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Den of the Nukatem

Francisco Patencio as depicted by artist Paul Grimm

The existence of the Agua Caliente Hot Spring is explained in a Cahuilla migration legend. This legend was later retold by elder Francisco Patencio:

“The head man, Tu-to-meet, was tired and sick and lame, so he took his whó-ya-no-hut (staff of power), which he struck in the ground. He twisted it around, and caused the water of a spring to come out – now Palm Springs Hot Spring. He named it Sec he, meaning boiling water, which is up to the earth and on the earth, which is to be for ever, never to dry up, never to go away, but to be there for ever and always for the sick.”

As evidenced by the story of Tu-to-meet and the creation of Sec he, the Hot Spring’s importance was not limited to its physical gifts. The Spring represented an intermediary meeting point between the physical world and a supernatural underworld imbued with i’va’a (power) – the basic generative force from which all things were created. Beneath the waters was a subterranean world populated by powerful sacred beings called nukatem, remnants from the beginning of time with the ability to accomplish both good and evil. Nukatem were formed by Cahuilla creators Mukat and Temayawet. Most nukatem are no longer on earth, but some did not leave and remain active participants in this world.

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