San Gabriel River History
Measured from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel River flows south over 60 miles and drains a watershed of 713 square miles.
The San Gabriel Mountains were formed by the San Andreas Fault about 75 million years ago. Over the course of millions of years, other fault lines and ice ages in the region helped create what we now know as the San Gabriel River.
Native Americans lived along the river before the European incursion into Southern California during the 1500’s. The San Gabriel River, along with the Los Angeles and Santa Ana Rivers, provided water and food for local people throughout what we now call the Los Angeles Basin.
The Tongva people—who now identify with that name as well as Kizh, Gabrieleno, Gabrielino—lived throughout Southern California
The river changed course seasonally with the rains—and the nearby communities changed location as well. When the river ran high, flooded its banks and shifted direction—so did the native inhabitants.
But the river was the presence that created and supported community.
It’s hard to picture it now as we race by the river on the 605 freeway but until the mid-1990s the San Gabriel River was free-flowing with natural banks, riparian habitat. The river we are familiar with today is “channelized”—contained by concrete to protect local residents from overflow–a reaction to floods in the late 1800s and the 1938 Los Angeles floods.
The Whittier Narrows area—the site of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center– has been degraded by industrial and agricultural uses. The San Gabriel River Discovery Center is committed to restoring the area with wetlands, re-constitution of trails and native trees and plants.
The San Gabriel River Discovery Center curriculum celebrates local cultures and educates the community about the history and ongoing presence of indigenous people in our region and on- going contributions to educating young people about protecting our watersheds.
The following links provide additional information about local Native American tribes.
- The Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe of the Los Angeles Basin: http://www.tongvatribe.net
- Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel: http://www.tongva.com
- Gabrieleño-Tongva Tribe: http://www.gabrielinotribe.org
- Gabrielino/Tongva Springs Foundation: http://www.onionskin.com/gabrielino