The Tataviam:
Early Newhall Residents.

By Paul Higgins, Environmental Educator.
Old Town Newhall Gazette, January-February 1996.
©1996, OLD TOWN NEWHALL, USA — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


In AD 450, a small group of Shoshone-speaking people migrated to the Santa Clarita Valley. The Kitanemuk Indians, who lived in the Antelope Valley, called these people the Tataviam.

The name derived from their words taviyik, or "sunny hillside," and atavihukwa, or "he is sunning himself." Thus the word tataviam might be roughly translated as "people facing the sun" or "people of the south-facing slopes."

The Tataviam were more aggressive than the Chumash, who lived here at the time and encouraged them to move west down the Santa Clara River beyond Piru Creek. The Chumash referred to the Tataviam as "Allikliks." The Chumash word alliklik, thought by some to be a derogatory term, means people who stammer or do not speak clearly.

The Tataviam lived in approximately twenty various-sized villages within the upper reaches of the Santa Clara River drainage east of Piru Creek. Their territory extended over the Sawmill Mountains to the north and included the southwestern fringes of the Antelope Valley.

Some areas they occupied were Nuhubit (Newhall), Piru-U-Bit (Piru), Tochonanga — believed to have been located at the confluence of Wiley and Towsley Canyons — and the very large village of Chaguibit, the center of which is buried under the Rye Canyon exit of I-5.

The Tataviam also lived where Saugus, Agua Dulce and Lake Elizabeth are located today.


The typical Tataviam home consisted of a cone-shaped framework of willow poles covered with grass or other brush that was tied in place. The larger villages also contained gaming and dancing areas, cemeteries, granaries, work areas and sauna-like sweat houses used for cleaning and relaxation.

Southern California offered the Tataviam the most abundant natural food supply in North America. They lived without agriculture or domestic animals and developed a highly sophisticated system for exploiting the ecosystem.

Deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers and caterpillars were hunted and trapped for food. Acorns, yucca, toyon berries, chia seeds and buckwheat were eaten regularly. Few if any nonagricultural peoples in the world were able to draw on so many food sources.

Life was good for the Tataviam. They were among the most ingenious, industrious and peaceful Indians of North America. They lived an honest life without laws, money, jails or a welfare system. They had no bad spirits, and before the missionaries came in 1769, they had no concept of hell or the devil. They did not change the land, but rather adapted themselves to it.


Any opportunity for collecting firsthand information about this obscure group of people vanished forever when the last full-blooded Tataviam, Juan José Fustero, died on June 30, 1921. Although much of the Tataviam culture has been washed away by floods or covered over by concrete, some still remains.

On May 2, 1884 a young man named McCoy Pyle discovered a cave in the hills above the present Chiquita Canyon Landfill, north of Highway 126. Inside he found many large woven baskets containing stone axe heads, obsidian knife blades, crystals, whistles made from deer bones, headdresses and capes made of iridescent condor and flicker feathers, and four ceremonial scepters consisting of painted stone discs attached to wooden handles.

Stephen Bowers purchased the entire collection for $1,500. Bowers sold the items to private collectors all over the world. Some of the "Bowers Cave" collection was sold to the Peabody Museum of American Ethnology at Harvard University, where it remains today. The fate of the rest is unknown.

Some small displays of Tataviam artifacts can be seen at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, at the Saugus Station at Heritage Junction in downtown Newhall, at the Vista Del Lago visitors center at Pyramid Lake, and at the small museum at Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon.

Bedrock mortar areas, pictographs and middens can still be found in undeveloped areas of the valley. It is still common to discover stone points after rainstorms.

Who knows? Perhaps there is another large stash of Tataviam treasure still hidden in a cave somewhere in the Santa Clarita Valley, just waiting to be found!


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