Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians
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Pages (PDF): 58
Publication Date: 1908
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With 15 Plates. This is a short ethnography of the Cahuilla, who inhabited the desert of Southern California. This mostly covers material culture. Chapters include: Geography; Culture; Basketry; Stone Implements; Pottery; Implements of Wood and Fibre; Ceremonial Objects and Beads; Houses; and, Social and Religious Life.
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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 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 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, 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.
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