The Whipple 35th Parallel Railroad Survey: Mohave Indians

The Whipple 35th Parallel Railroad Survey, led by Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple in 1853, was a pivotal expedition to explore a potential transcontinental railroad route along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles, California. Commissioned by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the survey aimed to assess the feasibility of the railroad, gather scientific data, and document interactions with Native American tribes, significantly contributing to the understanding and development of the American West.

Excerpt from – Harper’s New Monthly Magazine
The Tribes of the Thirty-Fifth Parallel

September 1858
VOL. XVII.–No. 100


Leaving the beautiful valley of the Chemehuevis, we presently find our friends among the shrewd, sprightly, and hospitable Mojaves. On the 25th of February, they were honored by a visit of ceremony from a pompous old chief of the Mojaves, who presented credentials from Major Heintzelman.–The Major wrote that the bearer, Captain Francisco, had visited Fort Yuma, with a party of warriors, while on an expedition against the Cocopas, and that he had professed friendship; but Americans were advised not to trust him.

The parade and ceremony with which the visit was set off were not, in this instance, altogether vain and idle, for without them that august personage, Captain Francisco, might easily have been mistaken for the veriest[sic] beggar of his tribe. He was old, shriveled, ugly, and naked-but for a strip of dirty cloth suspended by a cord from his loins and an old black hat, band-less and torn, drawn down to his eyes. But his credentials were satisfactory, and he was received with all the honors and installed in a stately manner on a blanket. The object of the expedition was explained to him, and he cordially promised aid and comfort. A few trinkets, some tobacco, and red blankets cut into narrow strips were then presented for distribution among the warriors. The chief would accept nothing for himself, so the council was dissolved. The Mojave chiefs look upon foreign gifts in a national light and accept them only in the name of the people.

Savedra counted six hundred Indians in camp, of whom probably half had brought bags of meal or baskets of corn for sale. The market was opened, and all were crowding, eager to be the first at the stand, amidst shouts, laughter, and a confusion of tongues-English, Spanish, and Indian.

When the trading was concluded, the Mojave people sauntered about the camp in picturesque and merry groups, making the air ring with peals of laughter. Some of the young men selected a level spot, forty paces in length, for a play-ground, and amused themselves with their favorite game of hoop-and-poles. The hoop is six inches in diameter, and made of elastic cord; the poles are straight, and about fifteen feet in length. Rolling the hoop from one end of the course toward the other, two of the players chase it half-way, and at the same time throw their poles. He who succeeds in piercing the hoop wins the game.

Target-firing and archery were then practiced–the exploring party using rifles and Colt’s pistols, and the Indians shooting arrows.

The fire-arms were triumphant; and at last an old Mojave, mortified at the discomfiture of his people, ran in a pet and tore down the target. Notwithstanding the unity of language, the family resemblance, and amity between the Cuchans and Mojaves, a jealousy, similar to that observed among Pimas and Maricopas, continually disturbs their friendship. A squaw detected her little son in the act of concealing a trinket that he fancied. She snatched the bauble from him with a blow and a taunt, saying, “Oh, you Cuchan!” Some one inquired if he belonged to that tribe. “Oh no,” she replied ” he is a Mojave, but behaves like a Cuchan, whose trade is stealing !” Nevertheless, the Cuchans are welcomed by the Mojaves wherever they go.

These Indians are probably in as wild a state of nature as any tribe on American territory.

They have not had sufficient intercourse with any civilized people to acquire a knowledge of their language or their vices. It was said that no white party had ever before passed through their country without encountering hostility.

Nevertheless they appear intelligent, and to have naturally amiable dispositions. The men are tall, erect, and well-proportioned; their features inclined to European regularity; their eyes large, shaded by long lashes, and surrounded by circles of blue pigment, that add to their apparent size. The apron, or breech-cloth, for men, and a short petticoat, made of strips of the inner bark of cotton-wood, for women, are the only articles of dress deemed indispensable; but many of the females have long robes, or cloaks, of fur. The young girls wear heads.

When married, their chins are tattooed with vertical blue lines, and they wear a necklace with a single sea-shell in front, curiously wrought.

Those shells are very ancient, and esteemed of great value.

