The Cahuilla, also known as ʔívil̃uqaletem or Ivilyuqaletem, are a Native American people of the inland areas of southern California.[2] Their original territory included an area of about 2,400 square miles (6,200 km2). The traditional Cahuilla territory was near the geographic center of Southern California. It was bounded to the north by the San Bernardino Mountains,[2] to the south by Borrego Springs and the Chocolate Mountains, to the east by the Colorado Desert, and to the west by the San Jacinto Plain and the eastern slopes of the Palomar Mountains.[3]

Edward S. Curtis Collection People 056
Desert Cahuilla woman by Edward S. Curtis, 1926
Total population
2010: 4,238 alone and in combination[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States United States California (California)
English, Spanish, Cahuilla language
Christianity (Roman Catholic, Moravian, Protestant), and traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
Cupeño, Luiseño, Serrano, and Tongva

Language and name

The Cahuilla language is in the Uto-Aztecan family. A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. It is critically endangered, since most speakers are middle-aged or older. In their own language, their autonym is ʔívil̃uqaletem, and the name of their language is ʔívil̃uʔat (Ivilyuat), however they also call themselves táxliswet meaning 'person'.[4] Cahuilla is an exonym applied to the group after mission secularization in the Ranchos of California. The word "Cahuilla" is probably from the Ivilyuat word kawi'a, meaning "master."[2]


Oral legends suggest that when the Cahuilla first moved into the Coachella Valley, a large body of water which geographers call Lake Cahuilla was in existence. Fed by the Colorado River, it dried up sometime before 1700, following one of the repeated shifts in the river's course. In 1905 a break in a levee created the much smaller Salton Sea in the same location.

The Cahuilla lived from the land by using native plants. A notable tree whose fruits they harvested is the California fan palm. The Cahuilla also used palm leaves for basketry of many shapes, sizes and purposes; sandals, and roofing thatch for dwellings.[5] The Cahuilla lived in smaller groups than some other tribes.


The first encounter with Europeans was in 1774, when Juan Bautista de Anza was looking for a trade route between Sonora and Monterey in Alta California. Living far inland, the Cahuilla had little contact with Spanish soldiers, priests, or missionaries. Many of the Europeans viewed the desert as having little or no value, but rather a place to avoid. The Cahuilla learned of Spanish missions and their culture from Indians living close to missions in San Gabriel and San Diego. The Cahuilla provided the vaqueros that worked for the owners of the Rancho San Bernardino, and provided security against the raids of the tribes from the desert and mountains on its herds.

The Cahuilla did not encounter Anglo-Americans until the 1840s. Chief Juan Antonio, leader of the Cahuilla Mountain Band, gave traveler Daniel Sexton access to areas near the San Gorgonio Pass in 1842. The Mountain Band also lent support to a U.S. Army expedition led by Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale, defending the party against attacks by Wakara and his band of Ute warriors.

During the Mexican–American War, Chief Juan Antonio led his warriors to join Californios led by José del Carmen Lugo in attacking their traditional enemy, the Luiseño. Lugo led this action in retaliation for the Pauma Massacre, in which the Luiseno had killed 11 Californios. The combined forces staged an ambush and killed 33–40 of the Luiseno warriors, an event that became known as the Temecula Massacre of 1847. (Academic historians disagree on the exact number of deaths, the estimate is 33–40; Luiseno oral tradition holds that more than 100 warriors were killed.) In the treaty ending the war with Mexico, the US promised to honor Mexican land grants and policies. These included recognition of Native American rights to inhabit certain lands, but European-American encroachment on Indian lands became an increasing problem after the US annexed California.

San Jacinto Mountains
A view of the San Jacinto Mountains, in historical Cahuilla territory.

During the 1850s, the Cahuilla came under increasing pressure from waves of European-American migrants because of the California Gold Rush. In 1851, Juan Antonio led his warriors in the destruction of the Irving Gang, a group of bandits that had been looting the San Bernardino Valley. Following the outcome of the Irving Gang incident, in late 1851, Juan Antonio, his warriors and their families, moved eastward from Politana, toward the San Gorgonio Pass and settled in a valley which branched off to the northeast from San Timoteo Canyon, at a village named Saahatpa.

In addition to the influx of Anglo-American miners, ranchers and outlaws, and groups of Mormon colonists, the Cahuilla came into conflict with the neighboring Cupeño tribe to the west. In November 1851, the Garra Revolt occurred, wherein the Cupeno leader Antonio Garra attempted to bring Juan Antonio into his revolt. Juan Antonio, friendly to the Americans, was instrumental in capturing Antonio Garra, ending that revolt.

