The Native Roots of Southern Californians

The Small Pueblo of
Los Angeles

On September 4, 1781, 44 pobladores (settlers) arrived at a location 9 miles west of the San Gabriel Mission to establish California’s second pueblo: El Pueblo de Nuestro Señora la Reina de Los Angles del Río de Porciúncula or The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angeles by the River of Porciúncula. Later, the name was shortened to Los Angeles. When the 44 settlers arrived in Los Angeles, they and their families settled a short distance from a Kizh Nation village called Yang-na (now referred to as Yaanga) — now near the intersection of Alameda and Commercial Streets (south of the 101) — where 300 natives already lived.

The original party of
the new townsfolk consisted of eleven families, which included 11 men, 11 women
and 22 children of various Spanish castas (castes). Among the 22 adult
pobladores, according to the November 1781 census, were nine indios (Indians),
as well as several mixed race individuals. Most of the Indians were from

In December 1785, 21 adults and 18 children were registered in the tiny pueblo of Los Angeles. Of the 21 adults, 10 were classified as “indios” (Indians), while several others had mixed origins. This census included only the Mexican settlers and did not count the indigenous Kizh Nation (who were also referred to as Tongva by some individuals), who lived in a wide area surrounding the pueblo.  

The Native Tribes of
Southern California

When the Spaniards first came to Southern California, they found several
coastal indigenous groups, whose territories are shown on the following map [Los Angeles
Almanac, “Map of Territories of Original Peoples with County Boundaries in
Southern California” (2019). Derived from Handbook of North American Indians,
Vol. 8, California, William C. Sturtevant (Gen. Editor) & Robert F. Heizer
(Vol. Editor), 1978, Smithsonian Institute, and Dr. E. Gary Stickel, Ph.D.
(UCLA), Tribal Archeologist, Kizh Nation / Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians.
Located at:].

The Kizh Nation (Gabrieleño)

The Gabrieleños — who are now commonly referred to as the Kizh Nation — inhabited the entire Los Angeles basin, parts of Orange County, and several of the offshore islands (including Catalina). Their territory was bounded by Malibu to the north and Laguna Beach to the south (Orange County) and extended as far east as the base of Mount Wilson, 40 miles inland. Historians have estimated that by the time the first Spanish land expedition reached California in 1769, there were about 5,000 Gabrielenos living in almost 100 villages.

A 2018 independent study by historical consultant and researcher Joe Castillo has revealed that the term “Tongva” was initiated by C. Hart Merriam in the early Twentieth Century and publicly adopted as the tribal name of the Gabrieleños by a self-proclaimed group in 1992. However, the members of this group now refer to their ancestral nation as Kizh Nation (also known as Kit’c, Kij and Kitcherenos).

The following article discusses the use of the term “Kizh Nation” to describe the original indigenous people of the Los Angeles area: E. Gary Stickel, Ph.D. (Tribal Archaeologist of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians / Kizh Nation), “Why the Original Indian Tribe of the Greater Los Angeles Area is Called Kizh not Tonga” (March 30, 2016). Online:

The Kizh Nation was surrounded by the Chumash on the west, the Tataviam on the north, the Serrano and Cahuilla in the east and the Luiseño in the south. A map of their territory is shown on the following page [Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society “The Tongva.” Online: https: //].

Because many of the people from the Kizh Nation (Kitcherenos) were associated with and baptized at the San Gabriel Mission (nine miles east of Los Angeles), they became known as the Gabrieleños to Spanish and Mexican newcomers in the region. The American anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber estimated that the population of the Gabrieleño was about 5,000 around 1770 [Kroeber, A. L. 1925. “Handbook of the Indians of California” (Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.), p. 883]. 

In his book, The First Angelinos: The Gabrieleño Indians of Los Angeles, author William McCawley indicated that the Gabrieleños probably occupied 1,500 square miles of territory when the Spanish first arrived in region in 1771. The Kizh Nation – and their western neighbors, the Chumash – were unique in that they built seaworthy canoes and navigated the ocean, which explains their presence on Catalina Island and other islands off the coast of Southern California.  

