The Kawaiisu Tribe

Pogmatog Magot (Creator Knows)

Feel free to visit us often and share our ancient heritage.

Link to Kawaiisu Tribe of the Tejon Indian Reservation Home Page

Link to Congressional Documents and Kawaiisu pictograph and petroglyph solar and lunar calendars

The Kawaiisu are a Southern California Native American tribe who are well known for elaborate basketry, culture and rock art. They were the first of the California Indians to have a reservation funded and established by Congress. It was called Tejon Reservation (also known as Sebastian Reservation) and was the initial building block of what became Tejon Ranch. The name “Kawaiisu” was given to the tribe by neighboring people and over the course of academic study has been the label that is most used. The Kawaiisu language is unique in pronunciation and structure and is maintained amongst tribal members to this day. It has been recorded in a grammar and dictionary text produced by the University of California Publications in Linguistics, 1991. The State of California has designated an historic park, called Tomo Kahni, at the site of one of our larger villages, near Tehachapi. This site has extensive rock art and numerous grinding holes. The State of California is currently negotiating to acquire two other Kawaiisu rock art sites for state parks, one at the Antelope Valley Indian Museum near Palmdale and one near Rosemond. There are many other Kawaiisu village rock art sites throughout Southern California. Several are located on the Wind Wolves Preserve at San Emigdio Ranch and two extensive sites are at local military installations: Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Weapons Center. These rock art locations can be viewed on private tours.

The Kawaiisu are unique amongst indigenous people because we have no migration story. From an anthropological standpoint, this means we have always lived in the same place. Even some of the most studied of the ancient civilizations in the America’s, for example the Aztec, have a migration story that was passed down to each generation thru oral history. This lack of a migration story explains why the Kawaiisu territorial pictographs are often pre-dated by adjacent petroglyphs and geoglyphs. The combination of Kawaiisu pictographs and petroglyphs verify that our tribe has lived in this region since time immemorial.

The Kawaiisu have maintained an active government since the arrival of the Spanish. Tribal elders have fostered continuous government-to-government relationships with each country (Spain, Mexico, U.S.) and governing agency since then. The tribe today has an elected tribal council of five members, with a general council of 30 adult voting members. We have roll numbers and allotments. The United States has removed our tribe from the Federal Register and as a result, many members live in extreme poverty without running water or electricity. In spite of hardship we maintain our culture and traditional ceremonies. Our tribal community is one of the most cohesive groups in the Indian world today. We are incorporated in California and will soon complete our 501C3 paperwork so that we are registered as non-profit at the federal level.

History: 1776 - Father Garces documents the boundaries of the Kawaiisu territory

When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas they brought Franciscan and Jesuit monks to explore and survey the new lands Spain had conquered. The territories delineated by the priests became Spain’s guideline for mapping ancestral Native American lands. Father Francisco Garces was one of the Franciscan monks. He became the first European to document contact with the Kawaiisu people and the extent of our tribal territory. His diaries record two trips in 1776, where he encountered several of the rancherias of our tribe. Using the diaries of Father Garces and cross referencing the 1965 Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology resource called “Handbook of American Indians,” you will discover that the Kawaiisu were described as Cobaji, Cobajais, Cuabajai, Quabajai, Nochi, Noche and Noches Colteches. These tribal designations are indicated on maps that illustrate the 1776 travels of Father Garces. One of these maps is stored at the University of Arizona Library and is available to view on the Internet. The map shows the route Father Garces took, substitutes as a diseno and illustrates the extent of the tribal territory that Father Garces described.

R. S. Felipe refers to the name Father Garces gave to what later became the Kern River. Our tribe is listed as Cobaji, Nochi and Quabajai and shows a territory that spans an area from Death Valley in the east, across the Tehachapi Mountain range and west to the Pacific Ocean.

