The people called Pomo were originally linked by location, language, and cultural expression. They were not socially or politically linked as one large unified group. Instead, they lived in small groups or bands, linked by geography, lineage and marriage. Traditionally they relied upon fishing, hunting and gathering for their food.
The Pomo Indian tribe is a linguistic branch of Native American of Northern California. Their historic territory in the past was on the Pacific Coast between Cleone and Duncans Point. The Pomo Indians preferred to live in small groups which they called "bands". Their bands were linked by geography, lineage, and marriage. The Pomo was composed of about hundreds of independent communities.
Like many other Native groups, the Pomo Indian of Northern California relied upon fishing, hunting, and gathering for their daily food supply. They ate salmon, wild greens, gnats, mushrooms, berries, grasshoppers, rabbits, rats, and squirrels. Acorns were the most important part of their diet.
The Pomo Indian women were gatherers while men were hunters and fishers. They were somewhat nomadic people and liked to migrate around the California Great Plains. Wherever they found peaceful and well adapted, they began building homes. The Pomo people lived a very simple life. They did not use a lot of clothing: men were usually naked and women mostly wore short and thick skirts made of deerskin. In the cold winter, more clothing made of animals' skin might be worn.
The Pomo Indians are known as masters of basket weaving and jewelry making. Some of their most culturally important dances are "Ghost Dance" and "Far South". During a "Ghost Dance" ceremony, they believed that the dead were recognized. And a "Far South" dance was celebrated as the rite of passage for children to the tribe. Many Pomo languages disappeared and have been replaced by English. There are about twelve Pomo languages that are used by Pomo people nowadays. Most of the remaining Pomo people live on reservations now.
Pomo, also known as Kulanapan, is a language family that includes seven distinct and mutually unintelligible languages, including Northern Pomo, Northeastern Pomo, Eastern Pomo, Southeastern Pomo, Central Pomo, Southern Pomo, and Kashaya. John Wesley Powell classified the language family as Kulanapan in 1891, based on the name first used by George Gibbs in 1853. He referred to the language by the name of one band from the Clear Lake Pomo.
The Pomo people participated in shamanism; one form this took was the Kuksu religion, which was held by people in Central and Northern California. It 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. The Pomo believed in a supernatural being, the Kuksu or Guksu (depending on their dialect), who lived in the south and who came during ceremonies to heal their illnesses. Medicine men dressed up as Kuksu, their interpretation of a healer spirit.
A later shamanistic movement was the "Messiah Cult", introduced by the Wintun people. It was practiced through 1900. This cult believed in prophets who had dreams, "waking visions" and revelations from "presiding spirits", and "virtually formed a priesthood". The prophets earned much respect and status among the people.
The record of Pomo myths, legends, tales, and histories is extensive. The body of narratives is classed within the Central California cultural pattern. Influences from the Northwest Coast and, more tenuously, from the Plateau region have also been noted.
The Pomo had a strong mythology of creation and world order. It includes the personification of the Kuksu or Guksu healer spirit, spirits from six cardinal directions, and the Coyote as their ancestor and creator god.
According to some linguistic reconstructions, the Pomo people descend from the Hokan-speaking people in the Sonoma County, California region. This area was where coastal redwood forests met with interior valleys with mixed woodlands. In this hypothesis, about 7000 BCE, a Hokan-speaking people migrated into the valley and mountain regions around Clear Lake, and their language evolved into Proto-Pomo. The lake was rich in resources. About 4000 BCE to 5000 BCE, some of the proto-Pomo migrated into the Russian River Valley and north to present-day Ukiah. Their language diverged into western, southern, central and northern Pomo.
Another people, possibly Yukian speakers, lived first in the Russian River Valley and the Lake Sonoma area. The Pomo slowly displaced them and took over these places. Recently, analysis of archaeological evidence has suggested that the indigenous historical economy observed by the Spanish at their arrival in the Pomo lands of central California may have first developed during the Mostin Culture period (8500-6300 BP) in the Clear Lake Basin. This was an economy that was based on women processing acorns by mortar and pestle.
