Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

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The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is one of nine bands of Cahuilla Indians living in southern California.

The Cahuilla are a group of Native Americans that have inhabited California for more than 2000 years, originally covering 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, 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.

The Cahuilla have been historically divided into "Mountain," "Desert," and "Pass" groups by anthropologists. Today there are nine Southern California reservations that are acknowledged homes to bands of Cahuilla people located in Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties: the Agua Caliente, Augustine (the smallest federally recognized Native American tribe of 6 persons in the 2000's), Cabazon, Cahuilla, Los Coyotes, Morongo, Ramona, Santa Rosa, and Torres Martinez.

Ballot activism

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla is one of four tribes who supported, and benefited from, the 2008 Tribal Gaming Compacts. These compacts were challenged by a coalition of labor unions and smaller, less wealthy tribes throughout California.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission listed the tribe as one of California's top 10 "wealthy special interests" because of the more than $49 million the tribe spent on California political campaigns from 2000-2010. Most of that money was spent on ballot measure campaigns, including about $20 million in 2008.[1]


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. (See Population of Native California.) Alfred L. Kroeber (1925:883) proposed a 1770 population of 2,500 Cahuilla. Frederic N. Hicks (1963) put the figure at 3,600, based on the number and size of Cahuilla lineages. On a similar basis, Lowell John Bean (1972, 1978) estimated the aboriginal population at 6,000 to 10,000.

A smallpox epidemic in 1863 severely reduced the native population, which had been reported as 3,238 in 1860 but only 1,181 in 1865 (Bean 1978:584). Kroeber estimated that in 1910 there were 800 Cahuilla. The U.S. Bureau of the Census for 1970 gave a figure of 1,629.

The Cahuilla have intermarried with non-Cahuillas for the past century and a high percentage of today's Cahuilla tribal members have some degree of white Anglo and/or Hispanic (esp. Spanish and Mexican) ancestry, but qualified for official tribal membership in accordance to its rules.


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, Cahuillas had little contact with Spanish soldiers or European civilians and Priests, many of whom saw the desert as having little or no value but rather a place to avoid. They learned of Mission life from Indians living close to Missions in San Gabriel and San Diego.

The Cahuilla first came in contact with Anglo/Americans in the 1840s. 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 then Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale, defending the party against attacks by Wakara and his band of Ute warriors. During the 1850s, the Cahuilla came under increasing pressure due to the California Gold Rush. 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. When the California Senate refused to ratify an 1852 treaty granting the Cahuilla control of their lands, tribal leaders, including Antonio, resorted to attacks on settlers.

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 Cahuillas with only a small portion of their traditional territories. One former Cahuilla village, Tekwite (Tikwit) is located near the present-day town of Indio, California.


Richard Milanovich, who died in March 2012, was the chairman of the Agua Caliente Band for nearly three decades. During that time, he "helped to usher in a new age of wealth and political muscle...the Agua Caliente tribe rose from a harsh desert existence to the glitz and riches that accompany casino-fed wealth."[1]

See also

External links


  • Bean, Lowell John. 1972. Mukat's People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • 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.
  • Hicks, Frederic Noble. 1963. Ecological Aspects of Aboriginal Culture in the Western Yuman Area. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Bean, Lowell John, Sylvia Brakke Vane, and Jackson Young. 1991. The Cahuilla Landscape: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.
  • James, Harry C. 1969. The Cahuilla Indians Malki Museum Press, Banning, California.
  • Agua Caliente Reservation and Morongo Reservation, California United States Census Bureau