Hupa Tribe

An Athapascan tribe formerly occupying the valley of Trinity river, California from south fork to its junction with the Klamath, including Hupa valley.  They were first mentioned by Gibbs in 1852; a military post was established in their territory in 1855 and maintained until 1892; and a reservation 12 miles square, including nearly all the Hupa habitat, was set apart in Aug. 1864. The population in 1888 was given as 650; in 1900, 430; in 1905, 412. They are at present self-supporting, depending on agriculture and stock raising. When they first came in contact with the whites, in 1850, the Hupa were all under the control of a chief called Ahrookoos by the Yurok 1 , whose authority is said to have extended to other peoples southward along Trinity river. The position of chief depended on the possession of wealth, which usually remained in the family, causing the chieftainship to descend from father to son. In feasts and dances a division of the Hupa into two parts is manifest, but this division seems to have no validity outside of religious matters. The tribe occupied the following permanent villages: Cheindekhotding, Djishtangading, Haslinding, Honsading, Howungkut, Kinchuwhikut, Medilding, Miskut, Takimilding, Tlelding, Toltsasding, and Tsewenalding. Powers 2 gave Chailkutkaituh, Wissomanchuh, and Misketoiitok, which have not been identified with any of the foregoing; Gibbs 3 , on information furnished by the Yurok, gave Wangullewutlekauh, Wangullewatt, Sehachpeya, and Schoolcraft 4 gave Tashuanta,Sokeakeit (Sokchit), and Meyemma.

Hupa Tribe Culture

The houses of the Hupa were built of cedar slabs set on end, the walls being 4 ft high on the sides and rising to more than 6 ft at the ends to accommodate the slope of the roof, inclosing a place about 20 ft square, the central part of which was excavated to form the principal chamber, which was about 12 ft square and 5 ft deep. The entrance was a hole 18 or 20 in. in diameter and about a foot above the ground. This was the storehouse for the family goods and the sleeping place of the women. The men occupied sweat houses at night. The Hupa depended for food on the deer and elk of the mountains, the salmon and lamprey of the river, and the acorns and other vegetal foods growing plentifully about them. They are noted for the beautiful twined baskets produced by the women and the fine pipes and implements executed by the men. The yew bows they used to make, only about 3 ft long, strengthened with sinew fastened to the back with sturgeon glue, were effective up to 75 yards and could inflict serious wound at 100 yards.

Their arrows, made of syringa shoots wound with sinew, into which foreshafts, of juneberry wood were inserted feathered with three split hawk feathers and pointed with sharp heads of obsidian, flint, bone, or iron, sometimes passed entirely through a deer. The hunter, disguised in the skin of the deer or elk, the odor of his body removed by ablution and smoking with green fir boughs, simulated so perfectly the movements of the animal in order to get within bowshot that a panther sometimes pounced upon his back, but withdrew when he felt the sharp pins that, for the very purpose of warding off such an attack, were thrust through the man’s hair gathered in a bunch at the back of the neck. The Hupa took deer also with snares of a strong rope made from the fiber of the iris, or chased them into the water with dogs and pursued them in canoes. Meat was roasted before the fire or on the coals or incased in the stomach and buried in the ashes until cooked, or was boiled in water-tight baskets by dropping in hot stones. Meat and fish were preserved by smoking. Salmon were caught in latticed weirs stretched across the river or in seines or poundnets, or were speared with barbs that detached but were made fast to the pole by lines. Dried acorns were ground into flour, leached in a pit to extract the bitter taste, and boiled into a mush.

The men wore ordinarily a breechclout of deerskin or of skins of small animals joined together, and leggings of painted deerskin with the seam in front hidden by a fringe that hung from the top, which was turned down at the knee. Moccasins of deerskin with soles of elk hide were sometimes worn. The dance robes of the men were made of two deerskins sewn together along one side, the necks meeting over the left shoulder and the tails nearly touching the ground. Panther skins were sometimes used. The hair was tied into two clubs, one hanging down on each side of the head, or into one which hung behind. Bands of deerskin, sometimes ornamented with wood peckers’ crests, were worn about the head in dances, and occasionally feathers or feathered darts were stuck in the hair. The nose was not pierced, but in the ears were often worn dentalium shells with tassels of woodpeckers’ feathers. A quiver of handsome skin filled with arrows was a part of gala dress, and one of plain buckskin or a skin pouch or sack of netting was carried as a pocket for small articles, Women wore a skirt of deerskin reaching to the knees, with a long, thick fringe hanging below and a short fringe at the waist. When soiled it was washed with the soap plant. At the opening of the skirt in front an apron was worn underneath. The skirts worn in dances were ornamented with strings of shell beads, pieces of abalone shell, and Hakes of obsidian fastened to the upper and of shells of pine nuts inserted at intervals in the lower fringe. The apron for common wear was made of long strands of pine-nut shells and braided leaves attached to a belt. The dance aprons had strands of shells and pendants cut from abalone shells. Small dentalium and olivella shells, pine-nut shells, and small black fruits were strung for necklaces. A robe of deerskin or of wildcat fur was worn with the hair next to the body as a protection against the cold and in rainy weather with the hair side out. The head covering was a cap of fine basket work, which protected the forehead from the carrying strap whereby burdens and baby baskets were borne. Women, except widows, wore their hair long and tied in queues that hung down in front of the ears, and were ornamented with strips of mink skin, sometimes covered with woodpeckers’ crests, and shell pendants, and sometimes perfumed with stems of yerba buena. From their ears hung pendants of abalone shell attached to twine. All adult women were tattooed with vertical black marks on the chin and sometimes curved marks were added at the corners of the mouth.

Hupa Indians Religion

The imagination of the Hupa has peopled the region east, west, south, and above with mortals known as Kihunai. The underworld is the abode of the dead. Their creator or culture hero, Yimantuwingyai, dwells with Kihunai across the ocean toward the north. A salmon feast is held by the southern division in the spring and an acorn feast by the northern division in the fall. They formerly celebrated three dances each year: the spring dance, the white-deerskin dance, and the jumping dance. They have a large and varied folklore and many very interesting medicine formulas.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Hupa as both an ethnological study, and as a people.

  • Goddard, Life and Culture of the Hupa, Univ. Cal. Pub.,1903;
  • Hupa Texts, ibid., 1904.


  1. McKee in Sen. Ex. Doc. 4, 32d Cong., spec. sess., 161, 1853[]
  2. Powers, Cont N. A. Ethnol., III, 73, 1877[]
  3. Gibbs, MS. on Klamath river, B. A. E., 1852[]
  4. Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes III, 139, 1853[]

Athapascan, Hupa,

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

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