Native Americans of Los Angeles

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Some of the earlist people in Southern California were Hokan-speaking tribes. These included the Chumash of Santa Barbara. The Hokans in the future Los Angeles region were displaced by tribes of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family (descended from the Shoshone tribe).

When the Spaniards arrived there were at least 5,000 Indians in modern Los Angeles County -- and maybe many more.

The Indians lived in villages of 100 to 300 people, with the larger villages located closer to the coast's plentiful sea food. A village could contain several clans, and the chief was likely the leader of the dominant clan. Normally a chief's son succeeded his father, but if here incapable then another male descendant would be chosen. The Indians were hunters and gatherers, sustaining themselves on small animals and birds, fish, grains, nuts, berries and seeds. They lived in cone shapd huts framed with branches of willow trees and thatched with grasses and rushes.
They did not make pottery but had steatite and soapstone dishes. They also made excellent baskets and took from the local tarpits to waterproof baskets for cooking.

Men and children wore no clothes during good weather. Women wove cottonwood or willow bark into skirts. Both men and women wore fur capes in cool weather. Mortars and pestles were used to grind acorn flour. They were largely healthy, free of the foreign diseases that ravaged them later. They were peaceful and welcomed the Spaniards. After San Gabriel MIssion was established, the Franciscan missionaries strenously and diligently tried to convert the Indians and teach the so-called neophytes to grow crops and manufacture handicrafts. They learned to wool- and cotton-weaving, carpentry and soapmaking.

The Spanish named the Indians based on the Franciscan Mission to which many became attached. Thus they were called Gabrielinos or Fernandenos, but in fact were diverse and spoke Chumash, Serrano and Gabrielino languages.

Unfortunately several outbreaks against the missions were precipitated by Spanish soldiers' outrageous behavior toward Indian women. But over time more and more Indians were converted, becoming an enormous work force for the Franciscans. Unfortunately the Indians suffered greatly under the regimented lifestyle imposed on them by the Spaniards and their total lack of freedom and inability to perform tribal customs and activities. With no immunity from diseases brought by Spaniards, they became ill and their numbers went into freefall.

After the secularization of the missions in the 1830s, the Indians drifted to the towns or tried to find work on the ranchos. Mostly they lived in hardship and poverty, only to be decimated almost completely by smallpox epidemics in the 1860s. Very few lived into the twentieth century.

The Pueblo was first founded in 1781 on the banks of hte Porciuncula River, near the Indian village Yang-Na.

Some artifacts found in recent excavations at El Pueblo include pelican whistles and steatite fragments. Several other Indian villages were also located nearby.