Coast Miwok

Coast Miwok
Coast Miwok People
Reconstructions of Coast Miwok shelters at Kule Loklo.
modern reconstructions of Coast Miwok shelters at Kule Loklo.
Total population
1770: 2,000
1850: 250
1880: 60
Regions with significant populations

Marin County
Sonoma County


Coast Miwok


Shamanism: Kuksu:
Miwok mythology

Related ethnic groups


The Coast Miwok were the second largest group of Miwok Native American people. The Coast Miwok inhabited the general area of modern Marin County and southern Sonoma County in Northern California, from the Golden Gate north to Duncans Point and eastward to Sonoma Creek. The Coast Miwok included the Bodega Bay Miwok from authenticated Miwok villages around Bodega Bay and Marin Miwok.



The Coast Miwok spoke their own Coast Miwok language in the Utian linguistic group. They lived by hunting and gathering, and lived in small bands without centralized political authority. In the springtime they would head to the coasts to hunt salmon and other seafood. Otherwise their staple foods were primarily acorns, nuts and wild game such as California Mule Deer. They were skilled at basketry.

The Coast Miwok language is no longer natively spoken, but the Bodega dialect is documented in Callaghan (1970).

There is a recreated Coast Miwok village called Kule Loklo located at the Point Reyes National Seashore.


The original Coast Miwok people world view included Shamanism, and one form this took was the Kuksu religion that was evident in Central and Northern California. This 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.[1][2] Kuksu was shared with other indigenous ethnic groups of Central California, such as their neighbors the Pomo, also Maidu, Ohlone, Esselen, and northernmost Yokuts. 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.[3]

Traditional narratives

In their myths, legends, tales, and histories, the Coast Miwok participated in the general cultural pattern of Central California.[1]


Coast Miwok mythology and narratives were similar to those of other natives of Central and Northern California. The Coast Miwok believed in animal and human spirits, and saw the animal spirits as their ancestors. Coyote was seen as their ancestor and creator god. In their case the earth began with land formed out of the Pacific Ocean.[4]

Authentic villages

The authenticated Coast Miwok villages are:[5]


Documentation of Miwok peoples dates back as early as 1579 by a priest on a ship under the command of Francis Drake. Other verification of occupancy exists from Spanish and Russian voyagers between 1595 and 1808.[6][7] Over 1000 prehistoric charmstones and numerous arrowheads have been unearthed at Tolay Lake in Southern Sonoma County - some dating back 4000 years. The lake was thought to be a sacred site and ceremonial gathering and healing place for the Miwok and others in the region.[8]

Coast Miwok would travel and camp on the coast and bays at peak fishing seasons.

After the Europeans arrived in California, the population declined from diseases introduced by the Europeans. Beginning in 1783, mission ecclesiastical records show that Coast Miwok individuals began to join Mission San Francisco de Asis, now known as Mission Dolores. They started joining that mission in large numbers in 1803, when the marriages of 49 couples from their Huimen and Guaulen local tribes (San Rafael and Bolinas Bay) appeared in the Mission San Francisco Book of Marriages.[9] Local tribes from farther and farther north along the shore of San Pablo Bay moved to Mission San Francisco through the year 1812. Then in 1814 the Spanish authorities began to split the northern groups—Alagualis, Chocoimes (alias Sonomas), Olompalis, and Petalumas—sending a portion of each group to Mission San Francisco and another portion to Mission San Jose in the southeast portion of the San Francisco Bay Area. By the end of the year 1817, 850 Coast Miwok had been converted.[10]

Mission San Rafael was founded by the Spanish Franciscans in Coast Miwok territory in the late fall of 1817. By that time the only Coast Miwok people still on their land were those on the Pacific Coast of the Marin Peninsula, from Point Reyes north to Bodega Bay.[11] The Spanish authorities brought most of the Coast Miwoks who had been at Missions San Francisco and San Jose back north to form a founding population for Mission San Rafael.[12] But some who had married Ohlone or Bay Miwok-speaking Mission Indians remained south of the Golden Gate. Over time in the 1820s Mission San Rafael became a mission for Coast Miwok and Pomo speakers. Mission San Francisco Solano, founded in 1823 in the Sonoma Valley (the easternmost traditional Coast Miwok region), came to be predominately a mission for Indians that spoke the Wappo or Patwin languages.[13]