From time to time they rode into the camp, mounted on spirited horses; their bodies and limbs painted and oiled, so as to present the appearance of highly-polished mahogany. The dandies paint their faces perfectly black. Warriors add a streak of red across the forehead nose, and chin. Their ornaments consist of leathern bracelets, adorned with bright buttons, and worn on the left arm; a kind of tunic, made of buckskin fringe, hanging from the shoulders; beautiful eagles’ feathers, called “sormeh”–sometimes white, sometimes of a crimson tint-tied to a lock of hair, and floating from the top of the head; and, finally, strings of wampum, made of circular pieces of shell, with holes in the centre, by which they are strung, often to the length of several yards, and worn in coils about the neck.

These shell beads, which they call “pook,” are their substitute for money, and the wealth of an individual is estimated by the “pook” cash he possesses. Among the Cuchans, in 1852, a foot of “pook” was equal in value to a horse; and divisions to that amount are made by the insertion of blue stones, such as by Coronado and Alargon were called “turkoises,” [turquoise] and are now found among ancient Indian ruins.

The Mojave rancherias are surrounded by granaries filled with corn, mesquite beans, and tortillas. The houses are constructed with an eye to durability and warmth. They are built upon sandy soil, and are thirty or forty feet square; the sides, about two feet thick, of wicker-work and straw; the roofs matched, covered with earth, and supported by a dozen cottonwood posts. Along the interior walls are ranged large earthen pots, filled with stores of corn, beans, and flour, for daily use. In front is a wide shed, a sort of piazza, nearly as large as the house itself. Here they find shelter from rain and sun. Within, around a small fire in the centre, they sleep. But their favorite resort seems to be the roof, where could usually be counted from twenty to thirty persons, all apparently at home. Near the houses were a great number of cylindrical structures, with conical roofs, quite skillfully made of osiers; these were the granaries, alluded to above, for their surplus stores of corn and mesquite.

As the explorers passed these rancherias, the women and children watched them from the house-tops; and the young men, for the moment, suspended their sport with hoop and poles. At first only a few of the villagers seemed inclined to follow them, but at length their little train swelled to an army a mile in length.

On the 27th of February, being favored with a clear and calm morning, they hastened to take advantage of it to cross the river; but the rapid current and the long ropes upset their ” gondola” in mid-stream. The Mojaves, who are capital swimmers, plunged in and helped them save their property. Many had brought rafts to the spot, anticipating the disaster. These were of simple construction, being merely bundles of rushes placed side by side, and securely bound together with osiers.

But they were light and manageable, and their crews plied them with considerable dexterity.

It was night when finally the great work was accomplished-the Colorado crossed, and the camp pitched on the right bank.

Our friends had now quite exhausted their stock in trade in gifts, although large quantities of grain were yet in camp for sale. When told that their white brothers were too poor to buy, the Indians expressed no disappointment, but strolled from fire to fire, laughing, joking, curious but not meddlesome, trying, with a notable faculty of imitation, to learn the white man’s language, and to teach their own.

As long as our explorers were among them, these Mojaves were gay and happy, talking vicariously, singing, laughing. Confiding in the good intentions and kindness of the strangers, they laid aside for the time their race’s studious reserve. Tawny forms glided from one camp-fire to another, or reclined around the blaze, their bright eyes and pearly teeth glistening with animation and delight. They displayed a new phase of Indian character, bestowing an insight into the domestic amusements which are probably popular at their own firesides: mingling among the soldiers and Mexicans, they engaged them in games and puzzles with strings, and some of their inventions in this line were quite curious.

No doubt these simple people were really pleased with the first dawning light of civilization.

They feel the want of comfortable clothing, and appreciate some of the advantages of trade. There is no doubt that, before many years pass away, a great change will have taken place in their country. The advancing tide of emigration will sweep over it, and, unless the strong arm of Government protects them, the Mojaves will be driven to the mountains or exterminated.

When the exploring party wore about to leave, the chiefs came with an interpreter, to say that a national council had been held, in which they had approved of the plan for opening a great road through the Mojave country. They knew that on the trail usually followed by the Pai’ Utes toward California the springs were scanty, and insufficient for the train; that thus the mules might perish on the road, and the expedition fail. Therefore they had selected a good man, who knew the country well, and would send him to guide their white brothers by another route, where an abundance of water and grass would be found. They wished their white brothers to report favorably of their conduct to the Great Chief at Washington, in order that he might send many more of his people to pass that way, and bring clothing and utensils to exchange for the produce of their fields.

