Anderson Valley Native Americans - Pomos
Five thousand years ago, Anderson Valley was inhabited by indigenous peoples. Pomo is the name given by early white ethnographers to those people of Northern Sonoma County, most of Mendocino County, and much of Lake County whose languages shared a common origin. Within this grouping, there are seven distinct languages, referred to at times as dialects, but in truth as distinct from one another as any of the Romanic languages. It has been estimated that in 1830 there were over twenty thousand Pomoan-speaking people residing in seven major groupings throughout the three counties. Anderson Valley was home to speakers of two of the seven Pomoan languages.
The Late Pomo or Ma-cu-maks of the present day Yorkville area spoke the central Pomo language. Those of the Boonville area west to Navarro were called Tabahtea (Tah-bah-tay) Pomo and spoke the Northern Pomo language. Altogether they had nineteen known village sites, with an estimated population of around 600 in 1855. The four major villages were “Late” (Lah-tay) on the west bank of Rancheria Creek, about one mile west of Yorkville, “Lemkolil” (Lem-ko-lil) on the northeast bank of Anderson Creek one mile downstream from Boonville, “Tabate” (Ta-bat-ay) on the northeast bank of the Navarro River two miles west of Philo, and “Katuuli” (Ca-tool-i) fifty yards south of the old town of Christine, near the present day Christine woods south of Navarro.
A typical small village might contain 20 to 30 individuals probably all from the same family. They built houses of brush or redwood bark, often using willow for the framework. These houses were usually for the women and children. The men stayed communally in a larger men’s or “Fire” house.
Larger villages, of up to 300 people, usually had a large ceremonial house often referred to as a “round ” or dance house. It was in these “round ” houses that people from all the surrounding villages would gather for weddings, seasonal ceremonies, and other social events.
Anderson Valley Pomos moved according to the seasons. They stayed in their main village sites during winter months and moved to outlying camps at appropriate times for hunting, fishing, and gathering of acorns as well as other foods and materials. Many varieties of clover, miner's lettuce, and even the new growth tips of fir trees were gathered. Seeds from flowers and grasses were gathered for Pinole (ground up grass seeds). Many varieties of nuts and berries and even wild grapes were available. Roots and tubers such as Indian potato and wild onion were dug in the fall. After the first rains, acorns from the tan oaks were collected, dried, and stored in large quantity.
The native people also depended heavily on venison and fish. Some archeologists examining the ancient village sites say the ancient economy was “salmon, salmon, salmon.”
In the fall before the rains many Pomos went to the ocean to gather seaweed, shell fish, fish, seal meat, and salt. Returning to their villages, they often set fires that cleared the forest of underbrush and also helped to control the bugs that could infest acorns.
The Pomos were excellent hunters and trappers, using many techniques to take their prey, most commonly the bow and arrow and basket-weave traps. Woven fish traps were extensively used, and quail were caught in woven traps sometimes fifteen feet long. Hunting was done far from the villages, to keep animal life around the villages abundant.
The Tabahtea (Tah-bah-tay), the name they called themselves, were from the Taa-Bo-Tah, Long Valley (now called Anderson Valley). They created a very complex religious and social life, including an elaborate money and counting system. They traded for clams from Bodega Bay which they then fashioned into money by cutting the clams into pieces, drilling holes so beads of shells could be inserted, and then grinding the clam shell into beautiful smooth, round beads which were then strung on necklaces of usually two hundred beads. They were very beautiful! The Pomos also created very beautiful and complicated dance regalia used in ceremonial and social gatherings.
The Pomos are also renowned for their excellent baskets, considered by many to be among the finest in the world. Ranging in size from huge 4-5-foot storage baskets to miniature baskets no bigger than the tip of your little finger, they were both utilitarian and objects of beauty, often given as gifts within the community. These baskets were used for carrying, gathering and cooking, and were so tightly woven they would hold water.
In 1849 the California gold rush brought a great influx of white Americans and Europeans into this area, creating great pressure on the native people and tragically, resulting in diminishing populations. By 1900 there were few Native Americans left in Anderson Valley. Some died from communicable diseases to which they had no immunity; others were forced to relocate to reservations, first on the coast, and then most likely in Covelo.
Today many Pomos still live near their ancestral homes in Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma Counties.
Books Note: Indian Summer, written by Effie Hulbert tells the story of the Ma-cum-muk Indians in Yorkville and is available through the Historical Society.
The Ethno Geography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians; S.A. Barrett, 1908
Handbook of the Indians of California; A.L. Kroeber
Anthropological Records 16.3 The Aboriginal Population of the North Coast of California; S.F. Cook
Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 8, California; Robert F. Holzer Vol. Editor
Indian Summer; Effie McAbee Hulbert
The Pomo Indians of California and Their Neighbors; Vinson Brown & Douglas Andrews