Salinan Family

Salinan Family. A linguistic stock of California, named by Latham (1856) and Powell (1891) from Salinas river. The Salinan Indians inhabited parts of San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and perhaps San Benito Counties, their territory extending from the sea to the main ridge of the Coast range and from the head of the Salinas drainage to a short distance above Soledad. Little is known about them; no name for themselves as a body, for their language, or for any division, either in their own or in any other Indian language, is known; nor is it known what any such divisions may have been. The name of the place at which the mission of San Miguel was established was Vahia, or Vatica, and that of the mission of San Antonio, Sextapay. The Tatche (Tachi) or Telame Indians, mentioned by Duflot do Mofras as at San Antonio, are Yokuts tribes that were brought to that mission. Cholame Creek and town in San Luis Obispo County possibly take their name from a Salinan word, and the same may be the case with Jolon in Monterey County.

The missions of San Antonio and San Miguel were established in Salinan territory in 1771 and 1797. The total baptisms at these missions reached 4,400 and 2,400 respectively, and it appears that these numbers included Yokuts. Like all the other tribes, the Salinan Indians decreased rapidly during mission times, the number, at each mission having fallen to fewer than 700 by 1831, and more rapidly after secularization. At present their total number is perhaps 20, most of them near Jolon.

The Salinan language is very irregular in its structure and more complex than most languages of California. Two dialects, those of San Antonio and San Miguel, which do not differ much, are known, and it is probable that there were others. The Salinan Indians appear to have lived in houses of brush or grass and to have had no canoes. They hunted more than they fished, but depended for their subsistence principally on vegetal food, such as acors and grass seed. They used stone mortars and coiled baskets, and burned the dead. Of their religion and mythology nothing is known, except that they regarded the eagle, the coyote, and the humming-bird as creators.

For Further Study

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


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

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1 thought on “Salinan Family”

  1. I’m writing historical fiction set in the 1880s in Monterey County and would very much appreciate communicating with people who can, to begin with, illuminate matters of naming: how the Salinans chose names for their children (from general vocabulary, as in names of animals? or names that conveyed family lineage, or places? and so on), how the shift to taking Spanish names occurred during and after the Mission period, and more. I look forward to the conversation.

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