When the California Senate refused to ratify an 1852 treaty granting the Cahuilla control of their lands, some tribal leaders resorted to attacks on approaching settlers and soldiers. Juan Antonio did not participate in this as long as he lived.

To encourage the railroad, the U.S. government subdivided the lands into one-mile-square sections, giving the Indians every other section. In 1877 the government established reservation boundaries, which left the Cahuilla with only a small portion of their traditional territories.

The Cahuilla have intermarried with non-Cahuilla for the past century. A high percentage of today's Cahuilla tribal members have some degree of mixed ancestry, especially Spanish and African American. Individuals who have grown up in the tribe's ways and identify culturally with the Cahuilla may qualify for official tribal membership by the tribe's internal rules. Each federally recognized tribe sets its own rules for membership.

Current status

Today Palm Springs and the surrounding areas are experiencing rapid development. The Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla is an important player in the local economy, operating an array of business enterprises, including land leasing, hotel and casino operations, and banking.

The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation occupies 126.706 km2 (48.921 sq mi) in the Palm Springs area, including parts of the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, and Rancho Mirage. The total population living on its territory was 21,358 persons as of the 2000 census, although few of these are registered tribal members.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, also considered part of the Cahuilla nation, operates the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, as well as the Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon. The Morongo Casino is one of the largest Indian casinos in the United States. The Morongo Indian Reservation is located in northern Riverside County. The cities of Banning and Cabazon both extend partially onto reservation land. The reservation has a land area of 127.083 km2 (49.067 sq mi), with a resident population of 954, the majority of Native American heritage.

Smaller bands of Cahuilla are located in Southern California: the Augustine Band in Coachella (their village was La Mesa in the 1880s-90s); the Cabazon Band in Indio (their one square mile reservation now "Sonora-Lupine Lanes" in Old Town Indio); the Cabazon Reservations in Indio, Coachella and Mecca (separate from Cabazon band); the Cahuilla Band in Anza; the Los Coyotes Band in Warner Springs (San Diego county); the Ramona Indian Reservation in Pine Meadow; Santa Rosa Indian Reservation in Pinyon; the Twentynine Palms Band in Twentynine Palms, Indio and Coachella ("Dates Lane" community); the Torres-Martinez Band in La Quinta (was Rancho Santa Carmelita in Spanish-Mexican-1850s California times), Coachella, Thermal, Mecca and Oasis; and the Mission Creek Reservation in Desert Hot Springs.

The Torres-Martinez tribe has offices throughout Southern California, esp. their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits for members. They are in Imperial valley (El Centro), Blythe, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Palmdale, San Diego, Orange County (Santa Ana), Pomona and Los Angeles. This is a result of Cahuilla migration to farming and factory jobs in the late half of the 20th century.

Extinct Cahuilla tribes (known as the Las Palmas band of Cahuilla-part of "Western Cahuilla") in the early 20th century resided in the Palm Desert area (between Thousand Palms, Cathedral City and La Quinta). This was before land developers and US Armed Forces purchased what was tribal land from the Montoya family-part of the "Desert Cahuilla" in present-day Indian Wells and from the San Cayetano band-part of "Desert Cahuilla" in Rancho San Cayetano during the Spanish-Mexican-1850s California period (now the town of Rancho Mirage). The number of these tribes' descendants is unknown. The Montoya family, who claim partial Cahuilla descent, are influential in local economics and city politics.

The ethnic composition of the Cahuilla descendants is like that of many other Americans: mixed with European (especially Anglo/Irish-American and Spanish), African American, Asian-American (from historic interaction with Chinese railroad workers and Filipino farm laborers), and other tribal groups, mainly Apache migrant workers from Arizona. Some Cahuilla families continue to intermarry with local populations; others try to marry within Native American tribes.

Federally recognized tribes

The Cahuilla have been historically divided into "Mountain," "Desert," and "(San Gorgonio) Pass / Western" groups by anthropologists. Today there are nine Southern California reservations that are acknowledged homes to bands of Cahuilla. These are located in Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties and are the territory of federally recognized tribes.

