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The Pomo people are one linguistic branch of Native American people of Northern California, including the original speakers and all their descendants. The historic Pomo language family territory was large, bordered by the Pacific Coast to the west, extending inland to Clear Lakemarker, and mainly between Cleonemarker in the north down to Duncans Pointmarker. One small group, the Northeastern Pomo of the Stonyfordmarker 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 and ; it originally meant "those who live at red earth hole" and was once the name of a village in southern Potter Valleymarker, possibly referring to local deposits of the red mineral magnesite that was used for red beads, or to the reddish earth and clay such as hematite mined in the area. At the same time 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. By the year 1877 (possibly beginning with Powers) Pomo has been extended in English to mean the entire stock of people known today as the Pomo.


The people called Pomo were originally linked by location, language, and other elements of culture. They were not socially or politically linked as a large unified "tribe." Instead, they lived in small groups ("bands"), linked by geography, lineage and marriage, and relied upon fishing, hunting and gathering for their food.

The Pomo spoke seven distinct Pomoan languages that are not mutually intelligible. There are still a few speakers of some of the Pomoan languages, and efforts are being made by the Pomo people to preserve those languages and other elements of their culture.


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, Eastern Pomo and Kashaya. Stephen Powell classified the language family as "Kulanapan" in 1891, based on the name first employed by George Gibbs in 1853, who used the name of one band from the Clear Lake Pomo.


The Pomo people participated in shamanism; one form this took was the Kuksu religion that was evident in Central and Northern California, which 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. 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. Another later shamanistic movement that took place was the Messiah Cult, introduced to them by the Wintun and 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.

Traditional narratives

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


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



According to some linguistic reconstructions, the Pomo people descend from the Hokan-speaking people in the Sonoma County, Californiamarker region, which was a critical meeting point of coastal redwood forests and interior valleys with their mixed woodlands. In this hypothesis, about 7000 BC, 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 to them. About 4000 BC to 5000 BC, some of the pro-Pomoans migrated into the Russian River Valley and north to present day Ukiahmarker. 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, but the Pomoans slowly took these places over. More recently, archaeological evidence has been brought together to suggest that the mortar-and-pestle-based acorn-processing economy, in place in Pomo lands and elsewhere in central California at the Spanish arrival, may have first developed during the Mostin Culture period (8500-6300 BP) in the Clear Lake Basin.

Tolay Lake site

Over 1,000 prehistoric charmstones and numerous arrowheads have been unearthed at Tolay Lakemarker, in Southern Sonoma County that are attributed to both Pomo and Coast Miwok people. The lake was thought to be a sacred site and ceremonial gathering and healing place.

Lake Sonoma sites

  • In the oldest site ("the broken bridge site, "Skaggs Phase" 3000 BC - 500 BC), using radiocarbon dating, the surveyors dated the oldest human-inhabited site in the valley at 3280 BC.
  • The next site ("Oregon Oak Place") was dated at 1843 BC. The surveyors suggested that this valley was remote and sparsely settled by anyone before the Pomo people, compared to the lower river valleys.

Both of these Skaggs Phase sites had millingstones and handstones for grinding seeds and may have been hunting villages or temporary camps. Obsidian was used only rarely, mainly from Mt.marker Konoctimarker. Petroglyphs were absent and population was focused only along major creeks.

The next phase, "The Dry Creek Phase", lasting about from 500 BC to 1300 AD was very different. The land was populated more extensively and permanently. Archaeologists believe a Pomoan group took over the lands in this phase, and created 14 additional sites in the Warm Springs area and Upper Dry Creek Area. Bowl mortars and pestles appeared in this phase, probably used to pound acorns (as opposed to the milling stones used for seeds). The sites were more permanent and lifeways "more complex" as beads and ornaments appeared in this phase and half the artifacts were made of obsidian. Steatite objects were found that must have been imported into the region to make beads, pendents and mortars. Trade was clearly on a large scale.

