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Indian Village Names in Orange County

Archaeologists have identified scores of Indian village sites across Orange County. Some were more or less permanent, while others were used seasonally or were mere campsites during food gathering times. They can be found from some of the highest canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains right down to the coast. Some date back thousands of years; others were still occupied into the 19th century. 

Historically, the written records of these villages begins in 1769, when the Portolá Expedition first crossed what is now Orange County. Their names first appear on the page in the records of Missions San Gabriel and San Juan Capistrano, from the 1770s to the 1830s. Besides the records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, Fr. Gerónimo Boscana, who served at Capistrano from 1814-1826, left two manuscripts on the history and customs of the local Indians, both of which have been translated and published: 

Fr. Gerónimo Boscana, Chinigchinich (Chi-nich-nich), A Revised and Annotated Version of Alfred Robinson’s Translation of Father Geronimo Boscana’s Historical Account of the Belief, Usages, Customs and Extravagencies [sic] of the Indians of this Mission of San Juan Capistrano Called the Acagchemem Tribe (Santa Ana: Fine Arts Press, 1933) 

John P. Harrington (trans.), A New Original Version of Boscana’s Historical Account of the San Juan Capistrano Indians of Southern California (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution, 1934) 

Beginning in the mid-19th century, anthropologists, linguists, and other interested individuals began collecting data on the local Indians, often seeking out some of the oldest survivors, who had first-hand knowledge. Hugo Reid, a Scottish immigrant who married a Gabrielino woman in the 1830s, left us our first important description of those people, first published in the Los Angeles Star in 1852. Professional anthropologists who followed include Alfred Kroeber, William Duncan Strong, and the indefatigable John P. Harrington (1884-1961), a one-time Santa Ana school teacher who devoted half a century to preserving the language and culture of Indian groups throughout the Americas. Besides their own publications, much of this early work is summarized in Bernice Johnston’s California’s Gabrielino Indians (Los Angeles: The Southwest Museum, 1962). 

In more recent years, some of the best work has been done by William McCawley, Stephen O’Neil, and John R. Johnson. This list leans heavily on their published work, including McCawley’s The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles (Banning: Malki Museum Press/Ballena Press, 1996). O’Neil is also one of the contributors to the Early California Cultural Atlas project (ECCA), which includes a link to a very informative Google Earth map.

(Note that while these maps locate these villages on the map quite specifically, the information about them includes a range of certainty about their actual site, sometimes up to ten miles from the location marked on the map.) 

Anthropologists have traditionally divided Orange County between two different tribal groups – the Gabrielino north of Aliso Creek and the Juaneño to the south, on to about San Onofre Creek. (Properly speaking, Gabrielino and Juaneño are languages, related, though distinct. Terms such as Tongva, Kizh, or Acjachemen have been adopted in more recent years by some descendants of these peoples who object to the older, Spanish/mission-related terms.) But by whatever name, it is important to remember that this Aliso Creek boundary was not a fixed point, but has varied over time. Archaeologists and linguists have proposed several waves of Indian immigration to Southern California dating back thousands of years, and even in historic times boundaries have been known to shift between tribal groups.  

None of this mattered too much to the residents at the time. Their social, political, and economic identity was built around their individual village, and while there were economic, ceremonial, and linguistic ties between the villages, there was little tribal structure as we picture it in other parts of the United States. Thus this list of village names takes on an added significance, as the village was the primary social structure in Southern California. Some were home to people for decades, if not centuries.  

This list is in no way complete. There were many more villages whose names are unrecorded, and many villages named in the mission records that have never been linked to a specific archaeological site. It should be remembered, as well, that these villages had a tendency to move around in a general area over time (along a creek, or within a canyon, for example), but were still known by the same name. 

The spellings of these village names vary considerably, depending on who is writing them down (missionary, scholar, or otherwise). I have tried to use the most common forms here, avoiding some of the linguists more cryptic symbols. They should generally be pronounced as if they were Spanish, since most of the names were first written down by Spanish speakers. 

