Background to the Sources and the Research

Now,  at a time when so much anthropological and ethnographic information (of highly varying degrees of quality and accurateness) is available at the touch of a keystroke, it is sometimes difficult to understand why and when  all of this data was collected and by whom.  This may be especially true given that much of the field work and study that has been conducted in the past forty years has been completed as the result of environmental compliance rather than “pure” academic research.

In the truest sense, anthropological research began in the early 1500s in the Age of Exploration with the European realization that hundreds of cultures and societies previously unknown to them existed across the globe.  In those early years of colonialization of the so-called New World, the church clergy and scholars endeavored to explain the presence of these non-European people and in doing so left records of anthropological interest.  In North America the study of the American Indian began during this colonial expansion after 1492 and rapidly expanded over the ensuing centuries.

On the West Coast and interior regions of western America, successive waves of immigrants first from Spain, and then Mexico, and finally from America, devastated the cultures, languages, and populations of California Indians in general and most pertinent to the current study, those on both side of the Colorado River in California and Arizona. Yet, in spite of colonization and attempts to fully acculturate tribal people, the indigenous cultures of southern California persisted and survived.  

The following discussion focuses on cultural anthropologists and ethnographers, not those persons who practiced archaeology in the study area.  The extensive Bibliography in Section 11 is annotated so the reader can gain some insights into what the contribution of a given work is and also into possible biases.

Because the study of anthropology is a reflection of the times in which the research is performed, the discussion is divided into framework that reflects the contemporary philosophy and theories of the time.  For instance early anthropology in California was devoted to rescuing language and points of data with only minimal comparison and research. In the early studies the native voice is largely quiet.  By contrast, in the most recent studies, including those conducted with substantial input from Kumeyaay people, the native voice is much more resonant and clear.  In part this chapter is an answer to those Kumeyaay people who have asked, “who were these people who studied our ancestors, where are the materials, and why did they say such stupid things about us.”

Beginning in least in the 1870s and picking up academic steam in the 1890s, culture historians and scholars from the new discipline of anthropology began to take seriously the task of documenting what they believed, often quite correctly, to be the death or imminent death of ancient traditions, languages, and traditional knowledge.  In the case of studies of the native people of California and Arizona the men and women who hoped to capture the waning knowledge and wisdom of the regions First People came from disparate backgrounds and social classes, and brought with them a variety of motives for their research.

There is no reason to try and place the mantle of who was the first “true” anthropological scholar to study the native people of southern California and Arizona.  What is important is that there was a fluorescence of anthropologists conducting field work in southern California and Arizona beginning in the 1880s. In the discussion that follows the major scholars who have contributed to our knowledge of the native peoples within the study are given their own discussion while other important scholars are discussed in a more general sense.

One of the first persons to study the Mohave and then to publish his findings in 1889 was John G. Bourne who provided the rather pretentious title, “Notes on the Cosmogony and Theogony of the Mohave Indians of the Rio Colorado, Arizona.”  As was typical of the times, the article framed the Mohave beliefs as “exotic” and “strange” with little comment or analysis.  Consistent with the time period many of these early studies as well as those of the early twentieth century had a common theme of describing and differentiating “races” of people.

The debt that scholars world-wide, but especially American researchers owe to Franz Boas and his school of “Historical Particularism” cannot truly be reckoned. Boas and his many ardent followers sought to move anthropology, or at least cultural anthropology, away from the sweeping generalizations and all-encompassing ethnologies of past research.  Further, Boas and his followers rejected the views that non-European peoples were intrinsically “primitive” or “backward” as suggested by E. B. Tylor and his unilineal evolutionary theories.  Instead Boas and others sought to investigate and document native cultures within the context of the culture being studied.  These men and women of the early twentieth century were as Harry Lawton called them, “…the first generation of university-trained anthropologists….”  No doubt the British functionalist Bronislaw Malinowski with his views that fieldwork should be conducted with the perspective of the indigenous people in the forefront also affected American and California anthropologists. Certainly the ideas of both Boas and Malinowski were not far from the mind and actions of Alfred L. Kroeber, if not all of his colleagues.

Alfred L. Kroeber

Clearly one of the most influential scholars in California was Alfred Kroeber and the Boasian Approach heavily influenced Kroeber and by extension, Kroeber’s many students.  Kroeber studied anthropology under Boas at Columbia University and took his PhD. there in 1901 at the age of twenty-five receiving the first doctoral degree in that subject.  He subsequently became a Professor of Anthropology at the fledgling Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley and also directed the University Of California Museum Of Anthropology (now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum).  From his earliest work and well into the 1940s Kroeber favored ethnography and ethnology over archaeology.  It was as if he saw native cultures literally dying before his eyes and understood that the shell middens and archaeological deposits could wait.