Over 1,000 prehistoric charmstones and numerous arrowheads have been unearthed at Tolay Lake, in southern Sonoma County. These are attributed to both Pomo and Coast Miwok people. As a sacred site, the lake was a ceremonial gathering and healing place.At "the broken bridge site", researchers used radiocarbon dating of artifacts to determine it was inhabited about 3280 BCE, the oldest human-inhabited site in the valley. They consider it part of Skaggs Phase (3000 BCE—500 BCE).
"Oregon Oak Place" was dated at 1843 BCE. The surveyors suggested that, compared to the lower river valleys, this remote area was more sparsely settled before the Pomo people arrived.
Both of these Skaggs Phase-sites contained millstones and handstones for grinding seeds. The villages may have been used for hunting or temporary camps. Obsidian was used rarely, and it came from Mt. Konocti in present-day Lake County. There were no petroglyphs. The population lived only along major creeks.
"The Dry Creek Phase" lasted from 500 BCE to 1300 CE. During this phase, the indigenous people settled the lands more extensively and permanently. Archaeologists believe a Pomo group took over the lands from the earlier peoples in this phase. They created 14 additional sites in the Warm Springs and Upper Dry Creek areas. Bowl mortars and pestles appeared in this phase, probably used by women to pound acorns (as opposed to the milling stones used for seeds). The sites were more permanent and lifeways "more complex". Decorative beads and ornaments were made in this phase, and half the artifacts were made of obsidian. Steatite or soapstone objects were found, which must have been imported into the region through trade, as the rock does not exist locally. Relatively soft and easy to carve, soapstone was used to make beads, pendants and mortars. Trade was on a large scale beyond the region.
The next phase, named the "Smith Phase" after the Pomo consultants, lasted from 1300 CE to the mid-19th century. Researchers mapped 30 sites in this era showing a gradual transition and intensification of trends. The bow and arrow appeared as the main technological advancement. Manufacturing of shell beads, with accompanying production of drills to make holes for stringing and sewing, was important. Drills were found in high numbers. Numerous clamshell beads, a major currency among the Indians of Central California, were also found, indicating a vast trade network.
In 1800 there were estimated to be 10,000 to 18,000 Pomo in total among 70 tribes speaking seven Pomo languages. The way of life of the Pomo changed with the arrival of Russians at Fort Ross (1812 to 1841) on the Pacific coastline, and Spanish missionaries and European-American colonists coming in from the south and east. The Pomo native to the coastline and Fort Ross were known as the Kashaya. They interacted and traded with the Russians.
The Spanish missionaries moved many of the southern Pomo from the Santa Rosa Plain to Mission San Rafael, at present-day San Rafael, between 1821 and 1828. Only a few Pomo speakers moved to Mission Sonoma, the other Franciscan mission, located on the north side of San Francisco Bay. The Pomo who remained in the present-day Santa Rosa area of Sonoma County were often called Cainameros in regional history books from the time of Spanish and Mexican occupation.
In the Russian River Valley, a missionary baptized the Makahmo Pomo people of the Cloverdale area. Many Pomo left the valley because of this. One such group fled to the Upper Dry Creek Area. The archeology surveyors of the Lake Sonoma region believe that European encroachment was the reason why Pomo villages became more centralized; the people retreated to the remote valley to band together for defense and mutual support.
The Pomo suffered from the infectious diseases brought by the European migrants, including measles and smallpox. They did not have immunity to such diseases and fatalities were high. In 1837 a deadly epidemic of smallpox, originating in settlements at Fort Ross, caused numerous deaths of native people in the Sonoma and Napa regions.
The Russian River Valley was settled in 1850 by the 49ers, and the Lake Sonoma Valley was homesteaded out. The US government forced many Pomo on to reservations so that the European-Americans could homestead the former Pomo lands. Some Pomo took jobs as ranch laborers; others lived in refugee villages.
On 15 May 1850, after tensions and raids by a band in the area, the 1st Dragoons US Cavalry attacked a different group of Indians as mistaken punishment. They slaughtered from 60-400 people, mostly women and children of the Clear Lake Pomo and neighboring tribes, on an island in Clear Lake. The event became known as the Bloody Island Massacre.
One ghost town in the Lake Sonoma Valley excavations was identified as Amacha, built for 100 people but hardly used. Elder natives of the region remember their grandfathers hid at Amacha in the mid-1850s, trying to evade the oncoming immigrants. They tell that one day soldiers took all the people in the village to government lands and burned the village houses.
