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Who were the Wappo?

Who were the Wappo?

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The Native Americans known as the Wappo are believed to have settled in the Napa Valley beginning around 2000 B.C.

The Wappo, who called themselves Onasatis — meaning “the outspoken people” — lived in villages along creeks or other water sources from north of Napa and Sonoma, to Cloverdale and Middletown, according to UC Santa Barbara researchers. Another group lived south of Clear Lake.

The Spanish named them “Wappo,” a word derived from “guapo,” meaning handsome or brave in Spanish.

The Napa Valley’s Wappo fought the Spanish, but were unsuccessful. Many were brought to the Sonoma Mission between 1823 and 1834 to work as laborers.

In 1854, the Wappo were moved to a reservation in Mendocino County. That reservation closed in 1867.

By 1855, fewer than 500 Wappo remained in the Napa Valley, according to the “Handbook of North American Indians,” a book published by the Smithsonian Institution.

It is unclear how many Wappo descendants remain today. According to UC Santa Barbara researchers, the last known Wappo speaker died 16 years ago.

The Wappo made flour from acorn and also used roots, bulbs and grasses in their diet, according to the “Handbook of North American Indians.”

They also fished and hunted for deer, elk and antelope to survive.

Their houses were dome-shaped structures, made of grass thatch over bent poles. The Wappo were known for their basketmaking skills, according to the Handbook.

More information on the Wappo can be found at:

• “Wappo Indians of Napa County,” a Web site by Andy Dooley Miller, a former Donaldson Way Elementary School teacher: http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/wappo/

• “The Wappo: A Report” by Yolande S. Beard. The book is at the St. Helena Public Library

• Informational exhibits on the Wappo can be visited at the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga, 1311 Washington St., Calistoga; and at the visitor center at Bothe-State Park at 3801 St. Helena Highway near St. Helena.

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