The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1976, Volume 22, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Lovell's Report on the Cahuilla Indians 1854

Edited by Robert W. Frazer

Christopher S. Lovell, the author of this report, was a native of South Carolina. He entered the army in 1838 as a second lieutenant, Second Regiment of Infantry, and participated in the Second Seminole War. In 1842, shortly before the war officially ended, he achieved the rank of first lieutenant. During the Mexican War he served in Major General Winfield Scott's expeditionary force and took part in the engagements which led to the fall of Mexico City. He was brevetted captain for gallantry in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. Less than a month before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed Lovell was promoted to the rank of captain.1

At the close of the Mexican War, when the volunteer troops were mustered out of service, California was left with only one company of Third Artillery and one of First Dragoons, both badly depleted by the desertion of men attracted to the gold diggings. The force was considerably augmented in January, 1849, by the arrival of Brevet Major Lawrence P. Graham and four companies of dragoons, with an aggregate strength of 272.2 This detachment came overland from Monterrey, Mexico, and had been on the road for more than five months. The entire Second Infantry Regiment was also ordered to California, coming by sea via Cape Horn. All but two of the companies reached San Francisco in April and May.3 Companies A (Lovell's) and E, aboard the transport Mary and Adeline, did not arrive until the end of June. Company A was promptly assigned to escort duty with Brevet Captain William H. Warner, Corps of Topographical Engineers, who was exploring for a railway route across the Sierra Nevada Range. Captain Lovell, who was ill, did not accompany his company but remained in San Francisco.4

As early as the autumn of 1849 plans were made to establish a post on the western approaches to Cajon Pass, an important crossing through the Coast Range and one often used by parties of raiding Indians. Eventually, in August, 1850, Captain Lovell and his company were ordered to proceed from San Francisco to San Pedro by sea and take post at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.5 The post, established on September 14, 1850, was located about thirty miles east of Los Angeles and twenty-eight miles in a direct line (but somewhat farther by road) from the summit of Cajon Pass. It consisted of an extensive building, rented from Isaac Williams, one of the owners of the rancho, for $300 per month. When Colonel George A. McCall inspected the post in June, 1852, he considered that it was poorly placed for its intended purpose and that the rent paid was excessive. He recommended that it be relocated at Rancho Jurupa, more than fifteen miles to the east and closer to the pass, where facilities could be obtained more reasonably.6

On September 17, 1852, the post was moved to Rancho Jurupa, the property of Benjamin David Wilson.7 Captain Lovell commanded the Post of Rancho del Chino and its successor throughout their entire existence. The new post at Rancho de Jurupa, though it was not in territory occupied by the Cahuillas, was closer to most of the Cahuilla villages than either Fort Yuma or the installations at San Diego, the only other posts in the southern part of the state at this time.8 In March, 1854, orders were issued to abandon the Post of Rancho de Jurupa and for the garrison to march to the Mission San Diego, then occupied as a military post.9 The Second Infantry regiment was broken up in 1853-54, the musicians and privates transferred to other units stationed in California and the commissioned and noncommissioned officers sent to New York where the regiment was to be reconstituted.10 Lovell remained with the Second Infantry until after the Civil War when, in October, 1861, he was appointed major, Third Infantry. He retired on November 23, 1861, and died in 1868.

Lovell's report is dated January 31, 1854, at Rancho de Jurupa, and the covering letter, which undoubtedly was written, does not accompany it. The report was sent to brevet Major General John E. Wool, commanding the Department of the Pacific, who forwarded it to Army Headquarters in New York. It was then sent to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who turned it over to the acting adjutant general, Lieutenant Colonel Lorenzo Thomas, on April 27, 1854. The report was prepared in accordance with army regulations:

As it is of the first importance to know every thing relating to the Indians on the frontiers, a statement will be made and sent to headquarters, of the number of warriors each tribe can bring into the field; their relative distances from each other, and from the post; the state of their arms, and means of subsistence; whether they possess horses and use them in war, or whether they act mostly on foot, or make their excursions by water; their habits as to peace or war, and their means of making war; with a full account of their allies and enemies.11

The regulations placed emphasis on information relating to the ability and propensity of the Indians to engage in warfare. The report was written a little more than two years after the Garra Uprising in 1851 and many of the southern California settlers were still suspicious of Indians generally. The army, however, considered the Cahuillas to be essentially inoffensive.12 Indeed, they had cooperated with the settlers on various occasions and Juan Antonio, the principal leader of the Cahuillas, was responsible for the capture of Antonio Garra.13 Hence, it is not surprising that Lovell's report, which is more comprehensive than many of those prepared in compliance with the instructions, devoted primary attention to the less bellicose manners and customs of the Cahuillas.

