“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Chief Seattle, 1854

While the storytelling and history of the Wappo people vary slightly among sources, one fact holds true—the Wappo were the first to inhabit the Knights Valley and surrounding regions of northern Napa Valley.

Some ten thousand years ago, the Wappo tribe lived among the mountains, valleys, and forests—concentrated on the south shore of Clear Lake, Alexander Valley, and the Russian River valley along the Sonoma County and Napa River watersheds. With the arrival of the Mexican missionaries in the 1800s, the tribe was given the name “guapo,” which eventually became “Wappo,” meaning “handsome” and “brave”—in honor of the tribes’ determined efforts to protect their people and land from colonization.

For generations, the Wappo peacefully nurtured the forests, valleys, and watersheds, which in turn provided shelter and sustenance for the tribe. Their houses were dome-shaped structures, made of grass thatch over bent poles. Their diet relied on hunting and gathering, including a lot of fish, berries, fowl, and wild animals like deer, squirrels, and bears. The Wappo became most known for the art of basketmaking. They used materials such as sedge, redbud, and willow to construct both beautiful artistic baskets and baskets for specific purposes, such as gathering food and even holding water. Jewelry was often made from a combination of animal bones, seashells, and beads, while magnetite cylinders and clamshell beads were used for both jewelry and currency.

In 2018, a 14-by-60-foot (4-by-18-m) mural by Morgan Bricca, titled Tuesday Morning, 1720: Mishewal Wappo, Napa Valley, depicts tribe members amid the habitat of the valley precolonization.

In 1925, cultural anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber collected data on Western American Tribes, leading to this map of original Wappo territories. His work, preserving information about California tribes, later appeared in Handbook of the Indians of California.

“Derived from the Wappo language, the name ‘Napa Valley,’ meaning ‘land of plenty,’ would not exist without their presence in these valleys.”

The Wappo put up a valiant fight against the Mexicans but were ultimately unsuccessful in retaining the way of life they had known for generations. According to the Napa County Historical Society, there were around 8,000 Wappo throughout Northern California, but their numbers dwindled dramatically by 1910. It is unclear how many Wappo descendants remain today.

Known for being peaceful, brave, and hardworking, the tribe is united in their efforts to preserve their heritage. With ten thousand years of ancestry in the region, their story should not be forgotten. Derived from the Wappo language, the name “Napa Valley,” meaning “land of plenty,” would not exist without their presence in these valleys.

The Wappo were known for their devotion to their children, their motto being, “Respect for elders, honor the children.” This photograph, A Wappo Matron, was taken in 1924 by Edward Curtis.

A Wappo grinding stone from Dry Creek was relocated to downtown Napa in the 1940s. Wappo traditionally used portable mortars and pestles for grinding acorns and other foodstuff. The fact that this grinding stone is so massive and has so many holes makes it very unusual—the number and depth of the holes indicate it was likely in use for at least 1,000 years.