The Luiseño are the most Southwestern group of Shoshonean people in the greater North American desert. The name Luiseño came from their having lived in close proximity to the Spanish mission San Luis Rey (1798-1834) which is located in northern San Diego County near Oceanside, California. Originally, the Luiseño may have been called Payomkawichum ('The Westerners') by neighboring people and Ataxum ('The People') by themselves.
The Luiseño occupied parts of north coastal San Diego County and Riverside County in pre-Hispanic (before 1769) Southern California. It is theorized that the Luiseño came into Southern California approximately 5,000-7,000 years ago during severe altithermals (drought periods) from the Basin areas east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their Shoshonean neighbors like the Cupeño, Cahuilla, Serrano, Gabrieliño and Chemehuevi were part of this migration. This Southern California environment was and is a mild coastal desert environment dominated by the Coastal Sagebrush Scrub plant community that is often referred to as chaparral, a word derived from the Spanish "chaparro", scrub oak. The Luiseno gathered and used a great deal of plants ; but also hunted and used animals in this environment. Traditional views saw the plants as a sacred link to the earth producing nutients directly for herbivores and indirectly for carnivores. Meat of herbivores, like deer, was seen as sacred since they ate the plants.
The Luiseno also recognized the interaction of various factors, such as water, disease, predator/prey, and natural burns that impacted the population of game animals on land and in water. At times they figured out ways of improving game animal populations through techniques such as controled burning. Such management usually increased population of rodents and grazing animals due to the post burn growth surge of herbacious plants, but it could prove risky if heavy rain followed purposeful set burns. Evidence indicates that varying climates and human use was usually less detrimental to environments than today's developmental impact. Southern California abounded in deer, elk, antelope and numerous rodents, birds, reptiles, etc. on the land with fish, turtles, crustacea, mollusks, and mammals in the fresh and salt water. The Luiseno devised a seasonal pattern of hunting and gathering that started with the ocean and lowland lagoon/rivers in the spring; and worked there way up into the mountains by fall for great acorn gathering feativals. The peoples biggest competition for most of these resources was the California grizzly, which pretty much followed the same seasonal pattern. The animals like humans overlapped the more fixed plant zones,but due to the semi-arid climate many would not be visible in the day. The coyote was one of the most successful animals of the chaparral/scrub communities, but it like humans consummed more plant material than meat.
We will examine the Luiseno use of animals (Kingdom: Animalia), but due to multiple uses the species will be listed by taxonomy, rather than by use.