The original report is in the National Archives, Washington, D. C., filed with the records of the Office of the Adjutant General (RG 94). Lovell's spelling has been retained and punctuation has been modified only for clarity.

This tribe is found in the Southern part of California, in the County of San Bernardino,14 and extend from the San Gorgonia or Cohuilla Pass on the North, to within twenty or thirty miles of Agua Caliente15 on the South. The nearest Rancheria, or Village,16 is about forty miles from the Military Post at Rancho de Jurupa. They are divided into twenty two Rancherias or Villages, a large portion of the Country over which they extend is mountainous, rocky, and totally unfit for cultivation. The vallies in which they are located are generally small, and afford but little arable land, with the exception of that of San Gorgonia. There are no rivers found of any importance, but a number of small streams, which flow from springs in the Coast range of mountains, and after reaching the Plains, are lost in the sands.

The only mountains are the Coast range, the most lofty of which is San Bernardino,17upon which redwood and pines of luxuriant growth are found in abundance. The soil is but little cultivated by this Tribe, they being by nature an indolent and improvident people, devote but little time or labor to agricultural pursuits. The principal productions are corn, melons, and squashes, and these to a limited extent. Possessing but little ingenuity their arts are limited, and confined to the manufacturing of baskets out of the Tule or wild flag, which are used by them for various purposes. Their huts are of a circular form, with one aperture for entrance, built of canes, or poles, covered with the wild flag of the Country, and made sufficiently commodious to contain from one to two families. This Tribe number from one thousand to fifteen hundred men, of which about two thirds are Warriors fit for field service, about two thousand women, and the same number of children.18 Owing to the number employed as Herdsmen and laborers on different Ranchos in this and the adjacent Counties,19 it is impracticable to arrive at their correct number. The above estimate is based upon the reports of the Chiefs, of the different Rancherias, and personal observation.

The Government is in the hands of the Chief or Captain of each Rancheria, whose acts are subject to the approval of the Chief of the Tribe. Laws are made as required with the exception of a few standing ones, such as murder punished with death, and marriages between relatives prohibited. The usual mode of putting to death is by shooting with arrows, or beating with a club, instances have been in which a murderer has been punished by placing him in the grave dug for his victim, and burying him alive with the murdered man. When a murder is committed by poisoning, which is not of unfrequent occurrence with them, the murderer is put to death by poison; the poison used is a herb known only to their medicine men. Should a dispute arise, or crime be committed, the party or parties are brought by the Alcalde before the Captain of the Rancheria, witnesses are summoned and their testimony taken, upon which he decides the case, and the nature of the punishment to be inflicted. The offender is then delivered into the hands of the Alcalde, who has his appointed agents to execute the punishment. The case and the sentence awarded is reported to the Chief of the Tribe after being carried into effect. Should the proceedings be disapproved of, the Chief ordering the same is reprimanded. Disputes arising between members of different Rancherias are disposed of by the Chief of the Tribe. The usual mode of punishment is whipping, the offender sentenced to be whipt for some injury done another, or others, has the priviledge of offering skins, or such articles of wearing apparel he may possess, in order to avoid the punishment. Should the injured party accept the same, the sentence is commuted, and the goods paid in lieu thereof, otherwise the sentence is inflicted.

The animal food in general use among them is the deer meat, rabbit, hare, ground squirrel, hawk, quail, blackbird, and small ground owl, also the grasshopper, which grows to a large size, and is considered by them a very delicate morsel. The pinon or pine nut, elderberry, wild grape, the heart of the mascall plant, a small species of the "Agave Americana," which is found in abundance in the mountains, and various other roots, and berries, constitute to supply their wants.