Desiring to learn something of their notions regarding the Deity, death, and a future existence, Lieutenant Whipple led an intelligent Mojave to speak upon these subjects. One stooped and drew in the sand a circle, which he said was to represent the former casa, or dwelling-place of Mat-e-vil, Creator of Earth (which was a woman) and Heaven. After speaking for some time with impressive, and yet almost unintelligible, earnestness regarding the traditions of that bright era of their race which all Indians delight in calling to remembrance, he referred again to the circle, and suiting the action to the word, added:

“This grand habitation was destroyed, the nations were dispersed, and Mat-e-vil took his departure, going eastward over the great waters. 110 promised, however, to return to his people and dwell with them forever; and the time of his coming they believe to be near at hand.”

The narrator then became enthusiastic in the anticipation of that event, which is expected to realize the Indian’s hopes of a paradise on earth. Much that he said was incomprehensible. The principal idea suggested was the identity of their Deliverer, coming from the east, with the Montezuma of the Pueblo Indians, or perhaps the Messiah of Israel; and yet the name of Montezuma seemed utterly unknown to this Indian guide. His ideas of a future existence appeared somewhat vague and undefined. The Mojaves, he said, were accustomed to burn the bodies of the dead; but they believe that an undying soul arises from the ashes of the deceased, and takes its flight, over the mountains and waters, eastward to the happy spirit-land.

Loroux says, that he has been told by a priest of California that the Colorado Indians were Aztecs, driven from Mexico at the time of the conquest of Cortez. He thinks the circle represents their ancient city, and the water spoken of refers to the surrounding lakes. This idea derives some plausibility from the fact, mentioned by Alargon, that, in his memorable expedition up the Colorado River in 1540, he met with tribes that spoke the same language as his Indian interpreters, who accompanied him from the City of Mexico, or Culiacan.

The Mojave People

The Mojave Indians are a Native American tribe indigenous to the southwestern United States, primarily in the Mojave Desert region, which spans parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. They have a rich ethnography and ethnohistory characterized by their unique cultural practices, social organization, and historical interactions with European settlers.

Here are some key aspects of the Mojave Indians’ ethnography and ethnohistory:

  1. Language and Culture: The Mojave people traditionally spoke the Mojave language, part of the Yuman language family. Their culture was closely tied to the natural environment of the Mojave Desert, and they had a deep knowledge of desert plants and animals. They practiced farming along the Colorado River and engaged in hunting and gathering.
  2. Social Organization: The Mojave society was organized into clans, and their social structure was matrilineal, meaning descent and inheritance were traced through the mother’s line. Clan membership played a significant role in their social and kinship systems.
  3. Religion and Spirituality: Mojave religious beliefs were centered around a complex system of spirits and deities associated with the natural world. The Colorado River played a significant role in their spiritual beliefs, and ceremonies often revolved around it. The Mojave Creation Story is an important part of their religious narrative.
  4. Contact with European Settlers: Like many Native American tribes, the Mojave people experienced significant changes with the arrival of European settlers. In the 19th century, they encountered Spanish explorers, Mexican settlers, and American pioneers. These encounters led to conflicts and changes in their way of life.
  5. Fort Mojave Reservation: In the 19th century, the Mojave people were relocated to the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which is located near Needles, California. The reservation is still home to many Mojave tribal members today.
  6. Contemporary Mojave: Today, the Mojave people continue to preserve and celebrate their cultural heritage. They have cultural centers and organizations that work to maintain their traditions, languages, and arts. The tribe also engages in economic development and land management on their reservation.

The ethnography and ethnohistory of the Mojave Indians provide valuable insights into the history and culture of this indigenous group in the American Southwest. Researchers and historians continue to study and document their traditions to preserve their cultural heritage for future generations.

Wikiup (Shelter)

Mono Paiute wickiup – Edward Curtis 1900 (colorized)

A “wikiup” in the context of Native American culture typically refers to a traditional type of shelter or dwelling. It is a simple, dome-shaped structure constructed using a framework of branches or saplings. The frame is often covered with various materials, such as brush, reeds, grass, or sometimes animal hides. Various indigenous peoples in North America commonly used these shelters.

The design of wikiups varied among different tribes, reflecting the local environment and available resources. They were relatively easy to construct and could be adapted to different climates. Nomadic or semi-nomadic groups often used Wikiups as temporary or seasonal shelters.

It’s important to note that the term “wikiup” might be spelled or pronounced differently in various indigenous languages, and the specific features of these shelters could vary based on cultural and regional differences.