From 1891 to 1935, starting with National Thorn, the artist Grace Hudson painted over 600 portraits, mainly of Pomo individuals living near her in the Ukiah area. Her style was sympathetic and poignant, as she portrayed domestic native scenes that would have been fast disappearing in that time.
Women traditionally wove Pomo baskets with great care and technique. The three different techniques of Pomo basket weaving are plaiting, coiling, and twining. One drying method was wrapping maiden fern in blue clay and placing underground for several days. This prevented fading in the sun or when cooking mush.
Pomo baskets made by Pomo Indian women of Northern California are recognized worldwide for their exquisite appearance, range of technique, fineness of weave, and diversity of form and use. While women mostly made baskets for cooking, storing food, and religious ceremonies, Pomo men also made baskets for fishing weirs, bird traps, and baby baskets.
There are many different designs that are woven into the baskets that signify different cultural meanings. For example, the Dau is a pattern woven into a basket by creating a small change in the stitching to create a small opening between two stitches. The Dau is the design that is also called the Spirit Door. This Spirit Door allows good spirits to come and circulate inside of the basket while the good or bad spirits are released.
Making the baskets required great skill and knowledge in collecting and preparing the needed materials. Materials for weaving baskets changed with the seasons and years, so did the materials used for the baskets. The Pomo usually covered a basket completely with the vivid red feathers of the pleated woodpecker until the surface resembled the smoothness of the bird itself. With the feathers, 30-50 to every inch, beads were fastened to the basket’s border and hung pendants of polished abalone shell from the basket itself. Pomo women sometimes spent months or years making such gift baskets.
The materials used to make the baskets—including but not limited to, swamp canes, saguaro cactuses, rye grass, black ash, willow shoots, sedge roots, the bark of redbud, the root of bulrush, and the root of the gray pine—were harvested annually. After being picked, the materials are dried, cleaned, split, soaked, and dyed. Sometimes the materials are also boiled over a fire and set in the sun to dry.
Although baskets were made for decorating homes and as gifts, they were centrally used in Pomo daily life as well. Basket weaving is considered sacred to the Pomo tribe and baskets were produced for a variety of purposes. Pomo children were cradled in baskets, acorns (a major food staple to the Pomo) were harvested in great conical burden baskets, and food was stored, cooked, and served in baskets—some even being watertight. There were even "baskets" that were made as boats to be pushed by men to carry women across rivers.
The first Pomo basket craze lasted from about 1876 to the 1920s. Within this time period in addition to basket weaving, the Pomo also manufactured elaborate jewelry made from abalone and clamshells. Assembled during the winter, during the summer the Pomo would travel from various sites along the coast where they would fish and gather all of their materials needed to create their jewelry.
The Pomo Indians would create stunning, beautiful, and intricate forms of jewelry that were worn during celebrations and rituals, and even given as gifts. Both of these traditions of creation and culture have slowly dispersed and have become less common over the history of the tribe but more evident in today’s culture.
In the 1800s, The Pomo Indian entered a busy market with European people. One of their most wanted items was Pomo Indian fur. The Pomo Indian mostly traded fur with Russian people. The Russian missionaries began preaching and converting people. Then the Spanish missionaries came and did the same thing (Pritzker, par. 15). As a result, many Pomo Indian members died due to the spread of smallpox and measles (King, 626). In the 1830s and 1840s, the Californian Mexicans, who tried to turn them into slaves, attacked the Pomo Indians if they decided not to cooperate with their demands.
The United State's Marches to Round Valley
Like many other Native groups, the Pomo Indians were also attacked and pressured by the U.S. government. The Pomo were a part of the relocation known as "Marches to Round Valley" in 1856, which was conducted by the U.S. federal government. By using bullwhips and guns, white-settlers demanded relocation to reservations of the Pomo Indian. To protect their culture, the Pomo Indians had to be removed from their ancestral land.
