The Miwok are a Penutian-speaking group of American Indians who formerly occupied the coastal region of present-day California between San Francisco and Monterey. In 1800 the Miwok numbered about twenty-two thousand, but their numbers were reduced to five thousand by the mid-nineteenth century as a result of disease and hardship encountered at the hands of the Spanish. In the early eighteenth century thousands of Miwok were forced to settle on Spanish mission posts where many of them succumbed to diseases or were worked to death. During the middle of the nineteenth Century they were overwhelmed by gold seekers, fur trappers, ranchers, and settlers. By the early 1900s the population had declined to about seven hundred who were located on several small rancherias purchased for them by the U.S. government. In the late 1970s there were about one hundred Miwok located on several California reservations and probably several times that number mixed with the general population of California.

The Miwok were primarily settled gatherers and hunters who traveled seasonally to harvest wild plant foods. Their staple food was acorns, but various other nuts and a variety of greens, berries, seeds, wild grains, and roots were gathered and accounted for major contributions to the diet. Among the Coast Miwok kelp was a staple food along with acorns. Game animals included deer, antelope, elk, bear, rabbits, Beaver, squirrels, and quail. Fishing for salmon, trout, sturgeon, and lamprey eels was also important among some groups, particularly the Coast Miwok.

Miwok society was characterized by a moiety organization, each half of which was identified with the land or water and a representative animal. Local lineage segments cooperated in the exploitation of economic resources and the conduct of certain ceremonies. Politically, the Miwok were organized into tribelets of villages or hamlets. Each tribelet occupied a definite territory and was headed by a chief who inherited his office patrilineally and was responsible for coordinating acorn harvests, settling disputes, and sponsoring ceremonies. Among the Coast Miwok overarching tribal Organization was lacking. Instead, each village was headed by a chief whose position was not inherited.

Several types of shamans were recognized in Miwok Society for the purposes of curing sickness and disease and divining the location of game animals and lost objects. Shamans inherited their position patrilineally, and their skills derived from instruction by an older shaman and supernatural power obtained through dreaming.


Bates, C. (1984) "Making Miwok Baskets." American Indian Basketry 4:15-18.

Corrotto, Eugene L. (1973) Miwok Means People, Fresno, Calif.: Valley Publishers.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 78, 272-278, 442-461. Washington, D.C.

Levy, Richard (1978). "Eastern Miwok." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 8, California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, 398-413. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

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