News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.

‘Time Jockey’

by Joe Castillo

by Joe Castillo

First Angelinos

Bill McCawley  ….

In 1996, the Los Angeles Times wrote a review of Bill McCawley’s book ‘The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles’. McCawley was raised in Long Beach and had always shown an interest in California History while searching for arrowheads and dinosaur bones as a young child. As a college student he took Frank Fenenga’s archaeology class at Cal State Long Beach. McCawley wanted to write a magazine article on the local Gabrieleno’s but Fenenga talked him into writing a book instead. The year was 1978 and seventeen years later, McCawley finally finished writing his book. The book marked the first new publication on the Gabrielinos in over 30 years. For more than 800 years, the Gabrielino’s inhabited an area which covered most of Los Angeles County, half of Orange County and portions of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. It was McCawley’s estimate that the Gabrielinos first became settled in the Los Angeles region sometime between 500 and 1,000 AD. It is estimated that their peak population was 5,000 before the Spanish arrival in the late 1700’s. The Spanish proceeded to train the Gabrielinos in the various trades associated to the construction of the Missions, ranchos and pueblos of Los Angeles. Their skills were used to provide maintenance of the Missions, as well as managing the livestock and providing farming skills for maintaining the large number of crops and vineyards. McCawley stated the Gabrielinos did all of the work, and without that work the area would not have been as economically developed as it became. McCawley extensively researched the Gabrieleno culture and noted that it was a rich and complex culture. His book included illustrations of the Gabrieleno community, place names, political and social structure, economic trade and organization, religious, games, music and recreation. At first, McCawley thought that it would take 2-3 years to complete but 17 years was completely unexpected. McCawley performed research part-time and did not have a grant or other financial assistance to complete his work. Publishers were uninterested as the subject was considered ‘too regional’ to publish. Feeling discouraged, McCawley almost stopped the project but instead he kept doggedly on it. Finally in 1986, McCawley received a big break. The Smithsonian Institute released John Peabody Harrington’s field notes and microfilm on the Gabrielinos from the early 1900’s. The notes offered a treasure trove of information on the Gabrieleno place names, village names, and community locations, stories, legends, histories, religious practices, weapons, tools, housing and clothing. It took McCawley a year and a half to go through all of Harrington’s notes. Bernice Johnston also used Harrington’s notes to write her book, ‘California’s Gabrielino Indians’, but the book published in 1962 is now out of print. McCawley noted that the Gabrieleno’s were involved in various battles and feuds but were not known as an aggressive people. In addition, the Gabrielinos had a refined religion and believed in a supreme being named Chengiichngech. Once the Spanish arrived in the late 1700’s, the Gabrieleno’s were renamed after the Mission which they worked at, and their culture and history slowly disappeared. The caused was mostly due to intermarriages, measles, influenza, small pox and other European diseases. In 1996, McCawley estimated that only several hundred to several thousand Gabrielinos remained, and was uncertain if any were full-blooded. The article indicates that McCawley is glad to see that the culture of the Gabrielinos still exists today and great steps in its preservation continues to take place…


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