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1. The Villages

Ethnologically, the Tolowa were the people of Smith River and the adjacent ocean frontage. Tolowa, like so many California designations of pseudo-tribal nature, was alien to the people to whom it was applied. It was of Yurok origin. The names and locations of the Tolowa villages, as given by themselves, have not been recorded. Eight to ten villages are known under their Yurok designations, and as many under the names which the Rogue River Athabascans of Oregon applied to them. [25]

To the north, the Tolowa territory extended almost to Oregon, while to the south it reached to within a short distance of the mouth of Wilson Creek, six miles north of the Klamath. There was a Yurok settlement on Wilson Creek, and they claimed whales that stranded on the beach as much as three miles beyond. Inland, Tolowa suzerainty was probably coextensive with the drainage of Smith River, the Siskiyous shutting them off from the Karok of the middle Klamath. Except for hunting, this interior tract was seldom frequented, for the Tolowa were essentially a coastal people. [26]

In 1910 there were 120 Tolowa, one-third of whom were breeds. In the 1850s their number was estimated at well under 1,000.

2. Relations Between Villages and with Other Tribes

The Tolowa villagers engaged in wars among themselves as readily as with alien villages, though it is likely that in the former case each side was limited to kinsmen, while an expedition for revenge against a Yurok or Karok settlement might unite the nation. In the 1870s there was a blood feud between Seninghat and one or more of the Lake Earl villages. A number of years before, there had been war between Hawinwet and Rekwoi, the latter the Yurok village at the mouth of the Klamath. Blood relatives of the inhabitants—in other villages—participated, but the other Tolowa towns, though in intermediate positions, remained neutral. One engagement took the lives of six warriors, three on each side. In another, the Yurok were defeated, losing five. The conflict was precipitated by an old woman of Rekwoi, who had a reputation as a witch, employing her magic to stop the annual salmon run on Smith River.

Rekwoi, as well as O'men (the most northerly Yurok settlement), was populated by many persons with Tolowa blood, and reciprocally there were not a few Tolowa with Yurok wives, mothers, or grandmothers. In the war between Rekwoi and the Hupa village of Takimitlding, in the 1830s, the greatest war recalled by the Yurok, they were allied with the Tolowa of Hawinwet and Yontakit. [27]

3. Customs, Institutions, and Implements

It appears that the customs, institutions, and implements of the Tolowa were similar to those of the Yurok and Hupa. The Tolowa served as middlemen to these nations as the principal purveyors of the dentalium shell that formed the standard currency of the region. The Yurok regarded the Tolowa as rich, a distinction they accorded to few others of the people known to them. [28]

The Tolowa held the Deerskin Dance that was practiced by the wealthier and more populous tribes of the region. [29]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004