July 14, 2012

Cahto Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria


The Cahto Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria are a federally recognized tribe who live on Cahto Rancheria in the Pacific Coast Mountain range. Cahto Rancheria is located in the center of Long Valley, and about halfway between Eureka, California, and Santa Rosa, California. It is about two miles from Laytonville, California and 26 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

 Official Tribal Name: Cahto Tribe

Address: P.O. Box 1239, 300 Cahto Drive, Laytonville, CA 95454
Phone: (707) 984-6197
Fax: (707) 984-6201

Official Website:

Recognition Status:  Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Tlokyáhan, meaning “Grass People” 

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Cahto Tribe – Cahto is a Northern Pomo word loosely meaning “lake,” which referred to an important Cahto village site, called Djilbi.

Alternate names:

Formerly known as the Cahto Tribe.
Laytonville Rancheria, which is actually the name of their present day community.

Alternate spellings / Misspellings:

The Cahto are sometimes referred to as the Kaipomo or Kato people. Misspelling: Cato

Name in other languages:

Region:  California Region

State(s) Today: California

Traditional Territory:

Cahto settlements were located in three small valleys along the upper part of the South Fork of Eel River in Calkifornia.  These valleys were surrounded by redwood forests.  There may  have been as many as 50 Cahto villages. There was no tribal organization.  

The territory of the Cahto was bordered on three sides by that of Yukian-speaking people (the Yuki and Huchnom), and they had many things in common with the Yuki.  However, they also shared much with the Pomo, so that for a time it was thought that the Cahto were part of the Pomo tribe. 

Confederacy: Cahto


Reservation: Laytonville Rancheria

Laytonville Rancheria was purchased for the Cahto people in 1908 by missionaries.

Land Area:  202 acres
Tribal Headquarters:  
Time Zone:  
B.I.A. Office:  

Tribal Flag:

The Cahto flag, representing their sovereign nation, features a stylized bear claw outlined in white and centered on a black pictograph representing the Cahto ancestral lake home. The pictograph is centered on a red field surrounded with a white and red border. The Words “CAHTO TRIBE” are written in white block letters above the lake pictograph. The bear claw is placed to indicate the importance of the bear as one of the their most important tribal totems.

The lake symbol denotes their ancestral lands, the color red indicates the blood of their people, white is for the purity of their spirit, and the black is for the rich lake bottomland that sustained their ancestors. This flag is of modern creation and not traditional. It was adopted in 2013.

Population at Contact: Approximately 1100 in the early 1700s, living in about 50 villages.

Registered Population Today: About 250 living on the reservation.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Executive Committee
Number of Council members:  1 Member at Large, plus executive officers 
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  Tribal Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer


Language Classification: Athabascan -> Wailakian

Language Dialects:

The Athabaskan languages formerly spoken in the northern third of Mendocino and the southern half of Humboldt counties in northwestern California fall into three broad groups of closely related dialects: Hupa-Chilula, Mattole-Bear River, and Eel River (including Cahto and the “Kuneste” (from koneest’ee’, “person”) dialects: Lassik, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Wailaki). Of these languages only Hupa is still spoken fluently.

Although their territory extended further south than that of the five groups known as the Southern Athapaskans, the Cahto are not grouped with the other five.  Their Athapaskan dialect was quite different from the other Southern Athapaskans, and their way of life was more like the Yuki and Pomo, to the east and south of them.  Some Cahto people also spoke the Pomo language.
Links to Cahto Language resources.

Number of fluent Speakers:

No fluent speakers remain. However, efforts are being made to revitalize the language.

Dictionary: Webster’s Cahto – English Thesaurus Dictionary  


Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:  


Traditional Allies:  Northern Pomo and Coast Yuki 

Traditional Enemies:

The Cahto were generally peaceful, but had occasional skirmishes with neighboring tribes over trespassing issues. These confrontations seldom resulted in deaths on either side. Their closest neighbors were the Athapascan Sinkyone and Wailaki to the north, and the Yuki and Huchnom to the east of them. The Cahto made a yearly trip to trade with the Waillaki about twenty miles away, so were generally on good terms most of the time.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Ceremonies were held each winter and summer, with guests from nearby villages often invited.  Dances might last for a week, with both men and women participating in the dancing.  The Acorn Dance was held in the winter, in the hopes of having a good crop of acorns the next year.

