Esselen Tribe

Esselen Indians. A tribe of Californian Indians, constituting the Esselenian family, most of the members of which on the founding of Carmelo mission, near Monterey, in 1770, were brought under civilizing influences, resulting, as was the case with the Indians at all the Californian missions, their rapid decrease 1. A portion of the tribe seems to have been taken, to the mission at Soledad, for Arroyo de la Cuesta 2 in 1821 says of an Esselen vocabulary obtained by himself, “Huelel language of Soledad; it is from the Esselenes, who are already few.” The original territory of the Esselen lay along the coast south of Monterey, though its exact limits are diversely given. Henshaw 3 states that they lived on the coast south of Monterey, in the mountains. The Rumsen Indians of the present day at Carmel and Monterey state 4 that the Esselen originally lived at Agua Caliente (Tassajara Springs), which is near the head of Carmel river, in a line between Sur and Soledad. Powell’s map 5 makes the Esselen territory comprise Sur river, the head of Carmel river, and the country about as far south as Santa Lucia peak, which is probably approximately correct. In any case the Esselen territory was confined to a limited was bordered only by Salinan and Costanoan tribes. La Perouse’s statement that it extended more than 20 leagues east of Monterey is incorrect. Almost nothing is known of the mode of life and practices of the Esselen, but they were certainly similar to those of the neighboring tribes. What little is known in regard  to the Esselen language shows it to have been simple and regular and of a type similar to most of the languages of central California, but, notwithstanding a few words In common with Costanoan, of entirely unrelated vocabulary and therefore a distinct stock.

Taylor gives a list of Esselen villages connected with San Carlos mission, namely: Chitchat, Coyyo, Fyules, Gilimis, Jappayon, Nennegtn, Noptac, Santa Clara, Sapponet, Saccorondo, Tebityilat, Triwta, Tushguesta, Xumis, Yampas, and Yauostar. He mentions also Xaseunl, 10 leagues from Carmelo, in the sierra, and Pahepes near Xaseunl, among the Esselen. He gives still other names, such as Excellemaks and Eslanagan; but none of the settlements named by him have been been proved to he Esselen and not Costanoan.

Esselenian Family. A small linguistic stock in west California, first positively established by Henshaw 6 At the time of the Spanish settlement, this family which has become extinct, consisted of a single group, the Esselen.Citations:

  1. see California Mission Indian Missions[]
  2. MS., B. A. E.[]
  3. Esselen MS., B. A. E.[]
  4. Kroeber, MS., Univ. Cal.[]
  5. 7th Rep. B. A. E.[]
  6. Am. Anthrop., III, 45, 1890.[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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