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Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians, by A. L. Kroeber, [1908], at

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The following notes are based on a trip to the Indian reservations in the vicinity of Highland, Banning, and Indio in Southern California. The specimens described and illustrated were secured, through the generosity of Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst, for the Museum of the Department of Anthropology of the University of California. The reservations visited are inhabited by Shoshonean Indians, mainly speaking the Serrano and Cahuilla dialects. Indians speaking Chemehuevi, Gabrielino, and Agua Caliente were also found. The three groups of reservations, while within a stretch of less than a hundred miles, are in totally

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different natural environments. Highland is in the cultivated and thickly populated orange-growing district of Southern California. Banning is near the summit of the pass connecting this region with the desert to the east. Indio is in the heart of this desert, below the level of the sea.

Highland is at the northern edge of the fruitful San Bernardino valley, and the small San Manuel Indian reservation near by is situated on the first foothills overlooking the valley. The character of this region is too well known to need description. It is only necessary to call attention to the difference between the level lands of the San Bernardino valley, which form part of the great highly cultivated plain of Southern California, and the Sierra Madre or San Bernardino range, rising abruptly to a height of ten thousand feet above this plain. While the higher portions of this range are timbered, the lower parts, especially the foothills, preserve the barren, brush-covered appearance which they have always had, and of which the valley must in some measure have partaken before its irrigation.

Banning is in the San Gorgonio pass, which affords the lowest natural entrance into the fruitful portion of either Southern or Northern California. This pass is in many ways remarkable, rising to only 2500 feet as compared with the 4500 over Tehachapi and the 5000 and more in the various Sierra passes. It is directly between the two highest peaks in Southern California, Mt. San Gorgonio, 11,400 feet high and little more than 12 miles away from Banning on the north, and Mt. San Jacinto, 10,600 feet in altitude, only 14 miles distant from Banning to the southeast. The pass is not, however, as might be expected, a wild gorge or canyon cut between these peaks, but a wide gradual slope with scarcely any water courses. At Banning, which is about six miles east of the summit at Beaumont and some 200 feet lower, the pass is several miles wide, fiat, and with a perceptible but gentle slope to the east, which the railroad is able to climb without detour or approaches. While the streams from the San Bernardino range quickly lose themselves in the boulders and sand of the pass, the lower parts of these mountains are sufficiently watered and wooded to make them a favorable Indian habitation. The climate is cooler than in the San Bernardino

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valley or in the desert, but all fruits hardier than oranges, and in some cases even these, are successfully grown. The Indian reservation is a few miles to the northeast of Banning. Its inhabited portion is at the edge of the foothills, though the reservation extends some distance back into the mountains.

From Banning eastward the character of the country changes rapidly. The pass gradually widens out into a broad plain, the Cabezon valley, which has much the surface character of a wide wash. The streams from the mountain disappear with almost miraculous rapidity in the stretches of boulders, gravel, or sand that constitute the soil. The vegetation is very scanty, the tree yucca being by far the most conspicuous plant. A strong wind is generally blowing from the west and is made particularly noticeable by the sand which the lack of vegetation enables it to carry. Some twenty miles east of Banning is Palm Springs station, some miles to the south of which are Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Indian reservation. Palm Springs is at the very foot of Mt. San Jacinto on its eastern side. Some miles to the south is the famous Palm canyon, noted for the number and size of its native palms. This was the territory of a division of the Cahuilla Indians, some of whom still live at Palm Springs.

Some twenty or twenty-five miles farther on is Indio. Here one is below the level of the sea, in the supposed heart of the desert not far from the famous Salton sink. The rainfall is almost nil, many years passing without perceptible precipitation, and the heat of summer is intense, equalling that of the arid regions of southern Arizona and Sonora. But this region is really less desert than the district about Palm Springs station. The vegetation is much heavier and of a different character. The tree yucca is replaced by the mesquite, which will grow only where its roots can pierce to water. Throughout the entire low-lying region which constitutes the center of the Colorado desert water can be obtained at comparatively slight depths, so slight in fact that it was reached by the wells dug by the Cahuillas in aboriginal times. At present the greater part of this desert is becoming converted into valuable agricultural land through the sinking of artesian wells and pumps. The soil is not gravelly or made of the loose detritus from the neighboring mountains,

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but the deposit of an old lake formerly connected with the Colorado river or the Gulf of California. Certain stretches contain much alkali, but others are exceedingly favorable for cultivation. Sand is found only here and there, most of the surface soil being a silt, in some places thickly covered with small shells. The two long ranges of mountains flanking this valley, the San Bernardino range on the northeast and the San Jacinto mountains on the southwest, however, bear an absolutely desert appearance. They are rocky and from a distance show no signs of vegetation except in their higher western portions.

