Quechan - Economy

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Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditionally the Quechan farmed the rich riverbottom lands, growing mainly maize, squash, and beans. The cultivated crops probably accounted for about 50 percent of the Quechan diet. The remainder came from gathered wild foods such as mesquite and screwbean pods and from river fish. Hunting was not very productive. Occasional irregularities in the river floods lent some uncertainty to the supply of cultivated foods. After White Americans developed the crossing into a transportation center, Quechans worked as unskilled wage laborers in the town or on river steamers. By the 1950s there were Virtually no Quechans still farming; they worked as wage laborers and/or received income from leasing their land allotments to non-Indian farmers. Presently the tribe leases farm acreage and operates a bingo hall and two modern trailer parks.

Industrial Arts. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Quechan women made pottery utensils, distinctive clay dolls, and beaded shawls; only the shawls are still made. Men made tools, weapons, and gourd rattles and other ritual paraphernalia. In general the Quechans were little concerned with embellishment of material culture beyond utilitarian needs.

Trade. The Colorado River crossing in Quechan territory was along one of the main precontact trade routes linking coastal California tribes with the center of the great Hohokam culture in southern Arizona (AD. 1000-1200), and later with Pima, Pagago, and others after the Hohokam Declined. The Quechan likely acted as middlemen and/or extracted a portion of the trade goods in exchange for safe passage across the crossing. In lean years foodstuffs were traded. It is likely that control of this trade route was one of the issues in persistent intertribal warfare until the 1860s.

Division of Labor. Both men and women worked the riverbottom fields, the men doing the heavier work of clearing brush, and both sexes helped with the harvest. Several related extended family households joined forces at clearing or harvest times. Men did most of the fishing, women the gathering. Males waged war, although there were typically warrior-women accompanying each major war party. The elderly are still important economic and teaching assets in households where both parents work.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, farm plots were considered the property of the household. The household's lands were abandoned at the death of one of its adult members, and they sought unoccupied land elsewhere in the vicinity. Ownership rules were not elaborately developed, and there was no Inheritance. This changed radically after the reservation was created and the individual members of the tribe were each assigned a ten-acre allotment. As the original and successive owners died, the plots were divided, and then repeatedly reDivided, creating a major heirship crisis in some cases. The Reservation land is still held in trust and cannot be sold. Most of the plots are presently leased to non-Indian farmers.


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