During this time period, two settlers named Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone enslaved many Pomo people in order to work as cowboys on their ranch. They forced the Pomo Indians to work in very intense and unorthodox conditions, and sexually used the Pomo women. The Pomo men were also brutally used. They were forced to work in harsh conditions and were not given any respect by the settlers. Eventually, the Pomo Indians got sick of the disrespect and horrid practices of Stone and Kelsey, so they rebelled.
The Pomo men set up a sneak attack and killed both Stone and Kelsey. Because of the deaths of Kelsey and Stone, United States lieutenant J. W. Davidson and captain Nathaniel Lyon sent an army to retaliate against the Pomo people. This resulted in an event called the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850, in Clear Lake. This resulted in dozens of Pomo Indians being killed. Richerson & Richerson stated that before the European conquests there was an estimated 3,000 Pomo Indians that lived at Clear Lake; after all of the death, disease, and killings, there were only about 400 Pomo Indians left
United States Indian Reservations - A False Sense of Hope
Shortly after the massacre, in 1851-1852, there were four Indian reservations that opened up by the United States government in California; the Pomo Indians saw it as a way to get back to their original ways and basket-weaving traditions. Instead of being a safe haven, these places ended up being more of an internment camp for Indians. The purposes of these camps were to keep the Pomo people segregated from the white people
Some invaders actually came in and started hunting Indians for sport. Because of all the dismay and lethal practices, many Pomo Indians actually found ways to leave the reserves and go back to the land they once lived on. Once the Pomo people went back to their old land they were in much despair because the white people had already occupied much of it.
A Time for Rebuilding
Even though most of their original land was taken over, this was the first turning point for the Pomo people. They had finally escaped the harsh road they were once a part of, and even though they had to settle on poor, isolated land, they finally got to make a stride towards tradition and basket weaving. From 1852-1878, many Pomo Indians tried to rekindle their cultures and find peace to what had happened to them. Many people let this time be a learning and spiritual time, where they could have visions and see what the future would have in store. It was a time to build, a time to connect, a time of hope, and a time of change.
The Pomo Indians did not have enough money to buy land. The Pomo men decided to work for ranchers and the woman went back to making baskets. The "white" people loved the baskets, especially the designer, feathered ones, which led to a basketry movement. Finally, in 1878, the Pomo Indians bought their first piece of land in California. Paula Giese noted, "In 1878, a group of Northern Pomo people bought 7 acres in Coyote Valley. In 1880, another Northern Pomo group bought 100 acres along Ackerman Creek (now known as Pinoleville)" (1996, par. 30). In 1881, Yokaya Rancheria was financed by central Pomo people. Once the Pomo Indians had bought the land, it was time to make money.
Baskets were in so much demand at this point, even though they were once used for trade and bartering with other tribes and people, they now became the Pomo people’s way to make money and build their newly found empires. It was the women, who had held the basket weaving tradition, which made a huge change for the Pomo people. The baskets were wanted all over California; it was a piece of art that traders wanted. Grandmothers and daughters taught other Pomo women, who had lost the tradition of basket weaving, how to make the all-powerful baskets.
Basket weaving turned into an art and lifestyle that helped the Pomo people prosper. Basket weaving is not something that many people know how to craft, and even in today’s society; the hand-made Pomo baskets are something that is truly valuable and collectable. Overall, it wasn’t the Pomo people who wanted to give up their traditions and arts; it was the forcefulness of other cultures. If the Pomo people were not so objectified and attack in their past, there would have been more baskets, traditions, and Pomo people alive in this day and age.
Pomo basket weaving is still valued and honored today, not only by the Pomo Indians themselves, but also by amateur enthusiasts, buyers for curio dealers, and scientific collectors. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are a federally recognized American Indian tribe of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians. During the past 30 years, the appreciation for American Indian art has been on the rise, and the art has become in demand – specifically Pomo Indian basketry. Dr. Joallyn Archambault, director of the American Indian Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History says: "Since the 1880s, when Pomo baskets first became sought after, the Pomo have changed their lifestyles enormously." Pomo today live normal American lifestyles, but the basket weavers are still heralded and praised within the community for their artistic ability and skill.