As will be seen, the interesting difference in the environment of these three localities is reflected in the native cultures found there. It accords also with the distribution of tribes or dialectic groups. San Bernardino valley and the San Bernardino mountains were held by the Serrano. In the pass at the edge of the mountains, and at Palm Springs, lived one division of the Cahuilla. In the low-lying streamless region between Indio and Salton were another branch of the Cahuilla.

In a previous publication dealing with the geography of the Shoshoneans of California the territorial relations of the Serrano and Cahuilla in their region of contact have been discussed. 1 The published evidence on this point is conflicting, several authors having included San Bernardino valley in the former habitat of the Cahuilla. The conclusion was however arrived at that this valley was held by the Serrano, and that the westernmost limit of Cahuilla territory was somewhere in the San Gorgonio pass. The San Bernardino mountains appeared to be Serrano, the San Jacinto mountains Cahuilla. Information secured in the course of the present trip substantiates these conclusions.

The home par excellence of the Serrano was the San Bernardino range and the desert tableland extending between this and the Tehachapi range to the north. It is therefore easy to see how their name, which signifies "mountaineers," came to be applied to them. The only region in which they are known to have held any fruitful low-lying plain was in the San Bernardino valley. Redlands, San Bernardino, and Colton were all in Serrano territory. Riverside and Jurupa were near the meeting

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point of Serrano, Gabrielino, and Luiseño. A Serrano informant made these places Luiseño, but claimed for his people all the territory north of the Jurupa mountains. Yucaipa he regarded as Serrano, but gave San Timoteo to the Cahuilla. As Yucaipa valley drains into the lower part of San Timoteo canyon, the boundary between the Serrano and Cahuilla must be sought somewhere in the course of this western approach to the wider San Gorgonio pass.

No information could be obtained regarding the Serrano extension westward in the plain, but there seems no reason to alter the conclusion previously arrived at that it was somewhere in the neighborhood of Cucamonga or the line between Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The topographically natural line of division would follow the hills, just west of Pomona, forming a northward extension of the Santa Ana mountains. On the other hand it must always be regarded as doubtful, in the absence of definite information, whether a people otherwise showing so strong a preference for a mountain habitat would have been likely to hold the large stretch of plain between Colton, Pomona, the Santa Ana river, and the San Gabriel mountains.

The eastward extension of the Serrano is less doubtful, at. least for some distance. San Gorgonio pass about Banning was Cahuilla territory. This included the lower part of Morongo reservation, called Potrero in Spanish and Malki in Cahuilla. But immediately east, Mission creek, flowing southeastward into the desert from San Gorgonio peak, was held by the Serrano, who call it Marina or Maronga. East of Mission creek are Morongo creek and Morongo valley, the names of which are evidence of occupancy by the same people. Morongo, or some form of the name, is the term by which the Serrano of this region are known to several Indian tribes. The Serrano also lived still farther east, at Twenty-nine Palms, some distance north of the main crest of the San Bernardino range. This place, which they called Mara, is near the one hundred and sixteenth meridian, in the Mohave desert, nearly half way between Indio on the Southern Pacific railroad and Bagdad on the Santa Fe. One of the original inhabitants of this place is still said to live there, but the remainder of the few Indians now on the small reservation there

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are Chemehuevi. As to the desert country still farther east, in which the territory of the Serrano comes to an end and that of the Chemehuevi begins, no information could be obtained. The languages of Highland and of Mission creek and Morongo valley were found to be identical. The dialect of Twenty-nine Palms is said to have been identical with that of Morongo, and that of Highland with the language spoken about Bear valley in the mountains to the north. It therefore appears that all the Serrano of the San Bernardino mountains spoke only one dialect, which differed somewhat from that of the Serrano of the Mohave desert and the Tehachapi mountains.

Serrano names of places are:


San Bernardino.


Yucaipa, east of Redlands.


a small hill west of Colton.


hills southeast of Colton, across the river, probably Box Springs mountains and the hills farther north.

Hikavanü’t 2

a large hill west of Colton, probably Jurupa mountain.


mountains south or southwest of Colton, probably the Sierra Santa Ana.




