Rugged Desert

Cynthia Chapman, Arthur Evans, Richard Harber, Harry James
Consultants: C. E. Smith and Lowell Bean
Production Date: 
Educational Horizons
Katherine Siva Saubel
Run Time: 
Palm Springs Desert Museum

Establishing shot:
Named locations:
Palm Springs, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, CA.
Major themes covered:
History and culture of the Kahuia (also known as Cahuilla), reenactment of typical days in the lives of the Kahuia narrator's grandparents, hunting and gathering, Kauhuia diet, initiation rituals, Kahuia games

Other notes:

"Cahuilla clans were organized around a hierarchical religious and political structure. Each clan had one or more ceremonial units (an official, a ceremonial house, and a ceremonial bundle). The ceremonial unit served as the symbolic representation of the sociopolitical reality of the group. These units were part of a larger integrative system (ritual congregation) which connected many politically autonomous groups into a wider religious, economic, and political network of cooperative groups (Bean 1972).

The Cahuilla lived for the most part by hunting and gathering, although there is some indication that agricultural techniques were used prior to European contact. The hunting and gathering techniques were sufficiently developed that some authors have suggested that they enjoyed a quasi­agricultural subsistence technology (Lawton and Bean 1968)."

[retrieved from


Traditional Kahuia/Cahuilla subsistence (particularly the practice of gathering plants and seeds) is mentioned throughout "Rugged Desert. The following is an inventory of desert plants and their uses:

Barrel Cactus: Buds are eaten, usually after parboiling. The interior liquid provides an emergency water substitute, and the body of the plant can be hollowed out and used as a cooking vessel.

Beavertail: Buds are cooked and eaten or stored. Large seeds are ground into meal to make mush.

Brittlebush: Plant gum heated and applied to the chest can relieve pain.

California Fan Palm: Fruit clusters are eaten fresh or dried in the sun. Dried fruits are ground into flour for mush. Fronds are used for home siding and roofing. Frond stems make cooking utensils, and leaves are used for sandals.

California Sagebrush: It’s boiled into a tea for easing childbirth and postnatal recovery. Fresh or dried leaves are chewed to relieve cold symptoms.

Chia: High in nutrition, parched and ground chia seeds are used for mush or cakes. Mush is used as poultice on infections.

Cottonwood: Excellent wood for tools. Poultice made from boiled leaves and bark relieves swelling caused by muscle strain.

Creosote: A medicinal tea, made from stems and leaves, cures colds, chest infections, and bowel ailments and is used as a general health tonic. Creosote solutions heal open wounds and draw out poisons.

Desert Willow: Wood is used for house frames, granaries, and bows. The bark provides fibrous material for cloth and nets.

Elderberry: The berries are eaten fresh or dried and also are a source of basket dye. Boiled blossom tea cures fevers, upset stomachs, colds, and the flu.

Honey Mesquite: Blossoms and green and dried pods are edible and rich in food content. The pods are ground into meal for cakes. The tree trunk makes wood mortars. Small limbs make excellent bows. Mesquite wood makes a hot, durable fire. Mesquite gum is used as an adhesive.

Horsetail: As a tea, it cures kidney stones and dysentery. As a cleaning pad, it has its own cleansing agent.

Jojoba: The seeds are eaten fresh or ground into a powder for a coffee-like drink.

Oak: Acorns are ground, drained with water to leach tannic acid and usually made into mush

Manzanita: Berry seeds are ground into meal to make mush or cakes, or sun dried and stored for future use. Leaves steeped in water make a tea to cure diarrhea or poison oak rash. The wood burns hot and makes long-lasting coals. Branches are used in house construction.

Mormon Tea: Tea made from twigs purifies the blood and clears the system.

Pinyon: Roasted and shelled nuts are eaten whole or ground and made into mush. Pine pitch is used as a face cream. Bark is a roofing material.

Ribbonwood: Leaves are used to make a beverage that relieves ulcers and cures colds and chest ailments.

Sycamore: Tree limbs and branches are used in house construction.

Wild Buckwheat: Steeped flowers make a drink that cleans out the intestines. Leaves growing near the roots are used as a laxative. A tea made from the leaves cures headaches and stomach disorders.

[retrieved from]


Print Resources:

Bean, Lowell John. Mukat's People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972. Print.

      * The California Historical Society calls this book not only "a straightforward ethnographic presentation," but also an ethnographic study that aims to examine everything "in light of the Cahuilla." This book provides a wealth of information about the Cahuilla, in addition to making an important argument for the preservation of Cahuilla and other Southern California Indian Cultures.

---. "Cahuilla." Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. Print.

---. A bibliography of the Cahuilla Indians of California. Banning, California: Malki Museum Press, 1967. Print.

---, et al. The Cahuilla. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. Print.

---, et al. The Cahuilla landscape: the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Menlo Park, California: Ballena Press, 1991. Print.

     *From a review written by Jerry Schaefer, published in the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology: " This compendium is a must for every anthropologist, archaeologist, historian, and geographer who works in the past or present territory of the Cahuilla people. Originally published in 1981 for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Desert Planning Staff, this revised version was released to coincide with the establishment of the Santa Rosa Mountains National Scenic Area. The authors combine references to Cahuilla placenames and ethnogeography from Patencio (1943), Strong (1929), and Gifford (1918), the unpublished field notes of C. Hart Merriam, their own extensive files, and input from living Cahuilla elders. The critical evaluation of placenames and their modern correlates would not have been possible without the long lasting and on-going relationship between the authors and the Cahuilla people."

--- and Harry Lawton. The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California: their history and culture. Banning, California: Malki Museum Press, 1965. Print.

Saubel, Katherine Siva and Lowell John Bean. Temalpakh (From the Earth): Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Banning, California: Malki Museum Press, 1972. Print.

