Native American Life in Alta California
Many different Native American groups lived in the vast region of Alta California (the region that is now California, Nevada, and northern Arizona) and the Baja Peninsula, which is now part of Mexico. Estimates suggest about 130,000 Native Americans lived in California around the time the Spanish first explored the region in the mid-16th century. Protected by mountains in the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, California's indigenous peoples found plentiful sources of food, including acorns, insects, small game, and fish. As a result, they never needed to develop agricultural practices. Nevertheless, the abundance of food enabled them to live in established villages. The Native Americans living in California were not affiliated by tribe, but by tribelets, or clans, that lived in nearby villages. Like the Pueblos in New Mexico, California's Native Americans coexisted peacefully and rarely waged war.
Little is known about the history or customs of the Native Americans living in California before Spanish settlement in 1769. As they did elsewhere in the New World, the Spaniards established missions and populated them with the local indigenous people. Under the influence of the Spanish, California's native populations would lose their language and clan affiliations and become known simply as "Mission Indians."