Esselen were a Native American
linguistic group in the hypothetical Hokan language family, who resided in what
is now known as Big
Sur in the Monterey Bay Area, California. Archaeological and linguistic evidence
indicates that the original people's territory once extended much
further north, into the San Francisco Bay Area, until they were displaced by the entrance of
Ohlone speakers. Richard Levy
places the displacement around AD
500 based on linguistic evidence.
The Esselen resided along the upper Carmel
and Arroyo Seco Rivers
, and along
the Big Sur coast. There were also settlements in the coastal
mountains. They were hunter-gatherers
who resided in small groups
with no centralized political authority.
Institute in Big Sur
is named after this group.
The Esselen Nation is currently petitioning the federal government
Esselen probably derived from the name of a major native village,
possibly from the village known as Exse'ein, or the place
called Eslenes (the site of the Mission San
Another possibility is that "Exse'ein" or
"The Rock" refers to the large promontory on which the Pt. Sur
Light station is situated; it is visible for miles both up and down
the coast. The Spanish extended the term to mean the entire
linguistic group. Variant spellings exist in old records, including
Aschatliens, Ecclemach, Eslen, Eslenes, Excelen,
. "Aschatliens" may refer to a group around
Mission San Carlos, in and around the village or Achasta.
Breschini and Haversat (2004).
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in
California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber
suggests a 1770 population for the
Esselen of 500. Sherburne F.
raises this estimate to 750.
A more recent calculation (based on baptism
records and density) is that they numbered 1,185-1,285.
Esselen were absorbed into the population of Mission San
Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in present-day Carmel, California, where many died from disease, demoralization, poor
food, and overwork.
The Esselen language
is a language isolate
. It is hypothetically part
of the Hokan family
- Levy, p.486
- Bean, p.xxi
- "Tribe Petitions For Federal Recognition," KSBW Action
News 8, Central Coast, California, April 29, 2003
- Hester, pp.498-499
- Kroeber, p.883
- Cook, p.186
- Breschini & Haversat
- Bean, Lowell John, editor. 1994. The Ohlone: Past and
Present Native Americans of the San Francisco Bay Region.
Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press Publication. ISBN 0-87919-129-5.
Includes Leventhal et al. Ohlone Back from
- Breschini, Gary S. and Trudy Haversat 2005. A Brief
Overview of the Esselen Indians of Monterey County. Available
online. File retrieved Sep. 7, 2007.
- Levy, Richard. 1978. Costanoan, 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
- Cook, Sherburne F. 1976. The Conflict between the
California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
- Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of
California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78.
- Hester, Thomas R. 1978. Esselen, in Handbook of
North American Indians, vol. 8 (California). William C.
Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution, 1978, pages 496-499. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 /
- Breschini, Gary S. and Trudy Haversat. 2004. The Esselen
Indians of the Big Sur Country: The Land and the People.
Salinas, CA: Coyote Press, 2004. ISBN 1-4044-0003-6