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Wintu basket, c. 1890s,
Cleveland Museum of Art
Total population
2,500 (three major groups)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States Northern Sacramento Valley, California
English, formerly Wintu
Christianity, Native religion
Related ethnic groups
Wintun (Nomlaki and Patwin), Yokuts

The Wintu (also Northern Wintun) are Native Americans who live in what is now Northern California.[2] They are part of a loose association of peoples known collectively as the Wintun (or Wintuan). Others are the Nomlaki and the Patwin. The Wintu language is part of the Penutian language family.

Historically, the Wintu lived primarily on the western side of the northern part of the Sacramento Valley, from the Sacramento River to the Coast Range. The range of the Wintu also included the southern portions of the Upper Sacramento River (south of the Salt Creek drainage), the southern portion of the McCloud River, and the upper Trinity River. They also lived in the vicinity of present-day Chico, on the west side of the river extending to the Coast Ranges. Today most Wintus live on reservations and rancherias in Colusa, Glenn, Yolo, Mendocino, and Shasta counties.[3]


See also: California Genocide

The first recorded encounter between Wintu and Euro-Americans dates from the 1826 expedition of Jedediah Smith, followed by an 1827 expedition led by Peter Skene Ogden. Between 1830 and 1833, many Wintu died from a malaria epidemic that killed an estimated 75% of the indigenous population in the upper and central Sacramento Valley.[3]

In 1846, John C. Frémont and Kit Carson accompanied by local white settlers killed 175 Wintu and Yana by force of arms[4]

Settlers tried to take over Wintu land and relocate them west of Clear Creek. At a "friendship feast" in 1850, settlers served poisoned food to local natives, from which 100 Nomsuu and 45 Wenemem Wintu died. More deaths of Wintu and destruction of their land followed in 1851 and 1852, in incidents such as the Bridge Gulch Massacre.[5]


Further information: Wintu-Nomlaki traditional narratives

The Wintu language is one of the Wintuan languages.

The religious stories and legends of the Trinity River Wintu were told by Grant Towendolly to Marcelle Masson, who published them in A Bag of Bones (1966).


Further information: Population of Native California

Scholars have disagreed about the historic population of the tribes before European-American contact. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the combined 1770 population of the Wintu, Nomlaki, and Patwin as 12,000.[6] Sherburne F. Cook initially put the population of the Wintu proper as 2,950, but later nearly doubled his estimate to 5,300.[7][8] Frank R. LaPena estimated a total of 14,250 in his work of the 1970s.[9]

Kroeber estimated the population of the Wintu, Nomlaki, and Patwin in 1910 as about 1,000. Today the population has recovered somewhat and there are about 2,500 Wintun, many of whom live on the Round Valley Reservation, and on the Colusa, Cortina, Grindstone Creek, Redding, and Rumsey rancherias.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Wintun Indians". California Indians and Their Reservations: An Online Dictionary. San Diego State University Library. Archived from the original on July 26, 2010. Retrieved June 30, 2010. The Wintun Indian people have three divisions: the Wintu, Norel Muk (northern), Nomlaki (central), and Patwin (southern). Their traditional territories are located in the greater Sacramento Valley, with the Sacramento River a major feature of all the regions. Their lands vary from the Wintu mountain rivers in the north, through the Nomlaki plains, to the marshes, valleys, and hills of the Patwin. Their languages are of the Penutian family. Their diet came from the semiannual runs of king salmon up major rivers, to acorns and other vegetable foods, to game. In the early 1800s, there were approximately 12,000-15,000 members of the Wintun Tribe. Spanish settlers arrived in Wintun territory by 1808, and the Hudson Bay Company trappers arrived sometime before 1832. Tribal unity was destroyed by the taking of land and the destruction of traditional food and material-gathering areas. Due to the introduction of cattle, hogs, and sheep, the construction of dams, and the Copper processing plants in the 1880s and early 1900s, the Wintun suffered a heavy toll on their health and survival. Today there are over 2,500 people of Wintun descent. Many live on the Round Valley Reservation, and on the Colusa, Cortina, Grindstone Creek, Redding, and Rumsey rancherias.
  2. ^ "Indigenous Historic Tribe". Wintu Tribe Of Northern California. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Pritzker, Barry (2000). A Native American Encyclopedia History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780195138979.
  4. ^ McMurtry, 2005
  5. ^ LaPena, 1978:324
  6. ^ Kroeber, p. 883
  7. ^ Conflict 1976, p. 236.
  8. ^ Population 1970, p. 15.
  9. ^ LaPena, p. 325