Dances that were done just for fun included the Feather Dance, performed by six men, women, and children.  The Necum Dance was done by six women on one side of a fire and six men on the other side.   More serious were the War Dances done before each battle.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The Cahto tribe operates Red Fox Casino, which is an alcohol free facility containing 93 slot machines.

Legends / Oral Stories:

  • A Prayer for Eels
  • A Supernatural Experience
  • Coming of the Earth
  • Coyote Competes with Grey-squirrels
  • Coyote and the Gambler
  • Coyotes Seen Fishing
  • Coyotes Set Fires for Grasshoppers
  • Coyote Tricks the Girls
  • Coyote Recovers Kangaroo Rat’s Remains
  • Dancing Elk
  • Description of Man Eater
  • Duck and Otter Have a Diving Contest
  • Flood and Creation
  • Geese Carries off Raven
  • Grizzly Woman Kills Doe
  • Gopher’s Revenge
  • Great Horned Serpent
  • How Coyote and Skunk Killed Elk
  • How Turtle Escaped
  • Making the Valleys
  • The Maneater
  • Milk-snake among the Eels
  • Meadowlark’s Breast
  • Placing the Animals
  • Polecat Robs her Grandmother
  • Rattlesnake Husband
  • Securing Light
  • Stealing of Fire
  • Stealing the Baby
  • Supernatural Child
  • Treatment of the Stranger
  • Turtle’s Exploit
  • Water-Panther’s Escape
  • Water-people and the Elk
  • Wolf Steals Coyote’s Wife
  • Yellow-Hammer’s Deeds

Art & Crafts:

In basketmaking, the Cahto used both the northern California method of twining and the southern California method of coiling.  Their baskets were made much like those of the Yuki, their neighbors on the west, south, and east.  


Two important totem symbols for the Cahto are the bear and quail. The only domesticated animal was the dog. Dogs were used to help in hunting game. 


Both men and women wore a tanned deer-skin wrapped about the waist, and a close-fitting knitted cap, which kept in place the knot of hair at the back of the head. An alternate Cahto garment was a shirt made of two deer-skins, laced down the front and reaching to the knees. 

In the summer, they used tanned hides that had the hair removed from them.  For winter clothes, they used hides with the hair still on, so the clothes would be warmer.  Both men and women wore an apron-type garment around their waist.  Those worn by the women were longer, coming down to their knees.

Cahto men and women kept their hair long.  They covered it with hairnets made of iris fibers.  This is one custom that shows the Cahto lived more like the central California tribes than like the northwestern tribes.  The Cahto women did not wear basket hats, as those in the northwestern tribes did. 


In addition to wearing shell or seed ornaments in their ears and nose, the Cahto wore bracelets made of strips of deerhide. 

Both sexes generally had tattoos on their faces and chest designs consisted mostly of upright lines, both broken and straight, but not everyone chose to get tattoos.


Permanent Cahto houses were circular, built over an excavation about two feet deep. The space between the supporting posts was stuffed with slabs of wood and bark. There was a smoke hole in the roof, and the doorway was a narrow opening from the ground to the roof, which sloped towards the back of the house.  The fireplace was centered in the pit area inside. 

In the summers when they were traveling, they built temporary leanto shelters from brush.

The Cahto winter houses were often large enough to have two or three families living in one house.  A house was used for two winters, and then the families built new houses. 

Some Cahto villages had a dance house, made in a style similar to the family houses, but with the circle being about 20 feet in diameter.  The dance house was used for ceremonies; sometimes it was used as a sweathouse, but not like the northwestern tribes where the men slept in the sweathouse.

Each village had one or two headmen, who gave advise to the others.  Decisions, however, were generally made by the elders of the village.  The position of village headman was usually passed on from father to son.


