Skip to content

Fighting Invisible Enemies: Health and Medical Transitions among Southern California Indians

in stock, ready to be shipped
Original price $34.95 - Original price $34.95
Original price $34.95
$49.99 - $49.99
Current price $49.99

Native Americans long resisted Western medicine—but had less power to resist the threat posed by Western diseases. And so, as the Office of Indian Affairs reluctantly entered the business of health and medicine, Native peoples reluctantly began to allow Western medicine into their communities. Fighting Invisible Enemies traces this transition among inhabitants of the Mission Indian Agency of Southern California from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century.

What historian Clifford E. Trafzer describes is not so much a transition from one practice to another as a gradual incorporation of Western medicine into Indian medical practices. Melding indigenous and medical history specific to Southern California, his book combines statistical information and documents from the federal government with the oral narratives of several tribes. Many of these oral histories—detailing traditional beliefs about disease causation, medical practices, and treatment—are unique to this work, the product of the author’s close and trusted relationships with tribal elders.

Trafzer examines the years of interaction that transpired before Native people allowed elements of Western medicine and health care into their lives, homes, and communities. Among the factors he cites as impelling the change were settler-borne diseases, the negative effects of federal Indian policies, and the sincere desire of both Indians and agency doctors and nurses to combat the spread of disease. Here we see how, unlike many encounters between Indians and non-Indians in Southern California, this cooperative effort proved positive and constructive, resulting in fewer deaths from infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis.

The first study of its kind, Trafzer’s work fills gaps in Native American, medical, and Southern California history. It informs our understanding of the working relationship between indigenous and Western medical traditions and practices as it continues to develop today.

ISBN-13: 9780806162867

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 05-09-2019

Pages: 392

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.19(d)

Clifford E. Trafzer, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside, is the author or editor of numerous books, including Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888–1964 and A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe. The Western History Association has conferred on Trafzer the American Indian History Lifetime Achievement Award.

Read an Excerpt



Southern California is a vast region with diverse geographies from the Pacific Ocean east to inland valleys, tree-covered mountains, and sandy deserts. Numerous Indian tribes lived (and live today) within this varied landscape. Along the Pacific Ocean and nearby valleys lived the Kumeyaay-Diegueño, Luiseño, Acjachemen-Juaneño, Gabrielino-Tongva, and Chumash Indians. The Cupeño, Cahuilla, and Serrano Indians inhabited the inland valleys and mountains of Southern California, while other Cahuillas, Serranos, and Kumeyaays as well as Chemehuevis, Kamias, and Mojaves lived in the mountains and deserts. Cocopas, Quechans, Mojaves, and Chemehuevis made the Colorado River region their home. They used the river water to irrigate crops on the California and Arizona side of the largest river in the American Southwest. Thousands of Native Americans lived in Southern California and the surrounding river region, often intermarrying, trading, and warring with each other. Long before the arrival of explorers and settlers, each tribe had its own way of life and medical traditions. The tribes and bands of Southern California enjoyed their own cultures, economies, political systems, religions, and medical knowledge. Each exerted its own sovereignty at the village, band, and tribal level, governed by spirit, laws, and customs.

Creation songs and ancient narratives of Southern California Indians established the relationship within and between each Native American group. Intertribal, intratribal, and familial cooperation existed at times and broke down at other times. Oral narratives and creation songs of the people taught each new generation how to be and live correctly as a Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Chemehuevi, Luiseño, Quechan, Mojave, or Serrano. Oral accounts of Quechans and the other diverse indigenous people were not "fish tales that grow with the telling" but cultural commandments that described proper behavior of individuals, clans, moieties, villages, and tribes. Cultural ways provided the cornerstones of every indigenous society in Southern California and gave the people sacred norms by which to live. Significantly, indigenous people tied their tribal laws or rules of life to the health and well-being of every tribal member. If tribal members deviated from tribal laws, individuals, groups, or villages could become ill or die. In some ways, a common indigenous belief system functioned in a similar ways among Southern California Indians. Native American beliefs in this region were generally tied to an indigenous covenant theology, whereby members within tribal groups expected their people to follow specific rules, laws, and mores. Creators of each tribal group provided cultural instructions about gender roles, incest, child rearing, marriage, hunting, gathering, medicine ways, and a host of other actions. Creators told the people to follow these laws in order to remain healthy.

