Published on December 4, 2012 by Amy
The Mattole, including the Bear River Indians, are a group of Native Americans traditionally living on the Mattole and Bear rivers in the vicinity of Cape Mendocino, within the present Humboldt County, California. A notable difference between the Mattole and other indigenous people of what is now northwest California is that the men traditionally had facial tattoos (on the forehead), while other local groups traditionally restricted facial tattooing to women.
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The Mattole spoke the Mattole language, an Athapaskan language that may have been closely related to that of their Eel River neighbors to the east.
Their Wailaki name was Tul’bush, meaning “foreigners.” The Bear River Indians called themselves and the Mattole “Ni’ekeni’”.
Aboriginal Bear River villages included Tcalko’, Chilsheck, Chilenche, Selsche’ech, Tlanko, Estakana, and Sehtla.
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Mattole at 500. Sherburne F. Cook estimated the combined populations of the Mattole, Whilkut, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Lassik, and Kato at 4,700, at least 50% higher than Kroeber’s figure for the same groups. Martin A. Baumhoff estimated the aboriginal Mattole-Bear River population as 2,476.
The Mattole federal reservation, the Rohnerville Rancheria, located south of Eureka, reported a population of 29 in the 2000 census.
The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria is now organized as a federally recognized tribe. The tribe publishes the Bear River Bulletin newspaper for its members. Their tribal chairman is Leonard Bowman, and their headquarters is located in Loleta, California. The tribe operates the Bear River Casino, also in Loleta.