Yurok Tribe

Yurok Indians (from Karok yuruk, ‘downstream’). A tribe living on lower Klamath River, California, and the adjacent coast constituting the Weitspekan linguistic family. They have no name for themselves other than Olekwo’l (‘persons’), sometimes written Alikwa. The territory of the Yurok extended from Bluff Creek 6 miles above the mouth of the Trinity, down Klamath River to its mouth, and on the coast from beyond Wilson creek, 6 miles north of the mouth of the Klamath, too probably Shad river. Their settlements in the valley were confined closely to the river, and those along the coast were close to the beach or on the lagoons. They had no settlements on Redwood Creek except at the mouth. Along Klamath River the Yurok language was everywhere uniform, but along the Coast south of the mouth of the Klamath there were three slightly varying dialects, one spoken at Gold Bluff, one at Redwood Creek, and a third at Trinidad, the last differing most from that of the river.

Most of the so-called wars of the Yurok were private feuds, participated in by villages. These took place as frequently between Yurok village’s as against alien tribes. In all cases payment for the dead and for all property destroyed was made at the conclusion of peace. Apart from a few vessels that touched at Trinidad in the 18th century, and a few trappers that visited Klamath River, whites did not come into contact with them and were utterly unknown to them before 1850. After the Coming of the Americans the Yurok never engaged in war with them as a body, though certain villages became involved in conflicts with the miners and early settlers. The lower 20 miles of Klamath River were constituted a reservation as early as 1855. Of recent years this has been discontinued, the few surviving Indians having allotments in severalty. The river above this former reservation, up to the mouth of the Trinity, forms at present a nominal part of the Hupa Reservation. Actually the Government has interfered very little with the Yurok who have always been self-supporting. They now (1905) number 500 or 600 along Klamath river, those on the coast being very few. In 1870 the number on the, river was said to be 2,700.

Yurok Indians Culture

The Yurok are fairly tall for Pacific Coast Indians (168 cm.) and considerably above the average Californian in stature. Their cephalic index is 83 being the highest known from California. It is probable that they do not belong to the Californian type physically, but are a mixture of this with an Athapascan type. Their facial expression is different from that of their neighbors, the Karok and the Hupa, but they do not appear to differ much in their measured proportions from the Hupa. The men are less, inclined to he stout than in the interior and in central California. Deformation of the head is not practiced, but the women tattoo the chin.

The Yurok, together with several other tribes of north west California especially the Karuk and Hupa, formed a distinct ethnographic group, characterized among other things by the considerable influence which ideas of property exerted on social conditions and modes of life. There, was no chieftainship, prominence depending altogether on the possession of wealth, to the acquisition of which all efforts were directed. The potlatch of the north Pacific coast did not exist among them. Marriage was distinctly a property transaction. The medium of exchange consisted chiefly of dentalium shells, though woodpecker scalps and large worked pieces of obsidian were also regarded as valuables. The men wore no regular clothing, using skins as occasion required. The women wore skirts of dressed or some times of bark, basketry caps as there was need, cloak of furs. Along the river acorns, were much eaten, but salmon and lampreys made up a large part of the food, Along the coast products of the sea were more important as food. The Yurok houses were 18 to 25 feet square, built of split and dressed planks about a square or octagonal pit, with a gabled roof. Their canoes were less than 20 feet in length, square at both ends, made of redwood. They were particularly adapted for use on the rapid river, but were also used for going out to sea. The Yurok and neighboring developed a number of specializes ceremonies, especially the Deerskin and Jumping or Woodpecker dances. These were held only at certain localities and differed somewhat in each place.

The mythology of the Yurok is characterized by a well-developed conception of the Wage, a race largely responsible for the present condition of the world, who disappeared before the coming of men, and by myths centering about “Widower-across-the-sea” and other creators or culture-heroes. All the myths of the Yurok refer to the country which they now inhabit, most of them very specifically localized. I historically they are lacking except for the most recent generations. Like all the tribes of north west California they were essentially unwarlike, engaging, in war only for purposes of revenge. The most important contest that they remember took place in the first third of the 19th century between the village of Rekwoi and one of the Hupa villages, in the course of which both settlements were destroyed.

The Yurok were altogether without tribes or political divisions, other than the purely local ones of villages and lacked totems. Their principal villages on the Klamath, in their order Bluff creek down, were as follows: Atsepar, Loolego, the three villages Pekwuteu, Weitspus and Ertlerger at the confluence of the Trinity with the Klamath, Wakhshek, Atsep, Kenek, Merip, Kepel, Shaa, Murek, Meta, Nakhtskum, Sheregegon, Yokhter, Pekwan, Kootep, Wakhtek, Wakhker, Tekta, Serper, Enipeu, Ayotl, Erner, Turip, Wakhkel, Hoopeu, and Wetlko and Rekwoi on opposite sides of the mouth of the river at Requa. On the coast, 6 miles north of the mouth, was Amen’ to the south successively were Ashegen, Eshpeu, Arekw, Tsahpekw, Oketo and other villages on Big lagoon and Tsurau (Trinidad).


Hupa Reservation,

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

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