The Spaniards established the San Gabriel Mission in 1771 in the vicinity of four Kizh Nation (Tongva) communities: Shevaanga, Sonaanga, Sheshikwanonga and Akurronga. When soldiers and settlers arrived at San Gabriel from Sonora and Sinaloa in 1781, they moved on to establish El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula (now known as the city of Los Angeles) a month later.  

By 1785, at least a thousand neófitos (neophytes) among the Kitcherenos of the Kizh Nation (also known by some people as Tongva) had been baptized at the San Gabriel Mission, and 843 were living on the Mission grounds. Unfortunately, the mission process drew large numbers of the Kizh Nation away from their traditional rancherías (villages). As the pueblo of Los Angeles expanded, retired Spanish/Mexican soldiers received land grants in areas as far away as San Pedro and Malibu.   

The Decline of the Kizh Nation

The depopulation of traditional Kizh Nation sites and the appropriation of their lands for agricultural and stock-raising purposes led to a rapid decline in their cultural identity. Research of the San Gabriel Mission records reflects hundreds of baptisms and marriages of neófitos and children of gentiles (unbaptized Indians) over the decades. After having seen these records, one undoubtedly is left with the impression that these indigenous peoples were far more numerous than their Spanish-Mexican neighbors. But cultural and linguistic assimilation was the ultimate result of all these baptisms and, with time, many of the Kitcherenos (of the Kizh Nation) communities began to disappear as cohesive entities. Smallpox epidemics in 1840 and 1860 took a further toll on the tribe.  

Today, it is likely that tens of thousands of Angelinos probably descend from the Kizh Nation, but many of their descendants may not even be aware of their genetic link to the original inhabitants. The official Kizh Nation population today is believed to number about 3,000.

The present-day representatives of the Kizh Nation may be small in number, but many place names from Southern California reflect their Kitchereno origins, such as Azusa, Cahuenga (Pass), Cucamonga, Pacoima, Topanga, and Tujunga.  

The Tataviam

The Tataviam, or Alliklik, are the smallest and least researched indigenous group in the Greater Los Angeles area. Because of their association with the San Fernando Mission, they have been referred to as the Fernandeños. The Fernandeño Tataviam inhabited northern Los Angeles County and southern Ventura County. Their villages were located in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita, Eastern Simi and Antelope Valleys. Like their southern neighbors, the Kizh Nation, they spoke a language in the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family.

The Tataviam were called
the Alliklik by their neighbors, the Chumash. The name Tataviam meant “people on the south slope” in the
language of the Kitanemuk, their neighbors to the north. The Kitanemuk — who
also spoke a Uto-Aztecan language — lived in the Tehachapi Mountains and the
Antelope Valley area of the western Mojave Desert of southern California. In
1770, the Serrano, Kitanemuk, and Tataviam numbered about 3,500, but their
population declined to about 150 by 1910.

What little that is
known about the Tataviam came primarily from the anthropologists Alfred L.
Kroeber and John P. Harrington. A more detailed history of the Tataviam can be
found by obtaining a copy of and reading the article by John R. Johnson and
David D. Earle entitled, “Tataviam Geography and Ethnohistory,” published in
the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology (1990,
Volume 12, Number 2, pp. 191-214). A map of the Tataviam tribal area and
its neighbors has been reproduced below [Reeves, D, R. Bury and DW Robinson.
“Invoking Occam’s Razor: Experimental Pigment Processing and an Hypothesis
Concerning Emigdiano Chumash Rock-Art,” Journal
of California and Great Basin Anthropology
29(1):59-67 (2009)].

