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Workers making pipe turnouts on the Morongo Reservation
Total population
over 1000[1] (1995 or 1998, est.)
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( California)
English, formerly Serrano
traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
Cahuilla, Tongva, Kitanemuk, Tataviam, Vanyume

The Serrano are an indigenous people of California. They use the autonyms of Taaqtam, meaning "people"; Maarrênga’yam, "people from Morongo"; and Yuhaaviatam, "people of the pines."[2] Today the Maarrênga'yam are enrolled in the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the Yuhaviatam are enrolled in the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Additionally, some Serrano people are enrolled in the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians.[3]


History of the Serrano


Map of Serrano tribal territory and those of neighboring tribes

The Serrano are typically divided into the Mountain Serrano and the Desert Serrano. [citation needed][4] The Desert Serrano historically occupied the Western and Central Mojave Desert along the Mojave River. The Mojave River Region begins in the San Bernardino Mountains and provided ease of trading access between the Serrano and other Indigenous groups, including the Mojave.[4] The area of the Mojave Desert now and historically occupied by the Serrano used to have many oases, while it is now much drier and warmer.[5]

Serrano language is part of the Takic subset of the large Uto-Aztecan languages group of indigenous people of North America. The language family historically extended from Mexico along the West Coast and into the Great Basin, with representation among tribes in Mesoamerica.[6][7] They were a branch of the Takic languages speaking people who arrived in Southern California around 2,500 years ago. Serrano means "highlander" or "mountaineer" in Spanish.[8] When the Spanish missionaries came into the region, in the late 18th century they helped create the tribal name Serrano, distinguishing the people from neighboring tribes who were designated as the Tongva (Gabrileño—Fernandeño) to the southwest, and Kitanemuk and Tataviam to the northwest.

"Prehistory" [Archaeology of the Precolonial Periods]

Louis Leakey claims that sites within the Serrano territory, such as the "Calico" site, are proof of human occupation in the Americas as far as 50,000 years before present. Both contemporary and modern scholars find these claims to be dubious at best, although the site does hold promising artifacts and features which have been dated to the Pleistocene.[9] The earliest period of occupation at this site accepted by most scholars is known as the Lake Mojave period, which dates 12,000 bp - 7,000 bp. Sites from this period are marked by the presence of Silver Lake projectile points and Lake Mojave projectile points, compared to similar sites in the Southwest, which are often marked by the presence of Clovis Points.[9]

Excavations of two prehistoric quarries in the central Mojave indicate the lifestyles of early Serrano and Serrano-Predecessors. The quarries, dating back to the Pleistocene, indicate a much wetter landscape present in the desert than exists today. The high number of hunting tools indicate that groups in this area were mostly mobile hunter groups during the Pleistocene. Conversely, Holocene artifacts found at these quarries indicate a year-long occupation of single sites and a combination of both foraging and hunting for sustenance. Materials harvested at the sites suggest high use of stone tools such as grinding stones.[10] Lithic artifacts found in the Central Mojave suggest high exploitation of stone quarries.[11]

During the Gypsum period, subsistence strategies shifted to rely more on hunting, and early Desert Serrano adapted the bow and arrow. A much cooler and moister environment meant intensified occupation of the area.[9]

Increased moisture during the “Rose Spring” period [1700 bp- 1000bp] is closely correlated with continuous indigenous occupation of the Western Mojave, followed by an abandonment of the area during a subsequent drought.[11]

The first Takic speakers are speculated to have arrived in the area around the Shoshonean Period, around 1100 CE. These are thought to be the ancestors of the modern day Serrano groups.[9]

Historical Period [Colonial Periods]

Spanish Colonisation

The Spanish founded Mission San Gabriel Arcangel in 1771, south of the San Gabriel Mountains and southwest of the San Bernardino Mountains. With the establishment of the mission, the Serrano lands claimed by the Spanish came under the jurisdiction of the mission and its subsequent outposts, or asistencias, in particular the San Bernardino de Sena Estancia, established in 1819. With the Cahuilla and Quechan tribes, in 1812 the Serrano revolted against it and other local missions practicing Indian reductions. [citation needed]

