The Quail Ridge region was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before Mexican or European peoples arrived (some authorities suggest 11,000 or more years8). While the cultures of the earliest human inhabitants are essentially unknown, in historic times it was the Southern Patwin who lived in California’s Inner Coast Range. Their ancestors are thought to have arrived in the Central Valley by c. 1400 BCE8. The Patwin are a subgroup of the more northern-dwelling Wintun, whose language belongs to the important Penutian family of California languages. There are two main Patwin groups: the Hill Patwin of the Coast Range and the River Adapted from Kroeber, A.L. 1932. See Literature CitedPatwin of the Sacramento Valley. Patwin means ‘person’ or ‘the people,’ in the Patwin language, and was first applied to this group by Stephen Powers21, an American reporter turned amateur ethnographer who visited many of California’s native groups in the 1870s and wrote about them for the Overland Monthly magazine. See distribution to the right or see Territories Map.

Although no archaeological evidence of Patwin presence has yet been found at Quail Ridge, it is very likely that the Patwin did use this area. Approximately 150 prehistoric villages were found in nearby Berryessa Valley during an archaeological survey in 1948. In 1955 Professor A. Treganza of UC Berkeley and students from Sacramento Junior College excavated a number of these sites near the contemporary town of Monticello before the valley was to be flooded to create Berryessa Reservoir11.

Located just above Putah Creek and the former Patwin town of Topaidihi (or Topai, Topaidi), the rich resources of Quail Ridge, particularly acorn-producing oaks, would have provided food and fiber to the hunter-gatherer Patwin. Acorns are highly nutritious, relatively easy to prepare, and have good flavor3; moreover, the yield per acre is very high (up to 2722 kg/acre (6000 lbs/acre)), with a mature oak tree producing 227-454 kg (500-1000 lbs) annually13. Tribelets would lay claim by hanging a visible marker on bearing trees to particular oak groves (e.g., scrub, valley, blue, black) that could yield up to 45,359 kg (100,000 lbs) of acorns per year. Warfare was not common among California Indians, but when it occurred it often was over disputed claims to oak groves or to poaching from them13. In years that acorn production was low, the Patwin resorted to buckeye nuts, although they preferred acorns10.

In addition to acorns and buckeyes, Native Americans used pine nuts from both sugar and gray pines, blackberries, juniper berries, elderberries, wild grape, and manzanita berries. They also dug a number of roots and bulbs, such as Indian potatoes (“pela” in Patwin), sweet potatoes (“tusu”), and onions (“buswai”). A chart of Indian uses of plants is included in The Natural History of the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve9. It separates the plant species by use: food, tool, craft, medicinal, and spiritual.

A wide variety of animals were gathered or hunted by the Patwin. Using bone harpoons and nets, the Patwin fished for salmon, perch, and suckerfish. A number of mammals were hunted for food or furs. These included deer, elk, antelope, black bears and rarely grizzly bears, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, wolves, beavers, and young skunks10. They used birds – crow, eagle, and quail – and a variety of other taxa including turtles, angleworms, and grasshoppers. They did not eat dogs, coyote, condor, vulture, frog, lizards, snakes, or caterpillars14, 1.

Although it is not known when California Indians first domesticated dogs, they were used in hunting. Based on the long association between humans and coyotes in this area, it is likely that domestication occurred long ago. Interestingly, Powers once commented, “…to judge from his appearance to this day, the Indian dog is an animal in whose genealogy the coyote largely assisted21. In the Wintun language the word for ‘coyote’ is literally ‘hill-dog’.”

The Hill Patwin traded shells, skins, red woodpecker scalp belts, flicker quill bands, and dried salmon, among other valued items, with the neighboring Wappo, Pomo, and Lake Miwok, whose lands to the north and west included the headwaters of Putah Creek, and with the River Patwin, Maidu, and Eastern Miwok to the south and east14.

Local plants including oak, willow, and grapevines provided materials for construction of a variety of buildings: round dugout pits with domed coverings used for dwellings, menstrual huts, dance houses, and (in some places) sweat lodges. These same plants were also used for temporary lodgings when the Patwin left their permanent villages to hunt from midsummer to autumn. Tule and hemp were woven for mats, skirts, and belts, while the inner bark of cottonwood was used for women’s skirts in the hill regions. Bear, rabbit, and deerskins made warm clothing and bedding. Green willow boughs provided comfortable seating and sleeping. Drums were built from hollowed sycamore logs 21, 18, 14.
The Way It Was: A Program For Historic Preservation, A book prepared by the Department of Environmental Affairs, City of Fairfield, California, March 19
The Patwin, like many other California native groups, used fire to facilitate hunting and to entice game (via the fresh green shoots that followed a burn). Intentional fire stimulated the growth of important native grasses such as blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus) that were harvested and roasted for consumption and also used for basket weaving. Fire also helped eradicate pests such as grasshoppers2.

Tools included elkhorn wedges and split stones for cutting, gray pine fire drills in hearths of elder, sinew-backed bows, and arrows made of elder, dogwood, or tatsi (bitter weed from the creek) wood, with obsidian tips. Armor (for infrequent warfare) included elk skin tunics or waistcoats of tule, hemp cord, and pitch18, 14.

Patwin names for constellations reflect their relationship with the natural world: Orion was called “Coyote Carries on Head”, the Milky Way was “The Antelope Road”, and Ursa Major was “Stick for Knocking off Acorns”14.

It is likely that the Patwin and other California Native Americans lived this hunting/fishing gathering lifestyle (with some incipient cultivation2) for millennia before the arrival of the European-derived peoples in the 1700s. Dramatic impacts on their cultures and populations began in the late 1800s, and by the 1880s, the Southern Patwin had been displaced by ranchers, forced by the government onto rancherías and reservations, or decimated by foreign diseases and bounty hunters. When Alfred Kroeber14 interviewed Patwin survivors on rancherías in the summers of 1923 and 1924, he noted that he could not find any who had come from south of Rumsey or Grimes, suggesting that no Patwin with ancestry from the Quail Ridge area remained. Any evidence of Patwin settlements in the Berryessa Valley, including Topaidihi, has since been flooded by Berryessa Reservoir, and any possible sites on Quail Ridge Reserve have yet to be discovered.

Today many of the estimated 2,500 descendants of the Wintun/Patwin reside on the Colusa, Cortina, Grindstone Creek, Redding, and Rumsey Rancherías, as well as the Round Valley Reservation. It is doubtful that any of their ancestors lived in the Southern region14. For more information on Patwin and other California tribes see A Patwin Bibliography ( or California Indians (

Photo Credits: Title, Dam (NRS Archives), Map (Adapted from Kroeber, A.L. 1932), Patwin Village (The Way It Was: A Program For Historic Preservation)

This page last updated: June 23, 2005  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email:

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