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Alejo Patencio and William Duncan Strong

Alejo Patencio

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.  All Rights Reserved

Alejo Patencio (1852* - 3/28/1930)

Alejo Patencio, a net (ceremonial and clan leader) of the kauisik clan, administered the affairs of the people from the late 1890s until his death in 1930.   He knew all the ceremonial songs (the oral history of the Cahuilla), was in charge of the maiswut (sacred bundle), resolved disputes, and set dates for all sacred and secular ceremonies. As was often practiced in pre-contact times, Alejo at one time lived and ruled from the kishumna’a, or ceremonial house – the symbolic center of clan life.

Alejo Patencio was one of thirteen children born to Juan and Juana Patencio and the elder brother of Francisco Patencio, who later succeed him as the net. In 1947, after the passing of Francisco, Albert Patencio, became the final net until his death in 1951. At this time the kishumna'a was burned and not rebuilt, marking a break with traditional Cahuilla religious practices.

Alejo greatly enriched our modern understanding of traditional Cahuilla society thanks to his collaboration with William Duncan Strong, author of Aboriginal Society in Southern California, in the 1920s. The boundaries of kauisik traditional territories and the creation story of the Pass Cahuilla people are among the oral traditions preserved as a result of Alejo imparting his traditional knowledge.

William Duncan Strong (1899-1962)

William Duncan Strong, one of the preeminent archaeologists of the first half of the 20th century, received his Doctorate in Anthropology from UC Berkeley in 1926.  He carried out archaeological and ethnographic work in the Plains, Honduras, Peru, southern California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and with the Naskapi people of Labrador.  Strong preferred to live with the people he was studying and to participate in their “daily lives.”  He later went on to become a member of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institute, and teach at Columbia University.

His ethnographic book, Aboriginal Society in Southern California, is one of the earliest and most in depth coverage of Shoshone-speaking Tribes in southern California.  Many researchers still use his book today as a reference guide.  Strong lived with the Cahuilla, Serrano, Cupeno, and Luiseno at a very pivotal point in their history – many of the elders remembered the old ways, while American culture was pressing down on the younger generations.  Strong called an ethnologist who studies a group of people after they have been influenced by another dominant culture a “social paleontologist”—requiring the memories of these elders to “reconstruct” the past. 

“…he acquired the confidence of many of the most learned men in southern California’s Indian communities.  They trusted Strong and they assisted him in collecting an immense amount of data that made it possible to describe conditions as they existed in social, economic, political, and ceremonial life in 1925.  Then, working through the memories of older people, Strong proceeded to attempt a reconstruction of the patterns of change in there institutions back to the 1850’s.”

– Lowell J. Bean

To view selections of Strong’s Honduras journals held by the Smithsonian, please click here.


* the 1926 Mission Agency Census disagrees and  lists 1864 as the birth year

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