California: Mojave (Mohave)


Known as “The People of the River,” the Mojave Indians lived along the lower Colorado River and were recognized as great runners. The Mojave resisted Spanish and American settlers until 1859 when they lost a battle to U.S. forces. Eventually, the U.S. combined the Mojave with the Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo Indians and relocated them to the Colorado River Reservation in West Central Arizona. The Mojave shared much in common with the Chemehuevi and Quechan cultures, and their language was similar to the Havasupai, Yavapai and Hualapai. 

Mojave means “three mountains” and refers specifically to the “needles” of rock that rise above the Colorado River. There were about 3,000 Mojave Indians in the late 1600s. They lived in scattered groups of homes made of brush placed between upright mesquite logs, and often traveled the Colorado River on rafts made of reeds.  

The Mojave farmed the lower Colorado River basin for 800 years. Their major crops included corn, melons, pumpkins, beans, and various roots. They did not irrigate their crops, so their plantings often failed. They had extensive knowledge of springs and food sources over a wide area, so trading was a way of life. Although not particularly skilled craftsmen, they often served as the middlemen in trades between neighboring tribes. 

The Mojave were likely the most populous and hostile of the Yuman-speaking tribes. War was a way of life for them, and the strong and athletic men achieved prestige and honor on the battlefield. Other Native peoples coveted the Mojave’s territory along the Colorado River. The area was particularly desirable for Central Arizona tribes that were being pushed off their land by settlers, so the Mojave faced their share of problems with the Pima, Maricopa, Cocopah and Papago tribes. 

Men who earned the respect of the tribe or band became leaders, even though no one held a position of inherent authority over others. Each band within the Mojave was made up of several extended families that cooperated for the good of the tribe and considered themselves a single nation that acted together against enemies. 

Today: There are about 1,450 people living on the Fort Mojave Reservation, which spans nearly 42,000 acres (about twice the area of Manhattan) in the tri-state area of Arizona, California and Nevada. The Mojave people keep their traditions alive by facilitating an annual Pow Wow to celebrate their music, dances and culture. 

The tribe operates an elementary school and high school, as well as cotton farms, a casino resort, a PGA championship golf course, RV parks and other recreational programs. The tribe also offers senior nutrition centers, social services, behavioral health and additional medical care provided by the Fort Mojave Indian Health Clinic.  

With a median household income of $33,400, the poverty rate on the Fort Mojave Reservation is 39% — more than twice as high as the surrounding county and state.