Kroeber’s first major contributions to our understanding of the tribes within the study area began with his field work in the first decades of the twentieth century.  His Yuman Tribes of the Lower Colorado River that was published in 1920 served as a basis for much of the research that followed.  Kroeber was also instrumental in establishing the University of California, Berkeley Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology which published important articles on the desert tribes and Colorado River people for more than 60 years from its inception in 1903.  The influence of Kroeber extended well beyond his own field studies and research.  Over more than three decades Kroeber served as mentor and advisor to many of the anthropologists of this era (1915-1945) including, in varying degrees, Harrington, Strong, Devereux, and Barrows.  

In spite of Kroeber’s efforts one cannot escape the somewhat patronizing approach that he and many of his students took to the native people of San Diego County.  It would seem as if the further one was removed from Berkeley, the less the people were treated as humans.  While a great deal of information and data are presented in Kroeber’s works the final impression is more one of collections of cultural information without true regard for meaning or value.

Leslie Spier

Leslie Spier conducted most of his research in the early 1920s and published his important Southern Diegueño Customs in 1923 and the Yuman Tribes of the Gila River in 1933.

John P. Harrington

One of Kroeber’s students in a summer school class in 1903 was John Peabody Harrington, a near-genius scholar, expert linguist, and intrepid, if reclusive field anthropologist.  Harrington, who took his anthropology and classical languages degree at Stanford University, began his work in California with studies on the Mohave in 1907.  Harrington was teaching modern languages at Santa Ana High School at the time and ventured out to the Colorado River where he conducted interviews at Needles and Yuma in 1907-1908.  In June 1907 after an interview with a young Mohave woman at Needles, California, he wrote that “This is the first Indian language I ever recorded…”  This early work was conducted while Harrington was employed at the Museum of the University of New Mexico and the School of American Archaeology.  

As a result of those early interviews Harrington published his first article in 1908 on the Yuma origin stories.  Harrington worked with the Chemehuevi in 1910-1911 and again in 1919-1920 and finally conducted at least some research on Chemehuevi placenames as late as 1946.  In 1915 Harrington accepted a position as a field ethnologist for the Bureau of American Ethnology and his work with the Chemehuevi in the 1919-1920 field seasons was based largely on the work of his then-wife, Carobeth Harrington.  She worked extensively with several well-respected Chemehuevi informants including Annie Laird, and Ben Paddock and importantly, her future husband George Laird.

In San Diego County and Baja California Harrington conducted extensive research between 1923 and 1925, little of which has been studied or published.  By the time he came to San Diego to study the group then called the Diegueño, Harrington had been at his work for more than fifteen years and possessed a clear understanding of the people.  It is perhaps to Harrington’s benefit that he was not heavily influenced by Kroeber and seemed to actually appreciate, if not understand the people he studied.  While the Richard Carrico used Harrington’s notes for preparation of the Viejas narrative, his notes have generally gone used in San Diego County.

Edward W. Gifford

Edward W. Gifford came to the University of California, Berkeley in 1912 having received only a high school education.  He first served as an assistant curator at the Museum of Anthropology, rose to rank of curator in 1925 and in 1945 was appointed a professorship.  While he worked tirelessly throughout California and published more than 100 articles, his work within the study area resulted in several important publications between the years 1918-1933.  His study of the clans and moieties of southern California published in 1918 became a classic followed by works on the Yuma, the Cocopa (Cocopah), and his most noted work (in spite of several textual errors) on the Kamia of Imperial Valley.  

It is surprising to some researchers and scholars to realize how little field time some early ethnographers actually spent in the field or with their native informants. In his case, Gifford spent less than three weeks with the desert Kamia noting is his published article that he conducted the fieldwork from late December 1929 to early January 1929.  Yet, Gifford’s work has come to form the very basis of much of the work that followed over the next eighty years.  Currently, the actual existence of a people called Kamia is the topic of debate with many anthropologists believing that the so-called Kamia were essentially desert Kumeyaay or desert Kumeyaay with agriculture.

Constance Dubois. William Duncan Strong, Lucille Hooper and others

In the early twentieth century the number of women in the field of anthropology was just beginning to grow.  A leader in the field, in spite of minimal training and a background as a fiction writer, Constance Dubois contributed more than many better trained scholars.

