Our Native American Heritage

The first evidence of the Cahuilla Indians camping and hunting in the Coachella Valley is from about 900 years ago. The early Native Americans realized the curative powers of the mineral springs in the palm oasis at the foot of the San Jacinto mountains.  The local Agua Caliente Band is an off-shoot of the Cahuilla Indian tribe. 

The Indians were trusting and hard-working.  In the 1850s, they helped the white man to build irrigation projects, farmed for them, maintained stage coach stops and even helped build the railroad.

Francis Patencio, a former Chief of the Agua Caliente Tribe, had this to say: "The way of the Indians was very hard.  First he learned the way of the Spanish....then the way of the Mexican. Then, he had to learn again... the way of the white man.  The Indian could not please everyone."

Dolores, Wife To Francis Patencio,

Chief of the Agua Caliente Tribe

Here, his wife shows her considerable skill with basket weaving, while she sits outside her home in the fresh desert air.

Photo courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society

Dolores Patencio

Fig Tree John

Fig Tree John lived his life at the Salton Sea and grew many, many fig trees, hence, his name. John was a very well known Cahuilla Native American. He is rumored to have lived for 136 years before passing on.

In 1862, an outbreak of smallpox killed 6,000 - 10,000 Cahuillas before the epidemic ended, leaving about 2,500 Cahuilla alive.  In 1891, Congress passed the Act for the Relief of Mission Indians; boundaries for all of the Coachella Valley reservations were established and remain to this day.    

Photo courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society

Fig Tree John

Marcos Belardo, the Paxaa

Marcos was the "Paxaa" at the Agua Caliente Reservation in the mid 1920s. A Paxaa was then an assistant who helped to conduct ceremonies, solve differences, organize hunting parties and fulfill other duties for the tribe.

Richard Milanovich, former chairman of the Agua Caliente Tribal Council, says there are currently about 265 (in 1989) tribal members.


The tribe realizes substantial wealth from fees to their canyons, leasing out land to Palm Springs and Cathedral City businesses, residences and casinos.  The Agua Caliente Indians are now financially secure and are admired by their Native American brothers across the country.

Photo courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society

Marcos Belardo

Dolores Patencio

About the 1920s

A lady of consummate skill.

Photo courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society

Dolores Patencio


You are welcome to use our images
found on this website.

Simply include a photo credit
to the Cathedral City Historical Society.

Enjoy them and thank you.

P.O. Box 444

Cathedral City, CA  92235
Email Us

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • YouTube
  • Amazon Social Icon