The Cahuilla bands (sometimes called "villages") are:

"Pass" Cahuilla or "Western" Cahuilla (on San Gorgonio Pass, centering in Palm Springs and Palm Desert in Coachella Valley, wandering north to Desert Hot Springs)

"Mountain" Cahuilla (Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains)

"Desert" Cahuilla (deserts of northern Lake Cahuilla area)

  • Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians (Nanxaiyem clan (originally a "Pass" Cahuilla clan), headquarters at Coachella, California)
  • Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (Kawisiktum, Kaunukalkiktum (″Living at kaunukvela People), Iviatim (″Cahuilla language speaking People″), Telakiktum, Mumkwitcem (″Always sick People″), Palpunivikiktum (″People living at water, circling territory″), Tamolanitcem/Tamulanitcum (″Knees bent Together People″), Tevivakiktum (″Round Basket People″), Tuikikiktum (″People at Tuikiktumhemki village″, subordinate the Kauwicpameauitcem) clans,[12]late 19th century although Wantcinakik Tamianawitcem territory, through Chief Cabazon the Kauwicpameauitcem (″Caught By the Rock People″) clan dominated this area, headquarters at Indio, California, called Pàl téwet)[13]
  • Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians (own name: ″Mau-Wal-Mah Su-Kutt Menyil″, or ″Deer Moon Among the Palms″, Panakauissiktum (″water fox People″), Palpunivikiktum, Tamolanitcem/Tamulanitcum and later Sawalakiktum, Wakaikiktum (″Night Heron People″, which in turn became Panakauissiktum), and Sewahilem (″Mesquite that is not sweet People″) clans (Torres (Toro) area; Maulma/Mauulmii - ″among the palms″) and Mumletcem (″Mixed Up People″), Masuwitcem (″Long Hairs in the Nose People″), Wiitem (″Grasshoppers People″), Wantcauem (″Touched By the River People″), Autaatem (″High Up People″), Awilem (″Dogs People″), Watcinakiktum/Wantcinakiktum clans (later known as Isilsiveyyaiutcem, subordinate Awilem clan), and late 1870s Sauicpakiktum/Sawish-pakiktem (Martinez & Martinez Canyon area; Soqut Menyily/So-kut Men-yil - "Lady moon [figure in creation myth]") clans, and Chemehuevi Indians, headquarters at Thermal, California, Telmuva - "dark resin or sap from mesquite tree"[14])[15][16]

Notable Cahuilla

See also


  1. ^ "Census 2010" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-12-09.
  2. ^ a b c "California Indians and Their Reservations. SDSU Libray and Information Access. Archived February 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Bean, 1978
  4. ^ Sieler, Hansjakob; Hioki, Kojiro (1979). Cahuilla Dictionary. Morango Indian Reservation, Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press.
  5. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009
  6. ^ file:///C:/Users/Mr.Hyde/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/IE/OAFZ3KR8/Agua%20Caliente%20Tribal%20History.pdf Agua Caliente Tribal History
  7. ^ Malki Museum
  8. ^ Lowell John Bean, Sylvia Brakke Vane,and Jackson Young: The Cahuilla and the Santa Rosa Mountain region: places and their Native American associations :a review of published and unpublished sources
  9. ^ Whitewater, California named after the nearby Whitewater River is known to the local Cahuilla people as Kíš čáwal
  10. ^ Mission Creek Band, Village of Indians, Mission Creek Reservation
  11. ^ once home to several Mountain Cahuilla clans (Costakiktum, Natcutakiktum, Pauatiauitcem/Pauata-kiktum, Tepamokiktum, and Temewhanic) under the leadership of Chief Juan Antonio of the Costakiktum clan, the Lugo family invited these Mountain Cahuilla to settle in Politana, California to replace the New Mexicans as guardians of their herds against enemy Mojave Indians (1846)
  12. ^ William Duncan Strong: Aboriginal Society in Southern California
  13. ^ Desert Cahuilla Chief Cabazon (a Spanish nickname which means "stubborn" or "big-headed") also joined in alliance with the Californios
  14. ^ Richard Lando & : Ruby E. Modesto: Temal Wakhish: A Desert Cahuilla Village
  15. ^ Edward Winslow Gifford: Clans and Moities in Southern California
  16. ^ Larea Lewis: The Desert Cahuilla: A Study of Cultural Landscapes and Historic Settlements
  17. ^ CARRICO, RICHARD L. (Summer 1980). "San Diego Indians and the Federal Government Years of Neglect, 1850-1865". The Journal of San Diego History. San Diego Historical Society. Retrieved 22 June 2010.


  • Bean, Lowell John (1972). Mukat's People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 201. ISBN 0-520-02627-6. LCCN 78145782. OCLC 370378. LCC E99.C155 B4
  • Bean, Lowell John. (1978) "Cahuilla", in California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 575–587. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Bean, Lowell John, Sylvia Brakke Vane, and Jackson Young. (1991) The Cahuilla Landscape: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press
  • Hogan, C. Michael. 2009. California Fan Palm: Washingtonia filifera,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  • Kroeber, A. L. (1925) Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • James, Harry C. (1969) The Cahuilla Indians, Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press, .

