Joshua Tree
The Native American Ethnography and Ethnohistory of Joshua Tree National Park
An Overview
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by Cultural Systems Research, Inc.
August 22, 2002


This overview has been drawn from CSRI field notes on over twenty years of research on the desert peoples of southeastern California, several field experiences with Mojave, Chemhuevi, Serrano, and Cahuilla individuals in the park and nearby area, documents in CSRI files, and secondary resources such as books and articles. The field work included one meeting in the park with individuals from the Fort Mojave Reservation, the Chemehuevi Reservation, the Colorado River Indian Reservation, Morongo Reservation, and Torres-Martinez Reservation for the purpose of evaluating Native American use of plants in the area. This trip was taken as part of the research for CSRI's ethnobotanical report for the Park Service. Other field work was done in the course of research on privately funded projects involving respectively the Eagle Mountain Area, the Marine Air Force Base, and the Mojave and/or Colorado deserts as a whole.

CSRI's documentary resources have likewise been acquired in the course of previous contracted research. We have a sizeable archive of John Peabody Harrington materials, copied at the National Anthropological Archives in Washington, D.C., before the Harrington materials were microfilmed. We also have copies of pertinent materials from the National Archives and Record Center at Laguna Niguel, California and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Our library resources include many volumes cited in the References of this report, and photocopies of pertinent parts of others.

A great deal of further research could be done on the subject of the Native Americans who once occupied Joshua National Park, not all of which can be completed within the scopes of this project. This includes:

Archival research

  1. A search of the records of the San Gabriel, San Fernando, and other missions in which Serrano people, especially those whose home was at Mara, were involved during the Spanish-Mexican period of California history in order to locate individuals from the Twentynine Palms area who may have been brought into the missions or have served as laborers in urban areas associated with the missions. These include birth, marriage, and death records, and the journals and correspondence of the mission administrators. John Johnson at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, David Earle, and others who are experienced in the interpretation of mission records should be consulted. Data derived from these searches may indicate the various groups with whom people from Mara intermarried, and were consequently politically, economically, and ritually involved.

  2. A search of the archives at the Colorado River Indian Reservation for historic data on the Chemehuevis, Mojave, and Serrano peoples, especially with regard to the Chemehuevi people who lived at Twentynine Palms from the mid-nineteenth century to approximately the 1950s.

  3. A review of the microfilmed version of the J. P. Harrington's Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Mojave notes for pertinent data not previously found, and a similar review of the C. Hart Merriam materials.

  4. A search of the National Archives for further information about the establishment of the Twentynine Palms Reservation and its history, government involvement with Indians, and the effects of the policies of the Office/Bureau of Indian Affairs on Indian people in and near the park area. Information directly pertaining to the Twentynine Palms Reservation is available at various branches of the National Archives, especially those at Laguna Niguel, Washington, D.C., and ???.

  5. A review of unpublished interviews conducted in the 1960s by various scholars should be searched for and reviewed, and copies made of pertinent portions of them. These include taped interviews with the late Sarah Martin, who was a leading Serrano elder at Morongo Indian Reservation, where many of the members of the Mariña clan now live.

  6. Linguist Eric Elliot, the leading authority on southern California Indian languages, should be engaged to conduct linguistic studies of the Chemehuevi language, focusing on the linguistic and social history of the Chemehuevi, as related to the park and its environs.

  7. Motion picture archives, newspaper accounts, and local history traditions should be consulted in order to learn whether and how the motion picture industry has used the park area. This might be the basis for museum exhibits.

  8. The story of Willie Boy should be revisited, with special attention paid to whether the park area was involved.

  9. Pioneer non-Indian people in the area should be consulted about Indians involved in the park area's history, and Indian-White relations in the park area, and asked to review any family archives about the topics.

  10. Photographs of Indians of the area and their descendants should be collected,scanned, and descendants should be collected, copies placed in park archives for use as needed in exhibits and publications. Sources for the photographs might include private collections, and public collections such as those at the Twentynine Palms Historical Society, the Historical Society of Southern California, the J. P. Harrington files, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Colorado River Indian Tribes Library at Parker, Arizona, and the Southwest Museum.

  11. Chemehuevis, Mojaves, Serranos, and Cahuillas should be consulted about the use of the artifacts in the park's museum collections. They should also be consulted about the artifacts from the park area now held by the Southwest Museum and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. If necessary, grants should be secured to conduct such studies while there are still elders alive who are knowledgeable about such usage.

  12. The place of the area in the American art movements of the late nineteenth and the twentieth century, including the work of such desert artists as the late Carl Eytel and John Hilton should be reviewed.

  13. Dennis Casebier should be consulted with respect to newspaper accounts about the area, and other historical resources.

  14. The work of such desert authors as G. W. James, Charles F. Saunders, and J. H. Chase should be reviewed for material on the park area. A search should be made for any archival materials left by these writers.

  15. The rock art in Joshua Tree National Park should be surveyed, recorded, analyzed and compared with rock art in southern California and the southwest. When possible, appropriate archaeological excavations and analysis should be done. Whenever possible, the rock art should be cleaned, protected, and restored to its original condition.

  16. Publications of the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey should be consulted to learn the extent and nature of mineral resources, so that comments can be made on Native American use of these resources, as known from the archaeological and ethnographic record.

  17. A history of the Mariña (Morongo) peoples after the arrival of the Spanish, where and when they moved to various places, should be reconstructed from available data.

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Last Updated: 02-Aug-2004