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
CountryWintʰu Pom

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). There are three major groups that make up the Wintu speaking people. The Wintu (Northern Wintun), Nomlaki (Central Wintun), and Patwin (Southern Wintun). 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 Northern 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. Today, many Northern Wintu still reside on or near their traditional homelands in Trinity and Shasta counties.


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]

Settlers hoped to come to an agreement with the Wintu tribes over land. They tried to take over Wintu land and relocate them west of Clear Creek in exchange for peace, money and citizenship. Instead there was disagreement, slavery, and war. In 1846, John C. Frémont and Kit Carson accompanied by local white settlers killed several hundred Wintu in the Sacramento River massacre. 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.[4] The increasing population of settlers moving west, like for the California Gold Rush, put pressure on the settlers to relocate Native Americans like the Wintu.


Further information: Wintu-Nomlaki traditional narratives

The number of bands within the Northern Wintu is sometimes contested among both tribal members as well as anthropologists, but generally there is seen to be 8-11. Those bands being: Daupom/Stillwater, El pom/Kewsick, Nomtipom/Upper Sacramento River, Winnemem/McCloud River, Nomsus/Upper Trinity River, Klabalpom/French Gulch, Daumuq/Cottonwood Creek, Norelmuq/Hayfork, Puimem/Lower Pit River, Daunom/Bald Hills, and Waymuq/Mt. Shasta. The last group the Waymuq, are recorded to be a transitional unit in both culture, language, and society between the Wintu speaking peoples and the Shastan speaking peoples. The Waymuq are also seen to be the same group that have been recorded under the name Okwanuchu (meaning "Distant people" in the Shasta language) by some anthropologists and linguists. They are said to have occupy the region north of Salt and Nosoni creek and extending northwards to the southern base of Mt. Shasta, with some major villages situated in Dunsmuir, Sisson (now known as Mt. Shasta City, and Sulanharas Creek. One anthropologist, C. Hart Merriam had also recorded a group of Northern Wintu people who lived along the South Fork of the Trinity River under the Athabaskan name "Ni-i-che". They were said to have been close to the Norelmuq in terms of both language and culture but it is undisclosed if they were one of the same with the aforementioned band.

The Wintu tribes had close ties to the natural resources in the region they occupied. More specifically, The Winnemem Wintu tribe translates to "Middle Water people" in their language. They believed they were born from water, are the water, and fight to protect the water. As a whole, hunting, fishing, and gathering plants are all part of their culture and cultural use. They use unique customs, traditional art, and independent spiritual beliefs within their way of life. When villages had extra food, they would sometimes invite neighboring tribes to feast, dance, and play games. Dance had many purposes in the Wintu culture and was not only used for entertainment. The suneh, or begging dance was done when one person would transfer property to another.

The Wintu people used to live in small semi-permanent homes that could be found along waterways. More specifically, River and Hill Patwin homes were dome-like.[5] River Patwin’s used sticks, straw, and other earthly resources to build their homes. Hill Patwin's homes had a similar structure but used conical bark. Larger communities had an earth lodge, which had two main purposes. The first purpose was that the structure could be used as a sweat lodge. A sweat lodge was used for spiritual renewal, purification, and connection to nature. The other use for the sweat lodge in Wintu culture is a place to sleep for unmarried men without families.

The Wintu people are known for fishing. The also rely heavily of wild foods to trade and use within their economy. Their primary food source was salmon fished from the McCloud and Sacramento rivers. Sometimes they would fish for Steelhead trout in the upper Trinity River. Men often hunted either individually or in hunting groups. Groups would use traps for mostly all types of animals they could find. Women gathered plants and other resources to use for food or tools like baskets.[6] Basket weaving was a large part of their culture and community. They used baskets for cooking, storing, sifting, and carrying purposes.[7] Basket weaving was also incorporated into fashion by weaving hats which many women wore.


Further information: Population of Native California

Scholars have disagreed about the historic population of the tribes before European-American contact. Due to competition of resources, forces labor, disease, and other factors the Wintu tribe's population decreased. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the combined 1770 population of the Wintu, Nomlaki, and Patwin as 12,000.[8] Sherburne F. Cook initially put the population of the Wintu proper as 2,950, but later nearly doubled his estimate to 5,300.[9][10] Frank R. LaPena estimated a total of 14,250 in his work of the 1970s.[11]

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] The estimated total of Wintu people is averaged at 2,500.

Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe

Present day Wintu

The Wintu tribe had modernize their way of life while keeping their culture and history with them. They explain that their mission is to preserve, promote and protect the culture of the tribe while creating relationships and with those not in their tribe. Current tribal council members consist of Gary and Theresa Rickard, Vincent Cervantes, Gene Malone, Cindy Hogue, Bill Hunt, and Les Begly. They have a Museum and Cultural Resource Center that was built after they lost their recognition status by the federal government.[12]

In 1941, congress passed the Central Valley Project Indian Lands Acquisition Act. This led to the Wintu tribe losing access to the Upper Sacramento River, McCloud River, and Lower Pit River. To the Wintu people, these parts of land are sacred. By losing the river they also lost their prime source of food, salmon. In 2023 the Wintu were able to buy back the land where the rivers lay. They told reporters and writers that they plant to restore the winter-run Chinook salmon population.[13]

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. ^ Pritzker, Barry (2000). A Native American Encyclopedia History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780195138979.
  4. ^ LaPena, 1978:324
  5. ^ "Wintun | California, Native American, Tribe | Britannica". Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  6. ^ Whiskeytown, Mailing Address: P. O. Box 188; Us, CA 96095 Phone: 530 242-3400 Contact. "The Wintu - Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved December 12, 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "The Wintu (Wintun) People - Guide to Value, Marks, History | WorthPoint Dictionary". Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  8. ^ Kroeber, p. 883
  9. ^ Conflict 1976, p. 236.
  10. ^ Population 1970, p. 15.
  11. ^ LaPena, p. 325
  12. ^ "Wintu Tribe Of Northern California – Indigenous Historic Tribe". Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  13. ^ Ramirez, Izzie (October 9, 2023). "The Winnemem Wintu won land back for their tribe. Here's what's next". Vox. Retrieved December 12, 2023.