It is believed that 20
Tataviam villages existed north of the San Fernando Valley and in the
Santa Clarita Valley.  The San Fernando Mission was founded on
September 8, 1797 and, from the beginning, many Fernandeños were baptized at
that location. By 1804, nearly 1,000 Indians were living at the Mission. However,
the Mission fell into disrepair during the Mexican era (1823-1848)
and was completely abandoned by 1847. After this, many of the Tataviam Indians
made the journey to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church (La Placita) in
downtown Los Angeles to be baptized or married.  

Over time, the Tataviam community shrank through cultural assimilation and the ravages of epidemic disease. By 1910, their population was estimated at about 150 people. Today, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is actively involved in the preservation of the Tataviam cultural identity. More information about the group can be accessed at their website:

The Chumash

The Chumash Indians
lived along a wide range of coastal California extending from Malibu (Los
Angeles County) in the south to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties in
the northwest. The Chumash territory at the time of contact included extensive
land in the backcountry and the Northern Channel Islands. The land area
occupied by the Chumash totaled over 25,000 square kilometers. Of the 20,000 or
more Chumash individuals, roughly two-thirds of them lived in in the coastal
and island villages.

As a seafaring people, the Chumash Indians became skilled fisherman but were also inland hunters and gatherers. Like their neighbors the Kizh Nation, the Chumash also inhabited islands off the coast (three of the Channel Islands). Many modern place names have origins in the Chumash language, including Malibu, Lompoc, Ojai, Pismo Beach, Point Mugu, Lake Castaic and Simi Valley.  

Chumash Linguistic Subgroups

There were eight Chumash
subgroups, each speaking mutually unintelligible languages that collectively
formed the Chumashan language family, which some believe is a language isolate.
These eight groups consisted of the Barbareño, Ventureño, Purisimeño, Obispeño,
Ineseño, Cruzeño, Emigdiano, and the Cuyama Chumash.

The first five
sub-groups were named due to their affiliation with missions that were erected
within their territory during the Spanish period in California. The following
map illustrates the subgroups within the Chumash territory, as well as their
neighbors [Reeves,
D, R. Bury and DW Robinson. “Invoking Occam’s Razor: Experimental Pigment
Processing and an Hypothesis Concerning Emigdiano Chumash Rock-Art,” Journal of
California and Great Basin Anthropology 29(1):59-67].

The Chumash Indians who
inhabited the area around the Santa Barbara Presidio were very numerous.  Along the coastline they had some forty-one
villages between the San Buenaventura and Point Concepción. Fifteen more villages
were on the Channel Islands off the coast. 
The Chumash sustained themselves by hunting, fishing and
seed-gathering.  They were described by
the Spaniards as gentle, hospitable to strangers, lively, industrious, skillful
and clever.  Because of their friendly
and helpful nature, the Chumash became active participants in the construction
of the presidio.

With the establishment
of the San Buenaventura and Santa Barbara Missions in 1782, the Chumash began
to decline. However, the Chumash revolt four decades later was a
coordinated uprising at the three regional missions and became the largest organized indigenous resistance
to occur during either the Spanish and Mexican periods in
California (1769-1847)

The Chumash Revolt of 1824

The Chumash revolt of 1824 began at the three missions dedicated to the spiritual conversion of the Chumash: Santa Inés, Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepción. The revolt quickly spread to the surrounding villages. Most of the Santa Inés mission complex was burned down, but the Chumash retreated from Mission Santa Inés upon the arrival of military reinforcements. Soon after, the natives
attacked the Mission La Purisima from inside and forced the garrison to

A day later, the mission
at the Santa Barbara Mission was also forced to surrender. However, a military
expedition in June of 1824 put an end to the revolt through negotiation. It is
believed that two thousand Chumash and Yokut Indians were involved in the
insurrection. (The Yokuts were a large indigenous group of about 60 tribes who
inhabited central California.) By 1831, the number of mission-registered
Chumash in California numbered only 2,788, down from pre-Spanish population
estimates of up to 22,000.

The Chumash Today

For the rest of the
Nineteenth Century, the cultural identity of the Chumash began to fade. By
1906, there were only 42 known survivors of the Chumash people. Today,
approximately 5,000 people have reclaimed their Chumash identity.