Creators commanded the people to act in accordance with exact instructions, and if they violated tribal laws, they could experience spiritual sickness or death as punishment. At the beginning of sacred time, Quechan creator Kukumat and his brother, Kweraak Kutar (Blind Old Man), emerged from a primordial sea. After walking on the surface of the water, Kukumat made the earth's surface and began to create all things. He made the first human beings from clay and animated them. Kukumat then taught the first Quechan how to procreate through sexual acts, which is part of the creation narrative. He brought his people into the Dark House — his home and cultural schoolhouse — where he instructed them about power and proper behavior for being and living Quechan. During the sacred time of creation, a beautiful Quechan woman announced she wished to marry a comely Cocopa man. According to a Quechan version of creation, Kukumat explained that Quechan women should marry Kumeyaay or Kamia men but not Cocopa men. This was a rule for many years until the modern era, when Quechan and Cocopa men and women married each other, which the creator had prohibited at the beginning of time. Creation songs and oral narratives defined proper behavior for each tribe and explained the awesome power that came to the group at its origin, thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Kukumat warned the Yuman people not to violate cultural norms or they could become ill. He also made the first shaman to heal the people, and the creator gave shamans the ability to extract negative strengths or disease-causing agents that entered a person's mind, body, or soul when they violated social, cultural, or economic norms. Kukumat and the creators of all the tribes empowered shaman to extract negative strengths that caused illnesses. In this way, the creator gave shamans the ability to bring patients wellness, balance, and harmony. Shamans brought balance and harmony back to people suffering from spiritual sickness (staying sickness).

Simultaneously with the creation of the earth, Native Americans of Southern California believed spirit beings placed a network of original power around the entire earth. This network held the earth together and remains extant today, though the potency of power has declined. Each tribe had its own belief and word for this network of power, which could concentrate in certain places, objects, and people. Original power on earth had spiritual origins. The power was alive but not human in origin, and both positive and negative power existed simultaneously. Still, original power could exhibit such human qualities as knowledge, will, and agency. Power could seek out and give itself to humans, objects, animals, plants, and places so that the entity would achieve positive or negative actions, including healing. Power could also deny itself to these same subjects. The original power that came to earth at the time of creation had many names, and each tribe had its own explanation of how the power manifested itself on earth, influenced life, and enabled healing.

The Cahuillas called the original power on earth ívax. Chemehuevi and other Southern Paiutes used the term puha. Luiseños call the power ayelkwi, or knowledge. Serrano elder Ernest Siva reported, "during the week [of] celebration and observance of Teikeman, the paha or keeka would puhaent, that is, speak in a different voice." In May 2017 Serrano singer and elder Kim Marcus stated that puhaent was the network of power for his people. Every tribe had its word for the original power, and shaman within each group knew how to access and control this power, often using a special shamanistic language known only to medicine people of the highest order. Shamans among many different tribes had their own languages, separate from the normal tribal languages spoken by members of the tribes. Medicine men and medicine women communicated in this language and kept sacred knowledge of power, healing, and spiritual accounts historically known only to holy people who could speak the unique language. Such was the case for Serrano paha or Chemehuevi puha'gaants (literally meaning "where power sits").