Constance DuBois was a follower of Franz Boas and benefited from his “Vanishing Tribes of North America” project that raised funds for students and researchers to go into the field and capture what they could from cultures threatened by extinction or near extinction. A successful fiction writer and essayist, DuBois came to southern California in the late 1890s to visit her sister in San Diego and began working with tribes in San Diego’s backcountry.  

Encouraged by Alfred Kroeber and others, DuBois spent many months with native people and published extensively between 1900 and 1909.  While most of her work was with the Kumeyaay (Diegueño) and Luiseño, Dubois drew comparisons with neighboring tribes and like Kroeber and Harrington saw the similarities between the Yuman-speaking Diegueño of San Diego and Imperial County and the Mohave of the Colorado River.  One of her publications of relevance to the study area was her “Diegueño Myths and Their Connections with the Mohave” where she suggested common roots for Diegueño and Mohave myths and songs.  The Museum of Man has an extensive collection of her photographs, notes, and some audio recordings.

Two decades after DuBois seminal work a major study of culture, settlement, and leadership by William Duncan Strong was published in 1920.  Strong who initially studied zoology attended the University of California Berkeley in the mid-1920s and was heavily influenced by his mentor, and friend, Alfred Kroeber.  Strong focused on the Cahuilla but as a result of six months of research conducted between 1924 and 1925, also provided valuable information about the Cupeño, Luiseño, and Serrano.  

Strong was a solid and thorough researcher and sought true insights into the people he studied, he was not content to collect data for data’s sake.  As his friend and colleague Ralph Beals noted, “He wanted to know not only what people did but why.”  Strong, like his mentor Kroeber believed that knowing and understanding the historical development of a people was more important that focusing on the “ethnographic present.”  

A contemporary of William Duncan Strong, Lucille Hooper was a researcher associated with the University of California, Berkeley and in 1918 she spent a significant amount of time with the Cahuilla.  Operating out of a ranch in Coachella, Hooper spent more than six months with a variety of informants including Ramona Garcia and William Pablo. She completed her master’s in Anthropology in 1919 at the age of thirty seven, a relatively mature scholar for the time.  The result of her studies was a monograph first published in 1920 and reprinted in 1978 with an introduction by Lowell J. Bean.

Beginning in 1903 and running until 1964, the University of California, Berkeley Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology and the more short-lived Culture Element Distribution studies set the stage for anthropologists to publish their findings and to share the reams of information that resulted from their field studies. One such study conducted for the Culture Element Distribution series applies to the study area and was performed by Phillip Drucker.  Drucker spent three months in the spring of 1938 collecting data on the “Yuman and Piman” groups including the Diegueño, Mohave, and River Cocopa.  For the Mohave the informant was George Turner a resident of the Mohave Valley; for the Cocopa the informant was Jim Barley who lived in Yuma, and for the Diegueño it was Juan Largo, Juan Aldama, and Bernardo Salgado of La Huerta, Baja California.  This monograph, which was published in 1941, is almost evenly divided between extensive lists of material culture items and short narratives labeled as ethnographic notes.

Led by Leslie White (1959) anthropologists of the mid-twentieth century gradually moved beyond the Historical Particularism of Boas and sought to, at least in their minds, objectively document cultural evolution and change.  For the most part, these scholars were not content to simply collect data and record songs—they wanted to explain, to probe and to compare.  Theirs was a positivist approach to be sure and one that assume they could be objective in their studies.

George Devereux

George Devereux came to the deserts along the Colorado River by way of his birthplace in France, studies in Austria, and the University of California, Berkeley.  Trained as a psychologist in the European school, Devereux moved to America in 1933 when he was twenty five years of age and subsequently took his doctorate under Alfred Kroeber in the field of ethnopsychology. Very heavily influenced by Freud, Devereux sought to find meaning in dreams and looked for universal dream symbology.  In that sense he was forcing his European and Western percepts onto native cultures where dreams and their meanings were at odds with direct symbolic meaning as understood by European and American scholars.

Learning that the Mohave placed a great deal of meaning and value in their dreams, Devereux worked with them extensively over the years and began publishing controversial articles on them as early as 1937.  He focused largely on their dream cycles and their ability to exert social control through dreams and their belief that many of their songs and stories came to them from dreams.  Devereux also delved into the topics of pregnancy, chieftainships, suicide, and learning; topics he published on from 1937 to 1961.  