The Serrano (Cuahajai)

The Serrano Indians
inhabited the San Bernardino Mountains and lived as far east as
the Mojave River region and the Tejon Creek. When the Spanish
missionaries arrived at the San Gabriel Mission in 1771, they named these
people Serrano (“highlander” in Spanish) in view of the
mountainous region they occupied. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber estimated
their 1770 population at about 1,500.  

The Serrano language is
part of the Takic subset of the large Uto-Aztecan languages group of indigenous
people of North America. It is estimated that they probably arrived in Southern
California around 2,500 years ago. The Serrano were skilled craftsmen and have
been called experts in basket-weaving. The following map shows the location of
the Serrano territory, as well as their neighboring tribal groups [ResearchGate,
“Map of the Approximate Ancestral Territories of Southern California Prior to
European: Figure 1” (Uploaded by Eric M. Riggs)].

The historian Bill Mason
reported that nearly 1,000 Serrano became converts of the San
Gabriel and San Fernando Missions between 1795 and 1815. By 1810
about 200 people from various Serrano villages were neophytes at the mission,
as indicated by Mason.  But in 1812, the Serrano and their eastern
neighbors – the Cahuilla and Yuma (Quechan) tribes – all rebelled
against the Spanish mission system. After eight months of warfare, the Serranos
surrendered and many of their tribesmen were moved to missions and presidios,
where they were baptized.  

Many of the surviving
Serranos were relocated to the missions in 1834. Devastating smallpox outbreaks
took their toll on the group in 1840 and 1860, but in 1865, President Ulysses
S. Grant established the Morongo Indian
Reservation at the foot of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains.

Today, the Morongo
Indian Reservation
 spans more than 35,000 acres and is the home to
many of the Serrano, Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians. It has become a very successful Indian gaming facility, opening in
2004 as the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa.

from Sonora

Although the Mexican
soldiers and pobladores (settlers) who arrived at San Gabriel in 1781
after a 960-mile journey from Álamos were strangers to the indigenous peoples
of Southern California, the vast majority of them were also of indigenous
Native American descent.  

Altogether, roughly 57
soldiers and 44 settlers took part in the Expedition of 1781, even though
several of the soldiers were killed in a confrontation with the Yuma Indians in
July of that year. The following map shows the two routes of the soldiers and settlers
of the 1781 expedition from Alamos, Sonora to San Gabriel (and later on to
Santa Barbara) [Phil Townsend Hanna, “Schwald
Family Genealogy: Ruiz Genealogy.” Online:].

The Original Los Angeles

The original party of the new townsfolk consisted of eleven families, or
44 total persons, that is 11 men, 11 women, and 22 children of various Spanish
castas (castes). The castas of the 22 adult pobladores, according to the
November 1781 census, were classified as:

  • 1 Peninsular (Spaniard
    born in Spain)
  • 1 Criollo (Spaniard
    born in New Spain)
  • 1 Mestizo (mixed
    Spanish and Indian)
  • 2 Negros (blacks of
    full African ancestry)
  • 8 Mulattos (mixed
    Spanish and black)
  • 9 Indios (American

The vast majority of the
soldiers and settlers had origins in the present-day Mexican states
of Jalisco, Durango, Sinaloa and Sonora, with the latter two
states donating the most significant portion. Most of the original
settlers were either of Spanish, Native American or African descent – or some
combination of these groups. Later settlers of the Los Angeles pueblo and the
San Gabriel Mission were descended from local indigenous groups; others were
descended from Native Americans that lived a thousand or more miles south in
Sinaloa and Sonora. A listing of the heads of the 11 Los Angeles households
is shown in the following table and includes their racial classification and
place of birth:

Ancestral States of the
Early Californios

The place of birth given for California’s adults in the 1790 census
revealed that 64% of the adults were from either Sonora or Sinaloa where
Captain Rivera had originally recruited in 1780. In fact, 115 of
California’s adults were born in Villa de Sinaloa
(now called Sinaloa de
Leyva), representing 24% of all the adults. Other places of origin included
Loreto (45), Álamos (35) and Culiacán (18).