One of those basket weavers is Julia F. Parker. She is a master weaver, having woven under Lucy Telles. Her childhood was rough, constantly moving around until boarding school after her parents’ death at 6. Lucy had taught Julia because of her perceived interest in preserving Indian culture and specifically basketry. Julia Parker became cultural demonstrator after Lucy Telles death in 1956. She continued in her studies and later studied Pomo basketry with Pomo master weaver Elsie Allen (1899–1990) at Ukiah and several others. Julia belongs to the Miwok Pomo and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Many of her baskets are in museums in Yosemite, Mono Lake and other museums; she even presented her baskets to the Queen of England.
The materials for baskets were sedge root, willow shoots and roots, bulrush or blackroot, redbud shoots, sometimes bracken fern and a variety of colorful bird feathers, abalone and other types of shells, magnesite beads and sometimes glass beads. Redbud shoots, used for the darker reddish colors in basket designs are gathered in October. Good redbud is hard to obtain around Ukiah, so it is usually found at Clear Lake. All these materials are gathered with a thankful heart and the gatherers talk continuously to the plants. They were, after all, living things that were giving themselves for something useful and beautiful. In order to preserve the soil and creek banks, sedge gathering was done with care. The commonly held decision would be leaving behind about half of what was found. Dyeing of the bulrush root takes about three to six months in a concoction of black walnuts, rusty metal and ashes in water.
Although the number of Pomo basket weavers has decreased, their skill and artistic vision is still intact, and people pay a pretty penny to get their hands on the art. Today, new Pomo baskets might sell for as much as $1,000, and the more historical ones might sell for more than $10,000. Dealing of these baskets has not always been so lucrative and many have tried to exploit the artists and communities. Dealers and collectors may have exploited the lucrative basket market, but it still paid well enough to provide income to Pomo women where hunting and gathering were no longer feasible and money was needed for survival.
Today you will see rare baskets being sold for the prices mentioned above. Due to the time and preparation necessary to weave these pieces of art; basket weavers today have more requests than they can fulfill, and many customers wait months before receiving orders. The rarity of the baskets and the skill are required in making them in what makes them valuable. The demand is greater than the supply, and collectors facilitate a high demand for these artistically made baskets.
In 1770 there were about 8,000 Pomo people; in 1851 population was estimated between 3,500 and 5,000; and in 1880 estimated at 1450. The 1910 Census reported 777 Pomo, but that is probably low. Anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber estimated 1,200 in the same year. According to the 1930 census there were 1,143. In 1990, the census showed 4,900.
According to the 2010 United States Census, there are 10,308 Pomo people in the United States. Of these, 8,578 reside in California.
The United States acknowledges many groups of native people of the United States as "federally recognized tribes", classifying them as "domestic dependent nations" under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but with some autonomy from the states, including California. Many other self-identified Native American groups are not federally recognized. Since the late 20th century, some states have begun to give formal recognition to tribes in varying ways.
The Pomo groups presently recognized by the United States are based in Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino counties. They include the following tribes:Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of the Big Valley Rancheria
Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians of California
Dry Creek Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians of the Sulphur Bank Rancheria
Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (part Pomo)
Guidiville Rancheria of California
Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake
Hopland Band of Pomo Indians of the Hopland Rancheria
Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria
Koi Nation of the Lower Lake Rancheria
Lytton Rancheria of California
Manchester Band of Pomo Indians of the Manchester Rancheria
Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
Pinoleville Pomo Nation
Potter Valley Tribe
Redwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California
Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation (part Pomo)
Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians of California
Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California.
Non-Pomo villages and tribes considered "Pomo" in Powell, 1891:Batemdikayi (name of a Cahto/Kato Athabaskan band)
Kai Pomo ('grass people', the Cahto/Kato Athabaskan band of Long Valley)
Kamalel Pomo ('ocean people', Coast Yuki people, possibly also the Sinkyone Athabaskan people of Usal Creek area)
Kastel Pomo (Wailaki Athabaskan bands, possibly including some of the northern Cahto bands)
Kato Pomo ('lake people', the Cahto/Kato Athabaskan band of Cahto Valley)
Yusal Pomo ('Usal people', the Sinkyone Athabaskan people of Usal Creek area)
Elsie Allen (1899–1990)
Chuck Billy (b. 1962), singer of the metal band Testament
Elmer Busch (1890–1949)
Mabel McKay (1907–1993)
Julia F. Parker
Essie Pinola Parrish (1903–1979)