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Upper fork of Kern River
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( California)
English, Tübatulabal
Traditional tribal religion,[2] Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Kawaiisu people

The Tübatulabal are an indigenous people of Kern River Valley in the Sierra Nevada range of California. They may have been the first people to make this area their permanent home.[3] Today many of them are enrolled in the Tule River Indian Tribe.[4] They are descendants of the people of the Uto-Aztecan language group, separating from Shoshone people about 3000 years ago.[3]


The Tübatulabal's traditional homelands extended over 1,300 square miles (3,400 km2) including the Kern and South Fork Kern Rivers drainages (located in the Kern Valley area of California) extending from very high mountainous terrain in the north to about 41 miles (66 km) below the junction of the two rivers in the south. The high mountains in the north (2,500–14,500 feet [760–4,420 m]) are interspersed with lakes and meadows. The southern area (2,500–3,000 feet [760–910 m]) has three connected valleys: Kern Valley, South Fork Kern Valley, and Hot Springs Valley, where summers are hot and winters cold and rainy. The valleys are grasslands and chaparral with cacti, scrub oaks, willows, elderberry, and cottonwoods as primary vegetation with some joshua trees, junipers, piñons, oaks, and sugar pines.[5]


The valley of the Kern River has been the home of three distinct bands which are collectively named Tübatulabal. The name Tübatulabal (“a people that go to the forest to gather tubat (piñon nuts)”) loosely translates as "pine-nut eaters."[6] The name was given to the tribe by the neighboring Yokuts. At one point in history the Yokuts also called the Tübatulabals, "Pitanisha" (place where the rivers fork). The name for the north fork of the river has the Indian name of, Palegewanap or "place of the big river." The south fork of the river conversely was given the name of Kutchibichwanap Palap, or "place of the little river."[7]


The three bands that comprise the Tübatulabal tribe are (from west to east):[8]

They are culturally and linguistically closely related. The Pahkanapil is the only band which has, to some degree, survived European transgression and occupancy.[clarification needed][citation needed]


Tübatulabal family in 1916
Tübatulabal family in 1916
Two Tubatulabal children in 1916
Two Tubatulabal children in 1916

Tübatulabal traditional culture was similar to that of the Yokuts, who occupied most of the southern half of the California's Central Valley. Acorns, piñon nuts, and game animals were key elements in Tubatulabal subsistence.[4] Located in the Kern Valley, the tribe had contact with the Poso Creek Yokuts to the southwest and the Tule-Kaweah Yokuts west, as well as to Western and Southern Numic speaking groups to the north and east (Western and Eastern Mono, and Timbisha (Panamint)). On their southern border were living the Kawaiisu, and further south the Tübatulabal had ties with Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Tataviam (Alliklik) peoples who spoke the Takic branch of Uto-Aztecan. The Tübatulabal were significant participants and go-betweens in the trade networks connecting the Great Basin, the southern deserts, the Central Valley, and the coastal groups.

Compared to other tribes in the Sierra Nevada, Tübatulabal had higher status and privilege. Though the tribe followed traditional patriarchy, women had an equal voice in decisions. Marriage had to be mutually consensual, and women could practice birth control.[3]

According to the tribe's oral history, the deep crags, crevices, and crooks of the canyon moving upward (east from the mouth of the Kern Canyon) to the upper reaches of the Kern River were "created by hawk and duck as they bounced back and forth, to and from along the canyon walls as they raced up the river."[9]

The Tübatulabal are well known for their red pottery and coiled baskets.[10] Today, many of their baskets are housed at the National Smithsonian Anthropological Archives, University of California Berkeley, California State Parks Archives, and many other museums and universities. Louisa Francisco, a Bankalachi was well known for her wonderful baskets. Some Tübatulabal families in Kern Valley are related to Francisco. Many of their ancestors married into the Tule River Tribe, Tachi Yokuts, and Tejon Indian Tribe. Tribal families shared in their basket making designs, materials, and weaving techniques. Louisa had a brother named Peter, both came from Poso Flat—a Bankalachi (Toloim) Village. Louisa was born 1865 at Poso Flat (Kern County) and died at age 95 in 1954. She was living on the Tule River Indian Reservation just prior to her death.

Estefana Miranda, a Pakanapul, lived in Weldon, California (born in 1895 and died in 1957) on the Miranda Allotment.[11] Estefana was the daughter of Steban Miranda, the last Tübatulabal chief. Estefana knew how to harvest native tobacco, acorns, salt grass, and other native foods of the South Fork of Kern Valley and Kelso Valley areas. She knew how to make "flat round" basket used for both sifting and ceremonies. Her baskets were also used to process piñon nuts picked from Walker Pass, Kennedy Meadows, and Greenhorn Mountain areas. "Estefana was also an excellent horseman—she could make her horses jump side to side and jump over large dirt ditches."[12]


Their ancestral language, Tübatulabal belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family.[4] In the current state of the linguistics of the Uto-Aztecan family, it is classified as a branch unto itself.

