Bay Miwok People
Mount Diablo
Mount Diablo, is in the homeland of the
Bay Miwok, and figures in their legends and myths.
Total population
1770: 1,700
1850: not known
1880: not known
Regions with significant populations
California: Contra Costa County
Utian: Bay Miwok (Saclan)
Shamanism: Kuksu:
Miwok mythology
Related ethnic groups

The Bay Miwok are a cultural and linguistic group of Miwok, a Native American people in Northern California who live in Contra Costa County. They joined the Franciscan mission system during the early nineteenth century, suffered a devastating population decline, and lost their language as they intermarried with other native California ethnic groups and learned the Spanish language.

The Bay Miwok were not recognized by modern anthropologists or linguists until the mid-twentieth century. In fact, Alfred L. Kroeber, father of California anthropology, who knew of one of their constituent local groups, the Saklan (Saclan), from nineteenth-century manuscript sources, presumed that they spoke an Ohlone (a.k.a. Costanoan) language.[1]

In 1955 linguist Madison Beeler recognized an 1821 vocabulary taken from a Saclan man at Mission San Francisco as representative of a Miwok language.[2] The language was named "Bay Miwok" and its territorial extent was rediscovered during the 1960s (see Landholding Groups or Local Tribes section below).


The Bay Miwok lived by hunting and gathering, and lived in small bands without centralized political authority. They spoke Bay Miwok also known as Saclan. They were skilled at basketry.


The original Bay Miwok people's world view was a form of Shamanism. As they were centrally located along an arc of Miwok-speaking groups across Central California, the Bay Miwok probably shared the Kuksu religion ceremonial motifs common to both the Coast Miwok to the west and Plains Miwok to the east. The Kuksu religion (dubbed the Kuksu Cult by early historians) included a cycle of elaborate dancing ceremonies, each with its own group of actors and distinctive feather-decorated regalia, an all-male society that met in subterranean dance rooms, puberty rites of passage, shamanic intervention with the spirit world, and, in some areas, an annual mourning ceremony.[3][4] Varying forms of the Kuksu Cult were shared with other indigenous ethnic groups of Central California, such as their neighbors the northern Ohlone, Maidu, Patwin, Pomo, and Wappo.[5] However Kroeber observed less "specialized cosmogony" in the Miwok, which he termed one of the "southern Kuksu-dancing groups", in comparison to the Maidu and other northern California tribes.[6]

Traditional narratives and mythology

The specific myths, legends, tales, and histories of the Bay Miwok are not well documented. C. Hart Merriam published a creation story, The Birth of Wek-Wek and the Creation of Man, centered on Mt. Diablo, that was told by a Hool-poom'-ne Miwok, perhaps a descendant of the Julpun Bay Miwok of Marsh Creek, eastern Contra Costa County.[7]

One might suspect that the full corpus of Bay Miwok mythology and sacred narrative shared the motifs that the linguistically related and better-documented ethnographic Coast Miwok and Sierra Miwok held in common. All Miwok peoples believed in animal and human spirits, and saw the animal spirits as their ancestors. Coyote was seen as the representation of their creator god.[3] The Sierra and Plains Miwok, as well as the Bay Miwok, believed this world began at Mount Diablo, following a flood.[8]

Landholding groups or local tribes

The names and general territorial areas of seven Bay Miwok-speaking land-holding groups have been inferred through indirect methods, based for the most part on information in the ecclesiastical records of missions San Francisco and San Jose. In a 1961 Ph.D. dissertation, James Bennyhoff used data from the Alphonse Pinart transcripts of the mission records to identify four more East Bay local territorial groups, in addition to the Saclan, as members of this unique Miwok language group. "The major clues to the linguistic affiliation of these river mouth tribelets are provided by the personal names of female neophytes recorded in the baptismal registers ... Ompin, Chupcan, Julpun, and Wolwon [Volvon-ed.] are linked together by the use of a distinctive constellation of endings which appear in female personal names," he wrote.[9] Milliken subsequently used the same technique, applied to the original mission records, to identify two additional local tribes—Jalquin and Tatcan—as Bay Miwok speakers. Milliken then inferred and mapped the relative locations of all seven groups, using clues from historic diaries together with mission register information regarding intermarriage patterns among East Bay local tribes.[8][10] The locations of the seven Bay Miwok local tribes are generally as follows:

Another group, the Yrgin of present-day City of Hayward and Castro Valley, had Chochenyo Ohlone signature female name endings, rather than Bay Miwok name endings. Yet they were so highly intermarried with the Jalquin that it seems possible that they and the Jalquin formed a single bilingual local tribe.[18]


Documentation of Miwok peoples dates back as early as 1579 by a priest on a ship under the command of Francis Drake. Identification and references to the Bay Miwok tribes exists from California Mission records as early as 1794.

