Identification. The groups classified under the name "Yokuts" include some forty to fifty subtribes which are usually distinguished by three main cultural and geographical divisions, the Northern Valley Yokuts, the Southern Valley Yokuts, and the Foothills Yokuts. The name "Yokuts" derives from a term in several of the Yokuts dialects that means "people."
Location. The traditional homeland of the Yokuts was the San Joaquin Valley and the adjacent foothills of the Sierra Nevada in south-central California. Their territory extended from the Calaveras River near Stockton south to the Tehachapi Mountains and into the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada between the Fresno and Kern rivers. The climate of the San Joaquin Valley is semiarid, with mild winters and long hot summers, especially in the south. The eastern side of the valley was characterized by extensive marshes that bordered the numerous rivers and streams flowing westward out of the mountains to the San Joaquin River. Fauna, in the form of fish, shellfish, waterfowl, and large and small game, were abundant. The foothills of the Sierra Nevada is a region of irregular and steep ridges and valleys, offering a diversity of ecological zones and varied plant and animal resources.
Demography. Prior to European contact the Yokuts numbered in excess of 18,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000. In 1833 epidemic disease, probably malaria, devastated the Yokuts, claiming as much as 75 percent of the population. In the late 1970s the Yokuts numbered several hundred, including 325 living on the Tule River Reservation and another 100 living on the Santa Rosa Rancheria.
Linguistic Affiliation. Each of the Yokuts subtribes had its own dialect, all of which belong to the California Penutian language family. In the mid-1970s only a few of the many Yokuts dialects were still being spoken.