The Cocopah, also Cucapá (in Cocopa: Kwapa or Kwii Capáy - "Cloud People" referring to the fog along the Colorado River), are Native Americans who live in Baja California and Sonora, Mexico, and in Arizona in the United States.

Xawiƚƚ kwñchawaay
Middle Sky, Cocapah.jpg
Middle Sky, Cocapah, photo by Frank A. Rinehart, 1899 (hand-colored)
Total population
1,009 in the United States (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
( Baja California and  Sonora)
 United States ( Arizona)
Cocopah, English, Spanish
Traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
other Yuman peoples
A Cocopah man and a Cocopah woman by Cyrus Thomas

The Cocopah language belongs to the Delta–California branch of the Yuman family. The Spanish term for Cocopah is Cucapá. Their self-designation is Xawiƚƚ kwñchawaay, translating to “Those Who Live on the Cloudy River” (from Xawíƚƚy - "river", kwii - "cloud", (ny)way - "to live", llyay/nyaam - "many"). According to the US Census, there were 1,009 Cocopah in 2010.[1]


Cocopah traditional territory on the Colorado River and the Gulf of California


Ancestors of the Cocopah inhabited parts of present-day Arizona, California, and Baja California and are known by western academics as belonging to the Patayan culture. Patayan is a term used by archaeologists to describe prehistoric Native American cultures who inhabited parts of modern-day Arizona, west to Lake Cahuilla in California, and in Baja California, between 700 and 1550 A.D. This included areas along the Gila River, Colorado River and in the Lower Colorado River Valley, the nearby uplands, and north to the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.They are mostly likely ancestors of the Cocopah and other Yuman-speaking tribes in the region. The Patayan peoples practiced floodplain agriculture where possible and relied heavily on hunting and gathering.

Post contactEdit

The first significant contact of the Cocopah with Europeans and Africans probably occurred in 1540, when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Alarcón sailed into the Colorado River delta. The Cocopah were specifically mentioned by name by the expedition of Juan de Oñate in 1605.

Post-Mexican cessionEdit

After the Mexican-American War, Cocopah lands were split between the US and Mexico through the Mexican Cession resulting from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago.

Westward expansion in the 1840s and the discovery of gold in California in 1849 brought many migrants through the area near the mouth of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon region. The strategic importance of the river crossing was recognized by the U.S. government, and the United States Army established Camp Independence in 1850 to protect the entry route through the tribe's territories. Many tribes along the Colorado River entered the ferry business given its profitability, creating many jobs for the Cocopah.[2]

The Cocopah agreed to join Garra's Tax Revolt of 1851, led by the Cupeño, to fight against the US government alongside the Quechan and nearby Kumeyaay bands. Together, the Cocopah sieged Camp Independence but the siege fell apart after disputes with the Quechan over the distribution of sheep confiscated from white sheepherders earlier.

The Cocopah also entered the Yuma War following the tax revolt initially on the side of the Quechan against the US. After making peace with the US, the Cocopah allied with the Paipai and Halyikwamai and turned against the Quechan, after accumulating tension between the two tribes. War broke out in May 1853, when the Cocopah besieged three Quechan villages holding them hostage. In retaliation, the Quechan-allied Mohave backed the Quechan and raided the Cocopah. The Yuma War came to an end when the US threatened the Mojave that they would intervene on the side of the Cocopah.

Cocopah in the Mexican RevolutionEdit

During the Mexican Revolution, the Magonistas gained the support of the Cocopah, under the influence of Camilo Jiménez, who was the tribal leader of the Cocopah in the Mexicali Valley. The Cocopah were sympathetic of the Magonist struggle against imperialism from both Mexico and the US, and the privatized ownership of their land. The Cocopah were joined by the Paipai, Kiliwa, and Kumeyaay, and prepared to fight alongside the Magonistas, as Jiménez smuggled US arms to Mexico with the support of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).[3]

On January 29, the Magonistas and the Cocopah captured Mexicali and provided further logistical support throughout their lands. Jiménez carried out a campaign with the Cocopah, Paipai, and Kiliwa armies from El Rosario to Ensenada, raiding small towns and looting Chinese-Mexican businesses.[3]

The Cocopah were eventually defeated by the Mexican forces in the following months and were forced off of their land by the Colorado River Land Company.[3]

Modern eraEdit

In 1964, the Cocopah Indian Tribe, on the American side of the border, founded its first Constitution and formed a five-person Tribal Council in the Cocopah Indian Reservation. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Tribe began acquiring additional land, constructing homes, installing utilities, developing an infrastructure system and initiating economic development.[2]

Cocopah Tribe of ArizonaEdit

Cocopah peoples in the United States are enrolled in the Cocopah Tribe of Arizona. As of the 2000 United States Census, the Cocopah Tribe of Arizona numbered 891 people.[1] There is a casino, speedway, resort, family entertainment center and bingo hall on the reservation as well as a Museum and Cultural Center. Another Yuman group, the Quechan, lives in the adjacent Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. On important occasions, Cocopah people wear their customary ribbon shirts and ribbon dresses.


  1. ^ a b c U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2010 Census 2010 American Indian and Alaska Native Summary File (AIANSF) - Sample Data, Cocopah Tribe of Arizona alone or in Combination, M22
  2. ^ a b "About Us - Cocopah Indian Tribe". Retrieved September 6, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Muñoz, Gabriel Trujillo (2012). La utopía del norte fronterizo: La revolución anarcosindicalista de 1911. San Ángel, Del. Álvaro Obregón, México, 01000, D. F: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-607-7916-83-3.


  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.

Further readingEdit

  • Gifford, E.W. (1933). The Cocopa. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol 35:5, Pg 257–334.
  • Kelly, William H. (1977). Cocopa Ethnography. Anthropological papers of the University of Arizona (No. 29). Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0496-2.

External linksEdit