There is significant historic documentation of trade between Serrano peoples, other, non-Serrano indigenous groups, and the Spanish in California during the 18th and 19th centuries. Diary accounts of trade from Franciscans and oral accounts from Native Serrano both discuss the Serrano “exploitation” of the Mojave River, and its use to efficiently trade both food and beads.[12][5] Coastal California groups traded shell beads and asphaltum to Southwestern groups, such as and including the Serrano, for ceramics and textiles. Coastal shell beads and shell jewelry are frequently found in pre-modern Southwestern burial sites. The traded materials are treated as “prestige goods” due to the wealthy contexts in which they are currently found by archaeologists and other researchers, indicating a healthy trade economy. The power of Indigenous trade relations hindered Spanish Colonial forces from regulating [taxing] “neophytes” and hinterland natives. Textiles woven by Southwestern groups were extremely valuable to Coastal groups, and historical accounts describe the long distance trade of these textiles through Mojave desert traders.[13]

In 1819, Serrano were relocated to estancia throughout southern California, such as the Asistencia in Redlands, California.[14][2] The Serrano built Mill Creek Zanja here, an irrigation system which provided water for most of the region.

In 1834 the Mexican Alta California government forcibly relocated many Serrano to the missions. They suffered devastating smallpox outbreaks in 1840 and 1860. [citation needed]

Due to the cultural suppression which occurred during the Mission Period, there was one remaining hümtc [shaman] who revived religious ceremonies nearly lost to time in the early 1900s, as documented by anthropologist and ethnographer Ruth F. Benedict. Ceremonies such as the tuwituaim [dance] revive not only Serrano religious and spiritual practices, but communal and familial practices as well. Spiritual practices followed by female practitioners are often associated with the pursuit of good health, such as the hot sand pit. Women practiced health rituals to rid themselves of bad energy associated with taboo, such as menstruation periods.[15]

American Colonisation

In 1867 the Yuhaviatam band of Serrano were the victims of a massacre conducted by American settlers of the San Bernardino Valley, during a 32-day campaign at Chimney Rock. The massacre was a response to a raid, probably carried out by Chemehuevi Southern Paiutes, on a white settlement at Lake Arrowhead, during which buildings were burned. Three American ranch hands were killed at a ranch called Los Flores in Summit Valley, near present-day Hesperia. Tribal leader Santos Manuel led the survivors from the mountains to the valley, where they established permanent residence adjacent to the hot springs near present-day Highland. [citation needed]

In 1891 the United States established the San Manuel Reservation for the Serrano people, which took its name to honor of Chief Santos Manuel.[2][citation needed]

The Serrano historically lived in the San Bernardino Mountains and into the San Bernardino Valley, and later extended northwest through east into the Mojave Desert, and west into the San Gabriel Mountains, the Sierra Pelona Mountains, and the southern Tehachapi Mountains. [citation needed]

The Serrano populated the San Bernardino Mountains and extended northwest into the Mojave River area of the Mojave Desert[citation needed] and west into the Tejon Creek watershed in the Tehachapi Mountains. The Serrano populations along Tejon Creek were identified as the Cuahajai or Cuabajay, their exonyms by the neighboring Mojave tribe. Mountain camps were used for hunting. One such encampment was accidentally unearthed by the U.S. Forest Service fighting a wildfire in 2003 near Baldwin Lake. Uncovered were artifacts of non-local jasper and obsidian, ash and charcoal, grinding stones, and fire pits possibly dating back 1,000 years.[16]

Serrano villages included Akxawiet, Cucamonga, Homhoabit, Jurumpa, Juyubit, Muscupiabit, Topapaibit (Victorville), Guapiabit (Hesperia), Paso del Cajon, San Benito, San Gorgonio, San Pascual, (Rancho) San Timoteo, Temeku (Rancheria), Tolocabi, and Yucaipa. [citation needed]

Modern-Day Use of Traditional Knowledge

The modern Band of Mission Indians is maintaining ancient trade relations with local Californian groups such as the Yurok. San Manuel Public Relations Manager, Jenna Brady, believes that these ancient trade relations should be maintained to both stimulate cultural growth and to stimulate economic security for indigenous Californian groups. The tribe is currently analysing prospects of new and ongoing inter-tribal relations, based on historic trade relations.[17]


Main article: Population of Native California

Estimates have varied as scholars struggle to determine the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California. (See Population of Native California.) Alfred L. Kroeber put the combined 1770 population of the Serrano, Kitanemuk, and Tataviam at 3,500 and the Serrano proper (excluding the Vanyume) at 1,500.[18] Lowell John Bean suggested an aboriginal Serrano population of about 2,500.[19]

As noted, smallpox epidemics and social disruption reduced the population. The 1880 census reported only 381 Serranos, a number Helen Hunt Jackson thought was too low as it did not account for those who were living in remote areas.[20] Kroeber estimated the combined population of the Serrano, Kitanemuk, and Tataviam in 1910 as 150.