In many cases, original power developed directly from spiders or emerged spider-like in form. For example, the first two Cahuilla creators reached into their hearts and "drew all kinds of web-spinning spiders, and these ran their webs from the top of the pole in all directions, and at last the center pole of the world stood firm." This was one explanation of ívax. In like fashion, Chemehuevis and Southern Paiutes describe puha as spider's- web-like or spiraled in structure. Each tribe had its own description of original power that humans could use to effectuate healing power. This network of power was the substance that held the earth together and provided living things, including humans, with power to accomplish tasks and heal others. Southern California Indians believed power existed everywhere but concentrated in certain places, such as the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. Anyone could access some of this power, but shamans could access greater amounts of power and use it to heal or harm. Cahuilla puuls or shamans accessed power from the hot springs on the Agua Caliente Reservation, today located in downtown Palm Springs, California. Among all Southern California Indians, shamans had significant roles to play within every community. They could access ívax, the original power, and they had a special place within their tribal societies to help people who asked. Shamans used their archaic language in ceremony, but this power was "potentially unstable and unpredictable." Some tribes conceived of energy as gendered with male and female counterparts. Shamans who had acquired power in their lives could access additional power to heal others. According to tribal elders such as Kenneth Coosewoon, Lorey Cachora, Barbara Levi, Alvino Siva, Beverly Patchell, Rita Coosewoon, Katherine Siva Saubel, Ernest Siva, Joe Mike Benitez, Lorene Sisquoc, Matthew Hanks Leivas, and others, power remains on earth today and can be accessed and manipulated by knowledgeable tribal members.

Cahuilla scholar Sean Milanovich maintained he used ívax and versions of his tribe's origin song when he curated a public exhibit "Cahuilla Continuum: Túku, Ívax, Túleka" at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. Since the beginning of known time, Cahuilla people have learned the tribe's creation account and drawn on the power it contains to accomplish tasks. Before the modern era of the 1970s, the Cahuilla origin song took expert indigenous scholars seven nights to present. They reported that creation began in a great dark void within the universe. A spider-like energy akin to a charged atmosphere developed out of the void. The spider reference suggests the origin of ívax, which created a substance that developed into two brothers, Mukat and Temayawet. These first beings or nuketum became agents of creation, using power to set the world in motion. They accessed ívax to create elements of the universe, making ready for other creations, including plants, animals, and people. From their hearts the brothers brought forth numerous elements of Cahuilla culture, including tobacco and pipes. Cahuillas considered them sacramental components of their culture, significant elements used in healing and maintaining health. Cahuillas shared some beliefs with other Native Americans, including the concept that creators gave the first people many gifts and the people were to steward these gifts, especially gifts of the earth, for all time.

Creators gave Cahuillas gifts of the first pipes and tobacco, and shamans used them to heal others, following specific protocols and rituals to bring about healing. Cahuilla creator Mukat determined that disease should exist on earth, and he created many forms. He also created the law of life and death, making a space for the living on earth and a place for the dead in the East. Mukat also created shamans who could access ívax to heal sicknesses of mankind. These elements of Cahuilla culture appear in the creation account, a sacred body of knowledge that Cahuilla people have shared through oral tradition for generations.

In February 1925 the ceremonial leader of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians shared an abbreviated version of his tribe's creation narrative. According to this sacred testament, Cahuilla elder Alejo Patencio explained, from the beginning of time, no utopia ever existed on earth, and the first creators acted inappropriately at times. Creators first established laws of behavior to be followed by Cahuilla people. Then the creators broke the very tribal laws they had established, creating chaos, imbalance, illness, and death. In all their actions, constructive and destructive, creators taught humans how to act appropriately. In addition, the creation narrative Patencio shared in 1925 explained that all disease came from afterbirth (remains from the first placenta created from the birth of the twins). Mukat said, "It is black blood, red blood, fresh blood, smallpox, colds and sore throats, cramps in the back, boils, mumps, hives and itches, inflamed and sore eyes, blindness, acute body pains, palsy and twitching, consumption, venereal diseases, rheumatism, emaciations, swelling of the body, and all other sicknesses."