These village names can take several forms in the early records. The suffix –nga is a locative, which can be translated as “place of.” We still see it in a number of Southern California place names (Cahuenga, Cucamonga, Tujunga, etc.). The suffix –bit or –vit identifies someone as a resident of a certain village (just as we might call someone an Orange Countian); it is found especially in mission records. The suffix –men, or –cem means “people of” a village. Thus Acjachemen originally meant only the residents of Acjachme, in San Juan Capistrano. 

Archaeologists have identified many other major village sites around Orange County for which no name has yet been discovered. The Portolá Expedition camped near a village on Brea Creek, near Arovista Elementary School in Brea in 1769 that is yet to be identified. The name is almost surely used in the San Gabriel Mission records, but connecting these names with villages is a difficult process. On the other hand, the expedition found no village at Tomato Springs in Irvine during any of their visits in 1769-70 – yet this is considered a major archaeological site. Of course, not every archaeological site represents a permanent village. For example, the village site at Hidden Ranch, in Black Star Canyon (which is registered as State Historical Landmark #217) was most likely only a seasonal village – though the canyon was known as the Cañada de los Indios as far back as the 1870s. 

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ACJACHEME. This was the village nearest the present site of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Fr. Boscana said it was just 60 varas (a little less than 60 yards) from the mission itself, but does not say in what direction. José de la Cruz (“Old Acú”), born in Capistrano in the 1840s, said it was on the site of the elementary school, east of the mission. 

ALAUNA. Located in O’Neill Regional Park along Trabuco Creek, near the ruins of the Trabuco Adobe in Rancho Santa Margarita. According to Boscana, the name “signifies to raise the head in looking upward. This alludes to this rancheria having been located at the foot of a very high mountain” – that is, at the foot of the Santa Ana Mountains. In 1769, Portolá estimated it had about 50 residents. “As soon as we arrived they all came over entirely weaponless to our camp,” Fr. Crespí noted. The Spanish explorers and the villagers exchanged gifts, and spent most of the next two days together. The first baptisms from Alauna were made in 1777 and the mission later established an outpost here. 

GENGA. Located along the bluffs on the east side of the Santa Ana River, near the site of the Estancia Adobe in Costa Mesa – another example of a mission outpost being placed near a major village. McCawley points out that an early map of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana shows the Back Bay at Newport as the “Bolsa de Gengara” (which he corrects to Bolsa de Kengaa). 

GUILLUCOME. Located in the hills south of San Juan Canyon, in the general vicinity of San Juan Hills High School, in San Juan Capistrano. The first baptism recorded for Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1776 was a six-year-old boy from Guillucome. 

HUTUKNGA. Located on the north side of the Santa Ana River, near the Imperial Highway, in Anaheim. The name can be translated as Place of the Night, and seems to be related to the Indians’ creation story, from the time the people came out of darkness. The Portolá Expedition camped near here in 1769 but none of the diarists seem to have visited the village. Instead, more than 50 of the villagers came to visit the Spaniards. “As they arrived, all coming up unarmed,” Fr. Crespí noted, “their chief made a big speech, and taking a string of shell beads and a net out of his pouch, gave it all to our Governor [Portolá], and the latter presented them with beads, and a handkerchief for their chief.” The mouth of the Santa Ana Canyon was originally considered for the site of Mission San Gabriel but in the end was not selected – not (as it is sometimes portrayed) because the Indians opposed it, but because the site lacked timber and stone needed for building material. In fact, an Indian boy from Hutukgna was one of the earliest converts at Mission San Gabriel, in 1772. 

LUKUPA. Authorities differ on the site of this large village. Kroeber and Johnston show it on the west side of the Santa Ana River on the Rancho Las Bolsas; McCawley suggests the area around the Newland House, near Beach and Adams in Huntington Beach, as one possible location, as it is on a bluff above the floodplain. Alternatively, Stephen O’Neil shows Lukupa in the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park area. The name is said to mean “silvery.” 

MOYO. Several authorities, including O’Neil, place this village in the Newport Center area in Newport Beach, above the Back Bay. On the other hand, Kroeber locates it further up the bay, suggesting a possible connection with the later mission outpost site in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. McCawley notes that, “It is unclear whether Moyoonga was a community or simply a geographical placename, although archaeological research in the San Joaquin Hills indicates that permanent, year-round settlements existed in this region.” 

