Indians, pronounced wihn TOON, also spelled Wintuan, are a group of three tribes from the
Sacramento Valley of north-central California. The tribes are the Wintu, Nomlaki, and
Patwin. Their territory originally extended from the Sacramento River to the foothills of
the California Coast Range and from the source of the Trinity River to the mouth of the
Sacramento. Each village consisted of an extended family of 20 to 200 people led by a
hereditary male chief. For food, the Wintun hunted, fished, and gathered acorns. The
Wintun had strong traditions of sacred song and dance. They took part in a religious
revival called the Ghost Dance that began among the Paiute Indians in 1870 and quickly
spread to other tribes.
In the early 1800's, Spanish missionaries and settlers took many Patwin to live at
missions. A malaria epidemic killed large numbers of Wintun along the Sacramento River
between 1830 and 1833. During the 1850's, white settlers and gold miners poured into
Wintun lands. Fighting between Wintun and whites led to the Indians' being forced onto
reservations by the United States government. Some escaped from the reservations. They
worked for ranchers and lived in small communities called rancherias. About 1900, the
government recognized the rancherias as Indian property. Today, many Wintun live
throughout California, about 400 of them on or near rancherias.
Contributor: Victoria D. Patterson, Ph.D., Educator, Redwood
Region Consortium for Professional Development, Mendocino College.