The Morongo Reservation in Banning, California, and the San Manuel Reservation near San Bernardino, California, are both federally recognized Indian reservations belonging to the Serrano people.[21][22]

See also


  1. ^ White, Phillip. "California Indians and Their Reservations: An Online Dictionary". San Diego State University. Populations/Population Estimates - by Cultural Groups. Archived from the original on January 22, 2021. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Our History | San Manuel Band of Mission Indians". Retrieved 2023-05-15.
  3. ^ "Serrano." San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2012
  4. ^ a b Sutton1 Earle2, Mark Q.1 D. D.2 (2017). "The Desert Serrano of the Mojave River". Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly. 54 (2, 3) – via Pacific Coast Archaeological Society.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b Garcés, Francisco Tomás Hermenegildo; Coues, Elliott (1900). On the trail of a Spanish pioneer; the diary and itinerary of Francisco Garcés (missionary priest) in his travels through Sonora, Arizona, and California, 1775-1776; translated from an official contemporaneous copy of the original Spanish manuscript, and ed., with copious critical notes. University of California Libraries. New York : F. P. Harper.
  6. ^ The following material appears to come mostly from the 1901 Smithsonian Institution report on American Indians.
  7. ^ "Serrano", Handbook of the American Indian, AccessGenealogy
  8. ^ Pritzker 142
  9. ^ a b c d Altschul, Jeffrey; Johnson, William C.; Sterner, Matthew A.; Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District; Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District; Statistical Research, Inc.; SRI Press (1989). Deep Creek Site (CA-SBr-176): A Late Prehistoric Base Camp in the Mojave River Forks Region, San Bernardino County, California. Statistical Research Technical Series. Paul D. Bouey, Thomas M. Origer. Tucson, AZ: SRI Press.
  10. ^ Bamforth, Douglas B. (1990-03-01). "Settlement, raw material, and lithic procurement in the central Mojave Desert". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 9 (1): 70–104. doi:10.1016/0278-4165(90)90006-Y. ISSN 0278-4165.
  11. ^ a b SUTTON, MARK Q. (1996). "The Current Status of Archaeological Research in the Mojave Desert". Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 18 (2): 221–257. ISSN 0191-3557. JSTOR 27825611.
  12. ^ Earle, D. D. (2005). "The Mojave River and the Central Mojave Desert: Native Settlement, Travel, and Exchange in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries". Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 25 (1): 1–38. JSTOR 27825787 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Smith, Erin M.; Fauvelle, Mikael (December 2015). "Regional Interactions between California and the Southwest: The Western Edge of the North American Continental System: Regional Interactions between California and the Southwest". American Anthropologist. 117 (4): 710–721. doi:10.1111/aman.12346.
  14. ^ "National Archives NextGen Catalog". Retrieved 2023-05-15.
  15. ^ Benedict, Ruth F. (1924). "A Brief Sketch of Serrano Culture". American Anthropologist. 26 (3): 366–392. doi:10.1525/aa.1924.26.3.02a00080. JSTOR 661483.
  16. ^ Chong, Jai-Rui,Los Angeles Times " Wildfires Lead to Peek at Serrano Indian History" December 26, 2003
  17. ^ "How Yurok Tribe and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Strengthen the Relationship | San Manuel Band of Mission Indians". Retrieved 2023-05-01.
  18. ^ Kroeber, Alfred L. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C , 1925 pp 617,883
  19. ^ Bean, Lowell John, and Charles R. Smith, "Serrano", in California, edited by Robert F. Heizer, pp. 570–574. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 8. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1978 p 573
  20. ^ Brown, John Jr; Boyd, James; The Western Historical Association (1922). San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. p. 16.
  21. ^ "San Manuel Band of Mission Indians". Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  22. ^ Boyd, James; Brown Jr., John (1922). History of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Chicago: The Western Historical Association. p. 246.