "coast people" in Spanish) spoke Penutian and lived along California's Central Coast. They lived in domed houses thatched with tule, grass, and fern. Their diet included acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, grapes, honey, fish, deer, bear, mountain lion, and small game.


The Miwok also spoke Penutian and lived along the coast, mostly between present-day San Francisco and Monterey. They lived in cone-shaped structures made from bark, brush, grass, or tule over a pole framework. The Miwok ate acorns, pine nuts, buckeyes, berries, seeds, roots, fish, deer, elk, bear, small game, and waterfowl.


The Pomo tribe spoke Pomoan and lived in the Russian River Valley area of northern California. They lived in cone-shaped or circular houses covered with either tule or bark. Primary foods were acorns, fish, deer, elk, waterfowl, roots, berries, and small game.


The Yuki spoke Yukian and lived in the upper Eel River Valley. They lived in cone-shaped, bark-covered pole framed houses during the winter; during the summer their houses were covered with brush. Their diet consisted of acorns, fish, deer, seeds, nuts, berries, grasshoppers, and bird eggs.


The Wintun spoke Wintun, a dialect of the Penutian language. They lived in northwestern California in cone-shaped structures covered with bark. Their diet included deer, small game, bear, salmon, trout, acorns, seeds, nuts, and berries.

Hupa (or Hoopa)

The Hupa spoke Athapascan and lived along the Trinity River, in northwestern California. The family houses were built over a square earth pit, with cedar planks. Their diet included salmon, trout, nuts, sturgeon, berries, seeds, deer, and elk.


The Karok spoke Hokan and lived in northwestern California along the Klamath River. Women and children lived in family houses built of plants over a earthen pit. Men and older boys slept in sweathouses, dug several feet deep and covered with planks. Primary foods included salmon, deer, acorns, bear, elk, and small game.


The Achomawi spoke Palaihnihan, a division of the Hokan language. They lived in northeastern California. In the summer they lived in con-shaped structures made from poles and covered with tule; in the winter they lived in wood framed houses which were built partially underground and covered with grass, tule, bark, and dirt. They ate fish, waterfowl, eggs, tule sprouts, insects, game, and berries.


The Yurok spoke Algonquian and lived in along the northwestern coast and lower Klamath River areas. Their houses were redwood plank structures with a gabled roof. Primary foods included salmon, acorns, fish, shellfish, sea lions, elk, deer, small game, and seeds.

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