Indio began as an Indian village—a winter home for the Native American people who regularly migrated
from the surrounding mountains in the winter to the to the palm oasis along the San Andreas Fault zone in the Indio Hills.
Their villages were located on both sides of the Coachella Valley and along the shores of ancient Lake Cahuilla,
which was filled periodically by the Colorado River. The lake would remain for an unknown number of years, then would
gradually dry up as the river changed its course and flowed out to the Gulf of California again. The present day Salton Sea
fills a portion of that same depression. It came into being in 1905 when floodwaters of the Colorado River broke through an
irrigation levee in Imperial Valley and flowed unchecked into Salton Sink until the breach was closed in 1907.

In the late 1700’s a few exploratory and military expeditions traveled through the Coachella Valley on their way
from Sonora, Mexico to Los Angeles, but most took route through the mountains to the southwest of the valley.
In general, the Spanish, Mexican and early American presence did not greatly affect the Native American Cahuilla society.
These early immigrants did not threaten their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but the Cahuilla did develop economic and political
strategies to deal with the newcomers by organizing into confederations of clans. Ultimately, Indian Reservations were
created in the valley, including the Agua Caliente, St. Augustine, Cabazon and the Torres Martinez.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the resulting Gold Rush brought a stream of miners and settlers through the
Coachella Valley—all hoping that the southern route to California would be less hazardous than crossing the Sierras.
Congress became interested and in 1853 Lieutenant Robert Williamson of the U.S. Topographic Engineers explored
the region with the hope of finding a suitable route for a southern transcontinental railroad. In 1872, the site of present-day
Indio was selected as a division point for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The presence of an Indian labor force for the
construction of the railroad was also a plus. A roundhouse, sidings, crew housing and a depot were constructed, and in
1876 the first trains arrived from Los Angeles. In 1877 the route was completed to Yuma, the last link in the southern
transcontinental route. Indio was on the first schedules as “Indian Wells,” but to avoid confusion with other Indian Wells
locations, the name was changed to Indio. Indio’s first settlers were mainly railroad employees and the shopkeepers
who came to serve them.

A formal Indio town site was surveyed and a map was filed in 1888 with the San Diego County Recorder. In 1893,
as part of the newly designated Riverside County, Indio became one of its twelve townships. In 1896 it had 50 inhabitants.
Not only was it a main stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, but also it was a provisioning point for miners heading into
the mountains to the east. Gold mining in the area, which is now Joshua Tree National Park, was booming. The railroad’s
need for water for their steam engines led them to drill deeper and better wells, and when a rich aquifer under the valley
was discovered, people came to put in wells and farm the valley floor. A long and warm growing season made the production
of early vegetables and other crops profitable. The United States Department of Agriculture established a Date and Citrus
Experiment Station in Indio after closing the original station founded in 1904 in Mecca. The Indio USDA Station brought
scientists from all over the world to Indio to study the information collected here. These same scientists brought date palm
trees to Indio from Algeria in 1903.

By 1909, the Indio school census indicated that the school district had 43 families and 82 children within its boundaries.
In 1914, the Southern Sierras Power Company completed an electric power line to the Coachella Valley. Besides the
convenience electric power provided, the power was needed to pump water since many of the early wells which flowed
under artesian pressure had ceased to do so and water levels in wells was dropping as demand for water increased.

Flooding from canyons, which surround the valley, became a problem as development spread out. The Coachella Valley
Storm water District was formed in 1915 and had begun construction of a four-mile levee to carry water around Indio when
a huge flood came in 1917, which flowed through Indio and many of the other valley cities as well as developed farmlands.
The Coachella Valley County Water District was formed by a formal vote of local residents in January 2, 1918. Its purposes
were to survey the water resources of the valley, accomplish flood control measures, and search for alternative sources of water.
The latter led to a long fight to secure rights to water from the Colorado River and ultimately to the building of the
Coachella Branch of the All-American Canal. Today’s development would not have been possible without these far-sighted measures.

Indio is the Coachella Valley’s first incorporated city, taking this important step in 1930. At that time its population
was 1,875. Its citizens were instrumental in getting paved highways through the valley. Out section of Highway 99 was
completed in 1923 and Highway 60-70 was completed in 1936. It ultimately became Interstate 10 through the valley.
Roads and growth of the travel industry brought related businesses to Indio.

In the 1930’s, the largest construction project in the world during those depression days, was the building of the
Metropolitan Aqueduct to carry Colorado River water to the Los Angeles Basin. Indio was the center for distribution
of supplies to mining crews building 92 miles of tunnel through the eastern mountains and the city was not only the
supply depot, but also the recreation center for the thousands of miners involved in the work.

World War II brought new challenges to Indio. Camp Young, the training center for General George Patton’s troops,
was located 25 miles east of Indio. Again, the rail facilities made Indio a center for troop material deployment and
the city was flooded with troops looking for relaxation.

Following the war, the completion of the Coachella Branch of the All-American Canal brought expansion and growth
of the agricultural industry. Indio became a center for retail services and stores and for processing and packing facilities
for valley produce. Indio’s population grew from 5,300 in 1950 to 13,450 in 1964.

Indio began as a railroad town, but even in its early days, the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and desert
brought visitors, many of who became residents.

In 1901 The Riverside Press newspaper reported that amusements included “tennis, croquet, baseball, mountain
climbing, and tramps along desert.” A warm, dry climate was prescribed by physicians for those with respiratory diseases
and Nelson’s Health Camp, near the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Indio was one facility that provided a place for
invalids to recuperate. Jacqueline Cochran Odlum built the second golf course in the Coachella Valley in 1947 on her ranch
just south of Indio. For years Indio has called itself “The Date Capital of the United States” and has hosted the
National Date Festival regularly since the early 1940’s. Coupled with the Riverside County Fair, it attracts thousands
of visitors yearly, as do other festivals it has begun hosting in recent years.
Last updated: 12/19/2008 9:52:53 AM