The Cahto were hunter gatherers who followed the harvest seasons of their important food sources. They took a yearly trip to the Mendocino coast to fish, and gather shellfish and seaweed. The primary animals they hunted were deer, rabbits, and quail.

The men also caught bears  (both black bears and cinnamon bears) in the woods, as well as smaller animals like squirrels, gophers, raccoons, moles, and skunks. 

Some birds were used as food, and some insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, bees, and hornets were eaten.

From the Eel River and the streams that ran down the valleys, the Cahto caught salmon and other fish.  They preserved salmon to eat all year long by drying the extra fish when the salmon were plentiful.

The women added to the food supply by gathering acorns and other nuts, seeds, berries, and roots from the forest.  The acorns were made into a thick soup called acorn mush, and sometimes into a bread.  The acorn mush was cooked in baskets, to which hot stones were added.  Constant stirring of the mush and stones kept the basket from burning.

Pieces of bone and deer or elk antler were used by the Cahto to scrape and cut other materials like wood, roots, and hides.  They could split large logs by hitting a wedge of elk antler with a stone maul (hammer).  They made bows and arrows and spears from hazel wood.  Pieces of bone were chipped off to make spear points for catching fish.  Arrow points and knives were shaped from stone.

The men used bows and arrows for hunting and as weapons in battles with other tribes.  They also used spears and deerhide slingshots.  Traps and snares for catching small animals, as well as nets for catching fish and birds, were made from the fibers of the iris plant or from slender willow branches.

The streams along which the Cahto lived were too shallow for canoes.  Instead, the Cahto made rafts by lashing together five or six logs.  They used a long pole to push the raft in the direction they wanted to go.   

The Yuki supplied them with salt, mussels, seaweed, abalone, and ocean fish.

As money, the Cahto used clamshells, flint, and magnesite.  Clamshell beads were the most common form of money in early California, used by groups from the Mendocino coast southward.  Although the Cahto lived on the edge of the northwestern California area, they did not use dentalium shells for money, as the northwestern groups did.  Instead, pieces of clamshell were ground on stones until they were smooth and round.  A little hole was drilled in each disk, and the disks were strung on strings.  Older, more polished disks were considered of more value.

Magnesite is a stone found in northern California, in Pomo Indian territory.  It was ground into small beads.  When heated in a fire and polished, the beads turned pinkish or reddish in color.  Magnesite beads were considered more valuable than shell money, and were traded as single pieces, or combined with shells on a string.

Economy Today:

The tribe operates its own housing authority, tribal police, and EPA office. Economic development comes from revenues generated by the tribe’s Red Fox Casino, located in Laytonville.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The religious conceptions of the Cahto tribe are grouped around two deities: Chénĕśh or T’cenes, the creator, who is identified with thunder and lightning, and his companion, Nághai-cho or Nagaicho, the Great Traveler. The latter is a somewhat mischievous personage, who in the myth, constantly urges Chénĕśh to acts of creation, while pretending that he has the knowledge and power to perform them, if only he has the desire to do so.

In mythology, as in other phases of their culture, the Cahto tribe showed their susceptibility to the double influence to which they had been exposed. With a creation story of the type prevailing in central California, they preceded it with an account of a race of animal-people who were swept from the earth by the deluge — a theme characteristic of North Pacific Coast mythology.

The creator, Chénĕśh, who is identified with lightning, dwelt in the sky. Below was an expanse of water, with a rim of land in the north. With his companion, Nághai-cho, he descended and turned a monstrous deer into land. Chénĕśh created the people, but Nághai-cho made the mountains and the streams. In everything, the latter tried to outdo Chénĕśh, playing the role  of the buffoon and trickster.

The shamans of the Cahto tribe were of three classes:

  • ‘ŭtiyíņ’, who removed, by sucking, the foreign object that caused disease;
  • náchǔlna‘, who cured illness caused by woodland creatures; and
  • chģhályiśh‘, who were not healers at all but the restored victims of the diminutive “outside people”, possessing the faculty of foreseeing the future in dreams.