The Kawaiisu territory delineated by Father Garces was acknowledged by the Spanish government and became a permanent land grant. Years later, when Mexico acquired Spanish territories their laws guaranteed our Spanish land grant and rancheria ownership. (The relevant laws are called Recopilacion de las Indias, Bk. 4, Tit. 12, Laws 5, 7, 9, 14, 18; Bk. 6, Tit. 3, Law 9; Hall, Mexican law, 36, 38, 40, 45, 49, 165; 2 White’s New Recopilacion, pp. 50, 52, 242.) In 1848, when the United States acquired the territory at the end of the Mexican War, these Spanish and Mexican laws were guaranteed by treaty. Articles VIII and IX of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed ancestral Native American lands and eventually led the U.S. Government to initiate what are known as the “18 Treaties of California.”

History: June 10, 1851 - The Kawaiisu sign Treaty D, one of the 18 California Treaties

Between 1848 and 1851, the Kawaiisu found themselves in the middle of a five way conflict: A) The U.S. Federal Government establishing new western territories. B) Business investors trying to secure mining, oil and water rights. C) California politicians who were seeking statehood. D) The Euro-American population who did not understand the aboriginal language or customs and wanted the Indians removed from the region. E) The Indian nations of California who wanted to live undisturbed in their ancestral homelands.

As an early result of these conflicts, the Kawaiisu Tribe agreed to enter into a treaty with the United States, ceding their huge Spanish land grant for a smaller reserved tract. The Kawaiisu Tribal Chairmen from eleven villages signed with both their Spanish and Indian names. The signing took place on June 10, 1851 at old Tejon (Texon) Pass, which was southwest of the old Tejon ranch headquarters. The reserved tract included all of the southern San Joaquin Valley and surrounding mountains. A map on the American Memory web site shows the original Spanish land grant held by the signing tribal members and ceded by this treaty. It looks just like the travel maps from Father Garces, showing a territory which extends from Death Valley in the east, across the San Joaquin Valley to the Pacific Ocean on the west and is listed as #286. This treaty was essentially a quitclaim deed where we gave up the

rights to several million acres, in exchange for exclusive control over 1.2 million acres. The 1.2 million acres that were to remain reserved for tribal jurisdiction are shown on the same American Memory government map as #285. The treaty describes reserved tract #285 as follows:
“beginning at the first forks of Kern River…thence…to the Carises Lake, thence to Buena Vista Lake, thence a straight line from…Buena Vista Lake to the nearest point of the coast range of mountains, thence along the base of said range to the mouth or westerly terminus of the Tejon Pass or Canon, and from thence a straight line to the beginning…”

We signed the treaty in good faith and were never told that our treaty was secretly shelved after the United States Senate reviewed it and bowed to pressure from legislators and investors from California. The U.S. Government and The State of California acted together, in bad faith, by doing nothing to keep their own internal and political conflicts from impacting the peaceful lives of the Kawaiisu Tribe as they continued to live on their ancestral homeland.

As the stories of California’s resources traveled east, wagon trains of new settlers arrived. These easterners were seeking a good life with dreams of land ownership at bargain prices. The Kawaiisu were living and maintaining the terms of the treaty, yet miners, ranchers and settlers were encroaching on our territory. Our tribe did not understand why this was happening. It created a politically charged climate, inflamed when European men sexually brutalized our women and children and senselessly killed thousands of Indians to remove them from the land.

The United States was slow to step in and save us even though the military had ongoing communication from California about the slaughters. Finally, on March 3, 1853 (10 Stat. 226, 238) Congress passed a bill to establish and fund five reservations in California for the protection of the Indians. The first reservation was the Tejon Reservation (also called Sebastian Reservation) which was established in September 1853. It contained 75,000 acres which was surveyed and funded for that purpose.

A map on the American Memory web site shows the reservation in September 1853 as #311.

On March 3, 1855 (10 Stat. 686, 699) Congress passed another Indian funding bill that reduced each California reservation to only 25,000 acres. Tejon Reservation was funded again but it was not re-surveyed to reflect the reduced size, even though the Secretary of the Interior made that order on November 25, 1856.