In the wild state they wear but little clothing, such as the skins of the deer, the rabbit, also a sort of matting made out of the bark of the swamp willow prepared. Moccasins are sometimes worn by them, made out of the prepared leaves of the mascall plant. Most of these Indians have adopted the dress of the whites, by obtaining cast off clothing from the Ranchos on which they, or some of their people have been employed as herdsmen, or laborers. Like most Indians they are fond of finery, but have no ornaments of their own manufacture. Small sea shells are sometimes worn by them in lieu of beads, which are procured from a Tribe of Indians near the Coast. The feathers of the hawk, and eagle, are worn on their heads for ornament.

This Tribe admit of a plurality of wives. When any one of them is disposed to marry, and has made his selection, he seeks the consent of his parents, or nearest relatives, which being obtained, he sends by a friend, a present of some kind to the girl of his choice, which is considered a proposal for marriage. Should the offering be received, his suit is accepted. If not rejected, on a day appointed the female is decked off in such finery as she may possess, and taken in the arms of one of her male relatives, who carries her, dancing and singing, to the hut of the expectant bridegroom, all of her friends and relatives joining in the gay and festive scene, strewing food & seeds at every step, which is readily seized upon by the spectators. The relatives of the male meet them on their coming and, taking the bride, carry her dancing and singing. On their arrival at the hut of the bridegroom, who is found sitting, she is placed by his side, and baskets of seeds are then showered upon their heads, by their mutual friends, to denote plenty. The couple are then left to themselves for two days, at the expiration of which presents are brought by their relatives. The marriage is then published by a crier, and celebrated by dancing and singing all night.

As soon as the newly married woman is found enciente, her locks are clipt and given to her mother, or some near relative, who retains them until the death of the mother or child, on which occasion they are burnt. Immediately on the birth of a child both mother and infant are purified in the following manner. A hole being excavated in the hut or some convenient place, large stones are placed therein, and a fire kindled. After burning for a sufficient length of time to heat the stones thoroughly, the embers and ashes are removed and bundles of the wild tansy thrown in. All is then covered up with the exception of a small aperture in the centre, immediately over which the mother and infant are placed, wrapt in matting or skins. Cold water is then poured in upon the heated stones, which generates a large quantity of steam, so much as to be painful to the subjects. As soon as the stones become cold, the mother and child are removed and the fire renewed. This system of purification is kept up for three days, during which time the friends and relatives are feasting and singing in honor of the event. As soon as the child can walk a grand feast is given, with dancing and singing for the purpose of naming it, which is done by the Father.

At the death of a person the relatives collect for the purpose of mourning and lamenting their loss. Their grief is expressed by howling and wailing, a requiem is sung in a low plaintive tone of voice, accompanied with a rocking motion of the body, which ceremony being through with, the corpse is taken to the place of interment, accompanied by the friends and relatives of the deceased, howling and wailing. The body is then placed in the earth, wrapt in matting or some other covering, all of the effects of the deceased together with a large quantity of food is deposited with the body, the friends and relatives frequently divest themselves of their clothing and throw it into the grave for the use of the dead. They believe that all of their race will, after death, go to the Deity they worship, whom they believe to be in the east, under the earth; that they will exist in body as in this life in a world similar to this; that their animal wants will be bountifully supplied; that their allotted period of life is the same in the next world as in this; at the expiration of which both body and soul dies forever; that crime and punishment also exist there, in which world they see and converse with their god, but cannot approach him.

There is in existence among these Indians the following singular tradition in relation to the creation of the world; - That, previous to its creation, all was chaos, and darkness; that two beings were suspended in the air in a bag, from whence they came nothing is known. On alighting upon the dark mass, a dispute arose between them in relation to the period of man's life time. One of these beings, or Gods, called by them Mukata, contended that man should live forever; the other, Temeyota, was in favor of a limited period of life. The latter, being the most powerful, prevailed, whom they worship as their Deity, and believe to be underground in the east; the former is the evil spirit, and lives in the bowels of the earth; that Mukata took from his bosom the Sun, and Temeyota the Moon and Stars from his. These luminaries having escaped from their grasp, the dark mass immediately separated and formed Heaven and Earth, in which they took the position they now occupy. These Gods then made themselves wives of mud, and breathed the breath of life into them. One had a son, and the other a daughter, which were joined in marriage, from which source sprung the inhabitants of this earth. They next created the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and every living creature out of mud, and breathed life into them, and bade them go and seek such food as was created for their use. They believe that the Deity Temeyota is lying under the earth, on his back, and when fatigued by his position, moves, in order to relieve himself, which movement causes the earth to quake; that should he turn entirely over the earth would be overturned and destroyed.