The next phase, named the "Smith Phase" after the Pomo consultants, from 1300 AD to mid-1800s: The surveyors mapped 30 sites in this era showing a gradual transition and intensification of trends. The bow and arrow appeared as the main technological advancement. Shell-bead manufacturing and drill production was important. Drills were found in high numbers. Clamshell beads were also found in numbers, a major currency among the Indians of Central California, indicating a vast trade network.

Post contact

The way of life of the Pomo people changed with the arrival of Russians at Fort Rossmarker (1812 to 1841) on the Pacific coastline, and Spanish missionaries and European-American colonists coming in from the south and east. The Pomos who were native to the coastline and Fort Ross were known as the Kashaya, and interacted and traded with the Russians.

The Spanish missionaries moved many of the southern Pomo from the Santa Rosa Plain north to Healdsburg to Mission San Rafaelmarker between 1821 and 1828. Only a few Pomo speakers ever moved to Mission Sonomamarker, the other Franciscan mission north of San Francisco Bay. The Pomo that remained in the area of Sonoma County (Santa Rosa area) 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 Cloverdalemarker area, and many Pomo people fled the valley because of this. One such group fled to the Upper Dry Creek Area. The surveyors of the Lake Sonoma region believe this is why the villages became more centralized. They suggest the people retreated to this remote valley and attempted to band together and defend themselves there.

In 1837 a very deadly epidemic of smallpox that came from settlements at Fort Rossmarker caused the deaths of a large number of native people in the Sonoma and Napa regions.

The Russian River Valley Area was settled in 1850 by the 49ers, and "Lake Sonoma Valley" area was homesteaded out. Many Pomo were then taken to reservations so that the new Americans could homestead the former Pomo lands. Some Pomo took jobs as ranch laborers; others lived in refuge villages.

On 15 May 1850, the 1st Dragoons US Cavalry slaughtered from 60-400 Pomos, mostly women and children of the Clear Lake Pomo and neighboring tribes on an island in Clear Lake. This would become known as the Bloody Island Massacremarker.

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 out from the oncoming immigrants in the mid-1850s at Amacha and think that one day soldiers reputedly took all the people in the village to government lands and burned the village houses.

From 1891 to 1935, starting with National Thorn, Grace Hudson painted over 600 portraits, mainly of Pomo individuals living near her in the Ukiahmarker area. Her artistic style in treating her subjects was sympathetic, poignant and endearing, portraying domestic and idyllic native scenes that would have been fast disappearing in that time.


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. The 1910 Census reported 777 Pomo, but that is probably low. Anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber estimated 1,200 in the same year . According to the 1930 census there were 1,143. In 1990, the census showed 4,900.

Villages and communities

Federally recognized tribes

The United States acknowledges many groups of native people of the United States as "federally recognized tribes," giving them a quasi-sovereign status similar to that of states. Many other groups are not recognized. The Pomo groups presently recognized by the United States are based in Sonomamarker, Lakemarker, and Mendocinomarker Counties. They include the following tribes:


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

Notable Pomo

See also

Pomo mentioned in:


  1. Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 379 n.68
  2. McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277.
  3. McClendon and Oswalt 1978:277; Handbook of American Indians, 1906.
  4. Powell 1891:87-88.
  5. 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".
  6. The Kuksu Cult paraphrased from Kroeber.
  7. Barrett 1917: 398, 440-441.
  8. Barrett 1917:397-441; Curtis, Edward S. The Creation and Coyote Creates Sun and Moon
  9. Stewart 1985:13-15.
  10. White et al 2002:345-351.
  11. Tolay Lake Park: Natural and Cultural History, County of Sonoma Regional Parks Department: Tolay Lake Regional Park, August 20, 2007.
  12. Stewart 1985:53-56.
  13. Stewart 1985:56-59.
  14. Stewart 1985:59.
  15. Silliman 2004.
  16. Larson, Elizabeth and Harold LaBonte. Bloody Island atrocity remembered at Saturday ceremony. Lake County News. 13 May 2007 (retrieved 27 Feb 2009)
  17. Stewart 1985:59-60.
  18. Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House
  19. Cook 1976:236-245.
  20. Kroeber
  21. 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".[35368]
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (part online discusses Kuksu [35369]).
  • 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. [35370]
  • 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

  • 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

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