Chemehuevi Indians. A Shoshonean tribe, apparently an offshoot of the Paiute, formerly inhabiting the east bank of the Rio Colorado from Bill Williams fork to the Needles and extending westward as far as Providence Mountains, California, their chief seat being Chemehuevi valley, which stretches for 5 miles along the Colorado and nearly as far on either side. When or how they acquired possession of what appears to have been Yuman territory is not known. They may possibly have been seen by Alarcon, who navigated the Rio Colorado in 1540; but if so, they are not mentioned by name. Probably the first reference to the Chemehuevi is by Fray Francisco Garcés, who passed through their country in journeying from the Yuma to the Mohave, and again from lower Kern River to the latter tribe on his way to the pueblo of Oraibi in north east Arizona in 1775-76. Among the Indians whom Garcés saw, or of whom heard, are the Chelemegué, Chemegué, Cuajála, Chemegué, Sevinta, and Chemeguaba, the first and last mentioned being apparently the Chemehuevi, while the others are the Virgin River Paiute and Shivwits, respectively, “Chemegué” here being used somewhat in the sense of denoting Shoshonean affinity. In passing down the Colorado from the Mohave rancherias Garcés does not mention any Chemehuevi or other Indians in Chemehuevi valley or elsewhere on the river until the Yuman Alchedoma (“Jalchedunes”), some distance below, were reached. He found the Chemehuevi in the desert immediately south west ,west and north west of the Mohave. The same observer remarks that they wore Apache moccasins, antelope-skin shirts, and a white headdress like a cap, ornamented with the crest feathers of a bird, probably the roadrunner. They were very swift of foot, were friends’ of the Ute (Paiute?), Yavapai Tejua, and Mohave, and when the latter “break their weapons” (keep the peace), so do they also. It is said that they occupied at this time the country between the Beñeme (Panamint and Serrano) and the Colorado “on the north side” as far as the Ute, and extending to another river, north of the Colorado, they had their fields. They made baskets, and those whom Garcés, saw “all carried a crook besides their weapons,” which was used for pulling gophers, rabbits, etc., from their burrows. Their language was noted as distinct from that of the other Rio Colorado tribes, as in fact it is, these being Yuman
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Physically the Chemehuevi appear to have been inferior to theYuma and Mohave. Ives properly credits them with being a wandering people, traveling “great distances on hunting and predatory excursions,” and although they did live mainly on the natural products of the desert, they farmed on a small scale where possible. Like the other Colorado River tribes, they had no canoes, but used rafts made of bundles of reeds. Their number was estimated by Leroux about 1853 at 1,500, probably an excessive estimate for the whole tribe; in 1866 Thomas estimated their population at 750. In 1903 there were 300 on the Colorado River reservation and probably a definite few under the Moapa agency. It is also that likely that a few are not under any agent but roam as Paiute. Of the organization of the Chemehuevi nothing positive is known.
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Chemehuevi as both an ethnological study, and as a people.
- Garcés Diary, Coues ed., op.cit., 1900.
- Heintzelman (1853) in H. R. Ex. Doc. 76, 34th Cong., 3d sess., 1857.
- Pacific R. R. Rep., III, pt. 3, 1856.