Their dances are wholly of a religious character, and dedicated to their Deity, with the exception of one, in honor of the Eagle, as the Chief of birds. An Eagle, which has been tamed and kept for the occasion, is introduced and placed in their midst, around which they circle, clapping hands, shouting, and singing songs in its praise. During the dance the bird is continually pulled and hauled around by the wings until it dies from exhaustion. The skin is then prepared, and stuffed for the use of the children in their early dances. Their religious dances are generally held around a fire, accompanied by clapping of hands, shouting, and singing in praise of their God. During the dance, they frequently blow with their breath, in order to waft their songs of praise to the ears of their Deity.

They have several different ball plays, of which the two following are the most popular among them. 1st That of foot ball; which is a ball of large size, made of the leaves of the Mascall plant. This game is played by four, two players and one ball to each side. The two balls are placed at the starting point, at which a stake is driven in the ground, the players immediately in the rear of their respective balls. A second stake is driven in the ground from eight to ten miles distant from the first. The game consists in driving the ball with the feet from the starting point to the second stake and back again. The side first in wins the game. Like most of their games it is one of a gambling nature; the object is a test of strength and endurance. 2d That of bat ball; which is played with a ball of small size. Eight or ten persons on a side compose a set. To each side there is one ball; each player has a bat for the purpose of striking the ball. The game consists in driving the ball from the starting point, at which a stake is driven in the ground, to a second stake, about a mile distant from the first, and back again. This is, also, a gambling game, at which, as in all other of their games of hazard, an umpire is present to settle any disputes which may arise in relation to the game and hold the stakes, who receives, for his services, one fourth of the amount wagered.

Their principal gambling games are Peon and a game of Arrows. The former, (the game of Peon,) consists in guessing in which hand a small bit of stick is held, concealed by another. Four persons on a side compose a set. There is present an Indian who acts as an umpire, in the event of any dispute arising in relation to the game, holds the stakes and keeps the game. He has with him fifteen bits of cane, or wood, as counters. The side guessing, when correct, receives a counter; when wrong, the opposite side, each side guessing in turn, and so on, until one side gains all the counters. Singers are present to add to the entertainment. They, in turn, receive a small amount for their services. This is a favorite game with them, on which they frequently wager all they possess.

The latter, (a game of Archery,) [is one] in which any number of persons may engage. Each player has in his. possession a bow and two arrows. He shoots his first arrow, from fifteen to twenty paces distant, and the second, with a view to come as near the first as practicable. The one coming nearest his first arrow counts one point; the game consists of four points. There is an umpire present to settle any disputes which may arise in relation to the game. He is paid one fourth of the amount wagered for his services. The only domestic animals found among them are the horse and dog. Of the former they possess but few, and those of a very inferior breed; of the latter (like most Indians) a great number.

The game found in their vicinity is the Antelope, deer, hare, rabbit and quail. The only arms used by this Tribe are the bow, and arrow, and war club; some few have in their possession fire arms, obtained from the whites, the use of which they have an imperfect knowledge.

Their hostile excursions are mostly on foot. The few horses in their possession are used principally as pack animals, and for the purpose of transporting them from point to point. They cannot be considered a very warlike Tribe, being more disposed to lead an indolent and inactive life, than undergo the hardships and privations to which they are necessarily subjected when engaged in hostilities.


C. S. Lovell
Capt. 2d Infy.




1. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, I (Washington, D. C., 1903), 643-44.

2. Cave J. Couts, The Journal of Cave Johnson Couts. . . 1848-1849, ed. by Henry F. Dobyns (Tucson, 1961), 83.

3. Persifor F. Smith to Roger Jones, May 21, 1849, California and New Mexico, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., House Exec. Doc. 17, 740.

4. Bennet Riley to Jones, June 11, 1849; E. R. S. Canby to William H. Emory, June 30, 1849, ibid., 916, 924; S. O. No. 36, July 24, 1849, RG 94, Records of the Office of the Adjutant General, Special Orders, 10th Military Department, The National Archives.

5. S. O. No. 39, August 18, 1850, RG 94, OAG, Special Orders, Pacific Division. The Rancho Santa Ana del Chino was located between the present cities of Pomona and Chino and was a Mexican grant to Antonio Maria Lugo and Isaac Williams. Robert G. Cowan, Ranchos of California (Fresno, 1956), 90.

