Ashochimi/Wappo Nation

Ashochimi/Wappo Literature


Long, long ago, the peaceful Ashochimi Indian tribe inhabited a rich and luxuriant valley on both sides of a river, now known as the Russian River north of San Francisco.

The Wappo lived by hunting and gathering, and lived in small groups without centralized political authority, in homes built from branches, leaves and mud. Their woven baskets were so well-crafted that they were able to hold water.

When Mexicans arrived to colonize California, Wappo villages existed near the present-day towns of Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Those on the south shore of Clear Lake were completely absorbed and dispersed to the Spanish missions in California. The mission accounted for at least 550 Wappo baptisms. The name Wappo is an Americanization of the Spanish term guapo, which means, among other things, “brave.” They were known as brave for their stubborn resistance to Mexican domination, particularly their resistance to all military attempts from General Vallejo and his enlisted allies. In 1836 the warring parties signed a peace treaty.

Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Wappo at 1,000. Sherburne F. Cook (1976:174) raised this estimate to 1,650. By the early 1850s, the surviving Wappo were reported to number between 188 and 800.[8] However population dropped by 1880 to 50, and the 1910 Census returned only 73

Wappo is an extinct language that was spoken in the Alexander Valley north of San Francisco by the Wappo Native Americans. The last fluent speaker, Laura Fish Somersal, died in 1990. Wappo’s language death is attributed to the use of English in schools and economic situations such as the workplace.

According to Somersal, the name for the people and language is derived from the Spanish word guapo, meaning “handsome” or “brave”. The name for the people was originally Ashochimi. Wappo is generally believed to be distantly related to the Yuki language, and is distinct largely due to Pomoan influence.

The Wappo Indians had no written language. They shared their ideas, stories, and feelings by speaking only. Stories and customs were passes down by parents to their children. Their name has been spoken and written many way. Here are a few: Ashochimi, Caymus, Guapos, Mayacama, Mishewal, Rincon, Wapo, Wappa, and Wattos.

The Wappo (Ashochimi) lived along the headwaters of the Napa River and Pope and Putah creeks to the south of Clear Lake in northern California. They spoke a language of the Yukian family and probably number less than fifty today.


Animals They Hunted

Plants used by the Wappos

Wappo language

Wappo means “brave”.


Legend of the Geysers

Long, long ago, the peaceful Ashochimi Indian tribe inhabited a rich and luxuriant valley on both sides of a river, now known as the Russian River north of San Francisco.

With ample hunting and fishing, with crops of wild clover, wild oats, acorns, roots, and berries, they lived a happy and contented life of abundance–until Spaniards and Mexicans arrived, establishing their settlements.

The Ashochimis were compelled to hunt for adequate game farther and farther away from their homeland, because their traditional hunting grounds were overtaken by the intruders.

One day, Guavo and Kolo, two young Ashochimi hunters, caught sight of an unusually large grizzly bear. They shot their barbed arrows into the monstrous animal’s side. The bear dropped instantly as if dead. But the hunters knew the tricks of the grizzly, that he would fall to the ground at the slightest wound, pretending he was dead.

Again the young hunters fired their flint-headed arrows and struck the bear. With four arrows in him, the grizzly got to his feet and staggered into the underbrush, leaving a trail of blood.

Guavo and Kolo pursued at a safe distance, with their arrows ready. They knew it would be only a matter of time until they could claim their prize.

Up the canyon, the grizzly bear led the two young hunters, pausing occasionally to rest. Guavo and Kolo were amazed at its strength, as mile after mile the bear struggled on, never wavering from its direct course through the canyon.

Most of the way was timbered with low chaparral, but, suddenly, ahead the hunters saw an open grassy spot where the grizzly bear came to a halt. To Guavo and Kolo the animal seemed to writhe in pain. They let out a victory whoop at the sight of their dying quarry. But the startled grizzly bear gave forth one more life- effort as he plunged forward into a ravine below.

