Costanoan Tribe

Costanoan Indians, Costanoan Family. A linguistic family on the coast of central California. In 1877 Powell (Cont. N. A. Ethnol., In, 535) established a family which he called Mutsun, extending from San Francisco to Soledad and from the sea inland to the Sierras, and including an area in the Marin County peninsula, north of San Francisco bay, and gave vocabularies from various parts of this territory. In 1891 (7th Rep. B. A. E., 70, 92, map) Powell divided this area between two families, Moquelumnan and Costanoan. The Moquelumnan family occupied the portion of the old Mutsun territory east of San Joaquin river and north of San Francisco bay.

The territory of the Costanoan family extended from the Pacific ocean to San Joaquin river, and from the Golden Gate and Suisun bay on the north to Pt Sur on the coast and a point a short distance south of Soledad in the Salinas valley on the south. Farther inland the south boundary is uncertain, though it was probably near Big Panoche creek. The Costanoan Indians lived mainly on vegetal products, especially acorns and seeds, though they also obtained fish and mussels, and captured deer and smaller game. Their clothing was scant, the men going naked. Their houses were tule or grass huts, their boats balsas or rafts of tules. They made baskets, but no pottery, and appear to have been as primitive as most of the tribes of California. They burned the dead. The Rumsen of Monterey looked upon the eagle, the humming bird, and the coyote as the original Inhabitants of the world, and they venerated the redwood. Their languages were simple and harmonious.

Seven missions – San Carlos, Soledad, San Juan Bautista, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San José, and Dolores (San Francisco) – were established in Costanoan territory by the Franciscans subsequent to 1770, and continued until their confiscation by the Mexican government in 1834, when the Indians were scattered. The surviving individuals of Costanoan blood may number today (1905) 25 or 30, most of them “Mexican” in life and manners rather than Indian.

True tribes did not exist in Costanoan territory, the groups mentioned below being small and probably little more than village communities, without political connection or even a name other than that of the locality they inhabited.

The following divisions or settlements have been recognized:

  • Ahwaste.
  • Altahmo.
  • Ansaime.
  • Aulintac.
  • Chalone.
  • Costanos.
  • Kalindaruk.
  • Karkin.
  • Mutsun.
  • Olhon.
  • Romonan.
  • Rumsen.
  • Saklan.
  • Thomien.
  • Tulomo.
  • Wacharon (?).

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Costanoan 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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