Since that time there is no Congressional or Presidential record indicating that the Tejon Reservation was terminated or abolished. There is no record that the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon was terminated. In fact, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had ongoing dialogue regarding the Tejon Indians well into the 1940’s. In December 1915 a BIA agent noted there were 79 Indians living at Tejon Reservation and in October 1918 a BIA agent from the Tule River Agency noted there were 80. The BIA sent correspondence discussing 12,000 acres for the Tejon Indians and in the 1920's built an Indian school on the Tejon Reservation. In November 1924 the BIA Commissioner noted 75 Indians, 20 of which attended the school on the reservation. The Indian school was in operation on the reservation until 1945 when the teacher there retired and the Tejon Indian children had to be transferred to other Kern County schools. The local paper photographed an Indian burial on the reservation in 1964 and at least one descendant is still living there.

It is not surprising then that the United States government issued trust lands to our tribal members. These allotments are located throughout the original Spanish land grant territory. Some of these allotment lands are currently active and many have been stolen “by peaceful means.”

History: June 1924 - Supreme Court rules against Indians in favor of Tejon Ranch owners

The destiny of the Kawaiisu Tribe has been impacted by a Southern California land and mineral rights grab, calculated to take advantage of the history of the times and the long distance between California and the east coast seat of the U.S. Government. First of all, California was lobbying to be accepted into the Union as a state. The California State Legislature voted in their constitution in December 1849, but did not become part of the Union until September 1850. California legislators and business investors knew that when a state enters the Union an Enabling Act is agreed to, allowing the new state to appropriate unpatented lands. They were also well aware that a large part of California’s open land was covered by Spanish land grants to Native Americans.

The politicians in California worked quickly to create a new law that guaranteed the outright theft of Native American ancestral homeland. The law was called “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians (Chapter 133, Statutes of California, April 22, 1850). Even though Union politics had determined that California could not legalize slavery, pro-slavery supporters in the legislature found a way to get around the restriction. The “Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” amounted to an Indian slavery law. This law expanded the peonage system of free Indian labor for mining and cattle interests. It also denied an Indian the right to testify against a white person and made sure that the local constable notified Indians of their new status.

Eleven months later, the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act California politicians and investors had been lobbying for. The “Act of March 3, 1851” (C.41, 9 Stat 631) assigned a two year commission to review California’s Spanish land grants and had the commission hold court in San Francisco. All Spanish and Mexican land grant holders were required to present their land claims to the commission or abandon their rights forever. California Indians were never informed about the San Francisco land commission hearings. They also had other restrictions that prevented their appearance. Under the new California “Indian slave law” they were being collected for free labor, rounded up and beaten or executed if they resisted. As such our tribe never presented our claim to the commission, nor did the United States appear before the commission as a trustee for us.

Seventy years later, in 1924, the Supreme Court decided a case in favor of Title Insurance and Trust Company, a water, oil and newspaper syndicate which held the Tejon Ranch patent. The Supreme Court held that by not appearing before the commission the Indians had voluntarily abandoned their claim to the land. Twenty years later, in the 1940’s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was using this case as an excuse to deny it's trust responsibilities and services to the Kawaiisu people.

