Home | All Almanac Topics | History

Original People of Los Angeles County

Map of territories of Orignal Peoples with county boundaries in Southern California.


The Gabrielino were the people who canoed out to greet Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo upon his arrival off the shores of Santa Catalina and San Pedro in 1542. Cabrillo declined their invitation to come ashore and visit. Their original name having been lost to cultural assimilation into Spanish and Mexican culture, they came to be called Gabrielinos because of their close association with the Mission San Gabriel. They once inhabited all of Los Angeles County and northern parts of Orange County. There were an estimated 5,000 Tongva in the region when the first Spanish settlers arrived in 1781. There are 31 known sites believed to have been Gabrielino villages, each having had as many as 400 to 500 huts. Hereditary chieftains who wielded almost total authority over the community led the villages.

Warfare was not frequent for the Gabrielino and robbery, murder, and incest was rare.

Gabrielino religious ceremonies were held in a circular structure within the village. The structure could only be entered by select males of status in the community and close relatives in the event of funerary ceremonies. Female singers were also allowed.

Gabrielinos believed in a supreme being that brought order to the chaotic world by setting it upon the shoulders of seven giants made for that purpose. The Supreme Being went on to make animals, man, and woman. The Tongva believed that humans originated in the north where the Supreme Being lived and that the Supreme Being himself led Gabrielino ancestors to Southern California. Gabrielinos did not believe in evil spirits, or any concept of a hell or devil until Spanish missionaries introduced these ideas. Porpoises and owls were highly esteemed and were never killed. The practice of medicine and healing was the responsibility of the medicine man.

To fail to show courage was the height of disgrace among the Gabrielino. Men would deliberately lie on top of red anthills and have handfuls of ants placed in their face as a demonstration of courage.

Gabrielinos introduced boys to manhood through fasting, hallucinogenic rituals and trials of endurance. An experienced elderly man served to instruct the boys in the legends of the world’s origin and their future. The boys sought visions of their own special animal protector. These ceremonies were believed to provide the boys with a spiritual nature. The boys were also tested for courage by facing trials by fire, whippings, and lying on anthills. Boys who failed to endure these trials earned unfortunate reputations of weakness and cowardice.

Gabrielino communities and culture fell into a rapid decline with the arrival of the Mission de San Gabriel in 1771. Many Gabrielinos joined the mission (and the Missions San Fernando and San Juan Capistrano) and, upon their conversions, were compelled to abandon their villages and culture. It was their association with the Mission San Gabriel that gave the Gabrielino their Europeanized name Gabrielino. By the time the first American settlers arrival in the Los Angeles area in 1841, Gabrielino survivors were scattered and working at subsistence level on Mexican land grants. Disease further decimated the Tongva population. Today, it is estimated that a few hundred to a few thousand Gabrielino still live in California.

Some have long referred to the Gabrielino people as Tongva. This label has increasingly been rejected by Gabrielinos as a made-up term once adopted to avoid using the mission-oriented label.

Replica of a Gabrielino (Tongva) structure at Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians)

Kizh Nation (Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians)


The Chumash ranged into the Malibu area of Los Angeles County, although they mostly lived in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Being a seafaring people, Chumash Indians spent much of their time building small boats and fishing and were accomplished fishermen and artisans. They were more sophisticated craftsmen than their Tongva neighbors to the south.

When the first Spanish missionaries arrived, there were believed to be as many as 22,000 Chumash. However, as had happened with the Tongva, their population, communities and culture rapidly disappeared. By 1906, there were only 42 known survivors. Today, about 2,000 people claim to be Chumash descendants, mostly living in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

Chumash Mural, City of Lompoc

Chumash Mural in City of Lompoc, photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012.
Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation.

Source: California Indians - An Illustrated Guide, George Emanuels, Diablo Books. The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles, William McCawley, Malki Museum Press/Ballena Press

Tataviam (Fernandeños)

The smallest group of original Los Angeles native people are the Tataviam or Fernandeños (due to their close association to the Mission San Fernando). The sites of 20 early Tataviam villages lie north of the San Fernando Valley and in the Santa Clarita Valley. They were believed to have numbered about 1,000 people and were heavily influenced by the culture of their more numerous neighbors, the Tongva and Chumash.

Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.