Chumash Indians

The Chumash are a Native American people who historically inhabited the coastal and inland regions of California, particularly the Central and Southern California coastal areas. Their traditional territory includes areas from the Santa Barbara Channel to Malibu. The Chumash are considered part of the Hokan language family.

The Chumash people are known for their complex social organization, advanced maritime technology, and well-developed basketry and rock art. They were skilled fishermen, hunters, and gatherers, relying on the rich marine resources of the Pacific Ocean as well as the diverse plant and animal life in their environment.

The Chumash were organized into chiefdoms, each with its leader, and they lived in villages with plank-built houses. Their society had a sophisticated economic and political structure and traded with neighboring tribes.

With the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 18th century, the Chumash were profoundly affected by European colonization. Spanish missions were established in Chumash territory, leading to changes in their way of life, the introduction of new diseases, and the disruption of their social structures.

Today, Chumash people continue to maintain and revitalize their cultural traditions. Ongoing efforts are to preserve Chumash languages, arts, and traditional knowledge. Some Chumash individuals and communities are also involved in cultural and educational initiatives, including managing tribal museums and interpretive centers that showcase Chumash history and heritage.

The Chumash are recognized as a sovereign tribal nation, and contemporary issues include discussions about tribal governance, land rights, and the broader acknowledgment of indigenous rights in the United States.

Halchidhoma Indians

The Halchidhoma (also spelled Halchidoma or Haltchidhoma) was a Native American tribe historically inhabiting the southwestern United States. They were part of the Yuman language-speaking people and lived in the lower Colorado River region, particularly in what is now Arizona and California. The Halchidhoma were closely related to other Yuman-speaking groups, such as the Mojave, Quechan, and Cocopah.

The Halchidhoma people were known for adapting to the desert environment and were skilled at fishing, hunting, and gathering resources in the arid landscape. They utilized the Colorado River for sustenance, catching fish, and utilizing plants for food, medicine, and other purposes.

However, the Halchidhoma tribe faced significant challenges with the arrival of European colonizers and the subsequent westward expansion of the United States. The disruption caused by the influx of settlers, diseases, and conflicts with other Native American groups and European colonists contributed to the decline of the Halchidhoma population.

Over time, the Halchidhoma people faced displacement, and their distinct tribal identity gradually faded. Today, the Halchidhoma are considered one of the many Native American groups whose historical presence has diminished, and their cultural heritage is often studied through archaeological and historical records.

It’s important to note that the history of Native American tribes is complex, and various factors, including interactions with European settlers, government policies, and environmental changes, have shaped their experiences.

Mojave Indians



The Mojave are Native American people who traditionally inhabited the Mojave Desert, which spans parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah in the United States. The Mojave people are part of the larger Yuman language family.

The Mojave are known for their adaptation to the harsh desert environment and their traditional lifestyle as hunter-gatherers. They relied on the diverse resources of the desert, including native plants, seeds, and the hunting of small game. The Colorado River, which flows through their territory, played a significant role in their lives.

Historically, the Mojave people lived in small family groups and had a strong sense of community. They built dome-shaped houses known as “kish,” their social organization included tribal leaders and spiritual figures.

With European settlers’ arrival and the United States’s expansion in the 19th century, the Mojave, like many other Native American groups, faced significant challenges. European diseases, conflicts over land, and changes in their traditional way of life profoundly affected their population and culture.

Today, the Mojave people continue to maintain their cultural traditions and have a presence on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which spans parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Efforts are underway to preserve the Mojave language, arts, and traditional knowledge. Additionally, like other Native American groups, the Mojave is engaged in discussions about tribal sovereignty, land rights, and broader issues related to recognizing indigenous rights.

Hualapai Indians

The Hualapai, also spelled Walapai, are a Native American people who traditionally lived in the western part of the United States, primarily in the Hualapai Indian Reservation in northwestern Arizona. They are part of the larger Yuman language family.

The Hualapai people are known for their strong connection to the Grand Canyon, as a significant portion of their reservation includes parts of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The term “Hualapai” translates to “People of the Tall Pines” in their language, reflecting the importance of the pine forests in their traditional territory.

Historically, the Hualapai were hunter-gatherers, relying on the resources of their diverse environment, including the Grand Canyon, plateaus, and mountainous regions. They hunted game, gathered plants, and engaged in cultural practices that reflected their close relationship with the land.