Some diseases mentioned by Patencio in his remarkable account originated in Europe and Africa, not the Americas. Original versions of the account would not have mentioned smallpox, tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, mumps, colds, and others that settlers brought to America. These diseases originated overseas, but like other indigenous origin accounts, the Cahuilla narrative made note of non-American diseases. Creator Mukat made all things on earth, and so he made diseases brought to Southern California by non-Cahuilla people. Native Americans of Southern California understood that Europeans had introduced foreign diseases (traveling or walking disease from viral or bacterial infections) that devastated indigenous people after the Spanish invasion in 1769 and permanent settlement of Alta California. Cahuilla scholars such as Patencio reasoned that Mukat had made all things in the universe, including infectious diseases brought by Europeans and Americans, although infectious diseases emerged in other parts of the world, not Native America. Explorers, settlers, and newcomers from all parts of the world introduced infectious diseases to Native American communities, where they spread with devastating rapidity. Once Cahuillas and other Indian people came to know these new diseases, they accounted for them in their creation narratives as yet another truth.

To combat diseases, Cahuilla creator Mukat said, "We will give power to man or woman, so that each sickness can be cured by someone that has power. These will be the doctors." He announced that insects such as spiders, ants, butterflies, and other animals and natural elements such as seaweed, feathers, whirlwind, and clouds could serve Indian doctors as familiars. Toward the end of his life, Mukat broke his own incest laws by inappropriately touching his daughter, Menyil (Moon). His own people conspired to use witchcraft to kill Mukat. The creator "felt sick in the water. My body became cold, swollen and weak." Horsefly bled Mukat and doctors tended him, but they could not undo the spell. Finally, Mukat announced, "All my creatures have tried to cure me but I am no better. I know now that I am about to die." Before Mukat's death and ascendency into the sky and clouds, he left specific instructions about how to cremate his body and conduct a wake.

Most of the Cahuilla creation narrative focuses on male deities as the central creators, except for Menyil. In contrast, the creation narrative of Chemehuevi and other Southern Paiute centers on a female god who fell from the sky to earth without explanation. Like other indigenous creation songs, this narrative explains the origins of animate and inanimate objects, all of which have power. According to this song, Hutsipamamauu or Ocean Woman fell from a sky world to earth as a worm, becoming female when she landed on a vast primordial sea. Hutsipamamauu stood upon the sea and spread skin from her pubic area, oil from her body, and puha on the surface of the sea, using elements of her body to begin the earth's creation. She laid down upon her bodily elements and began spreading them out in the four directions of the earth. In this way, she created North, South, and Central America. She did this work from Nuvagantu, literally meaning "Where Snow Sits," a magnificent mountain range known today as the Spring Mountains of Nevada, northwest of present-day Las Vegas. Coyote and Cougar assisted Hutsipamamauu in the creation process. They served Hutsipamamauu as her agents, traveling in different directions and reporting on the progress of her work. Hutsipamamauu moved her arms and legs to form the valleys, mountains, shores, and plateaus of the Americas. Finally, Coyote and Cougar announced to her that the earth surface was complete. Hutsipamamauu remained in her reclining position on top of Nuvagantu, a central focal point for all Southern Paiute people, a sacred and revered landscape where they may gain knowledge and receive puha.

Many tribes of Southern California and the surrounding areas believe that a network of power came to earth simultaneously as part of the earth's creation by the first creators. Many Native Americans of California believe this source of power is available to special humans to use for the art of healing, and shamans, born with or given the gift of spiritual healing, manipulate that power to perform healing as needed by their tribes. Healers may go to specific places in the environment to access power or recharge their personal power. Shamans may sing to attract spiritual power, which sometimes arrives in the form of familiars, such as hawks or eagles, wind or rain, rock or bone, deer or bighorn.


Excerpted from "Fighting Invisible Enemies"
by .
Copyright © 2019 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
List of Tables,
CHAPTER 1: Spiritual Healing, Staying Sickness, and Shamanism,
CHAPTER 2: Invisible Enemies of the Early Twentieth Century,
CHAPTER 3: Investigating Invisible Enemies and Health Care,
CHAPTER 4: Indians and the Indian Medical Service,
CHAPTER 5: Indians, Nurses, and Advancing Health Care,
CHAPTER 6: Coughing Blood and Fighting Tuberculosis,
CHAPTER 7: Killing an Invisible Enemy,
CHAPTER 8: Transitions,
CHAPTER 9: Retrospect,