As became more common in the post-World War II period, Devereux was not content to compile word lists or cultural traits, he and many of his contemporaries believed that deep meanings could be teased out of the information and data they collected.  He, however, rejected the belief that anthropologists and observers could be objective, etic scholars.  Instead he encouraged his colleagues to get into what he called the middle of the process and not stand removed on the outer edges.  It was as if culture and knowledge formed a pool and one must jump into it, not dip a toe along the shore.  When Devereux died in Paris in 1985 his ashes were returned to the United States and, in accordance with Mohave funerary practices, were scattered near Parker, Arizona.   

The Indian Claims Commission

Beginning in the 1950s the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) cases spawned a new breed of anthropology and enhanced the growing discipline of applied anthropology.  In an effort to define tribal boundaries, use areas, and land claims, anthropologists often employed directoly by tribes or by their attorneys, but also by the federal government, spread across the landscape gathering information and fine tuning what they already knew.  While the Commission and its decisions can be faulted on several accounts, their attempts to define native territories and resources produced a wealth of information.  Primary among these are the works of Henry Dobyns, Paul H. Ezell, and Robert Hackenberg.  In a sense, the work funded by ICC and the resultant research was a predecessor to the later era of Cultural Resource Management studies of post-1970.

At the same time as the ICC research, the late 1950s and 1960s saw a renewed interest in the Indians of the Americas and several popular books came to the popular market.  One such book was The Cahuilla Indians by Harry C. James and it fit well into the series of non-academic books published by Westernlore Press. James, who was most well-known for his works on the Hopi, was well-acquainted with some Cahuilla groups having camped with them and having developed relationships with several of them.  He also benefited from research and conversations with many of the scholars of the time.  The book was popular and brought the life and culture of the Cahuilla Indians to many readers both academic and the general public.

Beginning in the mid-1960s anthropology went through major intellectual and processual upheavals.  In large part this was because of the political climate spawned by the Viet Nam War, the move for civil rights, and the rise of feminism.  A new generation of anthropology students and scholars began to question the positivist foundations of anthropology and increasingly saw their own discipline as an unpleasant part of a sometimes nefarious neo-colonial force.  It was as if cultural anthropologists were no longer context to study cultures—they felt compelled to apply what they were learning yet be wary of what harm their studies might produce.  

In particular, Native Americans, notably Vine Deloria Jr., D’Arcy McNickle, George Heron, and Jack Forbes questioned the role of anthropologists in the oppression and subjugation of native peoples.  Consciously or subconsciously anthropologists studying the Indians of California moved towards a position that included the people they were studying, took into account their ideas, and saw validity in the native accounts and mythos.  It was as if many had heeded the words of Southwestern scholar Bernard Fontana when he wrote in 1968, “Ethnologists need to divest themselves of the savagery in their souls and to write modern ethnographies which take the total range of culture-borrowed or not-into account.”    

Building on more than one hundred years of research and development of anthropological thought, Clifford Geertz (1983) sought to take a more emic approach trying to look at native cultures from the inside and without passing judgment on cultural traditions and long held values, hoping to understand the native view, and exploring what native people thought and did from their perspective.  It is largely in this framework that scholars and researchers such as Lowell J. Bean, Margaret Langdon and others of this era conducted their research.  Of course it is also in this context that Native American scholars including Cahuilla leader and scholar Katherine S. Saubel began to play an active role in the writing and presenting of indigenous history and anthropology.

Florence Shipek

Without a doubt no researcher or scholar of the Kumeyaay spent more time, published more documents, and left a greater legacy than Dr. Florence Shipek.  Beginning with her research on water claims cases in the 1950s and continuing until her death in 2003 Dr. Shipek made her life’s work of providing a better understanding of Kumeyaay life and history.  Her first book, The Autobiography of Delfina Cuero has become a seminal and classic ethnography of a Kumeyaay woman caught between worlds yet able to persist.  Her last book, Pushed Into the Rocks documented for the first time the development and establishment of Indian Reservations in San Diego County.  Her extensive notes and research papers are on file at the Sycuan Education Center associated with Cuyamaca College.

Lowell J. Bean

Beginning with his field research in 1960 and continuing to the present day Lowell John Bean has been an advocate for researching and publishing a less Eurocentric and ethnocentric view of southern California Indian cultures. From his first publications in 1964 to his on-going research on ethno-faunal and ethno-zoological studies, Bean tied together the concepts of cultural geography and anthropology.   He worked closely with Katherine S. Saubel and Alvino Siva, Jane Penn and many other Cahuilla elders to produce his now classic studies on many aspects of Cahuilla life and culture.  When Lowell Bean earned his PhD. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1970 he represented a new generation of scholars.  

