July 10, 2012

Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians of California


The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians are a federally recognized tribe of Chemehuevi people who inhabited the desert area of the Oasis of Mara (Mar’rah) in the vicinity of today’s Joshua Tree National Park. Today’s reservation is located near the city of Twentynine Palms and near the city of Coachella, California. 

Official Tribal Name: Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians of California

Address:  46-200 Harrison Place, Coachella, CA 92236 
Phone: 760-863-2444
Fax: 760-863-2449 

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Nuwu, meaning “the People.”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:  Chemehuevi 

Alternate names / Alternate spellings: Southern Paiute

Name in other languages:

Region: California

State(s) Today: California

Traditional Territory:

The 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians trace their origin back to the Chemeheuvi, a nomadic tribe of Southern Paiute, whose territory once covered Utah, Arizona, and southern Nevada. In 1853, the land they had resided on for generations was declared public domain by the federal government. 

The Chemeheuvi then migrated from the Colorado River Valley to the more remote areas of the Mojave Desert, traveling between the Colorado River and the Tehachapis and between Death Valley and the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains.

In 1867, a group of Chemeheuvi settled at the Oasis of Twenty-Nine Palms (the present day Oasis of Mara).

In the 1870s another small group of Chemehuevis made up of Maria and William Mike, Jim Mike and his wife and their children came to the Oasis and lived there together with the Pine and Ramirez family until the early 1900s. The Mike family constitutes the membership of the Twenty-Nine Palms Band.

Confederacy: Paiute


Reservation: Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians of California has two reservations, one located near the cities of Indio and Coachella in Riverside County, and the other in the city of Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County, California.

The portion of the Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation in San Bernardino County was established in 1895 and occupies 402 acres (163 ha). It is adjacent to the city of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park.

The Riverside County reservation was shared with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians prior to 1976, when the reservation was split by Congressional Act. The larger Cabazon Indian Reservation lies adjacent to the main section of the reservation, mostly to the south and southeast, but surrounding it in every direction except its eastern border. The main reservation lies partly in the service area of the Indio post office (zip code 92201) and partly in that of the Coachella post office (zip code 92236), although it is not part of either city. 

Tribal Headquarters:  Coachella, CA 
Time Zone:  Pacific

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today:

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


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Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
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Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies: The neighboring Serrano.

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Chemehuevi Legends / Oral Stories

Art & Crafts:





The water at the Mara Oasis made it possible for the Chemehuevi to garden, and the surrounding area provided plant foods to gather and good hunting. As non-Indians moved into the area with their livestock, the animals depleted the plant resources provided by the area, which sustained both the Indians and the animals they hunted. The white settlers, who used guns to hunt, quickly depleted the animals the Indians depended on for meat.

The Chemehuevis were eventually reduced to working for wages and buying processed foods, but they continued to practice their traditional life way and seasonal rounds. They would live part of the year at Twentynine Palms and would travel and stay another part of the year in the Indio area and Banning area for agricultural work.

Economy Today:

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band established the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella in 1995 and the Tortoise Rock Casino in Twentynine Palms in 2014.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Their spiritual connection with the world remains the core of their culture, and tribal elders pass along knowledge of spiritual matters through the oral tradition, which includes songs and stories.

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs


Chemehuevi Chiefs & Famous People

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Tribe History:

The Chemehuevi received a patent in 1895, for establishment of a reservation near the Oasis and came under the jurisdiction of the Mission Indian Agency. The establishment of the reservation transferred to the Indians 160 acres of marginal farm land in return for hundreds of thousands of acres rich in mineral and other resources that had been theirs in traditional times and were stolen by individual Americans with government concurrence.

The land set aside for the reservation, however, was not at the Oasis but a ways to the south. It contained no water and the people were never able to live there. Even though it had probably become awkward for them to exercise their traditional custom of visiting places in what is now Joshua Tree National Park when it was time to harvest valued resources, their right to do so was probably implicit in the situation until the reservation was set aside.

Today the Twenty-Nine Palms Band has established a working relationship with Joshua Tree National Park and with the Smith family at the Twenty-Nine Palms motel which is at the site of the village oasis.

A Chemehuevi Burial Ground in the city of Twentynine Palms was officially established in 1976 when an acre of land containing fifty to sixty graves, one half mile south of the intersection of Highway 62 and Adobe Road in Twentynine Palms, was conveyed to the Twentynine Palms Park and Recreation District by Congress.

