For over 1000 years, Cahuilla tribespeople occupied canyons on the southwestern edge of the Coachella Valley, where permanent streams flowed from the San Jacinto Mountains. The early Spanish explorers called the hot springs where the city of Palm Springs now stands Agua Caliente (hot water), later used to refer to the local Cahuilla band.
In 1876, the federal government divided the valley into a checkerboard. Odd numbered sections were granted to the Southern Pacific Railroad, while the even-numbered sections were given to the Agua Caliente as their reservation. Not until the 1940s did surveys establish the boundaries. By then much of the Native American land had been built on, though the local tribes today are quite wealthy.
At the southern end of the valley, Indio began as a construction camp for the railway and its artesian water was tapped to irrigate crops. Date palms from Algeria were imported in 1890 and have become the valley’s major crop, along with citrus fruits and table grapes. The whole valley was developed first as farmland, later with health spas, hotels and resorts. In the 1920s, Palm Springs (PS) became a winter playground for Hollywood stars, many of whom built mid-century modern homes here in the 1940s and ‘50s. PS’s popularity faded in the late ‘60s, but today it’s back on the map.