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The Pomo Indians

Pomo girl photographed by Edward S. Curtis in 1924  The Pomo People: The Pomo people are a linguistic branch of Native American people of Northern California. Their historic territory was on Pacific Coast between Cleone and Duncans Point, and inland to Clear Lake. A separate group speaking a language of the same family, called the Northeastern Pomo, also lived near Stonyford.  Location: Pomo is a word believed to be derived from Poma, the village name given by anthropologists at the beginning of the century. The Pomo originated in California and were divided into three regions, the coast, the valley, and the lake regions of northern, central and southern California. They inhabited Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake counties, They also resided in the Russian River Valley and still reside in these areas today. The northern Pomo are named the Bokeya, the central are the Yokiya, and the southern Pomo are the Kashia.   Language: It is believed that there were originally seven different languages but only three are still spoken including Hokan.  History: In the early 1800’s, the Pomo had become close allies with the Russian fur traders and constantly traded items between the two camps. The Russian fur traders believed having Indians on their side was to their advantage. The Pomo were forced into Spanish missionaries or onto Indian reservations. During the 1830’s & 1840’s, they were subjected to numerous raids by the Mexican camps who attempted to secure slaves. There was also dramatic increases in the number of people who contracted smallpox and other deadly diseases. In 1857, the U.S. government set up a reservation for the Pomo Indians at Fort Bragg, California. Ten years later it was deserted and the Pomo were sent to live on other reservations throughout California.   Daily Life: The daily life of the Pomo was all based on simplicity. The men were often naked and the women wore short, thick kilts and shirts made of deerskin. One source of warmth during cold weather came from rabbit robes. Their houses were shaped like an leeiptical circle and consisted of three layers held by poles. Their daily diet included acorns, berries, fish and meat. The Pomo had two ceremonial rituals including the “Ghost Dance,” during which the dead were recognized and the “Far South,” which was a rite of passage for children of the tribe.            

Because the Pomo Indians lived in a variety of environments, there was a large variety of food available to them. The communities living inland made journeys to the coast for sea food, and the coastal communities make journeys inland to gather foods not found in their local environment. The Pomo Indians ate nuts from acorns, chestnuts, buckeyes, pepperwood, and conifer trees. They also ate wild grapes and berries. “Almost all species of mammals, birds, fishes, etc. were utilized, chiefly as sources of food.” The hunting of game was done using a variety of tools. They used snare, nets, spears, clubs, Bola (used in taking geese), sling and clay balls, and the bow and arrow. They used a V-shaped fence for corralling deer, and they would smoke out, or drown out ground squirrel out of their burrow.  

Land: The Pomo Indians did have property lines and personal areas. The entire community usually owned individual trees. Good fishing spots were another community owned area. If other communities wanted to fish these ares, all they had to do was ask. “If a boundary had to be marked, they simply tied a girdle of leaves around the trees along the line, at intervals of about a mile.” Boundaries where agreed upon by community leaders in elaborate ceremonies.  The Pomo were very peaceful, only when property rights were disregarded did village unites go to war. This was a last resort and many warnings were given before force utilized. The Pomo’s wealth came from fifty miles of lakeshore, and over one million acres of land. From this land they mined, traded, and sold Megnasite, or Indian gold.  Population: Population: In 1770 there were about 8,000 Pomo people, in 1851 population was estimated between 3500 and 5000, and in 1880 estimated at 1450. The 1910 Census reported 777 Pomo, but that is probably low. The 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 4900.   Today: The Pomo only have a mere fifty acres of tribal land. The decline was caused by a few factors; the treaties signed were never accepted by the state of California, this when the gold rush hit they sold a lot of the Pomo Indians land to anyone willing to buy. Second, was a terrible misrepresentation of the Pomo Indians in court by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). This caused a loss of 80,000 acres of land, including the island tribal ceremonial grounds. There are seventy known tribes within the Pomo group.
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