Training: Module 3 of 9

A Brief History: ClickHere for Historical Video


Exploring the Native American aspects of Palm Springs, particularly the heritage of the Agua Caliente people, opens up endless opportunities to connect with, experience, and enjoy even more the richness of this very special place – much of which has been cared for by Tribal stewardship over thousands of years. And don’t be surprised if your explorations reveal new insights to our community past and present – and pathways to future possibilities.


More than 2,000 years ago, Palm Springs' first residents were the ancestors of today's Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. One of many Cahuilla bands, the Agua Caliente existed as peaceful hunters and gatherers, living off the land, and adapting to the extremes of desert summers and mountain winters. Much of tribal life centered on the lush vegetation and abundant water in the area known as Indian Canyons, site of North America's largest natural fan palm oasis. 

[Did you know? The lush Indian Canyons is just a few miles from downtown Palm Springs, only about a 10 minute car ride.]

The Cahuilla Indian’s first encountered non-Indians people in 1774. By 1853, a government survey party mapped Palm Springs and its natural hot springs mineral pool - now the site of the Spa Resort Casino - and established the first wagon route through the San Gorgonio Pass. Thus began a stream of visitors to the valley.

In 1877, Pacific Railroad laid the tracks between Los Angeles and Yuma, Arizona. The U.S. government deeded the

Agua Caliente 52,000 acres throughout the Coachella Valley (6,700 acres lie within the city of Palm Springs). The government gave the railroad a checkerboard of every square mile of land for 10 miles on either side of the railroad. The Agua Caliente tribe got the non-Pacific Railroad owned squares.  This arrangement is extremely unique. Most Native American reservations across the United States were located outside of areas that became city limits. The City of Palm Springs is built on a "checkerboard" consisting of alternating Indian and non-Indian land.

The Cahuilla Indians own parcels of the land around Palm Springs in the form of a government granted reservation, but were not invested for profitability. In 1959, after the council did much work with the U.S. government, they were permitted to extend 99-year leases on their reservation land. Many properties in the Coachella Valley are located on Indian owned land and lease the property from the Cahuilla Indians. 

In 1884, Judge John Guthrie McCallum of San Francisco and his family became the first non-Indians to settle here. McCallum, with the assistance of local Indians, built a 19 mile stone-lined ditch from the Whitewater River into Palm Springs bringing in pure, precious water for irrigation.

Tourists are drawn to the distinct and abundant architectural examples within the city. They also hunt for the glamorous allure that brought golden era celebrities to seek refuge here. At first glance, it seems as though there is not a link connecting these two vastly different topics, but there is. In fact, there is an impressive connection between the two, dating back to as early as the 1930s. By the time Palm Springs was incorporated in 1938, the Village had become world-famous as a winter playground for Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, Loretta Young. Today's stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning, Halley Berry and Gwen Stefani continue to seek rest and relaxation just hours away from the Hollywood glitz. European royalty and business tycoons all come to enjoy the endless sunshine and serenity of the desert.

In 1954, Cary Grant purchased an already built home in what is now the Movie Colony neighborhood and hired noted architect Wallace Neff to design an addition to the home. Very popular amongst celebrities, Neff is credited with helping to establish the “California” style of architecture.

Superstar Frank Sinatra came to Palm Springs in 1947 seeking a home for himself and his then wife, Nancy. Sinatra approached local architect E. Stewart Williams with a few ideas for a home to be built off of what is now Alejo Road.

Dinah Shore commissioned Donald Wexler to build her dramatic modern estate in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood, just recently purchased by Leonardo Di Caprio.

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