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This article is about the ethnic group. For their language, see Tolowa language.
Total population
400[1] to 1,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
United States United States
(California California, Oregon Oregon)
Tolowa language, English language
Traditional tribal religion,
previously Indian Shaker religion[1]
Related ethnic groups
Chetco and Tututni[1]

The Tolowa people or Taa-laa-wa Dee-ni’ are a Native American people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group. They still reside in their traditional territories in northwestern California and southern Oregon. Tolowa are members of the federally recognized Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation,[3] Elk Valley Rancheria, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, Trinidad Rancheria,[4] as well as the unrecognized Tolowa Nation.[5]


Their homeland, Taa-laa-waa-dvn (“Tolowa ancestral-land”) lies along the Pacific Coast between the water sheds of Wilson Creek and Smith River basin and vicinity in northwestern California and the Winchuck, Chetco, Pistol, Rogue, Elk and Sixes Rivers, extending inland up the Rogue River throughout the Applegate Valley in southwestern Oregon in the United States; roughly what are today Curry, Josephine and Del Norte Counties. The area was bounded by Port Orford, Oregon to the north and Wilson Creek, north of the Klamath River, in California to the south. They lived in approximately eight permanent villages in what is now California and Oregon, including on Crescent Bay and Lake Earl.[5] The most important Tolowa village is Yan’-daa-k’vt. Their tribal neighbors are the Coquille and Umpqua to the north, Takelma, Shasta and Karuk to the east and the Yurok to the south.

The name "Tolowa" is derived from Taa-laa-welh (Taa-laa-wa), an Algic name given to them by the Yurok (Klamath River People), meaning "I speak Tolowa".

Their autonym is Xus or Xvsh, meaning "person" or "human being".[1] Their Karuk name, yuh'ára, "Indian from downriver" was also used for the Yurok.[6]

They called themselves in a political sense also Dee-ni’, which means "(is a) citizen of a yvtlh-’i~ (polity)". The ancient Dee-ni’ Taa-laa-waa-dvn was divided into various yvtlh-’i~.

They have traditionally spoken Taa-laa-wa Dee-ni' Wee-ya' (Tolowa Dee-ni' Language), the Tolowa language, one of the Athapaskan languages. Their subsistence was oriented around riverine and marine resources and acorns (san-chvn[7]). Their society was not formally stratified, but considerable emphasis was put on personal wealth.[8]

Tolowa villages were organized around a headman and usually consisted of related men. The men brought wives in from neighboring tribes. The brides were usually related (sisters), in order for the wealth to remain in the paternal families.

The Tolowa or Dee-ni’ population exceeded ten-thousand. Epidemics hit the Tolowa before face-to-face contact with non-natives. Jedediah Smith and his exploration party were the first known non-native to contact the Tolowa in 1828. During the 1850s, over half of the Tolowa people died from disease and mass murders by Anglo-Americans, such as the Yontoket Massacre and the Achulet Massacre. In 1860, after the Chetco/Rogue River War, 600 Tolowas were forcibly relocated to Indian reservations in Oregon. Later, some were moved to the Hoopa Valley Reservation in California. The tribe embraced the Ghost Dance religion from 1872 to 1882.[1]


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially.[9] Various estimates for the 1770 population of Tolowa have ranged from as low as 450 to an upper end around 2,400.[10][11][12][13]

In 1910, there were reportedly 150 Tolowa.[10] The 1920 census listed 121 Tolowa left in Del Norte County, California. By 2009, there were approximately 1,000 Tolowa Indians.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1, p. 147
  2. ^ California Indians and Their Reservations: Population. San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2009 (retrieved 5 Dec 2010)
  3. ^ The Smith River Rancheria. (retrieved 8 April 2009)
  4. ^ "Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria." Alliance for California Traditional Arts. 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  5. ^ a b c California Indians and Their Reservations. San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2009 (retrieved 8 April 2009)
  6. ^ Bright, William; Susan Gehr. "Karuk Dictionary and Texts". Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Bommelyn, Loren (2006). Tolowa People's Language. p. 22. 
  8. ^ Gould, Richard A. (18 February 1966). "The Wealth Quest Among the Tolowa Indians of Northwestern California". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 110 (1): 67–89. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  9. ^ See Population of Native California
  10. ^ a b Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C., p. 883
  11. ^ Baumhoff, Martin A (1963). "Ecological Determinants of Aboriginal California Populations". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. 49: 155–236 [231]. 
  12. ^ Cook, Sherburne F. 1943. The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization I: The Indian Versus the Spanish Mission. Ibero-Americana No. 21. University of California, Berkeley, p. 170
  13. ^ Cook, Sherburne F. 1956. "The Aboriginal Population of the North Coast of California". Anthropological Records 16:81-130. University of California, Berkeley, p.101

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, James. 1996. Understanding Tolowa Histories: Western Hegemonies and Native American Responses. London: Routledge.
  • Drucker, Philip. 1937. "The Tolowa and their Southwest Oregon Kin". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 36:221–300. Berkeley.
  • Gould, Richard A. 1978. "Tolowa". In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 128–136. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

External links[edit]