Further reading

  • Apodaca, Paul (with Luke Madrigal). 1999. "Cahuilla bird songs", California Chronicles, 2(2): 4-8.
  • Brumgardt, John R.; Bowles, Larry L. (1981). People of the Magic Waters: The Cahuilla Indians of Pam Springs. Palm Springs: ETC Publications. p. 124. ISBN 0-88280-060-4. LCCN 78016023. OCLC 4056234. LCC E99.C155 B77
  • Holtzclaw, Kenneth M.; San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society (2006). San Gorgonio Pass. Images of America. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-7385-3097-2. LCCN 2005934849. OCLC 70259293. LCC F868.R6 H65 2006
  • James, Harry Clebourne (1968) [1960]. The Cahuilla Indians. Morongo Indian Reservation: Malki Museum Press (Westernlore Press). ASIN B0007HDH7E. LCCN 60010491. OCLC 254156323. LCC E99.K27 J3 – includes a photograph of Katherine Siva Saubel (p. 155) and drawings by Carl Eytel of Indian houses, wells, basket granaries and ollas (pp. 174–5).
  • Kroeber, A.L. (1908) Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians. Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2007 reprint) ISBN 0-548-68107-4 ISBN 978-0548681077
  • Quinn, Harry M. (1997). Observations on the Cahuilla Indians – Past and Present. Palm Springs, CA: Coachella Valley Archaeological Society. p. 46. LCCN 97204029.

External links

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is a federally recognized tribe of the Cahuilla, located in Riverside County, California. They inhabited the Coachella Valley desert and surrounding mountains between 5000 BCE and 500 AD. With the establishment of the reservations, the Cahuilla were officially divided into 10 sovereign nations, including the Agua Caliente Band.

Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians

The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians is a federally recognized Cahuilla band of Native Americans based in Coachella, California. They are one of the smallest tribal nation in the United States, consisting of only eight members, only one of whom is an adult. As of the 2010 census, the tribe had expanded its members to eleven.

Cabazon Band of Mission Indians

The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla Indians, located in Riverside County, California.

Cahuilla, California

Cahuilla (formerly, Coahuilla, Cohuilla, Coahuila, and Kawia) is an unincorporated community in Riverside County, California. It lies at an elevation of 3642 feet (1110 m). Cahuilla is located 14 miles (22.5 km) south of Idyllwild.The Cahuilla post office opened in 1888, moved in 1889 and 1895, closed in 1903, reopened in 1909, closed for a time in 1919, closed again in 1921, reopened in 1924 before closing for good in 1926.

Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians of the Cahuilla Reservation

The Cahuilla Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Cahuilla Reservation is a federally recognized tribe of Native American Indians, who are located in California. Their tribe originally came from Coachella Valley, through San Gorgonio Pass, to the San Jacinto Mountains. In 1875, their tribe had been relocated to modern day Anza.

Cahuilla Hills, California

Cahuilla Hills is an unincorporated community in Riverside County, California. It lies at an elevation of 932 feet (284 m). Cahuilla Hills is located 3 miles (4.8 km) southwest of Palm Desert.

Cahuilla traditional narratives

Cahuilla traditional narratives include myths, legends, tales, and oral histories preserved by the Cahuilla people of the Colorado Desert and Peninsular Ranges of southern California.

Cahuilla oral literature has much in common with the traditions of the other Takic-speaking groups of southern California and with the Yumans of southern California, western Arizona, and northern Baja California. (See also Traditional narratives (Native California).)


Ivilyuat (ʔívil̃uʔat or Ivil̃uɂat IPA: [ʔivɪʎʊʔat] or Cahuilla ), is an endangered Uto-Aztecan language, spoken by the various tribes of the Cahuilla Nation, living in the Coachella Valley, San Gorgonio Pass and San Jacinto Mountains region of Southern California. Cahuilla call themselves ʔívil̃uwenetem or Iviatam–speakers of Ivilyuat (Ivi'a)–or táxliswet meaning "person." A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. With such a decline, Ivilyuat is classified as "critically endangered" by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger as most speakers are middle-aged or older with limited transmission rates to children.

Three dialects are known to exist: Desert, Mountain and Pass, as well as some other sub-dialects.