Spanish-American Franciscans set up Catholic missions in the Bay Area in the 1770s, but did not reach the Bay Miwok territory until 1794. Beginning in 1794, the Bay Miwoks were forced to migrate to the Franciscan missions, most to Mission San Francisco de Asís (of San Francisco), but some others to Mission San José (in present-day Fremont). All but the Ompin and Julpun in the northeast were at the missions by the end of 1806; the latter two groups moved to Mission San José during the 1810-1812 period. The first baptisms and emigration to the missions of each tribe were:[10]

Missionary linguist Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta obtained the only extant Bay Miwok vocabulary during a visit to Mission San Francisco in 1821.[19]

Population change over time

Estimates for the precontact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. (See Population of Native California.) Alfred L. Kroeber[20] put the 1770 population of the Plains and Sierra Miwok (but excluding the Bay Miwok, about whom he was not aware) at 9,000. Sherburne Cook carried out a more specific analysis of contact-period population in Alameda and Contra Costa counties west of the San Joaquin Valley, without regard to the Ohlone-Bay Miwok language boundary; he suggested a total population of 2,248.[21] Richard Levy estimated 19,500 people for all five Eastern Miwok groups as a whole (Bay, Plains, Northern Sierra, Central Sierra, and Southern Sierra) prior to Spanish contact, and 1,700 specifically for the Bay Miwok.[22]

A total of 859 Bay Miwok speakers were baptized at the Franciscan missions (479 at Mission San Francisco and 380 at Mission San Jose), most between 1794 and 1812. By the end of 1823, only 52 of the Mission San Francisco Bay Miwoks were still alive, along with 11 of their Mission-born children.[23] No comparable data are available for Mission San Jose that year, but by 1840 only 20 Bay Miwok people were alive there.[24] Late nineteenth century survivors from both missions intermarried with people from other language groups. Descendants are alive today (see Present Day section below).

Present day

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area states that it includes the descendants of various Bay Miwok and Ohlone groups, including the previously federally recognized Verona Band of Alameda County.[25] The Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the tribe's request for federal recognition in 2002, and other tribal groups have disputed their land claims.[26]

Notable Bay Miwok people

See also


  1. ^ Kroeber 1925:463
  2. ^ Beeler 1955, 1959
  3. ^ a b Kroeber, 1907, Vol. 4 #6, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs"; Kroeber 1925.
  4. ^ The Kuksu Cult paraphrased from Kroeber. Archived October 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Bennyhoff 1977:14-15.
  6. ^ Kroeber, 1925:445: "A less specialized type of cosmogony is therefore indicated for the southern Kuksu-dancing groups. [1. If, as seems probable, the southerly Kuksu tribes (the Miwok, Costanoans, Esselen, and northernmost Yokuts) had no real society in connection with their Kuksu ceremonies, the distinctness of their mythology appears less surprising.]".
  7. ^ Merriam 1910.The Birth of Wek-Wek and the Creation of Man
  8. ^ a b Forester, 2006.
  9. ^ Bennyhoff 1977:145
  10. ^ a b Milliken, 1995
  11. ^ Milliken 1995:241
  12. ^ Milliken 1995:261
  13. ^ Milliken 1995:246
  14. ^ Milliken 1995:250
  15. ^ Milliken 1995:253
  16. ^ Milliken 1995:256
  17. ^ Milliken 1995:244-245
  18. ^ Milliken 1995:259
  19. ^ Beeler 1955; Milliken 2008:7.
  20. ^ Kroeber 1925:883
  21. ^ Cook 1957:148,
  22. ^ Levy, 1978:401-402.
  23. ^ Milliken et al. (2009:123, 136) used a complete database of baptisms and deaths at the pertinent missions to arrive at their count of 859 baptized Bay Miwok individuals and 63 survivors in 1823. Earlier, Levy (1978:401) offered a count of 447 Bay Miwok baptisms, counted from the abridged C. Hart Merriam mission transcripts of 1919.
  24. ^ Milliken 2008:4
  25. ^ "Historical Overview". Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.
  26. ^ Stein, Shira (June 11, 2023). "A 'Pretendian' claim. Territory disputes. A Bay Area tribe's bid for federal recognition sparks conflict". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 8, 2023.
  27. ^ Milliken 1995:160, 245, 303
  28. ^ Muwekma Ohlone Indian Tribal Web site, A Brief History.


  • Bennyhoff, James A. 1977. Ethnogeography of the Plains Miwok. Center for Anthropological Research at Davis, Publication 5. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis.
  • Beeler, Madison S. 1955. Saclan. International Journal of American Linguistics 21:201-209.
  • Beeler, Madison S. 1959. Saclan Once More. International Journal of American Linguistics 25:67-68.
  • Cook, Sherburne F. 1957. The Aboriginal Population of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, California. University of California Anthropological Records 16:131-156. Berkeley
  • Forester, Maria The Bay Miwok of Contra Costa County. Retrieved on 16 Sept 2006.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. The Religion of the Indians of California, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:#6. Berkeley, CA. sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs"; available at Sacred Texts Online
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (Chapter 30, The Miwok); available at Yosemite Online Library.
  • Levy, Richard. 1978. Eastern Miwok. In California, Robert F. Heizer, ed., Volume 8 of Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, pages 398-413.
  • Merriam, C. Hart. 1910. The Dawn of the World: Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan Indians of California. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark.
  • Milliken, Randall. 1995. A Time of Little Choice: The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area 1769-1910. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press Publication. ISBN 0-87919-132-5 (alk. paper)
  • Milliken, Randall. 2008. Native Americans at Mission San Jose. Banning, CA: Malki-Ballena Press. ISBN 978-0-87919-147-4 (alk. paper)
  • Milliken, Randall, Laurence H. Shoup, and Beverly R. Ortiz. 2009. Ohlone/Costanoan Indians of the San Francisco Peninsula and Their Neighbors, Yesterday and Today. Technical report prepared by Archaeological and Historical Consultants, Oakland, California for the National Park Service, Golden Gate Recreation Area, Fort Mason, San Francisco, California.

Further reading