PANGE. Located near the mouth of San Mateo Creek, perhaps near the current campground in San Onofre State Beach, just south of San Clemente. This was one of the first villages evangelized by the missionaries from San Juan Capistrano, which later established an outpost here, known as San Mateo. More than 130 villagers from Pange are listed in the baptismal register between 1777 and 1794. Fr. Boscana said the name means cañada; Alfred Kroeber translated it as “at the water.” 

PASBENGA. Located in southwest Santa Ana; it is described in the records of Mission San Gabriel as “cerca [near] del Rio de Santa Ana.” The ECCA places it just west of Bristol, south of Seventh, but with a three-mile margin of error. An 1830s map of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana shows a “rancheria” (Indian village) just east of the Refugio adobe (longtime home of José Sepulveda) near Raitt and Myrtle. In his Historic Place Names of Orange County, Don Meadows lists a village “near Warner Avenue about one mile west of Main Street” known as Policarpo, which is mentioned as late as 1849. There may be some connections here between these locations and names; the large spring at Refugio would have been a natural location for a settlement for the Indians as much as for the Mexican rancheros. 

PIWIVA. Located a short ways above the mouth of Gobernadora Canyon, on the Rancho Mission Viejo. The name seems to be related to piivat, wild tobacco. The village seems to have been temporarily deserted when the Portolá expedition first passed through here in July 1769, but on their return south in January 1770, Fr. Crespí noted, “We met with no villages here on the way going up, but now we came upon some small houses roofed with tule rushes, with a good many gentile men, women and children living encamped here in the hollow. No sooner did they see us than, as if pleased, they set up a great hubbub, and all came over weaponless to the camp, very well pleased, and spent the rest of the afternoon staying with us.” This was presumably Piwiva, which would have been closest to their campsite at the mouth of Gobernadora Canyon. 

PUTIIDUM. Located along Trabuco Creek, north of Mission San Juan Capistrano. The ECCA places it just south of JSerra Catholic High School. Traditionally, Putiidum was the village settled in the area and became “mother village” for many of the later Indian settlements around San Juan Capistrano. 

SAJIVIT. Located near the original site of Mission San Juan Capistrano (1776-78) on the south side of San Juan Canyon, near Camino Lacouague, in San Juan Capistrano. Here is the first local example of the Spanish settling near a village site. Fr. Serra wrote the name as “Quanis-Savit” on the title pages of the mission record books, but in most it has been corrected by one of the original missionaries, Fr. Gregorio Amurrió, to Sajivit. 

TOBE. Located near the mouth of Gabino Canyon where it meets Cristianitos Canyon, on the Rancho Mission Viejo. When the Portolá Expedition passed through here in 1769, Fr. Crespí wrote that, “We came across a good-sized gentile village at one of the two cañadas, where they commenced shouting to us as soon as they were aware of us, and came to meet us as though to set us on the way to the watering place whither we were bound.” Fr. Boscana noted that the name “signifies a kind of clay or fine argil, white, similar to white lead, with which the women painted themselves.” And in fact there were several commercial clay mines operated near here in the early 20th century. 

TOOVUNGA. Located near the mouth of San Juan Creek in the Capistrano Beach area. Fr. Boscana called it Tébone, “which signifies an herb which grows in the seashore lagoon at the mouth of the creek estuary at the beach at the port of this Mission, and the Indians used it among their foods.” 

TOTABIT. Located along the Santa Ana River, the ECCA places it on the west side, about where the railroad tracks cross near Anaheim Stadium – but with a two-mile margin of error. It has also been suggested it was near the old Rodriguez Crossing, just north of Chapman Avenue in Orange. Perhaps significantly, in Mexican times the community of Santa Ana Abajo grew up here around the home of José Antonio Yorba II; a permanent water supply would have been necessary for any settlement. Baptisms from this village are recorded as late as 1819. 

UHUNGA. Located in Gobernadora Canyon in the Coto de Caza area. The first baptisms from this village were made in 1777. The name is sometimes spelled Huhunga in the mission records, but that initial H is rather silent in Spanish. Fr. Boscana said the name “signifies little stick [foreshaft] which they put on their arrows.”