This legal proceeding should have been reviewed and reversed long ago. When it was filed in 1920 and decided in 1924, Native Americans were still prevented from testifying on their own behalf. Because we had no input, many of the facts the court needed were never told. The Tejon Ranch patent in question had been acquired and packaged by Edward F. Beale. Beale was the officer who managed the Tejon Indian Reservation after he became the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in February 1852. Beale enslaved the Indians and kept them from the San Francisco commission hearings. He collected Tejon Reservation funds from the government and began to acquire the land surrounding the reservation. He was removed from his Bureau of Indian Affairs position in 1854 but gained the support of California politicians. In 1856 California Governor Johnson commissioned Lieutenant Beale as a Brigadier General and sent him fully empowered to make war on Southern California tribes who were causing trouble. To carry out the views of the Governor, General Wool gave authority to General Beale to draw forces from Fort Tejon for that purpose. Soon a group of California politicians and investors wrote to President Lincoln and recommended him for a new position. In July 1861, Lincoln appointed Beale to the position of Surveyor-General of California. In this position, Beale was in charge of surveying and approving land patents. In the 2.5 years Beale was employed as Surveyor-General thousands of acres of land patents were approved in his name, land that had originally belonged to Native Americans. The very land patent in question, in this Supreme Court case, had the Beale Surveyor-General stamp of approval. The Supreme Court referred to an 1863 patent to a Mexican grantee, but records show Beale was already the owner at that time. It was also common knowledge that he moved the property lines and thereby manipulated the titles. A simple review of Spanish/Mexican "rancho" property law and how boundaries of “ranchos” and “rancherias” interact would have brought his surveys into question. The Title Insurance and Trust Company was never asked to prove those boundaries. The tarnished reputation of General Beale quickly caught up with him. On February 17, 1864 President Lincoln fired Beale because of misappropriation of Indian funds. Beale was supposed to return to Washington to give President Lincoln property deeds from the ranchos and Native American land surrounding the Tejon reservation. Instead Beale contacted President Lincoln and said he had lost the deeds. President Lincoln removed Beale from office but no government agency stepped in to ensure that the Tejon Indians were protected. After losing his job, Beale joined investors to form the Star Oil Company and claimed that all of the Tejon Indians had been transferred to the Tule Reservation. BIA correspondence discounts Beale’s claim. Well into the 1920’s, a Tule River Indian Agency agent and a BIA Commissioner verified numerous Indians remaining to run the Tejon Reservation cattle ranch, farming and mining operation. After Beale died the family sold the ranch to the Title Insurance and Trust Company who then took steps to evict the Indian reservation residents. They even tricked the Indians into believing they had to pay the ranch rent so they would not lose their land or jobs. When the Indians could not afford to pay the rent the company used non-payment to go after the property by “peaceful means.”

Creating an economic development plan for the Kawaiisu Tribe

In order to fight poverty and prevent the deterioration of our culture and language, the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon need to be returned to the Federal Register. Legal precedent seems to indicate a favorable outcome if we choose to pursue legal action. In one Supreme Court example called Mattz vs. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481 (1973), the unanimous court ruled that the allotment provisions of the Act of June 17, 1892 are completely consistent with continued reservation status. In other words, by issuing allotments the Department of Interior and Congress are continuing to recognize the existence of a tribe and it’s reservation. In that Supreme Court case the existence of allotments reversed termination, led to the tribe’s Federal Recognition and delineated “Indian Country” for the tribe. An area is typically designated “Indian Country” when it is an aboriginal territory that has been demonstrated to offer long standing cultural significance to the tribe. This covers ancestral activities such as hunting and fishing, traditional ceremonies like our annual pinoning and most important in our case, the significant rock art which our tribe has maintained since time immemorial. The courts have a record of designating “Indian Country” as the land base that “is” deeded to the tribe or that “once was” deeded to the tribe such as: English land grants, Mexican land grants and Spanish land grants. If we choose to investigate these legal avenues and prevail, the tribe will be able to develop a viable plan for the future. This will begin with running water and electricity and will eventually extend to healthcare, cultural enrichment and formal education for our children.


"Wormie Annie" 4 foot x 10 foot steel etching

David Laughing Horse Robinson is a direct descendant and elected Chairman of the Kawaiisu Tribe. He is an accomplished artist who uses steel sculpture and etchings to convey the Native American symbols which are commonly used in Kawaiisu rock art. Laughing Horse has been researching and documenting Kawaiisu solar and lunar calendars for the past 15 years. He is in the process of presenting his research in documentary video format, translating the scientific data recorded on petroglyphs and pictographs. The first documentary will explain the history of why rock art exists in the America’s and why they occur where they do. Kate DeVries is the primary historian and researcher for the Kawaiisu Tribe. She is a video producer with eighteen years experience writing, shooting and editing for television. Kate is writing the scripts for the upcoming documentaries about the solar and lunar calendars of the Kawaiisu Tribe.

For more information on the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon
Write to: P.O. Box 1547, Kernville, CA 93238
Attention: David Laughing Horse Robinson, Chairman
Or e-mail: horse dot robinson at gmail dot com

Petroglyph Steps

Pictograph cave south of Bakersfield

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