With the arrival of European settlers and the expansion of the United States, the Hualapai faced challenges such as the loss of traditional lands, conflicts over resources, and changes in their way of life. In the late 19th century, the Hualapai Reservation was established, providing a designated area for the tribe.

Today, the Hualapai people continue to preserve their cultural heritage. The Hualapai Reservation is a popular destination for tourists interested in experiencing the Grand Canyon from the perspective of the Hualapai people. The Hualapai Tribe is also known for managing the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends over the Grand Canyon.

Efforts are ongoing to maintain and revitalize the Hualapai language, arts, and traditional knowledge. Like many other Native American groups, the Hualapai are actively engaged in issues related to tribal sovereignty, land rights, and the broader recognition of indigenous rights.

Havasupai Indians

The Havasupai, or Havasu ‘Baaja, are a Native American people who have traditionally lived in the Grand Canyon region of Arizona, particularly in Havasu Canyon. “Havasupai” means “people of the blue-green water,” which reflects the turquoise color of the Havasu Creek that flows through their ancestral lands.

Havasupai’s history and culture include their deep connection to the Grand Canyon, reliance on the area’s natural resources, and their traditional practices as hunter-gatherers. Havasupai people historically hunted game, gathered plants, and engaged in trade with neighboring tribes.

In 1882, the U.S. government established the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which encompasses about 188,077 acres and includes the Havasu Canyon. The reservation is situated within the larger Grand Canyon National Park.

Some notable features of Havasupai land are the Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and other waterfalls along Havasu Creek. These natural wonders, known for their striking blue-green waters, attract visitors worldwide.

The Havasupai people maintain cultural traditions, including traditional ceremonies, crafts, and storytelling. The Havasupai language is also preserved within the community.

Tourism plays a significant role in the Havasupai economy, as visitors are allowed to experience the beauty of Havasu Canyon, including its waterfalls and hiking trails. However, the community also faces challenges in maintaining the delicate balance between tourism and preserving cultural and natural resources.

Like other Native American groups, the Havasupai are actively engaged in issues related to tribal sovereignty, land rights, and the broader recognition of indigenous rights.

Cocopah Indians

The Cocopah, or Cocopah Tribe, are a Native American people who traditionally lived along the lower Colorado River in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Their homeland includes areas in Arizona and California, as well as the Baja California region of Mexico. The Cocopah are part of the larger Yuman language family.

Historically, the key aspects of Cocopah culture included fishing, hunting, and gathering in the desert and riverine environments. They were skilled in constructing traditional houses called “káak” or “mat káak” made from arrowweed and brush. The Cocopah people have a rich cultural heritage, including traditional songs, dances, and ceremonies.

With the arrival of European settlers, the Cocopah, like many other Native American groups, faced challenges such as changes in their way of life, conflicts, and the loss of traditional lands. The Cocopah Reservation, established in the United States, is located near Somerton in southwestern Arizona.

Today, the Cocopah Tribe is engaged in cultural preservation efforts, including revitalizing the Cocopah language, traditional arts, and ceremonies. The tribe is also involved in economic development initiatives, education, and healthcare programs to benefit its community members.

The Cocopah people maintain a connection to their ancestral lands and the Colorado River, an important aspect of their cultural identity. Issues related to tribal sovereignty, water rights, and the broader recognition of indigenous rights are significant considerations for the Cocopah Tribe.

Quechan Indians

The Quechan also spelled Kwtsaan or Kwtsan, are a Native American people who traditionally inhabited the lower Colorado River Valley, including parts of present-day Arizona and California. The Quechan are part of the larger Yuman language family.

The Quechan people have a rich cultural heritage, including traditional ceremonies, dances, and crafts. They historically relied on the resources of the region, such as fish from the Colorado River, wild plants, and small game.

One of the well-known groups within the Quechan people is the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe, which is based on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. The Fort Yuma Indian Reservation is near the present-day city of Yuma, Arizona, along the Colorado River. The Quechan people have a long history in the region, and their reservation is an important center for preserving and promoting their cultural traditions.

With the arrival of European settlers and the establishment of the United States, the Quechan, like many Native American groups, faced challenges such as the loss of traditional lands, conflicts, and changes in their way of life. However, they have persisted in maintaining their cultural identity and practices.

Today, the Quechan Tribe is actively involved in issues related to tribal sovereignty, land rights, and the broader recognition of indigenous rights. The Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe engages in various cultural and educational initiatives to preserve and revitalize their language, arts, and traditions, ensuring their heritage is passed on to future generations.