lowell john bean

New Book Offers a Thorough Look at Cahuilla History  

Scholar Lowell John Bean spent his career learning about the Tribe.

Meredith Jordan Current Digital, History

lowell john bean
Author Lowell John Bean's latest book is titled, The Traditional Ways and History of the Members of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.

Author Lowell John Bean, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, California State University in Hayward, is considered by many to be the preeminent scholar on the Cahuilla Indians. In his new book (expected to be published later this year), Time Immemorial: The Traditional Ways and History of the Members of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, Bean encapsulates his lifelong research of the people of the Palm Springs area.

Bean has dedicated his life to teaching and research. He is the author of two other authoritative books on the Cahuilla Tribe: Temalpakh, which was published in 1972, and Mukat’s People, which followed in 1974.

From Time Immemorial is the most expansive of his efforts. The largest portions of the research stem from two “massive” cultural resource management reports. Both were done during the 1980s and 1990s.

Bean gives credit where it’s due, yet he surely deserves much of the credit himself. From Time Immemorial is a rich read, not only for people interested in the Agua Caliente people but the history of the Palm Springs area.


The language spoken by the Cahuilla people is classed by linguists as Takic, a branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family, related to the languages of the Hopi, Comanche, Luiseño, and Serrano Indians, among others. (Bright 1975)


For the Cahuilla, the religious and political leaders and shamans within any particular group are highly creative people who enter into ‘dream states’ from which new ideas emerged and would then be incorporated into the culture of that person’s group


The Cahuilla culture hero, Eagle Flower, is one of the Five Headman who with his dog moved from Moreno Valley through the San Gorgonio Pass into the Coachella Valley.


Because of inclement weather, particularly snowfall in the late fall and winter, the Palm Canyon Trail and the San Gorgonio Pass were used as primary routes of travel for most of the year…The route followed by present-day Highway 111 was the other major travel route.


The Kauisik, Wanakik, and Panik clans were trading partners and allies with other Cahuilla people and their neighbors, the Serrano. They were also part of an extensive trade network through which they obtained relatively precious resources not available in their own territory.


The network was actually an elaborate system of enmity/amity alliances that tied together the peoples of the northern Sonoran desert, with alliances generally connecting people who were neighbors to the east and west, and enmities existing between peoples north and south of each other.


Many occasions in early Cahuilla life required painting. Faces and bodies were painted on various occasions, such as initiation and nukil ceremonies. Ritual regalia, rocks, and tools (bows and arrows, throwing sticks, pots, and rattles) were painted.

There was a shift in public attitude toward Native Americans on the national scene about 1880, especially among those who advocated appropriate education, improvement of well-being, and return of some land. Now sentiment grew for assimilation and protection of Nation Americans instead of separation.


In 1941, a (Palm Springs) City Master Plan set forth policies with regard to zoning that would allow the city the use of extensive lands on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation… for its own purposes… For the Agua Caliente people, this attempt to control their resources and its economic potential was a major issue of its time, necessitating aggressive and consistent tribal leadership.

Bean Cleaned Eggs, First

As a UCLA student, Lowell John Bean was told there wasn’t anything to learn of the Indians in Morongo Valley. He was young, but he was an anthropologist to his core, so he knew better. He was also willing to dig — or clean eggs — for it.

Bean arrived at the Morongo Reservation in 1958 and was told by Tribal Leader Jane Penn there wasn’t need for a fledgling anthropologist. However, they could use help cleaning eggs. Bean, having grown up on a Minneapolis farm, knew how to do that. At the same time, it was access he craved to begin his work. Virtually everyone came by the hen house at some point, which is what he needed, and the rest, as they say, is history.