Angelino Roots
in Rosario

Several of the soldiers
and settlers came from Rosario in Southern
Sinaloa.  One of the Los Angeles pobladores of 1781 was
José Navarro, described as a mestizo from Rosario. Basilio Rosas, a
67-year-old Indian from Nombre de Dios (Durango), was another pioneer settler.
His wife, María Manuela Hernández, was a 43-year-old mulata
from Rosario.  

Still another of the
original settlers, José Vanegas, was a 28-year-old Indian from Real de Bolaños
(Jalisco), and his wife, Maria Bonifacia Aguilar was a 20-year-old Indian born
in Rosario. Pablo Rodriguez, a 25-year-old settler was an Indian from Real
de Santa Rosa (Jalisco), also had a spouse from Rosario: María
Rosalia Noriega, a 26-year-old Indian woman who was born in Rosario.  

Several of the soldiers
who accompanied the settlers were also from Rosario. Juan Matias Olivas, a
native of Rosario, had volunteered for the Spanish army on August 6, 1780.
His military record described Juan as being 5 feet, 2 inches tall, with black
eyes, black hair, olive skin and clean-shaven. It is likely that, because he
was of predominantly indigenous blood, Juan Matias did not have a
beard.  When he arrived in California in 1781 he was
accompanied by his wife, María Dorotea Espinosa, and their two children.  

The Totorame
of Rosario in Southern Sinaloa

Located in the
southernmost corner of Sinaloa, the colonial silver-mining city
of Rosario is 38 miles southeast of Mazatlán and almost 200 miles
south of Culiacán (the capital of Sinaloa). When the Spaniards first arrived in
the area, a large population of farmers and fisherman speaking Totorame,
a Cora dialect, inhabited the area.   

Rosario was described in
1686 as “a fine little town of about 60 or 70 houses… chiefly inhabited with
Indians,” and an eighteenth century report describes the settlement as a
predominantly mestizo-mulato settlement and an important trading center [Peter
Gerhard, “The Northern Frontier of New Spain (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1982), p. 272]. The big silver strike of 1655 had brought in
a significant number of Spanish entrepreneurs and African slaves, and it is
believed that the mixture of the Totorame, Spanish and African elements created
the mestizo – mulato community that existed when the expedition of 1781 took

Northern Sinaloa

At least thirty soldiers
of the 1781 Expedition came from various parts of Sinaloa, with the lion’s
share from the towns of El Fuerte and Villa de Sinaloa in
the northern part of the state. At least sixteen of the soldiers came from
these two cities, which were located in the traditional territory of the Cáhita-speaking Indians.  Speaking
eighteen closely-related dialects, the Cáhita of Northern Sinaloa and Southern
Sonora inhabited the coastal area along the lower courses of the Sinaloa,
Fuerte, Mayo, and Yaqui Rivers.  

The Cáhita peoples
included the Sinaloas, Tehuecos, Zuaques, and Ahomes. El Fuerte – located about
110 miles south of Álamos, Sonora – had been settled by the
Spaniards in 1564, but the Spaniards were forced to retreat from the area a few
years later, largely because of a hostile reception from the local Indians.

The first Jesuits
arrived in 1591 and in 1635, the Jesuits constructed the first church in the
Villa de Sinaloa. In time, the Spaniards would dominate the area and most of
the Cáhita were absorbed and assimilated.

The Mayo
of Northern Sinaloa

Eventually war, disease
and assimilation took their toll on the Cáhitas and, by the eighteenth century,
only the Mayo and Yaquis remained as significant cultural entities in Northern
and Southern Sinaloa. The Mayo Indians were the largest surviving Cáhita
group to inhabit the region surrounding El Fuerte and Villa de Sinaloa, and it
is from this group that many of the Los Angeles pioneers obtained
their genetic makeup.  

