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OHLONE INDIAN is a term chosen in fairly modern times by descendants of a loose collection of tribelets living in an area of California between the San Francisco Bay, and Big Sur. Approximately 10,000 such Native Americans lived in this area, making it the most densely populated region in pre-Spanish North America. These residents were collected into approximately forty tribelets, each typically containing 100-250 members. Originally, the name "Ohlone" was the name of a small Indian tribe that lived on the coast near Pescadero. It has been speculated that "Ohlone" is from a Miwok word meaning western people.

R. Levy's studies in the sixties indicate that there were eight distinct social groups among the Ohlone Indians, primarily divided by natural borders. These groups shared a basic location, a dialect or language, religious beliefs, and patterns of dress. They did not, however, necessarily consider themselves as parts of these groups, and would frequently know of non-bordering tribelets second-hand, if at all. From North to South, these ethnic groups consisted of:

  1. Karkin
    Approximate population: 200
    Location: South edge of Carquinez Strait
  2. Chochenyo
    Approximate population: 2,000
    Location: East of San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley, Mission San Jose
  3. Ramaytush
    Approximate population: 1,400
    Location: San Mateo and San Francisco counties
  4. Tamyen
    Approximate population: 1,200
    Location: South San Francisco Bay and Santa Clara Valley
  5. Awaswas
    Approximate population: 600
    Location: Between Davenport and Aptos in Santa Cruz County
  6. Mutsun
    Approximate population: 2,700
    Location: Pajaro River drainage
  7. Rumsen
    Approximate population: 800
    Location: Lower Carmel, Salinas, and Sur rivers
  8. Chalon
    Approximate population: 900
    Location: Upper Salinas River drainage

Some of these groups also coincide with the small number of known tribelets as published by M. Malcolm in 1978, also shown here in a vaguely North to South and West to East order, with the approximate present-day location they lived nearest.

Each tribelet had a major village site, but moved to various harvest areas as the seasons progressed, though they did not typically cover very much ground. Edible plant life is abundant throughout the region, which is also coastal, thus also allowing for fish, and especially shellfish, a staple of the coastal Ohlone diet. At the time, the area was thick with antelope, deer, and rabbits, and in fact still supports thriving populations of the latter two. Elk and Bear were also hunted in the area. The only animal domesticated by the Ohlone was the dog.

Like many Native Americans, the Ohlone believed firmly in magic, and lived a life rife with ceremonies, complete with the obligatory attendant singing and dancing.


  • Website: Belmont, Ohlone Indians (http://www.belmont.gov/hist/disc/ohlone.html)
  • Website: Santa Cruz Public Libraries, An overview of Ohlone Culture (http://www.santacruzpl.org/history/spanish/ohlone.shtml)
  • Levy, R. Coastoan Internal Relationships. Paper presented to the Ninth Conference on American Indian Languages, San Diego; Manuscript in Levy's possession.
  • Margolin, Malcolm. The Ohlone Way, Indian life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area. Heyday, Berkeley, 1978.

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