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Historical Eras:

Desert Indians

Several tribal groups have lived in the Mojave Desert within the past 2,000 years. The northern and eastern portions, for example, were occupied by the Kawaiisu, Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Koso, and Southern Paiute bands, including the Chemehuevi. Culturally distinct, these groups nevertheless spoke related languages and had similar socioeconomic systems. Resource gathering was done in family groups over wide areas, but for at least part of each year life centered on more permanent villages. The tribes knew much about Mojave Desert resources, enabling them to gather supplies from all portions of their territories. Each tribe was further divided into extended family units that were independant of each other except for trade, intermarriage and occasional war. This loose-knit structure resulted in smaller bands rather than large tribes.
Paiute Indian camp
The Mojave made pottery from clay and crushed sandstone, decorating their creations with geometric designs. The art of tattooing was also important to the Mojave, who frequently adorned their faces with them. The Mohave would also make 500 km trips to the Pacific Coast to trade pottery and other goods for seashells and beads. Mojave legend holds that tribal runners could cover the distance in only a few days, traveling by way of perennial springs and the Mojave River.

The Chemehuevi tribe spoke a different language from that of the Mojave Indians. They occupied a particularly barren portion of the Mojave Desert and wrested a rough living from the open land. Like their Mojave neighbors, the Chemehuevi were highly mobile, making use of resources throughout their large territory; however, they also had settlements to which they returned regularly. To transport goods and for other purposes, they created complex, beautiful baskets from reeds and grasses. Like other Southern Paiute groups, they sometimes worked small farms.

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Historical Cross-section

    Mohave Indians

    Spanish Period

    The Mojaves first appear in the written record in the records of a Spanish expedition from New Mexico led by Juan de Onate in 1604, seeking the ...

    Chemehuevi Indians

    Early Historic Period

    The Chemehuevi are the southernmost branch of the Southern Paiute people. According to Isabel Kelly's consultants, the Chemehuevis split from the ...

    Cahuilla Indians

    Early History

    The arrival of the Spanish and Mexicans in southern California in 1769 may have pushed them further inland and further into the mountains. ...

    Serrano Indians

    Mission Period

    The Serrano were a fairly numerous people when the Spanish arrived in 1769, but beginning about 1790, the westernmost of them began to be drawn into ...

    Kawaiisu Indians


    The first mention of the Kawaiisu is found in the 1776 diary of Francisco Garces. At the time, his party was crossing the Tehachapis and encountered ...

Historical Sketch of the California Indians

This sketch covers five major time periods in California history ...

Desert & Mountain Indian Tribes

For millennia, American Indian peoples lived within the area, using the resources and lands to sustain ...

Indian Slave Trade

The Indian slave trade in the desert was brutal and often deadly.

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