The Mayo Indians –
occupying some fifteen villages along the Mayo and Fuerte rivers – converted to
Christianity in the early seventeenth century. From 1740, the Mayo periodically
rebelled against Spanish rule, as did their closely related neighbors, the
Yaquis. The Mayos eventually became an integral part of the Álamos community
(now in Southern Sonora), from which at least eleven soldiers and several
pobladores came from. In 1683, a large silver strike brought large numbers of
Spaniards, African slaves, free mulatos and Mayo and Yaqui Indians from the
surrounding regions. The soldiers and settlers from Álamos represented a mix of
these groups.  

Luis Quintero

The most famous son of
Álamos is the settler, Luis Quintero, who, with his wife María Petra Rubio, made the hazardous
journey in 1781. At various times, Spanish records classified Luis as either a
“negro” or a “mulato.” Some researchers claim that he was the son of an African
slave father and a Mayo Indian mother.  However, although the authors
have not found solid evidence of this in their own research (yet), it is
strongly suspected that Luis did have both African and Native origins. Luis’
death record in 1810 stated that he was a native
of Guadalajara (Jalisco), but no documentary evidence has ever been
presented to prove this and most researchers believe that he was, in fact, a
native of Álamos.  

What is known is that
Luis came to Los Angeles and, after a brief stay, moved on to the Santa Barbara
Presidio where he resided for the next 28 years, serving as the master tailor
for the soldiers stationed there.  Although his own residence
in Los Angeles was brief, Luis and Petra had many offspring
who lived in Los Angeles and played important roles in its history
and development.  It is believed that thousands of descendants of
Luis and Petra inhabit the Los Angeles area

The Native Americans of
Present-Day Los Angeles

Although the present-day
administration of Southern California’s cities and counties lay in the hands of
many people of many origins, many Native Americans from California and
other areas of the country have been drawn to this area to live and prosper. As
of July 1, 2007, Los Angeles County led all the nation’s
counties in the number of people who were in the “American Indian and Alaska
Natives” racial category (146,500). Also of great significance, Los
Angeles County had the highest number of American Indian and Alaska
Native-owned firms (13,061).

By the time of the 2010 census, the City of Los Angeles had 14,930
American Indian residents, representing 0.4% of nearly 3.8 million residents
within the city limits. At the same time, 35,751 American Indians also
represented 0.4% of Los Angeles County’s 9.8 million inhabitants.


Today, Southern California is home to a vast array of ethnic groups from every part of the planet, but its physical landscape was originally the home and territory of the Tataviam, Kizh Nation, Serrano and Chumash. The people of the Los Angeles Metropolis Area may be a microcosm of the world’s many nations, but the original people who settled and developed Los Angeles and the surrounding areas were largely of Native American stock. Their roots were deeply embedded in the landscape of early California, and the echo of their culture, their language and their spirit lingers today among the skyscrapers and suburbs of modern day Los Angeles. 

Copyright 2019 by John P. Schmal. All rights under applicable law are hereby reserved.  


California Archives. Provincial State Papers, 1767-1822. Archives of California, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. 

Castillo, Joe. The Evolution of the Tongva Tribal Name: An Independent Study by Joe Castillo, Historical Consultant and Researcher (Distributed in October 2018 by Andy Salas, Chairman of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, Kizh Nation).  

Gerhard, Peter. The Northern Frontier of New Spain.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982,

Johnson, John R. and
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, Volume 12, Number 2 (1990), pp. 191-214.

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Genealogical Society, 2004.  

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Press Cooperative, 1996.  

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Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society “The Tongva.” Online:

Stickel, E. Gary. “Why the Original Indian Tribe of the Greater Los Angeles Area is Called Kizh not Tonga” (March 30, 2016). Online:

Morongo Band of Mission Indians, “Our History.” Online:

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Schmal. A Mexican-American Family
of California: In the Service of Three Flags.

Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, 2003.