Mukat’s People published in 1972 set the stage for not only Bean’s own work but for his students, Native American colleagues, and fellow scholars as well.  As part of a larger cultural resources report written for a large scale powerline project across the desert, Bean authored one of the first privately funded reports that spoke from a truly anthropological and cultural stance.  His seminal Persistence and Power pre-staged subsequent reports that actually took an in-depth and insightful view of the cultures under study rather than being a simple rehash or compilation of previous reports.  He was a leader in portraying the tribes as survivors and cultures that have endured rather than simply as victims.  The papers and research notes of Dr. Bean will be curated at the Huntington Library and available to credentialed researchers.

Margaret Langdon

Margaret Langdon was one of the few scholars of Kumeyaay culture who focused her attention on the basis and use of their language.  At a time when the number of native speakers was seriously declining Langdon sought to acquire as much of the language as possible and to assist tribal groups in retaining their language.  One of the important results of her studies was the co-authorship with Ted Couro and publication of the Let’s Talk ‘Iipay: An Introduction to the Mesa Grande Diegueño Langauge.  When first published in 1975 the book provided not only a dictionary of northern Kumeyaay/Northern Diegueño words but also lessons on speaking and writing what was then called Diegueño.

Amy Miller

Following in the footsteps of Margaret Langdon Dr. Miller has focused on the grammar and use of the Kumeyaay language and further developed our understanding of the dialects and nuances practiced by the Ipai and Tipai.

Leanne Hinton

Dr. Hinton’s linguistic interests cover a wide range of native peoples throughout California.  Her work on the Kumeyaay on both sides of the border has led to a better understanding of the role of humor in Kumeyay speech and oral tradition.


The anthropological study of the indigenous people whose traditional territories are within the study area extends back more than 120 years.  These studies have grown from relatively simple catalogues of material culture and cultural traits to thoughtful and deeply researched articles and books. We have gone from a sparse amount of information to a wealth of published and unpublished materials.  And yet much of the early research and publications are seriously flawed

Further, there is no end in sight with the continued emphasis on environmental studies that require professional research and the increased availability of original archived field notes from such scholars as Harrington, Gifford, and others. Increasingly indigenous people are not only the groups under study they are an integral part of the studies and bring their own valuable emic view to the table.

¹ John G. Bourne. Notes on the Cosmogony and Theogony of the Mohave Indians of the Rio Colorado, Arizona.  Journal of American Folk-Lore, 2: 169-189, 1889.

² Harry Lawton, Foreword to Encounter With an Angry God, Carobeth Laird. New York, Ballantine Press, 1975.

³ Alfred. L. Kroeber. Yuman Tribes of the Lower Colorado River. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol.16: 475-485, Berkeley, 1920; The Ethnography of the Cahuilla Indians. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol.8: 29-68, Berkeley, 1908

4 Leslie Spier. Southern Diegueño Customs. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 20 (16): 295-358.

5 The Papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian 1907-1957. Vol. 3. Edited by Elaine L. Mills and Ann J. Brickfield. White Plains, New York, Kraus International Publications, 1986.

6 John P. Harrington. A Yuma Account of Origins. Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol. 21:324-34, 1908

7 The Papers of Harrington, p. 116.

8 See Edward W. Gifford. Clans and Moieties in Southern California.  University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol.14(2): 155-219. Berkeley; Yuma Dreams and Omens. Journal of American Folk-Lore 39(151): 58-69; The Kamia of Imperial Valley. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 97. Washington; The Cocopa. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol.31(5): 257-334. Berkeley

9 Constance DuBois. Diegueño Myths and Their Connections With the Mohave.  International Congress of Americanists, 15th Session, Vol. 2: 129-133, 1907.

10 William Duncan Strong.  Aboriginal Society in Southern California.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1920.

11  Lucille Hooper.  The Cahuilla Indians. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol.16, 316-380. Berkeley

12 Phillip Drucker. Culture Element Distributions: XVII Yuman-Piman.  Anthropological Records 6:3. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1941

13 George Devereux. Mohave Soul Concepts. American Anthropologist 39(3): 417-422.

14 George Devereux in  Accessed March 2013.

15 Bernard Fontana. Savage Anthropologists and Unvanishing Indians in the American Southwest.  Paper presented at the 67th Annual Meeting.  American Anthropological Association, Seattle, 1968.