The traditional area of the very closely related Mattole and Bear River varieties of California Dene (Athabaskan) is along the lower Mattole River and its tributaries in present-day Humboldt County, and along the Bear River (Elsasser 1978). In pre-contact times, there were approximately 2,500 speakers of Mattole and Bear River combined (Baumhoff 1958). As far as is known, there are no first-language speakers of either variety remaining in the 21st century (Golla 2011).

Map of Mattole
Map of Mattole (Martin A. Baumhoff. 1958. California Athabascan Groups. University of California Anthropological Records 16:157-237.)

Mattole is a member of the Dene (Athabaskan) language family, spoken across North America with concentrations in western Canada (Dëne Suliné, Sarsi, Slave), Alaska (Ahtna, Gwich’in, Koyukon), the southwest United States (Apache, Navajo), and coastal Oregon and northern California. The other Dene languages of California are Eel River Athabaskan, Hupa, Kato, and Tolowa.

Selected archival materials at Berkeley

Selected materials in other archives

Further reading

  • Elsasser, Albert B. 1978. Mattole, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Lassik, and Wailaki. In Robert F. Heizer, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 8: California, 190-204. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

  • Goddard, Pliny Earle. 1929. The Bear River dialect of Athapascan. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnography 24: 291-324. [PDF]

  • Golla, Victor. 2011. California Indian languages. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Li, Fang-Kuei. 1930. Mattole: An Athabaskan language. (University of Chicago Publications in Anthropology, Linguistic Series.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Nomland, Gladys Ayer. 1938. Bear River ethnography. University of California Anthropological Records 2: 91-126. [PDF]