* This book serves as a "preliminary reconstruction of aboriginal agricultural technology among the Cahuilla." [quoted from U of A library catalog]


"The Malki Museum is the home of an ethnobotanical garden which contains only botanical species used in the daily life of the Cahuilla. It was built and nurtured by dozens of volunteers in response to numerous requests for information about how the Cahuilla Indians utilized plants for food, medicine, clothing, housing, tools, and arts. This unique garden acts as a living illustration to the book Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants, by Katherine Siva Saubel. Her mother, who was a Cahuilla medicine woman, taught her the traditional plants and their uses, which Katherine later wrote down with the help of anthropologist Dr. Lowell Bean. The information from this book is used in the self-tour guide for the garden. The term Temalpakh is a Cahuilla word meaning “from the earth.”

[retrieved from]


--- and Paul Apodaca. “Founding a Tribal Museum: The Malki Museum." American Indian Places: A Guide to American Indian Landmarks. Ed. Francis Kennedy. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.

*For more information on the Malki Museum, see this publication.

---, et al. Chem'ivillu' (let's speak Cahuilla). Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, UCLA, 1981. Print.

*From the "Introduction" to the book:

"Cahuilla is a language of the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan family of American Indian languages, spoken on several reservations in Southern California, mostly in Riverside County. Chem'ivillu' is the first textbook developed for those who want to learn Cahuilla as a second language. It is also the first book devoted entirely to the Mountain dialect of Cahuilla, which is spoken by Katherine Siva Sauvel and others on the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California.

The present version of the book is revised from Cahuilla lessons prepared by a group of graduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles, during the Fall of 1977, under the direction of Pamela Munro and Katherine Siva Sauvel. Brent de Chene, Heather Hardy, and Lynn Gordon assisted with various aspects of the revision, Yolanda Elaine Childers did the typing, and Alice Anderton and Lynn Gordon helped with proofreading. Mariano Sauvel provided valuable confirmation of the Cahuilla data. The project was funded by a grant from the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, under the sponsorship of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center."

Online Resources:

*This is the link to the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Cahuilla Indians. This link provides very basic and general information about the Cahuilla.

*This is a link to the official website for the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. The website provides both general information about Cahuilla people and customs, as well as information that pertains specifically to the Augustine Band of Cahuilla. This particular link provides a brief history of the customs, culture, and subsistence habits of the Cahuilla.

*This is a website devoted to all things pertaining to the Mojave Desert. This particular link provides basic information about the culture and practices of the Cahuilla. This is a nice complement for the information provided on the Britannica website.

*This is the official website for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. This band of the Cahuilla.


From their homepage:

"Ancestors of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians settled in the Palm Springs area centuries ago and developed complex communities in the Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, Snow Creek and Chino Canyons. Mirroring the migration stories of the Cahuilla, archaeological research has proven that humans have occupied the Tahquitz Canyon area for at least 2,000 years."

*This is the official website for the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Indians. Katherine Siva Saubel was born on the Los Coyotes Reservation.


From their homepage:

"The Los Coyotes Band of Mission Indians Cahuilla-Cupeño majestic tribal territory includes San Diego County's highest lookout point, Hot Springs Mountain. At approximately 6,535 feet, Hot Springs Mountain peak is about 11 feet taller than its more famous neighbor, the Cuyamaca Peak.

On a clear day one can see the Pacific Ocean (some 50 miles west) from the spectacular Hot Springs Mountain peak viewpoint on the Los Coyotes mountain. The Salton Sea (some 30 miles east) can also be seen from the Los Coyotes reservation when atmospheric conditions are right.

The drive to Los Coyotes Indian Reservation from nearby Julian passes by the Iipay Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation and the Mataguay Scout Ranch. Warner's Ranch, a national historic landmark, is also a close neighbor of the Los Coyotes Cahuilla-Cupeño indigenous mountain community."

*The Malki Museum is located in the city of Banning on the Morongo Indian Reservation. This museum was founded by Katherine Siva Saubel and Jane K. Penn in 1965, and it is "the oldest non-profit museum founded by Native Americans on a California Indian reservation, and has been the inspiration for several other Indian museums." The museum is also the home of Malki Museum/Ballena Press.

The museum's mission statement reads as follows:

"The mission of the Malki Museum Inc. is to promote scholarship and cultural awareness, and to encourage preservation of Southern California Indian Cultures (as well as other Indians having historical and cultural ties to Southern California) for future generations. The museum collects and displays art, artifacts, and historical materials of the Indians of the San Gorgonio Pass Area, and acts as a common meeting ground for Natives and non-Natives to learn about the past."

*This is the link to the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, another important resource for information about the culture of Southern California Indians. This museum also houses art and artifacts, focusing primarily on the Agua Caliente Band and other bands of Cahuilla Indians. The museum is also home to a Native Film Fest that is currently in its 12th season. (Follow this link for information about the 2013 festival:

Mission Statement:

"The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum inspires people to learn about the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and other Native cultures. We keep the spirit alive through exhibitions, collections, research, and educational programs."

*This is a link to the transcription of an interview with Lowell John Bean. LJB is an anthropologist and professor, and his area of interest is the Cahuilla Indians in particular and Southern California tribes in general. LJB was friends with Katherine Siva Saubel, and MalkI Museum/Ballena Press has published many of his books.

*This article ran in the Banning-Beaumont Patch when Katherine Siva Saubel (the narrator in the film) died at the age of 91 in 2011. The article provides some additional background on Saubel and her life accomplishments with regard to preserving and maintaining Cahuilla culture, language, and customs.

*Another article that ran after Saubel's death (from The LA Times).

*" Limu is a nonprofit organization building awareness of Native Languages, Cultures, and Ceremonial Traditions in Southern California."

--Emily Thomas, 2013