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Location: North central California (Colusa, Solano & Yolo Counties, eastern edges of Lake & Napa Counties)

Language: Penutian family

1770 estimate:
not known
1910 Census: not known

The Patwin were connected by a similar language with the Nomlaki and Wintu, to the north.  Together, these three groups were known as the Wintun.  The Patwin, being the most southern of the groups, are sometimes called the Southern Wintun.


The Patwin occupied the territory west of the Sacramento River, to the foothills of the Coast Range in the west and to San Pablo and Suisun bays in the south.  They were divided into many tribelets, whose languages differed somewhat from each other.  There were River Patwin, living in villages along the Sacramento River, and Hill Patwin, living in villages in the foothills.  There were more river villages than hill villages.

A tribelet was made up one large village and several smaller villages.  The people in a tribelet felt that they were connected to each other.  Each village had a headman, chosen by the village elders for his ability, though a son inherited the position from his father if he were capable.  The headman directed the food gathering activities of the village, and the ceremonies.      

The name Patwin means people in the language of  several of the tribelets.  It was later used to refer to all of the people in this area.  


Patwin houses were dug out of the ground, then covered with a framework of poles and branches, over which earth was packed.  They were round in shape.  Larger villages had a ceremonial or dance house, built in the same way but larger than the family house.  All the people in the village worked together to make the dance house.  The village sweathouse was a smaller version of the same type of building. 


The Patwin ate fish from the river, and deer and other animals from the hills.  On the Sacramento River, they built fish weirs (dams) of posts and willow sticks stuck into the river bottom.  Salmon and sturgeon were caught in this way.  Smaller fish such as perch, pike, and trout were caught in nets.  Mussels were also gathered from the river.  Some fishing places were owned by individuals, who gave permission to others to fish there.

Patwin men hunted deer, elk, antelope, and the brown bear.  Sometimes a small group of men worked together to catch a large animal.  One man would wear a deer head, so that he could get closer to the deer without alarming it.  Ducks, geese, quail, and mud hens were caught in nets.  Turtles and other small animals were also eaten.  Meat was roasted over the fire, or dried in the sun for later use.  Dried salmon or deer meat was ground into a flour.

Patwin families owned seed tracts, areas where the family could gather seeds such as sunflower, clover, wild oats, and other grasses.  The seeds were dried and ground into meal.  Acorns were a main food for the Patwin.  Groves of oak trees were owned by the tribelet, and the acorns were gathered by groups of women and children.  They used the acorns for making mush, after grinding them into meal and mixing the meal with water.  The mush was cooked in a basket by putting hot stones in the basket with the mush.  Acorn meal was also made into bread and baked in a pit oven dug into the earth.

Other foods used by the Patwin were buckeye, pine nuts, juniper berries, manzanita berries, blackberries, wild grapes, bulbs, and tule roots.


Patwin men usually did not wear any clothing.  The women in villages along the river made skirts or aprons from tule reeds or shredded bark.  Those who lived in the hills were more apt to have skirts made of deerskin.  Neither men nor women wore hats or shoe.  For warmth, as a cape worn over the shoulders or as a blanket, they used rabbit skins cut in strips and sewn together.

Although they did not eat grizzly bear, reptiles, or birds of prey, the Patwin did hunt them for their skins and feathers, which they used for special ceremonial clothing and decoration.  Woodpecker and raven feathers were used in headdresses.


Bone, wood, and stone were used to make tools.  Pieces of sharp stone served as scrapers and knives.  Bone awls (sharp pointed tools) were used in making baskets, and in sewing skins into clothing.  Arrow points and spearheads were made from obsidian (volcanic glass).  Some bows were gotten in trade, but others were made from the buckeye, juniper, or dogwood trees.  Mussel shells were used as knives to cut fish and meat into strips.

The Patwin who lived along the river used boats or rafts made of tule reeds.  The tules were bound together with grapevines.  Some of the boats were as long as 20 feet and as wide as six feet.   

Cord or string was made from the fibers of the wild hemp or milkweed plants.  This cord was used for nets for hunting and fishing. 

Baskets were important to the people, as they were used for all types of carrying, storing, cooking, and serving food.  Baskets were also used as baby cradles.  Both the coiling and the twining methods of making baskets were used by the Patwin.  Their coiled baskets were the more finely done ones.  They were sometimes decorated with feathers and shells.  Twined baskets were used for gathering food and carrying burdens.  Willow branches were used as the basis for both types of baskets.  Designs were made on the basket by weaving in colored fibers.  Black fibers were made by burying the fiber strands in mud for a few days.  Red fibers came from split redbud shoots. 


Clamshell disks were used as money by the Patwin.  They traded among themselves (between tribelets) and with other groups.  The clamshell beads were gotten in trade from people who lived on the coast.  At some times, the Patwin got the whole clamshells from the coast and made their own disk beads.  Pieces of clamshell were shaped into small circles, a hole was punched in the middle, and the beads were strung on strings, 80 to the string.  From the Pomo people, the Patwin got beads of magnesite (a kind of stone that turns reddish when heated). 

Bows were also an item of exchange.  The Patwin got them from the Pomo and from the Nomlaki.  Sometimes they traded the bows to the Wappo.  The Patwin were generally on good terms with the Pomo, and people freely visited in each other's area to fish or hunt.  The Patwin also got obsidian in Pomo territory. 


The Patwin were one of the groups that took part in the Kuksu or "big-head" rituals.  This was a secret society to which men and boys over the age of eight belonged.  Part of the ritual was a series of dances that were held in a special dance house. 

In the villages along the river, the dances took place throughout the winter months, and each dance lasted several days and nights.  In the hill villages, the dances were held in the summer.  Fancy feather capes and headdresses were worn, and the dancers painted their bodies with charcoal, clay, and ocher.  The dancers took the parts of coyote, deer, grizzly bear, goose, turtle, and other animals and birds.

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