Cahuilla Industries and Knowledge

For a long time, the Cahuilla say, they did not wear any clothes at all. The first they had were breech clouts of deer skins and mountain sheep skins. In cold weather they used skins thrown over their shoulders.

Mesquite bark was rubbed and pounded and pulled until it became soft. It was then used as diapers for babies and skirts for women.

Warm blankets of rabbit skin strips were woven.

Cahuilla Earth-Covered Homes

Typical earth lodges
Figure 6 – Typical earth lodges

The sweathouse or hoyachet was quite extensively used among the Cahuilla in days past. There is one which is still used on Morongo reservation. This is the one which Dr. Kroeber has described, 1 and is an unusually small one, I was told. There appears to have been no standard size.

All agree that the use of the hoyachet was confined to curative purposes, through sweating. Old Ramon Garcia said that people gathered in this house and were retained in the intense heat for perhaps half an hour or more, or until they were sweating profusely. They then ran out and jumped into cold water and then back to the fire again. This procedure continued all night, as a rule.

Women too were allowed the use of the sweathouse. Children could not stand such treatment, so they were seldom allowed to enter.

The Cahuilla had another kind of earth-covered house called a tomekish. I first heard of it from old Ramon at Morongo. He stated that it was neither used for sweating nor ceremonial purposes, but as a clubhouse in which the old men gathered to talk over important matters. He stated that its construction was very much like that of a sweathouse.

When I questioned Ambrosio of Torres reservation as to what a tomekish was he said that it was not a sweathouse nor was it what Ramon had described. He said that it was an earth-covered building in which many people could gather and where they slept during cold nights. He admitted that occasionally men did make speeches here. 2

Then again, Francisco Numbri at Martinez asserted that a tomekish was the small enclosure built back of the kishumnawat (ceremonial house), and that in it were kept all ceremonial objects.

Others stated that the tomekish was a sweathouse.

The names kishumnawat, hoyachet, and tomekish however, suggest that in addition to their dwellings the Cahuilla employed several different kinds of houses for religious and medicinal purposes. 3 Whether all of them were used in any one division of the Cahuilla is less clear.

Bows and Arrows Usage among the Cahuilla People

There are no longer any bows and arrows to be found on the Cahuilla reservations. Collectors have taken them all. For this reason, what I was able to find out about bows and arrows was done through questioning only.

The bow was made either out of mesquite or of desert willow. These bows were from three and a half to four and a half feet in length, and from one and a half to two and a half inches in width. Usually the string was made of sinew or of mescal fiber.

The arrows were made of arrow-weed or cane. Short arrows with long feather trimmings were used for long distance shooting. For hunting rabbits, the arrow was about two and a half feet long. The short arrows usually had three feathers and the longer ones had two feathers. The long ones were the more common. Albert Potencio of Agua Caliente stated that black or red stone points were used in long distance shooting. Contrary statements were made concerning sinew-backed bows. Lee Orenes of Agua Caliente asserts that they were used there in shooting big game and in war fighting. Ramon Garcia of Morongo says that there never was any sinew-backing among the Cahuilla.

Arrows were carried in a skin bag slung over the shoulder. If this was not used, three arrows were carried in the left hand underneath the bow.

Cane arrows were straightened by being placed in a grooved, heated rock and then straightened at the joints. Arrow-weed arrows were heated in the fire and then straightened by the aid of the mouth.

Poisoned arrows were used in case of war. The method of poisoning has been described above.

Cahuilla Handiwork

The last few years has seen the passing of the manufacture of pottery among the Cahuilla, and it seems a great pity. They have evidently found it too easy to buy utensils which serve the same purpose, to pay them to make pottery. Collectors have gone through the valley and bought the best ollas so that now the ones that are left are very poor specimens.

Several informants described the process of pottery manufacture. There were two kinds of clay used. One they called tesnit, which was the best quality; the other was ulish. I was told that they found this clay in the mountains. The clay is first ground to a fine powder water is then added. It is then patted into shape between a small smooth stone curved on one side and known as a paikwal, and a wooden paddle. Rolls of clay are built on to the top of the shaped vessel as needed. The paikwal is used on the inside of the bowl and the wooden paddle on the outside. The clay of the bowl must be kept wet all the time so that it will not crack. After it has the desired size and shape, it is smoothed down with the paikwal and with the hands, which are first dipped in water. The completed pot is then placed in the sun to dry for one day, and next placed in a pit and burned with cow manure. This also takes one day. If ornamentation is desired, it is painted before baking with red ochre from the mountains.

Carrying nets were woven of agave. They were very strong. A hundred or a hundred and fifty pounds could be carried in them when they were slung over the shoulder. They were often used as cradles for the babies and swung between trees or opposite corners of the ramada. These nets are known as ikut.

Cahuilla basketry has been described at length, 4 so I will not go into this subject except to say that this art too is dying out. It is true that some women still make baskets but the ones now manufactured are distinctly inferior.

Glass beads were used among the Cahuilla only when someone happened to bring them in from Yuma.

The first wells are said to have been dug with sticks in alkaline places, the mud being carried out in baskets. A well was dug in steps, so that it was easy to walk up and down.

To obtain salt, surface alkali was gathered, mixed with water, and boiled until it settled. The clear liquid was then boiled until it evaporated. The sediment that remained was used for salt.

Cahuilla Games

Football race. Two wooden balls somewhat smaller than croquet balls are used in this game. There are two men on a side, each side having one ball. From a starting point, the balls are kicked several miles and then back again. The two men getting their ball back first are the winners.

New moan race. On the night of the new moon, the boy who first saw it would run and tell the other boys of the village. All of the boys would then race to a certain spot, often many miles away, where there was water. Here they would jump in and swim, and then race back home again. This was supposed to bring them good luck during the following month.

Cat’s cradle. Figures are made of a string stretched over the fingers. I was told that many old people used to know almost a hundred figures. The ones mentioned were snake, dove, flying dove, carrying net, metate. This game has a religious significance, as mentioned under the head of Future Life.

Peon. The playing of this guessing game has been referred to in the description of the Mourning Commemoration.

Cahuilla Property Rights

One can obtain very little information on this subject. After the death of anyone, his possessions are burned up, as I have stated before. Because of this, there is little left to dispose of.

If an old woman has some especially fine baskets which she wishes some particular friend to have, she sees that they are bestowed before she dies.

Land now goes to the sons. They all live on it, so there is no fighting over the division of property.Citations:

  1. Present series, viii, 64, pi. 15, 1908.[]
  2. This agrees with the construction and use of the larger living houses of the Mohave.[]
  3. Barrows, op. cit., p. 77 hashlish, temescal, sweathouse Kroeber, present series, viii, 237, 1909: huyetcat (huyechat), “sweathouse.”[]
  4. Barrows, op. cit., pp. 40-45, 1900; Schumacher, in Putnam, U. S. Geog. Surv. (Wheeler), vu, 247, 1879; idem, in Peabody Mus. Rep., n, 521, 1880; Palmer, Am. Nat., xii, 653, 654, 1878 Kroeber, present series, viii, 41, 1908.[]


Hooper, Lucile. The Cahuilla Indians. Berkeley, California: University Of California Press. 1920.

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