Rupert Costo

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Rupert Costo (1906 – October 20, 1989) was a full-blooded Cahuilla Indian and an American Indian author, publisher, philanthropist and founder of the American Indian Historical Society.[1][2] He had many careers and avocations throughout his life, including farmer, cattle rancher, surveyor, and mineralogist.[2] He also served as an engineer for the California Division of Highways for nearly 20 years.[2]


Early life[edit]

Costo was born in Hemet, California, and was raised on the nearby Cahuilla Reservation.[2] He attended Riverside City College in the 1920s along with classmate John Gabbert, who ultimately became a Superior Court Judge.[2] Following his time at Riverside Community College, he attended Whittier College and then the University of Nevada.[3]

Soil conservation[edit]

Costo was key in the establishment of the Anza Soil Conservation District, now known as the Elsinore-Murrieta-Anza Resource Conservation District.[4]

Native American advocacy[edit]

Costo served as a member of the governing board of Cahuilla Reservation for more than 20 years[4] and its spokesman for 8 years.[2] He also served as a lobbyist fighting for Native American land rights for two years in Washington, D.C.[2] and was a member of the American Indian Federation in the late 1930s.[5]

He founded the American Indian Historical Society in 1950[1][2] in an effort to ensure scholarly examination of Native American lives as opposed to the stereotypes so prevalent in United States' society at the time.[3] As part of the same efforts, he and his wife, Jeannette Costo, founded the scholarly journal The Indian Historian as well as the popular press periodical Wassaja.[2]

The Costos founded the Indian Historian Press, a for-profit publishing house dedicated to publishing titles documenting or related to the Native American experience in the United States.[6]

University of California, Riverside advocacy[edit]

Rupert Costo and his lifelong friend, Superior Court Judge John Gabbert, were key players in lobbying the University of California to establish a university in Riverside, California.[6]

Marriage and children[edit]

Rupert Costo was married to Jeannette Henry Costo, a reporter for The New York Times, the Detroit Free Press, and The Plain Dealer, in 1954.[7] Mrs. Costo was a Cherokee Indian and a Native American activist in her own right.[2] She died on July 27, 1998.

Death and afterward[edit]

Rupert Costo died on October 20, 1989, at his home in San Francisco, California.[3]


His extensive personal library documenting the Native American experience in the United States was donated to the University of California Riverside Libraries in May 1986.[2] The Costo Chair in American Indian History at the University of California, Riverside, was named in his honor.[2]

Political views[edit]

Costo and his wife Jeannette opposed the efforts within the Catholic Church to name Father Junipero Serra a saint based on the claim that he treated Native Americans in an inhumane fashion.[7]

Published works[edit]

  • Textbooks and the American Indian (1970)[6]
  • Indian Voices: the Native American Today (1974)[6]
  • Indian Treaties: Two Centuries of Dishonor (1977) [6]
  • A Thousand Years of American Indian Storytelling (1981)[6]
  • The Mission of California: A Legacy of Genocide (1987)[6]
  • Natives of the Golden State: The California Indians (1995)[7]


Costo was named the Riverside Community College Alumni of the Year.[2]



  1. ^ a b Sahagun, Louis (May 2, 1986). "Indians Pull Up Scholarly Chair at UC Riverside". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Yetzer, Carl (May 10, 1986). "UCR receives Indian library at ceremony". The San Bernardino Sun. 
  3. ^ a b c "Rupert Costo; American Indian Scholar Who Fought Stereotypes". Los Angeles Times. October 23, 1989. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Indian books and artifacts donated to UC Riverside". The San Bernardino Sun. October 29, 1985. 
  5. ^ Hauptman, Laurence M. (November 1983). "The American Indian Federation and the Indian New Deal: A Reinterpretation". Pacific Historical Review. 52 (4): 384. JSTOR 3639073. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Chambers, Ian (2001). "The History of Native American Studies at the University of California Riverside". Indigenous Nations Studies Journal. 2 (2): 83–94. 
  7. ^ a b c "American Indian historians will speak at UCR today". The Press-Enterprise. Riverside, Calif. May 8, 1986. 

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