Wintu people

Total population
(2500 (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), Yokut

The Wintu (also Northern Wintun) are Native Americans who live in what is now Northern California. 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.

Many Wintun live on the Round Valley Reservation, and on the Colusa, Cortina, Grindstone Creek, Redding, and Rumsey rancherias.


The predominant theory regarding the settlement of the Americas date the original migrations from Asia to around 20,000 years ago across the Bering Strait land bridge, but one anthropologist claims that the Wintu and some other northern California tribes descend from Siberians who arrived in California by sea around 3,000 years ago.[2]

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 malaria: an epidemic that killed an estimated 75% of the indigenous population in the upper and central Sacramento Valley.

In following years the weakened Wintu fell victim to competition for resources by incoming European-American settlers. Their sheep and cattle herds destroyed the Wintu food supply and Gold miners' processing activities caused pollution of rivers. The Wintu were also forced to work as laborers in gold mining operations. In 1846 John C. Frémont and Kit Carson killed 175 Wintu and Yana.[3]

Settlers tried to control Wintu land and relocate the people west of Clear Creek. In a "friendship feast" in 1850, whites served poisoned food to local Indians, from which 100 Nomsuu and 45 Wenemem Wintu died. More deaths and destruction of Wintu land followed in 1851 and 1852, in incidents such as the Bridge Gulch Massacre.[4]


The Wintu language is one of the Wintuan languages; it is also called Wintu.

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.[5] Sherburne F. Cook initially put the population of the Wintu proper as 2,950, but later he nearly doubled his estimate to 5,300.[6][7] Frank R. LaPena estimated a total of 14,250 in his work of the 1970s.[8]

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 2500 Wintun. Many live on the Round Valley Reservation, and on the Colusa, Cortina, Grindstone Creek, Redding, and Rumsey rancherias.[9]

See also


  1. "Wintun", California Indians and Reservations, San Diego State University, Library, accessed 30 Jun 2010
  2. Billiter, Bill (January 1, 1985). "3,000-Year-Old Connection Claimed : Siberia Tie to California Tribes Cited". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2014-11-28. Retrieved 2014-11-28. Some of the California Indian tribes that are descended from Russian Siberians, Von Sadovszky said, are the Wintuan, of the Sacramento Valley, the Miwokan, of the area north of San Francisco, and the Costanoan, of the area south of San Francisco.
  3. McMurtry, 2005
  4. LaPena, 1978:324
  5. Kroeber, p. 883
  6. Cook, The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization, p. 180
  7. Cook, The Population of the California Indians, 1769-1970, p. 19
  8. LaPena, p. 325
  9. "Wintun", California Indians and Reservations, San Diego State University, Library, accessed 30 Jun 2010


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