Katherine Siva Saubel

Katherine Siva Saubel (March 7, 1920 – November 1, 2011) was a Native American scholar, educator, tribal leader, author, and activist committed to preserving her Cahuilla history, culture and language. Her efforts focused on preserving the language of the Cahuilla. Saubel is acknowledged nationally and internationally as one of California's most respected Native American leaders. She received an honorary PhD in philosophy from La Sierra University, Riverside, California, and was awarded the Chancellor's Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the University of California at the University of California, Riverside.

Saubel was an enrolled member of Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians and served as their tribal chairperson.

Lake Cahuilla

Lake Cahuilla (also known as Lake LeConte and Blake Sea) was a prehistoric lake in California and northern Mexico. Located in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, it covered surface areas of 5,700 square kilometres (2,200 sq mi) to a height of 12 metres (39 ft) above sea level during the Holocene. During earlier stages of the Pleistocene, the lake reached even higher levels, up to 31–52 metres (102–171 ft) above sea level. During the Holocene most of the water came from the Colorado River with little contribution from local runoff; in the Pleistocene local runoff was higher and it is possible that Lake Cahuilla was supported solely from local water sources during the Wisconsin glaciation. The lake overflowed close to Cerro Prieto into the Rio Hardy, eventually draining into the Gulf of California.

The lake formed several times during the Holocene, when water from the Colorado River was diverted into the Salton Trough. This tectonic depression forms the northern basin of the Gulf of California, but it was separated from the sea proper by the growth of the Colorado River Delta. Such changes in river courses may have been caused by earthquakes among the numerous faults that cross the region, such as the San Andreas Fault. Conversely, it is possible that the weight of the water itself triggered earthquakes. During its existence, Lake Cahuilla formed strandlines and various beach deposits such as gravel bars and travertine deposits.

The lake existed in several stages over the last 2,000 years, periodically drying and refilling and eventually disappearing sometime after 1580. Between 1905–1907, due to an engineering accident, the Salton Sea formed in parts of the lower basin of Lake Cahuilla. Were it not for human intervention, the sea might have grown to the size of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla. Today the former lake bed forms the fertile regions of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

The Algodones Dunes were formed from sand deposited by Lake Cahuilla, which was transported by wind toward the area. During its existence, the lake supported a rich biota with fish, bivalves and vegetation on its shorelines. These resources supported human populations on its shores, as evidenced by a number of archeological sites and mythological references to the lake in the traditions of the Cahuilla. The lake may have had profound effects on population genetics and language history of the surrounding regions.

Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians

Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians of the Los Coyotes Reservation is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians, who are Mission Indians located in California.

Mission Indians

Mission Indians are the indigenous peoples of California who lived in Southern California and were forcibly relocated from their traditional dwellings, villages, and homelands to live and work at 15 Franciscan missions in Southern California and the Asisténcias and Estáncias established between 1796 and 1823 in the Las Californias Province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

Morongo Band of Mission Indians

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians is a federally recognized tribe. The main tribal groups are Cahuilla and Serrano. Tribal members also include Cupeño, Luiseño, and Chemehuevi Indians. Although many tribes in California are known as Mission Indians, some, like those at Morongo, were never a part of the Spanish Missions in California. The Morongo Reservation is located in Riverside County, California.

Politana, California

Politana or Apolitana was the first Spanish settlement in the San Bernardino Valley of California. It was established as a mission chapel and supply station by the Mission San Gabriel in the a rancheria of the Guachama Indians that lived on the bluff that is now known as Bunker Hill, near Lytle Creek. Besides the Guachama, it was also at various times the home for colonists from New Mexico and Cahuilla people. Its most prominent landmark today is the St. Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church on Colton Avenue, just southwest of the Inland Center Mall, in San Bernardino, California.

Ramona Band of Cahuilla

The Ramona Band of Cahuilla is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla Indians, located in Riverside County, California.

Saahatpa, California

Saahatpa was a former Cahuilla settlement in Riverside County. It was a settlement of Juan Antonio's Mountain Cahuilla from 1851 to 1863. It was located in a valley that branched to the northeast from San Timoteo Canyon. The site is marked by California registered landmark #749, and is located at the Brookside Rest Area, on the West 10 Freeway, 3 miles west of the 10/60 junction in modern Beaumont, California.

Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians

The Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla Indians, located in Riverside County, California.

Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians

The Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla Indians, located in Imperial and Riverside counties in California. Their autonym is Mau-Wal-Mah Su-Kutt Menyil, which is said to mean "among the palms, deer moon."

USS Cahuilla (ATF-152)

USS Cahuilla (ATF-152) was an Abnaki class fleet tug in the service of the United States Navy during World War II. In 1961 she was sold to the Argentine Navy as ARA Irigoyen (A-1) where she served until 2009 when she became a Museum ship.

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