6. McCall to Winfield Scott, June 25, 1852, RG 94, OAG, McCall's Inspection Report, Department of the Pacific, 1852.

7. Benjamin D. Wilson, better known to the Californios as Don Benito, purchased the Rancho Jurupa from Juan Bandini in 1843. The following year he married Ramona Yorba, daughter of Bernardo Yorba of the Rancho Canada de Santa Ana. See Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, V (Santa Barbara, 1970), 777.

8. Fort Tejon, which was even farther removed from the Cahuilla villages, was established in August, 1854.

9. S. O. No. 27, March 23, 1854, RG 94, OAG, Special Orders, Pacific Division.

10. O. No. 7, November 7, 1853, ibid., Orders.

11. General Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1847 (Washington, D. C, 1847), 16.

12. The Cahuilla had always been a peaceful people. When hostilities did occur it was usually between villages as a result of territorial infringement. Lucile Hooper, The Cahuilla Indians, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, IX (April 10, 1920), 355.

13. George Harwood Phillips, Chiefs and Challengers (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975), 81-82, 88. See also William Edward Evans, "The Garra Uprising: Conflict Between San Diego Indians and Settlers in 1851," California Historical Society Quarterly, XLV (December, 1966), 339-49.

14. There were three divisions of the Cahuilla: Pass, Mountain, and Desert. In 1770 they occupied portions of the present San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial counties. See Robert S. Heizer, Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), map 4 (in pocket). In 1854 they were still scattered in small rancherias throughout much of the same area.

15. Agua Caliente was the name applied to both the springs (Warner's Hot Springs) and the valley near the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River. It was also the name of the village, more properly Kupa, occupied by the Cupeño Indians. Benjamin D. Wilson, the Indian agent for southern California, wrote in 1852 that the Indians who lived at Agua Caliente were a mixture of Cahuilla and Luiseno. John W. Caughey, ed., The Indians of Southern California in 1852 (San Marino, 1952), 21. The last of the Indians residing in the area were moved to Pala Reservation in 1903. Frederick Webb Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (New York, 1965), I, 27.

16. The reference is probably to the village of Sahtapa in San Timoteo Canyon. See Phillips, Chiefs and Challengers, 59.

17. The peak here referred to is San Gorgonio Mountain, elevation about 11,500 feet. At this time both the range and the peak were called San Bernardino and the present Mount San Jacinto was also called San Gorgonio. Second Lieutenant Robert S. Williamson, who in 1853 conducted a railway survey of the area, wrote, "The high mountain of San Bernardino is the highest in the Coast range. Its height is not known with accuracy, but it approaches 9,000 feet. Southeast of this mountain is the peak of San Gorgonio, nearly as high. These two mountains, whose peaks are 30 miles apart, approach each other at their base, and the open pass between is known as the pass of San Gorgonio...." Reports of Explorations in California for Railroad Routes, to Connect with the Routes Near the 35th and 32d Parallels of North Latitude, 33 Cong., 2 Sess., House Exec. Doc. 91, V, 36.

18. It is estimated that the number of Cahuilla Indians in 1770 was 2,500. John R. Swanton, The Indian Tribes of North America (Washington, D. C., 1952), 482. In 1852 Benjamin D. Wilson wrote that their number was "scarcely" more than 3,000. Caughey, ed., Indians of Southern California, 8. However, in 1856, according to Juan Antonio and other Cahuilla leaders, "the population of our nation is about 5000 of which about 1200 are men, the rest women and children." Phillips, Chiefs and Challengers, 135.

19. Many Indians were employed as servants, laborers, and ranch workers. Benjamin D. Wilson reported that as laborers "the Cahuilla [are] plodding, but strong, and very useful with instruction and watching." Caughey, ed., Indians of Southern California, 21.

Robert W. Frazer is Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach, and author of various articles and books including Forts of the West (1965) and New Mexico in 1850, a Military View (1968). Dr. Frazer received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1941, and has taught at California State University, Long Beach, since 1965. He is a past president of the Council on Abandoned Military Posts (CAMP). His article entitled "Military Posts in San Diego, 1852," was published in this journal in the Summer, 1974, issue.