According to Cahuilla legends, Tahquitz (Taw’ kwish) is an evil spirit who hunts for people’s souls and is reported to appear in Tahquitz canyon as a green meteor-like ball of fire. He was the first shaman created by Mukat, the Creator.
The Cahuilla revere Tahquitz Canyon as magical, and it’s easy to see why. For much of the year, a vibrant stream cuts through the canyon floor — a flow that for more than 2,000 years provided the desert’s indigenous people with drinking water and pristine pools in which to bathe and cool off.
The canyon floor was a place where Cahuilla children played kickball or shinny (a game with a ball, sticks, and a goal post), where Cahuilla women wove baskets or crushed acorns gathered in the fall, and where Cahuilla men hunted rabbit and, in winter, the mule deer that ventured down from the mountains to keep warm.
It was and, legend has it, still is a place where an evil spirit named Tahquitz (Taw’ kwish) hunts for people’s souls and is reported to appear as a green meteor-like ball of fire. He was the first shaman created by Mukat, the Creator.
Tahquitz possessed supernatural powers and, in the beginning, used his powers for the good of all the people. But over time, he used his powers for selfish reasons. “He began doing evil things to his people, causing death and destruction, and was banished to Tahquitz Canyon.
An elder of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tells the story of a beautiful young maiden who ventured into Tahquitz Canyon. At a place known as Green Tree Pool, she began to bathe. Tahquitz saw her and wanted her for himself. He took her and kept her in his cave high up in the canyon. He fed her people’s souls.
The young maiden was very unhappy and pleaded with Tahquitz to release her. He finally agreed to free her on the condition that she not tell anyone what had happened to her. She promised and Tahquitz returned her to the pool where he first saw her.
The people were amazed to see her alive and well. They began pressuring her to tell them what had happened. Remembering her promise to Tahquitz, she refused to say anything. However, under mounting suspicion and pressure, the villagers finally got the young maiden to tell her story. According to legend, she was found dead the next morning.
To honor the young maiden, Green Tree Pool is remembered as the site of her abduction and return. As for Tahquitz, his spirit is still said to reside high in the San Jacinto Mountain Range, which the Cahuilla call Tahquishhemki (Place of Tahquitz).
Today, Tahquitz Canyon is held as a place of wonder, power, adventure, and danger by both Indian and non-Indian people. The presence of rock art in the canyon indicates the area was a special and sacred place. Rock mortars, remains of shelters, and other artifacts indicate the Cahuilla lived a varied and abundant life there.