At the end of the Mission period (1769–1834) the Coast Miwoks were freed from the control of the Franciscan missionaries. At the same time the Mission lands were secularized and ceded to Californios. Most Coast Miwok began to live in servitude on the ranchos for the new California land grant owners, such as those who went to work for General Mariano G. Vallejo at Rancho Petaluma Adobe. The ranch owners were dependent upon the labor pool of Indians with agricultural and ranching skills.[6][7] Other Miwok chose to live independently in bands like those at Rancho Olompali and Rancho Nicasio.

In 1837, a smallpox epidemic decimated all the native populations of the Sonoma region, and the Coast Miwok population continued to decline rapidly from other diseases brought in from the Spaniards as well as the Russians at Fort Ross.[7][14]

By the beginning of California statehood (1850), many Miwok of Marin and Sonoma Counties were making the best of a difficult situation by earning their livelihoods through farm labor or fishing within their traditional homelands. Others chose to work as seasonal or year-round laborers on the ranches that were rapidly passing from Mexican ownership into Anglo-American ownership.[7][15]

Olompali and Nicasio

After Mission San Rafael closed during the 1834-1836 period, the Mexican government deeded most of the land to Californios, but allowed the Indians ex-neophytes to own land at two locations within traditional Coast Miwok territory: Olompali and Nicasio.

The Coast Miwok leader Camilo Ynitia, secured a land grant of 2 sq. leagues known as Rancho Olompali, from Governor Micheltorena of Alta California in 1843, which included the prehistoric Miwok village of Olompali (his home village) and is north of present-day Novato.[16]

The village of Olompali dates back to 500, had been a main center in 1200, and might have been the largest native village in Marin County.[17] Ynitia held onto the Rancho Olompoli land title for 9 years, but in 1852 he sold most of the land to James Black of Marin.[17] He retained 1,480 acres (6.0 km2) called Apalacocha. His daughter eventually sold Apalacocha.

The other Indian-owned rancho was at Rancho Nicasio northwest of San Rafael. Near the time of secularization (1835), the Church granted the San Rafael Christian Indians 20 leagues (80,000 acres, 320 km²) of mission lands from present-day Nicasio to the Tomales Bay. About 500 Indians relocated to Rancho Nicasio. By 1850 they had but one league of land left. This radical reduction of land was a result of illegal confiscation of land by non-Indians under protest by Indian residents. In 1870, José Calistro, the last community leader at Nicasio, purchased the small surrounding parcel. Calistro died in 1875, and in 1876 the land was transferred by his will to his four children. In 1880 there were 36 Indian people at Nicasio. The population was persuaded to leave in the 1880s when Marin County curtailed funds to all Indians (except those at Marshall) who were not living at the Poor Farm, a place for "indigent" peoples.[18]

By the early 20th century, a few Miwok families pursued fishing for their livelihoods; one family continued commercial fishing into the 1970s, while another family maintained an oyster harvesting business. When this activity was neither in season nor profitable, Indian people of this area sought agricultural employment, which required an itinerant lifestyle. The preferred locality for such work was within Marin and Sonoma counties.


The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly the Federated Coast Miwok, gained federal recognition of their tribal status in December 2000. The new tribe consists of people of both Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent.


