July 10, 2012

Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians


The Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians are a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla and Chemehuevi Indians. They are one of the tribes also known as Mission Indians.

Official Tribal Name: Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians

Address: 66725 Martinez Rd, P.O. Box 1160, Thermal, CA 92274
Phone: 619-397-8144
Fax: 760-397-3925

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Mau-Wal-Mah Su-Kutt Menyil, meaning “among the palms, deer moon.”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Cahuilla has been interpreted to mean “the master,” “the powerful one,” or “the one who rules.”

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Formerly the Torres-Martinez Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians of California

Name in other languages:

Region: California

State(s) Today: California

The traditional Cahuilla territory was near the geographic center of Southern California. It was bounded to the north by the San Bernardino Mountains, to the south by Borrego Springs and the Chocolate Mountains, to the east by the Colorado Desert, and to the west by the San Jacinto Plain and the eastern slopes of the Palomar Mountains.

Confederacy: California Mission Indians, Cahuilla Tribes


Reservation: Torres-Martinez Reservation

 The Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation is a federal reservation in Imperial and Riverside Counties, California. Established in 1876, it was named for the village of Toro and the Martinez Indian Agency.

Land Area:  24,024 acres (9,722 ha)
Tribal Headquarters:  Thermal, California
Time Zone:  Pacific

Population at Contact:

Prior to European contact, when they occupied the better part of Riverside County and the northern portion of San Diego County, the collective Cahuilla bands numbered from 6,000 to 10,000 people. Some people estimate the population as high as 15,000 Cahuilla people, collectiively. There were once 22 bands of Cahuilla.

Registered Population Today: As of 2010, there were  5,594 enrolled members.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Charter:  Constitution adopted November 9, 1997
Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   2 council members, plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: Amended November 20, 2004
Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice-Chairmain, Secretary, Treasurer


Language Classification:

Uto-Aztecan -> Northern Uto-Aztecan -> Takic -> Cupan -> Cahuilla–Cupeno -> Cahuilla

Anthropological and archeological evidence suggests that the ancestral homeland of the Uto-Aztecan peoples was in the present day state of Nevada. Like all of the desert Tribes, the Cabazon share a common ancestry to the Uto-Aztecan family, Cahuilla linguistic group.

Cahuilla is a member of the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Within Takic, it is most closely related to Cupeño, Juaneño, and Luiseño, and more distantly to Gabrielino, Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Tataviam. The other Uto-Aztecan languages of California are Tubatulabal and the Numic languages (Chemehuevi-Southern Paiute-Ute, Comanche, Kawaiisu, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, and Shoshone). 

Language Dialects:

Three Cahuilla dialects are known to have existed, referred to as Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla, and Pass Cahuilla. The Torres Martinez Band spoke the Desert Cahuilla dialect.

Number of fluent Speakers:

A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. Cahuilla is nearly extinct, since most speakers are middle-aged or older. 

The Cahuilla language was traditionally spoken in the San Gorgonio Pass (around Banning), to the east in the Coachella Valley to the vicinity of the Salton Sea, and to the south on the western slopes of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains. In pre-contact times, there were around 2500 speakers of Cahuilla (Kroeber 1925). Today, there are half a dozen first-language speakers (Golla 2011).



Bands, Gens, and Clans

The Cahuilla can be generally divided into three groups based on the geographical region in which they lived: Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla and Western (San Gorgonio Pass) Cahuilla. All three spoke the Cahuilla language, had similar lifestyles and practiced the same traditions. There are nine Cahuilla Indian nations living on ten indian reservations.

The Cahuilla People were divided into two moieties: Wildcat and Coyote.

Related Tribes:

Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians, Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians, Santa Rosa Band of Mission Indians and Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Indians. There are also some Los Coyotes in the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians.

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The tribe owns and operates the Red Earth Casino in Salton City, California.  The 10,000 square foot, modest Red Earth Casino opened March 31, 2007 with 349 slot machines, six table games, and 180 employees making them the 10th Tribe to join the Inland gaming world.

The Torres-Martinez Historical District consists of three buildings believed to be the oldest standing Indian Agency buildings in California and was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 1973 and is a California Point of Historical Interest.

Cahuilla Legends

Art & Crafts:





Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

The Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla have a small cemetery on Martinez Road in Thermal that has 48 interments.

Wedding Customs:


Famous Cahuilla Indians

Catastrophic Events:

Approximately 12,000 acres of the Reservation were flooded by the Colorado River when the Salton Sea was formed in 1905-1907 and are still submerged.

Tribe History:

In the News:

Torres Martinez tribe to grow medical pot on tribal land
Articles about the Torres Martinez tribe in the L.A. Times

Further Reading:


US Tribes T to V
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