Official Visitor Center for Palm Springs, California

The Cahuilla Indians: A Native American Tribe of Southern California

Lovell's Report on the Cahuilla Indians 1854 - San Diego History Center |  San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story


The Cahuilla Indians are a Native American tribe that belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family. They have lived in the inland areas of southern California for thousands of years, occupying a territory that spans from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Colorado Desert. They have a rich and diverse history that reflects their adaptation to the harsh and varied environment they inhabit.

The Cahuilla Indians are divided into three regional groups and each group has its own dialect, customs, and political organization.

1  the Desert Cahuilla. They live in the Coachella Valley and the eastern slopes of the San Jacinto Mountains. They are known for their skill in basketry and pottery, as well as their use of the California fan palm for food, shelter, and clothing. 

2  the Mountain Cahuilla. They live in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. They are known for their hunting and gathering skills, as well as their use of acorns as a staple food.

3 Western Cahuilla. They live in the San Jacinto Plain and the western slopes of the Palomar Mountains. They are known for their farming and trading skills, as well as their use of adobe houses and sun shelters.

Their history can be traced back to their origins in the Great Basin area of present-day Nevada and Colorado. According to their oral traditions, they migrated to southern California some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, following their creator and ancestral spirits. They also sing what they call “bird songs” that tell of their creation and their journey to their homeland. 

The Cahuilla Indians history is also marked by their interactions with other tribes and cultures. They traded and allied with neighboring tribes, such as the Cupeño, Luiseño, Serrano, and Tongva. They also encountered and resisted the Spanish explorers, missionaries, and colonists who arrived in their territory in the 18th century. The Indians were also able to maintain their autonomy and identity despite the Spanish influence and attempts to convert them to Christianity. 

The Cahuilla Indians’ history is also shaped by their involvement in the Mexican-American War 1846-1848 and the California Gold Rush 1848-1855. These events brought more settlers and miners to the Cahuilla territory, resulting in conflicts and diseases that decimated the Cahuilla population. The United States government signed treaties with some of the Cahuilla chiefs in 1852, but these treaties were never ratified by Congress. Instead, the government established reservations for some of the Cahuilla bands in 1877, while others remained on their ancestral lands. 

Their history is also influenced by their participation in various cultural preservation and revitalization efforts, such as language programs, museums, festivals, and education. Today, there are nine federally recognized Cahuilla tribes in southern California. They are:

 Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

 Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.

 Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians.

 Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians.

Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.  

These tribes have their own governments, laws, economies, and cultures. They also contribute to the diversity and richness of southern California.


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