In the shadow of the mountain: The Cahuilla, Serrano, and Cupeno people of the Morongo Indian Reservation, 1885-1934 (California)

Harlan Lanas III Hoffman
Dept. of History, University of California, Riverside
July, 2013


This dissertation examines the early years of the Morongo Indian Reservation from 1885 to 1934. In the face of growing encroachment by Anglo civilization and competition for land and natural resources in southern California, Indian people on the reservation reacted to change and resisted efforts to assimilate them into American society. Cahuilla, Serrano, and CupeƱo people often integrated Indian ways with the programs and policies imposed upon them by the Office of Indian Affairs. The people of Morongo used this method of adaptation as a means of survival and for preserving their culture and traditions. This is the thesis of the dissertation. This study focuses upon three key aspects of reservation life where Indians challenged federal policies in an effort to maintain tribal sovereignty and control. The development of reservation farming and agriculture, the growth of the range-cattle industry, and the reactions of Indians to changes affecting tribal health and healing all provide examples of how native people resisted the efforts of the federal government to control all aspects of their lives.
The materials used to produce this study consisted primarily of government reports, correspondence, and tribal documents contained in the Papers of the Mission Indian Agency of the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California. Oral interviews with various tribal members of the Morongo Reservation supplemented my research. I also utilized the relevant holdings in repositories such as the Bancroft Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, and the Rupert Costo Library of the American Indian at the University of California, Riverside. The conclusions in this study challenge the argument that San Gorgonio Pass Indians were passive spectators of the events around them. The people of the Morongo Reservation displayed pragmatic self-determination and they adapted to change. They took an active role in preserving their culture, religion, and heritage, rather than abandoning their identity to assimilate into a foreign world. The Indians successfully fought to maintain and preserve their sovereignty and tribal identity. This history begins to explain how the once-struggling Morongo Band of Mission Indians has evolved to become the largest employer in the San Gorgonio Pass region today.