The Mohave and the Chemehuevi: A Comparative Study

Words 2,500

Introduction

This paper compares the histories and cultures of two Indian tribes that have historically inhabited the Mohave Desert in California. The Chemehuevi tribe was very small in number. Never did they exceed 800 in number. At the present, the tribe numbers 325 (enrollment is over 500).   Historically, the Chemehuevi territory lay off the lower Colorado River north and west toward Death Valley and west to about the Providence Mountains. A less populated somewhat undefined strip stretched as far west as the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and north of the Mohaves River.  Presently, they live in a reservation in southeastern California on the Arizona border and the Colorado River, with twenty-five miles of its boundary along the shores of Lake Havasu.

In contrast, in the 16th Century, the Mohaves were the largest concentration of people in the Southwest. The people who made up the Mohaves Tribe lived in three groups – the northern Matha lyathum lived from Black Canyon to the Mohaves Valley; the central Hutto-pah inhabited the central Mohaves Valley; the territory of the southern Kavi lyathum extended from the Mohaves Valley to below Needles Peaks. Now, the tribe lives in an area that currently borders the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. The tribe maintains legal title to its critical aboriginal territory, and these areas are referred to now as the Fort Mohaves Indian Reservation and the Colorado River Indian Reservation. In 1995,  the Mohave tribe had approximately 2900 members.

Factors for cultural comparison are as follows:  social organization, economy, customs, religion, and relations with other tribes.

History of the Chemehuevi

In 1776, the Chemehuevi Indians begin to migrate from Nevada, Utah, and Arizona to California because of a complication with the Yuman Indians, who were living in the area next to theirs. Pathfinder-priest Father Garces became the first white man to ‘discover’ the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe by entering the Shoshonean Territory with the help of the Mohave Indians. By 1857, the Chemehuevi Indians were neighbors of the Mohave Indians. Both tribes were living on Cottonwood Island as well as in the Chemehuevi Valley.  In 1867 after a war with the Mohaves, the Chemehuevi outnumbered and defeated, moved westward towards the Oasis of Mara (now known as Twenty-nine Palms) which had been abandoned temporarily by Serrano survivors of a smallpox epidemic.  However, relationships changed and they slowly returned to the Colorado River re-establishing their former territory. By 1913, all of the natives were gone from the Oasis of Mara.

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