Tübatulabal is a Uto-Aztecan language that, although definitely part of the Uto-Aztecan stock, is not closely related to other languages in that group. Unlike the related languages, the Tübatulabal most often ended in consonant sounds. They used individual names and suffixes to denote place in the family and relation to the dead.[3]

Tübatulabal have two dialects "paka'anil" and "bankalachi". Today, in Mountain Mesa, California, the Tübatulabal tribe has a Pakanapul Language Program that teaches the "paka'anil" dialect. The last fluent "paka'anil" dialect speaker was James Andreas, who died in 2009. He lived on the Miranda Allotment, located in Weldon, California. James Andreas spent his last 10 years teaching the Pakanapul Language Team the "paka'anil" dialect. The "bankalachi" dialect is similar to the "paka'anil", however, there is little known about the "bankalachi" dialect.[13]

Historical trauma

The Tubatulabal people of the Kern river valley have survived historical trauma. Of the three bands of the Tubatulabal, the Pahkanapul were the only ones to survive the Whiskey flats Massacre of 1863. 35–40 tubatulabal people were lined and up and shot dead by the U.S. Cavalry led by Captain McLaughlin.[14] The Tubatulabal tribe was almost wiped out because most were adult men who died in the massacre. "They never seemed to blame the local whites or act vengeful towards those who had made such a change in their lives."[14] In an interview with one of the tribe members about the massacre conducted for a study stated " That morning the soldiers killed our people it caused a lot of heartache to our people physically, emotionally, and mentally. They took away all our people who tell stories, who could read the stars at night, who could farm. They took away all our old traditions, our songs, our language, and our pride. It affected us a lot. Even to this day it affects us."[15]


Estimates for the precontact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. By two estimates, the Tübatulabal were a small to very small nation. Alfred L. Kroeber (1925:883) put the 1770 population of the Tübatulabal as 1,000.[16] Erminie W. Voegelin considered Kroeber's estimate too high (Voegelin 1938:39). For the time of initial European-American settlement, around 1850, she estimated 200–300.

Kroeber in 1910 reported the population of the Tübatulabal as 150. Yamamoto in 2000 estimated the population at 900.[17]

Today about 400 Tübatulabal people reside in the Kern River Valley of California. 500 more live in surrounding areas.[citation needed]

Contemporary tribe

Today, a Tübatulabal tribe is seeking federal recognition. They have an office located in Mountain Mesa, California, and include descendants of several tribal families who were awarded allotment lands under the US Dawes Allotment Act 1887. Tribal membership is at 287 members, however, a new open enrollment process has been established as of October 2012. The tribe estimates about 400–600 total members.


  1. ^ California Indians and Their Reservations: Populations San Diego State University Library and Information Access. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  2. ^ Pritzker 149
  3. ^ a b c d Jackson, Louise (2010). The Sierra Nevada Before History. Mountain Press Publishing Company. pp. 70–87. ISBN 978-0-87842-567-9.
  4. ^ a b c d "Tubatulabal Indians." SDSU: California Indian Tribes and Their Reservations. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  5. ^ Theodoratus, Dorothea, PhD. and McBride, Kathleen. 2009. "California Tribal Environmental Justice Collaborative Grant Project." Tribal Environmental Justice Collaborative Grant Project. November 2010.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Ron (7 December 2002). "Roots of native names". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  7. ^ Gomez, 2009
  8. ^ Audubon Kern River Preserve - Native American People of the Kern River Valley
  9. ^ Waterman, n.d.
  10. ^ Pritzker 150
  11. ^ IND 14
  12. ^ Otay, 2009
  13. ^ Miranda-Begay, 2011
  14. ^ a b Powers, Bob (2003). Indian country of the Tubatulabal. Exeter, Calif.: Bear State Books. ISBN 1-892622-24-6.
  15. ^ Elton, Laura (2009). An Exploration of strengths and resilience of the Tubatulabal people (Pinon Gatherers) as it relates to current tribal identity, in light of historical trauma. Bakersfield CA: California State University Bakersfield.
  16. ^ Kroeber 1925:883
  17. ^ "Tübatulabal". Ethnologue.


  • Gomez, Robert. Tübatulabal History Outline – report for California Tribal Environmental Justice Collaborative Grant Project. September 2010.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Miranda-Begay, Donna, PhD. 2011. "Tribal Perspectives" of the Tübatulabal Baskets in the California State Parks Archives. 1st Edition. November 2011. Tübatulabal Tribe.
  • Otay, William (2009). Oral Kern Valley history as told to Donna Miranda-Begay in 2009.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.
  • Theodoratus, Dorothea, PhD. and McBride, Kathleen. 2009. "California Tribal Environmental Justice Collaborative Grant Project." Tribal Environmental Justice Collaborative Grant Project. November 2010.
  • Voegelin, Erminie W. 1938. "Tübatulabal Ethnography". Archaeological Records 2:1-90. University of California Press, Berkeley.

See also

Further reading

  • Macri, Marta, PhD. 2009. "Native California Languages of the San Joaquin Valley." UC Davis. December 2009.
  • Smith, Charles R. 1978. "Tubatulabal". In California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 437–445. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
This page was last edited on 16 October 2021, at 14:32
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