The area of Southern California from the San Bernadino Mountains to the mouth of the Salton Sea was home to the Cahuilla, "master boss," Indians. Living along waterways, the Cahuilla traveled the canyons and desert harvesting a wealth of wild food sources.
Villages consisted of elongated houses with domed roofs made from brush, with the biggest belonging to the chief. The people shared common areas and a communal house built for ceremony and gatherings. Land was shared as well, but some parcels were named for specific families or individual use.
The Southern California of today offers a maze of well-marked highways, a concept that may have begun with the Cahuilla. Well-traveled paths that included stone markers connected their villages.
Accomplished hunters, the Cahuilla of mountainous areas hunted big game such as elk and deer and those in the valleys snared small animals like rabbits and other small animals. These meat sources were supplemented with wild plants, berries, roots and nuts, particularly acorns, gathered by the women and children.
The men wore buckskin breechcloths while the women favored two-sided apron-like garments made of buckskin or woven fiber. Sandals made from leather or woven fiber lashed onto the foot with leather thongs were worn instead of moccasins.
Firm believers in the supernatural, the Cahuilla believed the spirit lived on long past death. Shamans, primarily men, dealt with issues of the supernatural, while women "doctors" tended to the sick using herbal remedies.
It took a long time for Europeans to reach the shores of the Pacific and ultimately impact the Cahuilla way of life. But, by the 1800s the contact had been made and many Cahuilla were dead of small pox. Survivors were herded onto a California reservation.
On the reservation, surrounded by white teachers and missionaries, native traditions and religion were eventually outlawed. If that wasn't bad enough, their actual way of life was threatened when white settlers on the borders of the reservation diverted the water sources to their own lands, making it impossible for the Cahuilla to farm. The government did nothing to stop the white settlers.
Today, Cahuilla descendants remain together on a small reservation in Southern California where they are trying to return to the lifestyle of their ancestors.