Father Garces' Sojourn in Tehachapi, May 1776


SOURCE:  Cultural Resources Overview and Management Plan for Edwards AFB, California, Vol 1 Overview of Prehistoric Cultural Resources, March 1997

Garces' diary and later ethnographic information indicate that the Kawaiisu were living in the area between Walker pass and Kelso Creek in the north and Tehachapi and Brite's Valley in the south at the time of Spanish contact.  Accounts of visitors to the area until as late as the 1860's and 1870's provide information on the locations of Kawaiisu rancherias.  Father Garces visited a Kitanemuk rancheria in Tejon Creek Canyon just to the southwest of Kawaiisu territory in 1776.  A major trail dating from prehistoric times led northeast from Tejon Creek up the ridge face to the west of Cummings Mountain, and thence into the southern end of Cummings Valley.  This route appears to have been followed by Father Garces, who departed Tejon Creek on 11 May 1776, climbing northeastward into Cummings Valley, where he camped at a lake he called the Laguna de San Venancio.  He continued the next day into Brite's Valley and Tehachapi Valley.  There he encountered a rancheria inhabited by Kawaiisu women and children, apparently somewhere in the west center of the Tehachapi Valley, where he camped.  The men were absent hunting, he was told.  There he was provided with meat, seeds, and several baskets.

Kitanemuk consultant Pedro Cuhueye provided John P. Harrington with information of Kawaiisu political geography.  He noted that the Kawaiisu occupied Cummings Valley, Brite Valley, Bear Mountain (called Tusi), and Tehachapi and environs (Harrington, 1986,: Reel98: Fdr. 664-670).  In the Cumming Valley, the site of George Cummings' house was Hakapea or Ahakapea.  Pedro Cuhueye mentioned this term as applying to Cummings Valley as a whole.  He indicated that "the Indians thought of the aguajes" when they gave name to places.  A large aguaje or water source called Hupitspea was said to have been located south of the ranch towards Cummings Mountain.  A the Chanac Ranch was a lake, called Memeyek, which has since dried up.  Native consultants mentioned a number of lakes and marshes in the Tehachapi region that had dried up after the Whites came.  Major sites have been mentioned by local residents of the area at a spring on the west side of Brite Valley and another site at Indian Hill, southeast of the Cummings Ranch.  The Brite Valley site, at the principal spring in the valley, was referred to as Chilampea or Chiram.  It is possible that the lake at the Chanac Ranch (Memeyek) corresponds to a marshy area shown at the head of Chanac Creek east of the ranch on the 1914 Caliente quadrangle topographic map.  The site of Memeyek would be one of several possible places in Cummings Valley where the Laguna de San Venancio may have been located.  Another rancheria was located at Caliente (Hihinkeavea in Kitanemuk), just to the northwest of the western end of the Tehachapi Valley.

Cuhueye called Tehachapi Tahits pe, referring presumably to what is now called Old Town, the original site of the modern community.  He said there there used to be a rancheria there whose inhabitants spoke Kawaiisu.  This would probably have been the settlement visited by Father Garces in 1776 and the Williamson railroad survey in 1853 (Coues, 1900, p. 304; Williamson, 1856, p. 19). A second rancheria some three miles to the east was reported in Tehachapi Valley in 1853.  This may have been the historic village located near the modern site of the cement plant at Monolith.  Just to the east were two rancherias, Maa aputs and Nettle Springs, in the Sand Canyon area.  Near the latter was an important sacred site, Tomo kahni.