Cajon canyon.

Kwiria-kaich 3

San Gorgonio mountain.


Bear like.


a lake to the north of the last.


a sierra to the north.


(warm water), the stream flowing north from Little Bear valley, the upper Mohave river.


six large stones, "goddesses," in or near Little Bear valley.

Kotainat 4

Santa Ana river near Highland.


Twenty-nine Palms. p. 35

Maronga 5

Morongo valley or Mission Creek. The above, except Murkat, are all in Serrano territory.


San Jacinto reservation.


place or tribe south, in vicinity of Cahuilla reservation. This does not have the appearance of a Serrano word.

Aya-kaich 3

San Jacinto mountain.

Akavat 6

San Timoteo and Banning, the country of the Wanupiapayum Cahuilla.


a small hill east of White Water, marking the boundary between the Wanupiapayum and the desert Cahuilla.

The "Paiuches" and Chemehuevi are called Yoaka-yam, from yoaka, perhaps the term for a high mountain or range. This word was applied by a Vanyume or "Möhineyam" Serrano of Mohave river to the Chemehuevi. 7 It appears to be the Serrano term for the Ute-Chemehuevi in general. The desert Cahuilla are Kitanemun-um, those of San Gorgonio pass Wanupiapay-um. The former word resembles Gitanemuk, the name of the Serrano of Tejon. For themselves, the Serrano perhaps had no name. Kaiviat-am was obtained. This is a derivative from kai-ch (qaitc), mountain. It is not certain whether it is an old term denotive of the tribal and linguistic group or a translation of Spanish "Serrano."

As regards the Cahuilla, the tribal affiliations of the Colorado desert people have always been undoubted, whereas Gorgonio pass has been disputed territory. It has been stated that the Indians of Morongo reservation near Banning were mixed Serranos and Cahuillas. This is literally true. Nevertheless the number of true Serrano on this reservation is small. The Indians are predominatingly Cahuilla, and both tribes state that the pass in the vicinity of the reservation was always Cahuilla territory. These Banning Cahuilla however answer indiscriminately to the name of Serrano or Cahuilla, and seem to apply

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either name to themselves. Why they should be known, as Serrano as well as Cahuilla is not quite clear. A Serrano informant questioned. at Banning claimed the name Serrano as proper only to her own people. When they moved from Mission creek and Morongo valley to live on the reservation, they brought the name with them, which then came to be applied to the Cahuilla there. This explanation can of course not be accepted unqualifiedly. As compared with the Cahuilla of the desert, the Banning Cahuilla lived at a much greater altitude and at the foot of the mountains, so that they were literally "Serranos." It is only natural that the distinction between the general meaning of the word, and its exact signification as applied to a tribal or linguistic group, should not always have been observed by Spanish and English-speaking people. Moreover the confusion may have been aided by the distinction existing in the Indians’ mind between the Cahuilla of the Colorado desert and those of San Gorgonio pass. As stated, the Serrano call the former Kitanemun-um and the latter Wanupiapay-um. Among the Cahuilla themselves corresponding names were not obtained, but it is obvious from their reference to one another that the distinction between the two groups exists. Besides the difference in mode of life enforced in former times by environment, there remains today a difference in dialect.

The Cahuilla of Palm Springs or Agua Caliente form part of the San Gorgonio pass group. San Jacinto mountain is said to have belonged to these Indians. Palm Springs is less than eight miles in a direct line from the summit of this peak.

Nothing new was ascertained as to the territory of the desert Cahuilla. They live in a number of reservations in the flat valley, near its center or towards its western side. These sites appear to have been among their principal habitations in aboriginal times. It is doubtful whether they claimed definite limits to the more barren outlying portions of their territory. To the north there seems every reason for assuming that the limit, if any existed, was the crest of the San Bernardino range, which is here of no great altitude. To the southeast they extended at least to the northern end of the Salton sink. Near the southern end of this ancient lake there were formerly Yuman villages.