In 1909 fifty to sixty marked graves were reported on the site, including the grave of Old Jim Boniface, leader of the tribe, who died in 1903 at the age of ninety. Other marked graves included thirteen of fourteen children of Jim and Matilda Pine, possibly victims of smallpox, and Mrs. Waterman (tribal name: Ticup), who was beaten to death by Willie Boy after she threw his rifle and ammunition into a pond.

After the Willie Boy incident, the tribe left Twentynine Palms and went to live with the Mission Creek Reservation.The State of California declared the Chemeheuvi Cemetery a Point of Historical Interest by the State of California in 1974.

In 1908, most of the people who then remained at Twenty-nine Palms moved to Morongo Reservation in the wake of the Office of Indian Affairs’ determination that all Indian children should go to school. In this instance, they were forcibly enrolled at St. Boniface in Banning.

After Jim and Matilda Pine, a number of whose children were buried in the cemetery there, remained at Twenty-nine Palms. In 1909 after the leader of the Mike family was killed by Willie Boy, the remaining Chemehuevi left Twentynine Palms and moved to Indio or Banning.

Although the members of the band for whom the Twenty-nine Palms reservation was set aside retained their identity as a group separate from the Chemehuevi who were members of the Chemehuevi reservation on the Colorado River and those on various reservations in the Coachella Valley, they kept in touch with their fellow Chemehuevis. By the late 20th century, they had numerous family ties with other southern California Indians.

In 1910, the government issued a trust patent for 640 acres jointly to the Cabazon and Twenty-nine Palms Bands of Mission Indians, and encouraged the Twentynine Palms Chemehuevi to live at Cabazon at Indio rather than out in the desert at Twentynine Palms, which was so distant from other reservations that the OIA felt it too far for Indian agents to travel.

This section was added to the already-existing Cabazon Reservation. When, in the course of time, conflict arose between the Chemehuevis and Cahuillas on the reservation, most of the Chemehuevis left, some of them returning, at least for a time, to the Twenty-nine Palms Reservation.

Others “moved to live with the Paiutes in Nevada, Chemehuevis near Parker, Arizona, the Luisenos and Cahuillas at Soboba Reservation, the Agua Caliente Reservation in Palm Springs, or one of the other reservations in Southern California.” Some went to live in the desert towns of the Coachella Valley or elsewhere . The only Chemehuevi family who remained at the Cabazon Reservation was that of Susie Mike Benitez (1997:96).

Four hundred acres of the 640 acres held jointly by the two bands was allotted to eight Desert Cahuilla tribal members and two Chemehuevi tribal members , a division of the allotted acres that gave four times as much land to the Cahuilla members as to Chemehuevi members. In the early 1970s, the Chemehuevi, feeling that they had never been full parties in the reservation, began to press for a larger share of the section.

Because the Cabazon Tribal Council was at the time investigating the possibility of economic development, and especially Indian gaming, it was likely considered advisable to clear title to their land by bringing to an end the joint tenancy of the 240 remaining acres of the section. The Council, after due deliberation, decided that the 240 acres of the section held in joint tenancy that had not been allotted should go to the Twenty-nine Palms Band in view of the fact that members of that band had received less than the Chemehuevi share of the allotted 400 acres.

The Tribe thereupon petitioned Congress that Section 30 be divided between the Cabazon Reservation and the Twenty-nine Palms Reservation, with the latter receiving the 240 acres plus cash and interest. Congress under the terms of Public Law 94-271 authorized the division in 1976. This division of a reservation between two groups has been extremely rare in the history of this country. Now the Twenty-nine Palms Band had a land base in the Coachella Valley to which they had clear title.

In the 1980s, the members of the Band decided to start a tribally owned business on their land. Band members who had business experience elsewhere returned to the Coachella Valley and made a considerable contribution to the project. In January, 1995, taking advantage of the fact that highway rights-of-way passed through the land they owned, they opened the Spotlight 29 Casino on it.

In addition to gaming, it offers its patrons popular music and other entertainment, as well as Native American singing and dancing. They have also opened a first class restaurant for their patrons.


In the News:

Further Reading:

A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe” is the first book-length history of the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians and traces the tribe’s history and cultural practices through individual and family stories.

Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage
Boundaries Between: The Southern Paiutes, 1775-1995
Survival Arts Of The Primitive Paiutes

US Tribes T to V
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