Serrano people

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For other uses, see Serrano (disambiguation).
Morongo Reservation. Making 24" pipe turnouts - NARA - 298610.jpg
Workers making pipe turnouts on the Morongo Reservation
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( California)
English, Serrano
traditional tribal religion,
Christianity (Moravian)[2]
Related ethnic groups
Cahuilla and Tongva peoples

The Serrano are an indigenous people of California. They use the autonyms of Taaqtam, meaning "people"; Maarenga'yam, "people from Morongo"; and Yuhaviatam, "people of the pines." Today the Maarenga'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]

The Serrano historically lived the San Bernardino Mountains and other Transverse Ranges, and in the southern Mojave Desert, within Southern California.


The 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.[4][5] 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.[6] 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 northwest, and Kitanemuk and Tataviam to the northwest.

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]

In 1834 the Mexican Alta California government forcibly relocated many Serrano to the missions. They suffered devastating smallpox outbreaks in 1840 and 1860, as they had no immunity to the Eurasian disease.

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.

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


The Serrano historically lived 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.

The Serrano populated the San Bernardino Mountains and extended northwest into the Mojave River area of the Mojave Desert[7] 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.[8]

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


Traditionally, Serrano people were hunter-gatherers. Their society was divided into two exogamous moieties. Their villages had from 25 to a hundred people.[3]

Their dwellings were large and communal. Framed with willow branches and covered over with woven mats, the lodges were made with fireplaces inside for each family. The Serrano crafted baskets and vessels with mother-of-pearl inlays, which were often traded to the Chumash people in the coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara County regions, the Tongva in the Los Angeles basin and San Fernando Valley, and the Tataviam in the upper Santa Clara River Valley. The men did not wear clothing and the women wore deerskin, otter, and rabbit furs.

The Serrano who inhabited the San Bernardino Mountains would go to the milder areas of Apple Valley and Lucerne Valley during the winter, and the area in and around Big Bear Lake during the summer. They hunted small game such as rabbits, using traps along with bows and arrows. They did not hunt the grizzly bears, which they believed were reincarnations of their ancestors' spirits. They were skilled craftsmen and experts in basketweaving, which they created in a variety of sizes and shapes for different purposes, such as storage, carrying, and sorting.[9]

Their diet consisted of the game which they caught, and nuts and vegetables which they gathered and cooked. The women ground pinon nuts into a dough and made a flat tortilla-like bread. They also gathered acorns from oak trees and ground them for a coarse flour, from which they made a porridge called wiich. Other staples were roasted agave, prickly pears, and yucca blossoms.


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.[10] Lowell John Bean suggested an aboriginal Serrano population of about 2,500.[11]

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.[12] 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 Highland, California are both federally recognized Indian reservations belonging to the Serrano people.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ California Indians and Their Reservations: Population. San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2010. Retrieved 25 Nov. 2012
  2. ^ Pritzker 143
  3. ^ a b "Serrano." San Diego State University Library and Information Access. 2010. Retrieved 25 Nov. 2012
  4. ^ The following material appears to come mostly from the 1901 Smithsonian Institution report on American Indians.
  5. ^ "Serrano", Handbook of the American Indian, AccessGenealogy
  6. ^ Pritzker 142
  7. ^ reality
  8. ^ Chong, Jai-Rui,Los Angeles Times " Wildfires Lead to Peek at Serrano Indian History" December 26, 2003
  9. ^ Serrano basketweaving
  10. ^ Kroeber, Alfred L. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C , 1925 pp 617,883
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Brown, John Jr; Boyd, James; The Western Historical Association (1922). San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. p. 16. 
  13. ^ "San Manuel Band of Mission Indians". Retrieved 18 March 2010. 
  14. ^ Boyd, James; Brown Jr., John (1922). History of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Chicago: The Western Historical Association. p. 246. 


  • Bean, Lowell John, and Charles R. Smith. (1978), "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.
  • Kroeber, A. L. (1925), Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1

External links[edit]