Juan José Fustero: Certificate of Death, 1921.
Fustero, who called himself the "last of the Piru Indians" is often mistakenly referred to as the "the
last full-blooded Tataviam Indian." His father was Tataviam, and his mother's father was Tataviam, but his mother's mother was Kitanemuk —
making Juan three-quarters Tataviam and one-quarter Kitanemuk. Fustero lived near Piru and died June 30, 1921.
Baptismal records indicate he was born in 1850, which would make him closer to 70 than 80.
The Tataviam Indians were a Shoshone-speaking people who arrived in the Upper Santa Clara
River Valley (Santa Clarita Valley) about AD 450. They occupied an area bounded by Piru to the west,
Newhall to the south, the Liebre Mountains to the north, and Soledad Pass to the east.
The word tataviam roughly translates into "People of the Sunny Slopes." Their Chumash neighbors
on the coast called them "Aliklik," believed to be a derogatory term mimicking the clicking sound of
While it is not known exactly who preceded the Tataviam, the same area was
occupied by a people, probably of Chumash origin, who arrived somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago.
The Tataviam were hunter-gatherers who organized into a series of autonomous tribelets throughout the region.
They ate acorns, yucca, juniper berries, sage seeds and islay, and they hunted small game. They likely practiced
a shamanist religion that put them in touch with the supernatural world through trances and hallucinations
brought on by the ingestion of jimsonweed, native tobacco and other psychoto-mimetic plants found along
the local rivers and streams. Such habitats also provided raw materials for baskets, cordage and netting.
The arrival of Spanish settlers in 1769 led to the demise of the Tataviam people. The Spanish rounded up
the aborigines in the early 1800s and conscripted them for manual labor at the mission ranches and vineyards,
where they intermarried with other native folk from other parts of Southern California.
Juan José Fustero, who may have been the last local full-blooded indigenous person
(his father was Tataviam, his mother Tataviam and Kitanemuk) died June 30, 1921, at Rancho Camulos, near Piru.*
The Tataviam left behind a vast treasure of rock art at Vasquez Rocks, which is thought to have been a major trading crossroads. The Indians used berries,
charcoal and other indigenous materials to emblazon a variety of images inside caves and onto the rock surfaces.
Most images had religious meanings, and while they suffered both natural degredation and vandalism
during the 20th Century, steps have been taken to preserve them. The most significant
40-acre region was closed to the public in 1996.
NOTE: While Fustero liked to bill himself as the "Last of the Piru Indians," an article in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner
in 1965 says that Fustero may actually been married to a full-blooded Tataviam woman, and that they had children.
According to the tribes that represent local Native American families, as of 1997 there were approximately 600 persons of Tataviam descent living in Los Angeles County.