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. (See Population of Native California.) Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Coast Miwok at 1,500.[19] Sherburne F. Cook raised this figure to 2,000.[10]

The population in 1848 was estimated as 300, and it had dropped to 60 in 1880.[20]

Notable Coast Miwoks

  • José Calistro, was the last community leader at Nicasio.
  • Chief Marin was a Coast Miwok of the Huimen local tribe, baptized as a child in 1803 at Mission San Francisco and noted as an alcalde at Mission San Rafael in the 1820s. He died on March 15, 1839.[18] Marin County and the Marin Islands are named in his honor.[21] He was the "great chief of the tribe Licatiut", according to General Vallejo's semi-historical report to the first California State Legislature (1850).
  • Quintin, was renowned as the sub-chief of Marin and skipper at Mission Dolores, according to General Vallejo. San Quentin Peninsula (1840) is reputed to be named after him. San Quentin State Prison was added much later.[21]
  • Ponponio (aka Pomponio) was a leader of a band of Native American fugitives in California who called themselves Los Insurgentes. Evading authorities, he was eventually captured in Marin County, and executed in Monterey in 1824.
  • William Smith was born a Bodega Bay Coast Miwok, was forced relocation to Lake County during the late 19th century, but returned to Bodega Bay where he and his relatives founded the commercial fishing industry in the area.
  • Camilo Ynitia (1816–1856) was a Coast Miwok leader who became the owner of an 8,800 acres (36 km2) land grant secured for the Miwok, named Rancho Olompali, now the Olompali State Historic Park. Ynitia also forged a ranch labor-alliance with General Vallejo, and secured semblance of peace with the white settlers (about 1830s-1840s).[6][22]

External links


  1. ^ a b Kroeber, 1907, Vol. 4 #6, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs".
  2. ^ The Kuksu Cult paraphrased from Kroeber.
  3. ^ 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.]".
  4. ^ Clark 1910, Gifford 1917.
  5. ^ "Miwok Indian Tribe". Access Genealogy. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  6. ^ a b c Cook, 1976.
  7. ^ a b c d Silliman, 2004.
  8. ^ Tolay Lake Park: Natural and Cultural History, County of Sonoma Regional Parks Department: Tolay Lake Regional Park, August 20, 2007.
  9. ^ Milliken 1995:176-179
  10. ^ a b Cook, 1976:182.
  11. ^ Goerke 2007:49, 70
  12. ^ Goerke 2007:71-77; Milliken 2008:60
  13. ^ Milliken 2008:59-60,64
  14. ^ Cook 1976:213-214.
  15. ^ Goerke 2007:155-168
  16. ^ Goerke 2007; Shumway 1988:39.
  17. ^ a b Reutinger 1997.
  18. ^ a b Goerke 2007
  19. ^ Kroeber, 1925:883.
  20. ^ Cook, 1976:239, 351.
  21. ^ a b Teather, 1986
  22. ^ Teather has full name and acreage


  • Access Genealogy: Indian Tribal records, Miwok Indian Tribe. Retrieved on 2006-08-01. Main source of "authenticated village" names and locations.
  • Callaghan, Catherine. 1970. Bodega Miwok Dictionary. Berkeley, CA: University Of California Press.
  • Cook, Sherburne. 1976. The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03143-1.
  • Goerke, Betty. 2007. Chief Marin, Leader, Rebel, and Legend: A History of Marin County's Namesake and his People. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books. ISBN 13:978-1-59714-053-9
  • Kelly, Isabel. 1978. "Coast Miwok", 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 414-425.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. The Religion of the Indians of California, 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"; 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
  • Merriam, C. Hart. 1916. "Indian Names in the Tamalpais Region. California Out-of-Doors No. 118, April, 1916.
  • 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 Publication. ISBN 978-0-87919-147-4 (alk. paper)
  • Reutinger, Joan. Olompali Park Filled With History, The Coastal Post, Sept. 1997.
  • Silliman, Stephen. 2004. Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-2381-9.
  • Shumway, Burgess M. 1988. California Ranchos: Patented Private Land Grants Listed by County. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press. ISBN 0-89370-935-2
  • Teather, Louise. Place Names of Marin. San Francisco, CA: Publisher Scottwall Associates, 1986. ISBN 0-9612790-9-5 paper

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