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Chemehuevi Indians - Ethnography & Ethnohistory

Early History of the Chemehuevi

Early History. The Chemehuevi are the southernmost branch of the Southern Paiute people. According to Isabel Kelly's consultants, the Chemehuevis split from the Southern Paiutes in the Las Vegas area before the early 19th century, and moved toward what is now the Chemehuevi Valley and the area south of it on the Colorado River (Fowler and Fowler 1971:105; Kelly 1934). According to George Roth, the Chemehuevi and Southern Paiutes apparently moved into the Mojave Desert about 1500 A.D., replacing the Desert Mojave in the eastern Mojave Desert, and to some degree sharing the desert with them thereafter, the Mojave retaining the right to travel through it. There were separate Desert Mohave and Chemehuevi trails across the Mojave placed just far enough apart that those who used them would not encounter each other directly. Father GarcÚs recorded the presence of "Chemevet" near the Whipple Mountains near the Providence Mountains in 1776 (Roth 1976:81). The next mention of possible Chemehuevi in the literature is Jedediah Smith's account of coming across two "Paiute" lodges at a place in the Mojave River about eight miles west of Soda Lake in 1827 (Sullivan 1934:33). In the half century between the two sightings, the Franciscan missions had been founded along the coast, and runaways' from them must have visited the Chemehuevi villages, followed no doubt by Spanish soldiers in pursuit.

Trafzer, Madrigal, and Madrigal (1997) write that until the late 1820s some Chemehuevis have told them that Chemehuevis were living in the same villages as the Halchidhoma, the Yuman-speaking group who lived south of the Mohave on the Colorado River. At that time, Halchidhomas were driven from their homes by the Mohaves and Quechans. The Chemehuevi who shared a riverside village with the Halchidhomas some 15 miles south of Parker, Arizona, learned that the Mojaves were about to attack and warned the Halchidhomas. They themselves then moved to the western side of the River. After the war, they moved into some of the area once occupied by the Halchidhoma, and were tolerated there until the 1860s.

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