The ŭtiyíņ became medicine men by instruction, not by supernatural agencies. The two other classes acquired their power solely through dreams. When the old men of a village deemed it advisable to have a new ŭtiyíņ or “sucking doctor”, either because of the death of some of the shamans or because of their waning power, the active and the retired shamans selected a promising young man. With his consent, they took him away from the village to a solitary place in the hills. The one who had been selected to be his instructor and “father” would pray and instruct the young man in the secrets of the medicine men.

When a medicine man was summoned, any others of that profession who happened to be nearby could come and observe. If the medicine man first called upon could not effect a cure, he would ask the assistance of another. While engaged in his work, a shaman would beseech the unnamed powers for help, naming the various mountains of the region and asking the spirits resident there to assist him. He would also call on Nághai-cho, and occasionally on Chénĕśh.

Some Cahto people also belonged to the Kuksu Cult religion. Kuksu was personified as a spirit being by the Pomo people. Kuksu was the name for a red-beaked supernatural being, that lived in a sweathouse at the southern end of the world. Healing was his province and specialty. The person who played the Kuksu in dance ceremonies was often considered the medicine man, and dressed as him when attending the sick.

The practice of the Kuksu religion included elaborate narrative ceremonial dances and specific regalia. The men of the tribe practiced rituals to ensure good health, bountiful harvests, hunts, fertility, and good weather. Ceremonies included an annual mourning ceremony, rites of passage, and intervention with the spirit world. A male secret society met in underground dance rooms and danced in disguises at the public dances.

In the 1870s, the Cahto adopted a version of the Ghost Dance Religion from the Big Head Cult movement.

Burial Customs:

In preparation for burial, the corpse was washed, clothed in good garments, and wrapped in deer skins. A pit was excavated on a dry hillside. The bottom was laid with a floor of poles, covered with bark and several deer skins. On this was deposited the corpse, which was covered with bark before the attendees covered it with earth.

The entire population accompanied the bearers to the grave and wailed loudly. Women, and occasionally men, cut their hair short as a symbol of grief. For persons of prominence, a mourning ceremony would be held in the year following their death. This ceremony marked the end of the mourning period, and those who had previously wept became immediately cheerful and smiling.

Peuberty / Wedding Customs:

Children of both sexes were required to observe certain rites at the age of puberty. Annually in midsummer, a group of boys, ranging from 12 to 16 years old, were led out to a solitary place by two men, one of whom was the teacher. Here, they received instructions in mythology and mortuary rites, shamanistic practices and puberty observances. In the winter, these boys assembled again in the ceremonial house and remained there for the four winter months for instruction in tribal folklore.

At puberty, a girl began to live a very quiet and abstemious life for five months, remaining always in or near the house, abstaining from meat, and drinking little water. She was not permitted to work, lest she catch a cold.

Marriage was arranged between the two persons concerned, without consulting anybody else. Having secured a girl’s consent, her lover would sleep with her clandestinely at night, and at dawn steal away. The secret was preserved as long as possible, perhaps for several days, and the news of the match transpired without formal announcement, even to the girl’s parents, who would learn of their daughter’s marriage in this same, indirect fashion. His marriage no longer a secret, the young man might erect a house of his own.

The bond was as easily loosened, for either could leave the other for any reason, the man retaining any male children and the woman the female children. Children were not regarded as belonging any more to the paternal than to the maternal side. When adultery was discovered, the only result was a little bickering and perhaps an invitation to the offender to take up permanent relations with the new love.

Social Organization:

Each village had its chief, dog sled, and some villages, a second chief. Generally, the chief’s son succeeded to the office, but if a headman died without sons, the people, by common consent and without formal voting, selected from among themselves the man whom they regarded as best fitted for the place. The duty of a chief was to be the adviser of his people. When anything of great importance was to be decided, the village chief summoned the council, which comprised all the elder men. Each expressed his opinion, and the chief would go along with the consensus.


Cahto People of Note:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading:

California Indian Languages
A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians  

US Tribes C to D
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