Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Mojave River and the Central Mojave Desert:
Native Settlement, Travel and Exchange in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


In the late eighteenth century, the Mojave River and a portion of the central Mojave Desert lying to the east formed a major native travel corridor between the Colorado River and points east and the Pacific Coast. The Desert or Vanyume division of the Serrano occupied the Mojave River portion of this corridor, while the Chemehuevi branch of the Southern Paiute had settled the desert region to the east of the Sinks of the Mojave, and Desert Kawaiisu ranged to the north of the Mojave River. Mojaves' from the Colorado River villages traveled via this corridor to the San Joaquin Valley and coastal southern California. The late eighteenth-century political geography of this area appears to have reflected the importance of this travel corridor to longdistance exchange, and particularly to the exchange involving Pacific coast shell beads, which were circulated far to the east of desert California. Ethnographic information on the local role of Pacific coast shell beads in facilitating intergroup exchange within this desert area is discussed. The settlement geography and inter-ethnic interactions within this central Mojave Desert region are also reviewed. This includes the apparent expulsion of the mysterious "land Mojaves" or "like-Mojaves" from the region before 1776, as well as the later displacement of desert Vanyume Serrano by Chemehuevis during the 1820s and later New information on the fate of remnant Vanyume Serranos found on the Mojave River in the 1830s is also presented.

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