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What is the Mojave Tribe?

By Eleanor Newman
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Mojave Tribe are American Indians who live in the Mohave Valley, an area where southeastern California, southern Nevada, and Western Arizona come together. The tribe hunted, farmed, and fought with neighboring tribes. Today, the Mojave live in a reservation in the area.

The Mojave tribe have a rich culture that revolves around the Colorado River. In peaceful times, the Mojave raised corn, squash, pumpkin, beans, and melon along the banks of the river. They fished and trapped animals who came to the river to drink. Mojave men went naked; warriors scouted the area for hundreds of miles, sometimes taking slaves. Women wore beaver pelts and practiced the arts of tattooing and face painting.

In 1602, the first Spanish explorers came across the Mojave tribe. Sustained contact with whites did not come until the "mountain men" arrived in the late 1820s. The men came to trap beaver for their pelts, and the Mojave initially welcomed them. The Mojave did not understand the trappers practices, however, including the way animal carcasses were disposed of after skinning, and violence broke out. To protect American interests, the US government established a fort nearby called Fort Mojave.

Public opinion was strongly against Indians. In 1865, the US government established a reservation in the southern part of the Mojave territory. Fearing US power, the Mojave tribe chief led his people to the poorer farmland in the Colorado Indian Reservation.

Some Mojave stayed in their ancestral lands, but were treated harshly. The government converted Fort Mojave into a boarding school and forced all children to attend. The school attempted to wear down traditional culture by forcing the Mojave to take Anglo names. Disobedient children were locked away, whipped, or starved. Lacking land to farm, their parents looked for work in cities, on railroads, and in mines.

In 1911, the government granted Fort Mojave Indians a reservation of their own. This land spanned the western side of the Colorado river as well as parts of Arizona, totaling 31,300 acres (13,395 hectares). The boarding school closed in the 1930s, and children attended school in nearby Needles, California.

According to the 2000 US Census, about 1,200 of the Mojave tribe live in the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. The Mojave tribe runs a casino, a golf course, RV parks, and other attractions. They also lease their land to industrial farmers who grow corn, cotton, and soybeans where the Mojave used to farm.

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