BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 547

Eagle Scout builds Native American shelter for National Monument

a young man builds a structure with palm fronds

Friends and staff of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument are thrilled to now have a Native American shelter, called a Kish, at the Monument Visitor Center. A local Eagle Scout constructed the Kish project with Boy Scout helpers and other volunteers to honor this area's Cahuilla Tribal peoples. This tribute to the local Native American culture can be seen at the National Monument Visitor Center on Highway 74 in Palm Desert California. Visitors will enjoy this very exciting Cahuilla style reproduction home, as it closely copies what Cahuilla ancestors would have made. Everyone is encouraged to stop by and enjoy this exciting new interpretive landmark.

Early Cahuilla peoples lived in bands or groups of people. They spoke different dialects, but they could talk and trade with other people from the region. Cahuilla people who now live in and around the Coachella Valley Palm Canyon area are descendants of peoples who were here before any Europeans. Boys were taught how to hunt animals. Girls learned how to grind acorns, make baskets and pots. They told many stories about how the world began. Cool running springs in Palm Canyon made Cahuilla life there very nice, even though they lived in a desert.
The Cahuilla ate soups and breads made from mashed acorns. They gathered pine nuts and grass seeds in baskets. They gathered berries, roots and cactus fruits. Hunters used bows and arrows to kill game, like sheep, deer, birds, rabbits, and lizards. Boys learned how to throw a curved stick to hit and catch small game. People who lived like this ate a lot of different plant foods and are called "hunter-gatherers". They gathered food when it was available. They stored things like seeds in large baskets and pottery jars.

sketch of Native Americans in a shelter
Palm Canyon area early Cahuilla peoples sometimes lived in homes made of sticks and plants. These homes were called "Kish".

stickes tied together in a framework
To make a Cahuilla style Kish, the Scouts stuck long sticks in the ground and tied them at the top. The shape is round on top, not like a teepee.

a man stands near the work in progress
The Cahuilla would weave reeds or palm fronds together to cover the outside of the Kish. They used plant fibers to make rope and string to hold it all together. Appreciating the scouts’ effort is Monument Outdoor Recreation Planner, Steve Harris (shown).

youngsters work on the structure
Eagle Scout Zack instructs younger Boy Scout volunteers to overlap each native palm frond carefully, from bottom to top, so effective shade and protection from the elements is achieved, much as the early Cahuilla peoples would have done.

youngsters work on site
Young scout learners practice digging techniques with modern tools. Early Cahuilla would have used rocks, sticks and baskets or their hands to remove soils and sands.

a view into the structure
Look into the door opening, to see how the floor of a Kish can be dug down, (as much as several feet), to add height as well as cool the interior. Stones are placed around the inside perimeter to assist cooling and hold the soil and sand in place.

everyone lends a hand
The Kish could be built in a few days, but strong winds could blow it away. Some Kishes were up to fifteen feet in diameter. In times past, just as today, everyone helped build Kishes.

- Steven D. Harris, Outdoor Recreation Planner, Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument / Palm Springs South Coast Field Office (September 2012)

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 547 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.