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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Temal Wakhish: A Desert Cahuilla Village


An environmental impact survey of property on the Riverside County Airport at Thermal, California, has recently revealed the remains of a major Desert Cahuilla village. Instead of the ethnographic summary drawn from published sources which usually accompanies environmental impact reports, it was decided to undertake an ethnohistorical investigation of the site. This paper represents a collaboration between the authors aimed at providing a brief ethnography of the village of Temal Wakhish on the Thermal Airport property. (For an explanation of English and Cahuilla placenames in the Coachella Valley, see Table 1.) The data presented here were obtained from a review of ethnographic sources, the junior author's extensive knowledge of oral history of the village and the surrounding area, and as the result of a walkover survey of the site.

We hope this paper will demonstrate the value of collaboration between Native Americans and anthropologists. Archaeologists sometimes pass up a potentially valuable source of data in interpreting the archaeological record by ignoring living Native Americans. Ethnohistorical investigations of the sort presented here not only permit more detailed inferences in interpreting archaeological remains, but also preserve important ethnographic data that might otherwise be lost. Such a collaboration may also reduce the mistrust many Native Americans have for the motives behind archaeological research and environmental impact surveys. As Mrs. Modesto puts it:

Archaeologists dig things up and don't tell people anything and carry them away sometimes. This is the reason people don't want archaeologists to come to the reservations. They don't want them because they don't tell the people anything. They just come and dig. I think they could get along much better. Probably there are still many people yet that know the old history and they could talk to the archaeologists. That way the archaeologists could get to know the Indian better. I have myself seen desecrated graves, bones scattered everywhere, and this is terrible; a sacrilege. If the archaeologists would only come and speak to the people it would be better.

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