Guavo and Kolo ran to the edge of the cliff, where they saw the lifeless body of the grizzly at the bottom of the gorge. At first in their excitement, they did not notice hundreds of minute jets of steam coming out of the hillside. They did not at first hear the hoarse rushing sound that filled the canyon with a continuous noise.

Guavo and Kolo ran to the dead grizzly. They halted in amazement when they suddenly realized they were on the brink of a “witches’ cauldron” in the midst of seething steam spouts. They wondered if the geysers had been there before the grizzly bear died.

They took one horrified look at the steaming hillsides, they took one breath of the sulphurous vapour, they took one terrified glance at the trembling earth beneath them. Scared, Guavo and Kolo ran as fast as they could back to their village.

Chief Asho and his council listened sceptically as the two young hunters told their story:

“After the grizzly bear died, the ground began to smoke,” said Guavo.

“Water boiled and bubbled without fire,” said Kolo.

“Everywhere steam came out of holes in the ground,” said Guavo.

“Choking smells came from the steam,” said Kolo.

“Where we stood, the ground shook and trembled,” said Guavo.

Because the two young hunters were known among their tribe to be truthful, Chief Asho said, “Take twenty young braves with you and show them the way to the place you have told us about.”

All was true. There lay the dead grizzly bear beside the black, bubbling, steaming water.

“The grizzly’s evil spirit brought forth the strange hot steam to heal his wounds,” declared the tribal Medicine Man. “Before he died, the bear must have known this to be his healing place.”

They skinned the bear and cut up parts of the meat for all of the braves to carry back to their tribe. Guavo and Kolo were awarded the skin as their prize, and the tribe prepared a huge fire to roast the bear meat for a feast.

Medicine Man thought the healing steam jets might help their sick people. He led the tribal men and built platforms over the steaming area, then placed their invalids upon them.

But that night, strange sounds arose in the darkness and the earth trembled violently. Medicine Man remembered stories of evil spirits within grizzly bears, and became concerned that those evil spirits were trying to take charge of the geysers.

“All is not good,” he warned his people. “Go back to your village and stay there.”

Soon thereafter, a strange plague appeared among the tribal men.

“We must help the sick and dying,” said Medicine Man. “But I am afraid for you to return to the medicinal springs, because the angry bear’s spirit has caused this pestilence.”

Finally, a gray-haired, beloved Ashochimi sculptor appeared before Chief Asho.

“With my special tools, I can carve a stone guardian high above the canyon, whose good spirit will appease any angry spirits below,” he said as he pleaded for permission.

“Go ahead. We anxiously await the completion of your stone guardian,” replied Chief Asho.

Day after day the old sculptor worked alone. He chiselled at the hard rock until it resembled a human face. Each day he carved from dawn until the light of day was nearly gone. The people watched from a distance, eagerly awaiting the time when they could return for healing at the geysers.

“Only one more day of work on the rocky head,” announced the old sculptor. But that evening he did not return to the village. A terrible earthquake occurred, toppling many cliffs, and it continued shaking throughout the night.

When the sun arose the next morning, the old sculptor had disappeared; however, the stone face on the great rock was finished and stood alone above the geysers. New springs jetted forth everywhere farther down the river. Medicine Man led the men of the tribe to examine the new springs.

“It is safe now,” Medicine Man announced bowing reverently toward the stone guardian of the canyon. “Let us build new platforms of willow boughs and bring the sick.”

This they did. Steam vapours encircled and healed the invalids of the Ashochimi tribe miraculously. All the people rejoiced at the blessing of good health.

There above them, they were always mindful of the sculptured stone face that guarded all Indians from the wrathful spirit of the dead grizzly bear. They also were mindful of their loving sculptor who gave his life in sacrifice.

Guavo and Kolo were accorded special places of honour among the young braves of their tribe for their discovery of the geysers.



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