The very closely related Bear River and Mattole varieties of California Athabaskan were traditionally spoken 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 2500 speakers of Mattole and Bear River combined (Baumhoff 1958). As far as is known there are no first-language speakers of either variety remaining today (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 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 Athabaskan languages of California are Eel River Athabaskan, Hupa, Kato, and Tolowa.

Selected archival materials at Berkeley

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]