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The Cahuilla living in the mountains to the west of their brethren in the desert, were situated in a third environment, different both from that of the San Gorgonio pass and of the desert. They are principally on Cahuilla reservation in the drainage of the Santa Margarita river, and at Santa Rosa and San Ignacio in the lost drainage of Coyote valley. This habitat is on the more favored side of the San Jacinto range. The desert Indians state that the dialect of the mountain Cahuilla is identical with their own. 7a

Twenty-nine Palms in the Mohave desert north of Indio, formerly in Serrano territory, is now held chiefly by Chemehuevi. Within the past few years several families of these Chemehuevi have removed from Twenty-nine Palms on account of the difficulty of finding subsistence there, and are now on the Cahuilla reservation of Cabezon, near Coachella, three miles southeast of Indio. The Cahuilla cannot communicate with them except in English or Spanish, though the two languages belong to the same family. The Cahuilla state that these Indians did not formerly live at Twenty-nine Palms, but to the east near the Mohave, and that when they fought that tribe many years ago, they were defeated and fled to this place. This statement corresponds with a quotation made by Dr. Barrows from an Indian Office report, according to which a number of Chemehuevi had in 1867 fled from their enemies, the Mohave, across the desert into Cahuilla territory. Mohave accounts also tell of their war about this time with the tribe with which they had previously maintained friendly relations. For the sake of corroboration the few Chemehuevi at Cabezon were questioned as to their places of birth. All the younger people to about the age of forty were born in Twenty-nine Palms, while all the old people are from the vicinity of what they call the Mohave river, that is the Colorado, the river of the Mohaves. One elderly man was born near Pahrump, in southern Nevada. Their dialect was found to be the same as that of the Chemehuevi questioned some years ago.

The presence of these Chemehuevi at Twenty-nine Palms and

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[paragraph continues] Cabezon is interesting because it adds another distinct tribe and language to the many included under the jurisdiction of the Mission-Tule agency. Besides a few Chumash surviving near Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara county, and the Yokuts at Tule river, among whom three dialects are spoken and among whom a number of Tübatulabal or Kern river Shoshoneans are intermarried, there are the following groups known as Mission Indians: of the Yuman family, the Diegueño, speaking probably two closely similar dialects; of the Shoshonean family, the Serrano at San Manuel and Banning; a few surviving Gabrielino at the former and perhaps other reservations; the Cahuilla that have been enumerated, speaking two slightly different dialects and living in three quite distinct districts; the Luiseño, whose language is also slightly varied between San Luis Rey and San Jacinto rivers; the Agua Caliente or Warner's Ranch Indians; the San Juan Capistrano Indians, of whom a few survive; and finally the Chemehuevi just mentioned. These Shoshoneans belong to five of the eight principal divisions into which the entire sub-family is divisible. The total number of linguistic families under the Mission-Tule agency is thus four, of languages eight, and of dialects fifteen or more.

Among the San Manuel Serrano was found Jose Sevaldeo, the same informant who had been questioned some years previously, though his name was then understood to be Varoxo. He is now a very old man of perhaps ninety years, who was grown up but not yet married at the time that "the stars fell from the sky" in 1833, and whose skin is turning white. Owing to his extreme age and feebleness exact information could no longer be obtained from him. He gave the Indian names of a number of localities. As to some of these there seems no reasonable doubt. As regards others, the form of the name is in some cases Gabrielino, in others Serrano or possibly Luiseño; and in certain cases the localities to which the names are said to refer appear to be incorrectly given.


Santa Catalina island.


(evidently San Clemente island.)


in vicinity of San Pedro (Reid, Chowi-gna, Palos Verdes). p. 39


Salinas, i.e., Redondo, previously given as Ongoving. 8


Los Angeles. 9


San Bernardino.




given as La Puente, but evidently Azuza, Reid's Asuksa-gna.


given as a place on the coast near Palos Verdes or Cerritos: evidently Reid's Sua-ngna, Suanga.


San Gabriel; Akura-gna is given by Reid 10 for La Presa, and San Gabriel is Siba-gna.


a small lake near San Gabriel.


Cucamonga; Reid, 10 Kukomo-gna.


Chino; Reid Pasino-gna.




San Jose; Reid Toibi-pet.


San Jacinto.


32:1 Shoshonean Dialects of California, present series, IV, 132, 1907.

34:2 Or Yikavanü’t.

34:3 Qaitc, mountain.

34:4 Qotainat.

35:5 "The largest village" according to the Highland informant.

35:6 Aqavat. The frequent -at of these names is perhaps a locative suffix.

35:7 Present series, II, 140.

37:7a Cahuilla Indians from Cahuilla reservation, seen at the Indian conference in Riverside, April, 1908, stated that there were slight differences between their speech and that of the desert Cahuilla.

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