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The Kawaiisu Culture


There is evidence that Native Americans lived in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains as long as 3,000 years ago. It is quite possible that they were direct ancestors of the Kawaiisu. Based on artifacts and research, it appears that the Kawaiisu have lived in the Tehachapi Valley and surrounding areas for no more than 1,500 years. Most artifacts found in the area are less than 500 years old and none are more than 1,500 years old. Perhaps during the mini-ice-age that occurred 3,000 years ago, ancestors of the Kawaiisu moved from the mountains to the desert. During the significant warming that began 700 to 800 years ago, movements of people took place throughout the Southwest. It may be that this climate change brought the Kawaiisu back into the Southern Sierras from the adjacent Mojave Desert.

In the best of times, there may have been approximately 1000 Kawaiisu, while during lean years of poor harvest there may have been only a few hundred.

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 Kawaiisu women and children. Garces' party was deemed to be very needy and was offered presents of baskets, meat and seeds. By the mid-1800's, trappers, farmers and stockmen had penetrated the region and some conflicts erupted. In 1853, the U.S. government attempted to relocated natives from a wide ranging area to the Sebastian Reserve at Tejon Pass. The intention was to establish an agricultural community so the natives could become self-sufficient. Edward Beale, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California, supported the plan because he felt that the natives were a "barrier to rapid settlement of the state...They should leave their old homes in the mountains and settle elsewhere." That was the beginning of the end of life as the Kawaiisu had known it. Relations between white men and natives deteriorated and numerous skirmishes were reported. Unable to pursue the old way of life in peace, the Kawaiisu were reluctantly assimilated into white society.

Kawaiisu Culture

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